David E. Bernstein

‘Antisemitic Invective’ Goes Mainstream at the University of Michigan Law School

The ADL is a hateful, pro-racism group that supports dangerous antisemites, brutal militarization of the police, and even tried to quash recognition of AIDS!

I’m writing this on Purim, but that’s not a joke or satire, but sentiments sincerely expressed by students at one of America’s leading law schools, the University of Michigan Law School

I recently posted an article with commentary at the Volokh Conspiracy blog about the increasingly hostile environment Jewish students face at elite law schools. Within hours, I heard from Michigan Law students upset and concerned about hostile postings on a student email listserv for students called LawOpen.

As I understand it, LawOpen was once in part a forum for discussion among law students, but in recent years its use has been almost entirely limited to students wishing to resell tickets and student organizations, promoting events. Early this semester, students representing the Jewish Law Students Association sent out two separate emails, each advertising an event. Each was met with harsh responses; the students I’m in contact with thought the harshness sometimes crossed the line into antisemitic invective.

Here is the first email:

JLSA is hosting an Anti-Bias Training Event on February 2nd from 11:45am-1:30pm in HH132. Register here and get free lunch!
JLSA would like to invite you to join us for an Anti-Bias Training event sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) next Thursday, February 2nd from 11:45-1:30pm in HH132!
The event is open to people of all backgrounds and faiths who are interested in allyship with people of all backgrounds and faiths.
The training will help participants recognize bias and the harm it inflicts on individuals and society; explore the value of diversity; improve intergroup relations; and challenge racism, antisemitism, and all forms of prejudice and bias. This is an interactive event and we’d love to see as many people as possible get involved!
Lunch will be provided – please RSVP here so we can get an idea of how much food to get. We hope you’ll be able to join us!

The ADL, for the uninitiated, is an influential liberal organization founded to fight antisemitism and other forms of prejudice. It’s run by a former Obama staffer, and its membership and funders are overwhelmingly liberal Democrats. The ADL has come under (to my mind justified) criticism for pro-Democrat partisanship, and for adopting and promoting woke tropes in its anti-bias education programs, going so far as to define racism as “the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people,” which, absurdly, would exclude Nazi genocidal antisemitism from its definition of racism.

Nevertheless, the announcement was met with the following responses:

The ADL knows all about bias, given its long history of smearing Arabs + Muslims, attacking the Movement for Black Lives, shielding anti-Semites like Trump from justified criticism, and supporting racist, militarized policing.

Anti-bias work that centers the experience of white Jewish people is not true anti-bias work [DB note: this is not how ADL anti-bias work operates, but if it was, is bias against Jews not real bias?]. If you want to read about being Jewish and standing in solidarity with Palestinians [DB note: the ADL training had nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians] living under occupation, check out Jewish Voice for Peace or the book they produced!

Jewish people have a long history of allyship throughout civil rights struggles in America. Let’s continue that work in the right way, and not welcome hateful groups like the ADL on our campus.” (emphasis supplied)

And this one, which is especially unhinged:

Put simply, the ADL is a pro-racism organization. (emphasis supplied) While I believe that anti-semitism must be eradicated for any semblance of a just world and that more work needs to be done to do just that, I fail to see why this mission rationalizes the ADL’s furthering of other awful -isms/-phobias.
A brief list, the ADL; the single largest non-governmental police trainer, has:
– lobbied for the brutal militarization of the police,
– organized for the expansion of a surveillance state against Muslims and Arabs (CVE for instance),
– attacked Black liberation movements and other human rights organizations,
– supported South African Apartheid,
– reaffirmed support for NYPD after the state-sanctioned murder of Eric Garner,
– lauded stop-and-frisk policing,
– continued to support the militarization of the police through organized trips with the IDF,
– tried to squash medical and social recognition of AIDS,
– strongly supported dangerous anti-semites, and
– maintained anti-Palestinian, anti-human rights, hands-on support for the terrorizing and dispossession of millions of Palestinians.
(All of this is fact-checkable and I advise you all to do your own research if you’d like.)

This is a combination of wild exaggeration and fantasy. I’m not going to go through each of these, but on the wild exaggeration front, while the ADL has supported federal counter-extremism efforts, consider the ADL’s public position on Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, when the Trump administration announced that it intended to limit the program to Muslim extremists:

ADL also expressed concern about the potential for singing out American Muslims for special scrutiny or suspicion. Singling out the American Muslim community for special scrutiny or suspicion would be discriminatory, offensive, ineffective, and counterproductive…. We need to build trust with the communities to reduce radicalism, not to foster mistrust.

As for fantasy, I searched high and low, and even consulted experts on antisemitism, to try to figure out where the writer got the idea that the ADL “tried to squash medical and social recognition of AIDS.” I couldn’t figure it out, but I suppose if you are trying to portray a leading liberal Jewish organization as a font of evil, you might as well throw in the kitchen sink.

More disheartening to me than the nutty conspiratorial emails about the ADL is the reaction of the rest of the students, which was that no one objected to this absurd calumny. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone, or at least anyone willing to respond publicly, that suggesting that the liberal ADL, one of America’s oldest civil rights groups, is “racist,” “strongly supports dangerous antisemites,” is responsible for police violence, tried to quash recognition of AIDs [???], and so forth, sounds a lot like the sort of antisemitic conspiracy theories one would (and does) hear from the likes of the openly antisemitic and reactionary Louis Farrakhan, not a sophisticated, “progressive” law student.

One student did raise the question of why this particular event attracted so much vitriol: “We don’t have a whole public discourse on every event that FedSoc [the conservative Federalist Society] puts on, in fact any discourse at all, and they’re FedSoc.”

The second email in question announced that students could apply for a trip to Israel. The first response was “Enjoy the apartheid with your falafel!” And things deteriorated from there into a very long thread full of fact-challenged denunciations of Israel. Early in the thread, one student interjected:

Lawopen is supposed to function as a forum for student groups to share events and announcements conveniently with the entire school, not as a bullhorn for the personal viewpoints of individual students. I can only speak for myself, but it makes me really uncomfortable when the only events or announcements that are quickly and harshly disparaged on lawopen happen to be those that deal with Israel or Jewish organizations that hold certain viewpoints on Israel. I would ask in the future that you share your opinions with your own personal connections (maybe a friend or a parent!), rather than using the events of others to push your personal agenda. (emphasis supplied)

This had no effect. If you have frequented far-left sites that comment on Israel, you can imagine the rest.

I’m not going to address the question of whether these emails contained, as one student told me, intentional “antisemitic vitriol.” For one thing, it’s hard to separate, motivation-wise, far-left conspiratorial nonsense in general from far-left conspiratorial nonsense about Jews and Israel.

For example, re the ADL, some of the hostility from the far left comes from its support for Israel and cross-pollination with neonazi “antizionists”, but some comes from its willingness to cooperate with law enforcement to thwart antisemitic violence, and some comes because of resentment that its anti-bias programs crowd out programs sponsored by more extreme left-wing people and organizations. Second, for readers to judge, I’d have to share the entire email threads, which I’m won’t do to preserve the anonymity of the students.

But consciously antisemitic or not, the threads at the very minimum reflect a complete lack of concern for the sensibilities of Jewish students at Michigan Law School. Every other group on campus (even the conservative FedSoc!) advertises whatever events they want, no matter how controversial, without provoking enmity. It’s only the Jewish law student group that attracts such a reaction, and that reaction continued even after a student point out that his colleagues were singling out the Jewish student association’s posts.

If this were an isolated incident, I wouldn’t have bothered writing about it. But there have been a series of recent related incidents at other elite law schools. The Yale Law Journal brought in an antisemitic “diversity trainer,” without any significant soul-searching thereafter. NYU students boldly proclaimed that “Zionists” control the media, and continued to do so even after the fact that this is an antisemitic trope was made clear to them. Georgetown Law Center’s SJP hosted a speaker with a long history of antisemitic statements, and declined to cancel his invitation when this history was publicized. The law school administration said nothing, even while it was busy denouncing and investigating Ilya Shapiro for an ill-phrased tweet about President Biden’s promise to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court. And some of the most prominent law student groups at Berkeley have vowed not to invite any “Zionist speakers” to speak on any issue, in theory precluding the vast majority of Jews from speaking at their events.

Things were quite different not that long ago, when I was in law school at Yale around 1990. The law school student body was then, like today, very, very liberal. But there were a lot more Jewish students at law schools back then, and their sensibilities were generally respected. A left-wing student group holding a conference on drug policy invited a representative of the Nation of Islam to speak. This led to a great controversy at the law school, including an anti-antisemitism rally attended by a large fraction of the student body–even though, to my knowledge, this particular individual had never made any public antisemitic remarks, he was “just” affiliated with an antisemitic organization. Today, I wonder if he could be chosen as the graduation speaker at Michigan Law without much objection.

Coincidentally, Tablet recently published a piece by Jacob Savage about how Jews are gradually disappearing from visible places in American life where they were once prominent. He blames this on DEI considerations, though broader factors are also at work. But Jews are clearly being pushed out of progressive political spaces. Jews are deemed to be, at best, generically white, more often “privileged whites,” and, increasingly, “privileged whites who use their privilege to support Israel’s oppression of people of color in Palestine.” Under any of those perspectives, Jewish sensibilities don’t count on the woke left, at best amounting to “white tears.”

We are less than eight decades from the Holocaust, and Jews are the only group in the United States that needs armed guards at all of their institutions to protect their constituents from violence. Just last month, an antisemite targeted and shot two Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles.

But at elite American law schools, where many future leaders will come from, students believe that combating anti-Jewish bias isn’t “real” anti-bias work, the ADL is a right-wing hate group, and that not only should Jewish sensibilities be ignored, Jews should be affirmatively provoked until they all fully buy into the woke agenda, including on “Palestine.”

One might reasonably argue that American Jews enjoyed a golden era from around 1960 to around 2010. In 2023, that seems like ancient history.

About the Author
David E. Bernstein is a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, where he teaches constitutional law and evidence. He is married to an Israeli and travels to Israel regularly.