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BDS at the Harvard Crimson

Last Erev Shabbat— a day after Yom ha-Shoa and the weekend before Eid al-Fitr- the Harvard Crimson daily newspaper published an editorial calling for a free “Palestine” and supporting the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel. The current president of Harvard is the son of a survivor of Auschwitz; but the last time a Jewish president of the university spoke out against BDS, he was fired. Harvard has a long and inglorious history of institutional anti-Semitism: president Lowell invented the numerus clausus policy there after World War I and the rest of American academia took up the idea with enthusiasm. During the 1930s, Harvard and the other Ivies were in bed with the Nazis and the college severely penalized students who protested its celebration of the new Germany. After 1945, Harvard became a safe haven for a number of German and Ukrainian collaborators with Hitler.

The BDS movement is anti-Semitic, and hatred for Jews and Israel is intrinsic to the general program of what calls itself social justice in the US. “Critical race theory”, identity politics, intersectionality, and the other forms of political correctness that dominate education and other areas of American life today have nothing to do with classical liberalism or the progressive Left of earlier generations. They are a recrudescence of nazism, which had the pseudo-science of “race”, specifically the hatred of Jews, at its core. German university students enthusiastically participated in the orgies of book burning: it should be no surprise that students at Harvard are the new nazis. At least it is no surprise to me: I am an emeritus professor of the place and taught there for a quarter century.

What is to be done? It is most unlikely Harvard will adopt BDS as an institutional policy: it has programs in Biblical Studies, Jewish Studies, and the Ancient Near East that rely on contacts with Israeli universities and scholars. Harvard and its neighbor, MIT, benefit from ties with science and scientists from Israel. President Bacow may diplomatically condemn the Crimson editorial; but from my own experience of my former colleagues I fully expect Harvard faculty members, both Jewish and Gentile, to maintain their usual complacent and cowardly silence. You cannot expect personal or professional decency from an academic in this country: his behavior is dictated only by narrow self-interest.

When I was a boy, my family lived in upper Manhattan, in Washington Heights. Many of the congregants at my shul were either Holocaust survivors or pre-war German Jewish refugees. On the eve of the Six-Day War, I was terrified to hear these kind, intelligent people saying quietly, “It’s happening again.” Some teachers at the private school I attended on Central Park West wore smug grins: Israel and the Jews, they thought, were about to get what we all deserved. To their disappointment, we not only survived, we won. They’ve never forgiven us for being alive and they never will.

What is to be done, then? What? The Rabbi of my shul, Jacob Goldberg, of blessed memory, said it plain during those fearful weeks on uncertainty before the Six-Day War, and it deserves saying again and again: Death to the enemies of Israel.

I hope that Israelis will continue to act only in the interests of all Eretz Yisrael, and of the Jewish people in the world, dismissing with contempt the mendacious hypocrisy of our enemies and employing all possible lethal force against them whenever necessary. I hope that my fellow Jews, particularly those of a left-liberal bent, will wake up once and for all and not keep falling for the lies of assimilation, that they will stop seeking approval and acceptance by alien societies and cultures by adopting their values. It’s been tried before. It was never good, it never worked, and repeating the same error over and over is the very definition of insanity.

I understand how history made us insane. But nobody will help us recover our health. They either don’t like us or they don’t care. We have to do it ourselves. Israel is a sign of recovering health. Of course the editors of the Harvard Crimson don’t like it: they are our enemies and they and their friends want us dead. Harvard and its ilk teach one useful lesson: America may have its virtues, but at the end of the day it’s the same Diaspora, the same Exile.

Vladimir Jabotinsky’s words to us have never been truer or more relevant:

“Our habit of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more. We were not created in order to teach morals and manners to our enemies. Let them learn these things for themselves before they establish relations with us. We want to hit back at anybody who harms us. Whoever does not repay a blow by a blow is also incapable of repaying a good deed in kind. Only someone who can hate his enemies can be a faithful friend to those who love him. We do not have to apologize for anything. We are a people as all other peoples; we do not have any intentions to be better than the rest… We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody’s examination and nobody is old enough to call us to answer. We came before them and we will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change, nor do we want to.”

May the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily and in our days. Master of the Universe, grant us a portion in Your Torah.

Death to the enemies of Israel.

About the Author
James R. Russell is Emeritus Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, and has served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Associate Professor of Ancient Iranian at Columbia, and part-time Lecturer in Jewish Studies and Biblical Hebrew at California State University, Fresno. He is at present Adjunct Professor of Iranian Religions at the Daneshgah-e Adyan va Mazaheb, Qom. He is on the Editorial Board of the journal Judaica Petropolitana, St. Petersburg State University, and a founding member of the International Association for Jewish Studies, chartered in the Russian Federation. His PhD is in Zoroastrian Studies, from the School of Oriental Studies of the University of London. His recent books include "Poets, Heroes, and Their Dragons", 2 vols., UC Irvine Iranian Series, 2020, and "The Complete Poems of Misak Medzarents", CSU Fresno Armenian Series, 2021.
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