Hayim Herring

Elite University Presidents Flunk Human Decency Test

Abraham H. Foxman, then A.D.L. National Director, stated in 2014 that there had been a significant decline in the number and intensity of antisemitic acts in America over the past decade. However, since 2018, antisemitism in the US has been on the rise, with a predictable pattern emerging. When Israel acts against Palestinians in Gaza, American Jews become more likely targets of antisemitic incidents. According to the ADL., between the start of Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, and October 23, antisemitic incidents have grown by 388% compared to the same period in the previous year. This trend is alarming and has made it unsafe to be Jewish in the United States, especially on college campuses.

Talk to Jewish university students and faculty, and they’ll tell you they cannot find an emotional or physical “safe space” on campus. The viral videos of pro-Palestinian protesters pounding on the windows of a library where Jewish students were locked inside for their protection, the assaults of Jewish students at Tulane, Cornell, and Stanford Universities, and the accusation of Shai Davidai, Assistant Professor at the Columbia University School of Business that he felt unsafe to walk freely on campus are just a few examples of the horrifying incidents that have occurred.

The recent responses of the presidents of Columbia University, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) before a Congressional Committee Investigating antisemitism on college campuses were sickening. Representative Elise Stefanik asked them if chanting “Jewish genocide” or “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” on campus is antisemitic and should be condemned. Instead of responding “yes,” they sided with the students’ rights to “express their opinions.” The issue of freedom of speech and ideas on college campuses is admittedly thorny, but questions about the “genocide” of any group are not up for debate.

History has taught us that intentional, systematic verbal violence leads to physical violence. The last Holocaust survivors remember how the Nazi’s deliberate and repeated use of dehumanizing language laid down a short path to physical attacks on Jews well before Hitler’s plan to wipe us off the map of Europe and beyond.

In response to an outcry from politicians, donors, and influencers, the three university presidents backtracked on their Congressional testimonies the next day and “apologized” for their remarks. However, don’t be fooled by their ersatz apologies. A genuine apology would have begun with the words, “I deeply regret my refusal to condemn that chants of ‘Jewish genocide’ are expressions of rank anti-Semitism. I am embarrassed that I did not unequivocally reply that calling for the genocide of Jewish students and any other group of students is never acceptable. I hope that my Jewish students and faculty, the Jewish community, and my board will forgive me. I pledge in the future to speak out forcefully against protests that call for the death of Jews” and to initiate immediate efforts to decrease Jewish hatred on my campus.” Instead, they told us that we took their words out of context, misunderstood them, or that they didn’t mean to imply that chanting for the genocide of Jews on campus is acceptable. Their day-after expressions of regret were excuses but not apologies.

The Congressional testimony of the leaders of these prestigious universities will accelerate the antisemitism epidemic in universities nationwide. No apology can erase their initial video testimony refusing to condemn antisemitism. These videos have probably already been edited by terrorist groups like Hamas to justify their slaughter of Israeli Jews (and non-Jews) on October 7.

Every time I’ve seen stupidity reach a new low threshold, another event drops the bar further. Sure, being open-minded about many issues is a worthy intellectual attribute. But these university presidents flunked the most important character exam of human decency.

About the Author
Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is a national thought leader, organizational consultant and author on the American Jewish community with a specialty in synagogue life. He is President & CEO of the Herring Consulting Network.
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