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Gary Epstein
And now for something completely different . . .

I Did Not Make Any Of This Up–I Didn’t Even Write Most Of It

 

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There comes a time in every writer’s (other than Tom Friedman’s) experience, when he or she is confronted by the writing of others and says something along the lines of “I wish I had written that,“ or “I will never write as well or as clearly as that.”  In those cases, rather than try to reshape the concepts or restate the ideas, one is best served and best serves his or her audience by simply repeating them and presenting them to the widest audience possible, with proper attribution and appropriate admiration.

In my last blog, I pointed out the qualitative difference between the nature of both students and student protests back when I was in college and graduate school, thousands of years ago.  I neglected to note the qualitative difference among those who had assumed the mantle of leadership.  Ubi sunt?

The Wall Street Journal recently excerpted a letter from Father Ted Hesburgh (1917-2015), president of the University of Notre Dame, to the university community.  It is dated Feb. 17, 1969: 

“I believe that I now have a clear mandate from this University community to see that: (1) our lines of communication between all segments of the community are kept as open as possible, with all legitimate means of communicating dissent assured, expanded, and protected; (2) civility and rationality are maintained; and (3) violation of another’s rights or obstruction of the life of the University are outlawed as illegitimate means of dissent in this kind of open society. 

“Now comes my duty of stating, clearly and unequivocally, what happens if. . . . Anyone or any group that substitutes force for rational persuasion, be it violent or non-violent, will be given fifteen minutes of meditation to cease and desist. . . . If they do not within that time period cease and desist, they will be asked for their identity cards. Those who produce these will be suspended from this community as not understanding what this community is. Those who do not have or will not produce identity cards will be assumed not to be members of the community and will be charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace on private property and treated accordingly by the law.

“After notification of suspension, or trespass in the case of non-community members, if there is not within five minutes a movement to cease and desist, students will be notified of expulsion from this community and the law will deal with them as non-students.

“There seems to be a current myth that university members are not responsible to the law, and that somehow the law is the enemy, particularly those whom society has constituted to uphold and enforce the law. I would like to insist here that all of us are responsible to the duly constituted laws of this University community and to all of the laws of the land. There is no other guarantee of civilization versus the jungle or mob rule, here or elsewhere.”

What he said.

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Trigger warning: My more delicate readers may wish to avert their eyes and avoid the next few paragraphs.

Joseph R. Biden, speaking at his first (and possibly last) Inaugural Address, dwelt upon the issue of unity, which was one of the themes of his campaign.  He said, “We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.  For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage.  No nation, only a state of chaos.”  That was on January 20, 2021.

I believed him because he had a record of veracity.  He was at Ground Zero on September 12, 2001, even if records demonstrate that he was in D.C.  He witnessed the collapse of a bridge in Pittsburgh that actually collapsed six hours before he arrived in town. His grandfather died in the same hospital in which Joe was born, only a few days earlier (it was apparently a lingering death, since records disclose that he died over a year earlier). Other dead people have shared milestones with Joe, like the Amtrak conductor who congratulated him on his millionth mile, despite his unfortunate years-long pre-existing state of deadness.  Middle-class Joe was arrested at civil rights protests, though the records reflecting his incarceration appear to have disappeared.  He visited the synagogue in Pittsburgh where there was a mass shooting and spoke with the Rabbi, who, unfortunately, has a Republican memory.  He drove an eighteen-wheeler.  His uncle was eaten by cannibals.  He never discussed business with Jim or Hunter.  He visited Nelson Mandela in jail.

You can only imagine, therefore, how disappointed I have been by the hyper-partisanship and elevated antagonism demonstrated by Joe during his Presidency. He seems never to reach across the aisle, and every utterance appears to be adversarial and even nasty.  Unity?

And you can also imagine how pleased I am that he has finally begun to demonstrate a true ability to bring people together.  It only took 3 years, 3 months, and 12 days, but Biden’s promise to unify our fragmented, polarized society has finally been realized.  Things are looking up.  Morning in America.

Imagine the scene: Pro-Palestinian protesters and counter-protesters at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa stand on opposite sides of the quad, chanting slogans and shouting angrily.  Police in full battle dress stand ready, waiting for the inevitable conflict to erupt. The volume increases, the shouts become more insulting. Suddenly, from among the keffiyeh-clad mob, a clear voice emerges: “F*** Joe Biden.”  The rhythmic chant is taken up by others in the group, and then, miraculously, wondrously, the throngs on the opposing side join in: “F*** Joe Biden, F*** Joe Biden.”

For ten or fifteen minutes, the two groups chant in unison, “F*** Joe Biden.”  Having established a common bond, something upon which everyone can agree, the danger of violence is averted and the promise made by the President in his Inaugural Address kept.

Hallelujah!

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Rich Lowry, the Editor of National Review, has written a remarkably incisive analysis of some of the claims put forth by the students organizing the pro-Hamas protests at Columbia University.  It would appear from the students’ contentions that Columbia has been a key player–if not the key player–in the Middle East, but Lowry’s articles, beginning with the courageous title, “No, Columbia Isn’t Complicit in ‘Genocide’,” tries to debunk these claims.

Writes Lowry: “The Israeli-Palestinian dispute has been a focus of international attention, intense news coverage, and extensive academic research for decades now, and yet no one to this point has realized Columbia University’s role in multiple wars, terror attacks, and refugee crises.  Has anyone in the Middle East ever paused before taking any decision to ask, ‘I wonder what President Minouche Shafik thinks?’

“So how does Columbia pull the strings in a conflict that, to the uninitiated, seems to be a function of the priorities and decisions of major geopolitical players in the region and around the world?

“Well, according to the Columbia students, ‘the University’s weaponization of policy to silence students enables the atrocities that Israel has subjected Palestinians to for decades.’  As if Israel’s pursuit of the war in Gaza depends on whether there’s an illegal pro-Hamas encampment on the quad of Columbia University or not.

“Ah, and then there’s the tremendous influence of  . . . Columbia University emails. ‘The Columbia administration,’ the students complain, ‘has set a dangerous precedent by erasing the Palestinian struggle through one-sided decisions  and emails that threaten and suppress the voices of students who support justice for Palestine.’  The threatening nature of these . . . emails . . . can’t be underestimated [because they enable] a violent, repressive environment that puts Palestinian students, as well as their Arab, Muslim, Jewish, and BIPOC peers, at risk through surveillance and policing.”

Let me interrupt Mr. Lowry to emphasize the point:  If Columbia would stop sending those damned one-sided emails–problem solved. Peace in the Middle East. But before I leave, just let me note one more thing that Lowry reports: 

The students equate Columbia’s written notice of possible disciplinary procedures to “the flyers the Israeli army launched from the sky to Gazans.”

Yes, those self-important, self-impressed, snowflakes who support a barbaric terror group that rapes and kidnaps and murders innocents, believe that they are doing something heroic by camping out at Columbia.  But, as Lowry concludes, “it’s preposterous to think that Columbia is responsible for the Gaza war because index funds in which it invests might own shares in Israeli solar or high-tech firms.”

Right.  That’s preposterous.  It’s the emails that are causing the real damage.

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This one is almost too easy, and I feel bad about piling on the poor girl.  But then I think, “If she doesn’t deserve ridicule, who does?”

“Johanna King-Slutzky” (I put the name in quotations because it may be a nom de guerre like Abu Mazen, or it may just be unfortunate, in which case I am really sorry for making fun of it–she probably has enough problems) purports to be a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia.  Her dissertation is on “fantasies of limitless energy in the transatlantic Romantic imagination from 1760-1860.”  She is going to interpret theories of the imagination and poetry through a Marxian lens.  There’s more, but I will spare you.  She is, as you might expect, a political activist for leftist and progressive causes, active in the higher education labor movement, a lesbian UAW union steward, and an advisor to CAIR.  Maybe it’s all about the ubiquitous keffiyeh, but for some reason, all the women who have leadership roles in the student protest movement look to me like Yasser Arafat.

She was arrested, and suspended, and, nevertheless, appears to have participated in the unlawful invasion and occupation of Hamilton Hall, from which she emerged, sporting a keffiyeh that did not flatter her round, bespectacled face, ringed with curly dark hair, to request that the university provide or not interfere with the provision of food and drink (I’m not clear on which).  She said the following (as noted in the title, I am not making this up): “It’s ultimately a question of what kind of community and obligation Columbia feels it has to its students–do you want students to die of dehydration and starvation or get severely ill, even if they disagree with you?  If the answer is ‘no,’ then you should allow basic . . . . I mean it’s crazy to say because we’re on an Ivy League campus, but this is, like, basic humanitarian aid we’re asking for, like, could people please have a glass of water?” 

In response to a reporter’s question as to whether it was hypocritical for the group to take over a building and then demand the provision of food and water, “Slutzky” said that the students were requesting the university not to “violently stop us from bringing in basic humanitarian aid.” 

To my knowledge, there has been no allegation that Columbia disabled the water fountains in Hamilton Hall.  “Slutzky” may have been engaging in hyperbole, or maybe interpreting the theory of water deprivation through a Marxian lens. Yes, she really said “humanitarian aid,” and no, Columbia never interfered, violently or otherwise, with deliveries, and also never stopped any of the criminal trespassers from going out and buying food.

“We have all undertaken risk to our safety, our careers, our education, knowing that it shouldn’t be that way, and it doesn’t have to be that way, but it is that way, because of Columbia’s violence against us, and retaliation against us, and occasionally member of the public’s retaliation against us.  That’s a risk that we’re motivated to take on because, you know, it’s been over 200 days of genocide, and bodies are being recovered in mass graves in hospitals with, like, you know, their hands behind their back, execution-style while wearing surgical gowns.  This is something that we feel responsible for since our tuition and labor is fueling that and we are willing to take on an extremely minor amount of risk compared to what the heroic people of Gaza are dealing with every single day.”

Following is an attempted translation into normal, non-sociopathic English:  Like, you know, just as Hamas started a war by violating a ceasefire and, like, you know, perpetrating barbaric acts of cruelty on a civilian population, raping, kidnapping, torturing, and, like, you know, murdering innocent civilians, we mini-terrorist-wannabes have broken into an unguarded building and, like, you know, occupied it.  Just as the world expects Israel to provide food and water to Gaza while it is conducting a war against Hamas, which is, like, you know, using the population as human shields, we think Columbia should forget that we are criminally trespassing and could leave at any time to get food, and, like, you know . . .provide us with food.  Otherwise, we might die, or . . . miss a meal.  We are paragons of courage, just like our terrorist, rapist, kidnapping, murderous heroes.”

And that bit about execution-style mass murders, the surgical gowns, the hands behind the back?  Unfortunately, imagination interpreted through a Marxian lens. Or, to use the technical Israeli term,  BS.

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And last, but not least, from Seth Mandel in “Commentary”:

“ . . . leaders of various campus Hamasvilles are getting the attention they no doubt deserve.  The latest under scrutiny is Columbia’s protest leader who . . . told the school that ‘Zionists don’t deserve to live.’ There’s no question people should know where these protests are coming from, and they are not coming from a good place or from good people. . .

“These are the leaders, yes.  But the followers are possibly of even more relevance, since they make up the numbers that give these tent cities their perceived power.  And the followers are idiots.

“Not all of them, mind you.  Plenty of the followers are, like lots of the  protest leaders. bigoted sociopaths. But it is in many ways just as upsetting that the narrative is being set–and that policies are getting changed–by ignorant lemmings.” 

Mandel then reports the response of an NYU student explaining the main goal of the protest.

“I think the goal is just showing our support for Palestine and demanding that NYU stops–I honestly don’t know all of what NYU’s doing.”  She then asks a friend whether the friend knows what NYU’s doing and the friend responds, “About what?”  “About Israel. Why are we protesting?” ”I wish I was more educated.” 

At which Mandel writes, “You and me both, kid.  You and me both. 

“Get enough of these bobbleheads together and you can scare the President of the United States away from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution on Gaza.

“ . . . Israel doesn’t get to wake up with a hangover, sleep until two in the afternoon, and find a different party the next night.  This is real life.  If Hamas isn’t defeated, Israelis will continue living next to the skeletal framework of an underground tunnel system that exists to hold future Israelis hostage.  And above that tunnel system will be the people who intend to take those hostages.

“We should stop excusing the people who plead ignorance as they follow murder-minded grad students.  And under no circumstances should policy be made with them in mind, or because enough of them are standing elbow-to-elbow a hundred yards from their dorm.  The people who live in the real world can’t afford it.”

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To summarize:  Academic institutions formerly had leaders who led with determination, wisdom, consistency, and integrity. They treated students as responsible agents, afforded them the respect due to adults, and held them accountable when they fell short of the mark. Trustees of universities should keep those criteria in mind as they try to salvage a broken system.

One of the few things on which both sides of the divide can coalesce is the realization that a vacillating President who is not on intimate terms with the truth or with moral consistency is not fit for the job.

The students currently occupying campuses and the headlines have an enormously inflated notion of their significance, and it makes them say ridiculous things and take even more ridiculous actions.  Politicians should be cognizant of those facts and should not base policy decisions on the evanescent preferences of preening adolescents.

About the Author
Gary Epstein is a retired teacher and lawyer residing in Modi'in, Israel. He was formerly the Head of the Global Corporate and Securities Department of Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm with an office in Tel Aviv, which he founded and of which he was the first Managing Partner. He and his wife Ahuva are blessed with18 grandchildren, ka"h, all of whom he believes are well above average. He currently does nothing. He believes he does it well.