Universities are supposed to be havens of civilized discourse where rationality, civility and tolerance prevail, but of late, this hallowed tradition has taken a battering in Britain and the United States.
Consider these unsettling developments:
Prior to her recent election as president of Britain’s National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia made comments that can only be described as xenophobic and racist. And in the United States, students at Harvard University and Stanford University uttered antisemitic remarks of a calibre usually associated with neo-Nazis.
Bouattia, the first black Muslim leader of the National Union of Students, called Birmingham University “something of a Zionist outpost” and complained that “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets” equate Palestinian violence with terrorism.
Bouattia’s skewed views are hardly surprising. She’s an activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, whose overarching objective is to weaken and isolate Israel and dismantle it as a Jewish state.
She’s entitled to her opinions, but she must know that references to “Zionist-led media outlets” and allusions to Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost” leave her justifiably open to accusations of antisemitism. Only rank antisemites resort to such coded expressions.
She claims she’s not antisemitic and “will continue to fight antisemitism or any other bigoted idea.” But this sounds like self-serving rhetoric. She should, as the Union of Jewish Students suggested, publicly disassociate herself from her hateful words and ideas.
Beyond this, Bouattia has a lot of explaining to do concerning her distorted view of Islamic State, the jihadist organization whose objective is to create a caliphate in the Middle East. As a member of the National Union of Student’s executive committee, she blocked a resolution condemning Islamic State, claiming the motion was nothing less than “Islamophobic.”
This is sheer nonsense, of course.
Islamic State is a reactionary and barbaric outfit that promotes totalitarian values and norms, persecutes religious minorities and destroys priceless archeological treasures. In short, Islamic State is a blight on Islam. Yet Bouattia implicitly protects Islamic State.
Is she ignorant or merely manipulative and cynical?
That she was chosen to be president of the National Union of Students is a troubling sign of our times, when anti-Zionism so easily bleeds into antisemitism.
Interestingly enough, Bouattia’s election came in the wake of substantive allegations that elements in the Labor Party club at Oxford University “have some kind of problem with Jews.”
This anti-Jewish virus, unfortunately, festers in anti-Israel circles in the United States as well.
On April 14, third year Harvard law student Husam El-Coolaq — a member of the university’s Justice for Palestine Committee — asked Tzipi Livni, a prominent Israeli politician, a grossly insulting and provocative question: “How is it that you are so smelly?”
Livni, the head of the Hatnua Party and Israel’s former foreign minister, must have been shocked and appalled.
El-Coolaq, a Muslim, could have asked her a perfectly normal and acceptable question about Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Instead, he dredged up one of the oldest antisemitic canards.
El-Coolaq’s foray into medieval antisemitism is a reflection of his ethnocentric personality and the extent to which some anti-Zionists have expropriated the language of bigotry to defame Israel and Jews. El-Coolaq profusely apologized for his boorish behavior, but the damage was done.
About a week before this disgusting incident, Gabriel Knight, a member of the student Senate at Stanford University, got up on his hind legs and denied he had engaged in antisemitism by having claimed that Jews control the media, economy and government.
Having seen the egregious error of his ways, he apologized for his moronic statement and disclosed he would not seek reelection to the Senate.
More importantly, the Undergraduate Senate of the Associated Students of Stanford passed a unanimous resolution condemning antisemitism and supporting the right of Israeli Jews to statehood.
This prompted pro-Palestinian groups on campus to complain that the motion would stifle free speech. But as David Kahn, the president of the Jewish Student Association, correctly pointed out, “There must be a line between valid criticism and hate speech.”
Sadly, the events at Stanford are reminiscent of the recent Joy Karega affair in Ohio.
Karega, an Oberlin College professor, caused outrage when she posted a series of obnoxious Facebook observations alleging that Jews or Israelis were behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist onslaught in the United States, the formation of Islamic State and the jihadist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and Paris in 2015.
Incredulously enough, Karega also claimed that Jews control the American government and that the Mossad was behind the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014. To top it all off, she expressed support for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s beliefs. Apart from being a black separatist, Farrakhan is a notorious antisemite.
It’s obvious that Karega dislikes Jews. Malia Bouattia, Husam El-Coolaq and Gabriel Knight seem to be cut from the same cloth.