In deciding whether to wear a certain pair of shoes, I must rely on context. If an outing will entail a great deal of walking and physical exertion, my most practical choice would be a pair of sneakers. If an occasion is instead dressy and I would remain primarily seated, I would instead opt for heels. If an event was professional, yet required networking or another on-foot activity, I’d turn to my trusted suede flats. In matters of fashion, context is essential. When deliberating the permissibility of chanting for Jewish genocide on campus, context is of the utmost irrelevance.
Yet, context seemed to be a favorite word among the presidents of MIT, Harvard, and Penn, each called to testify before Congress regarding rising antisemitism on campus. Representative Stefanik posed what seemed to be a very simple question: whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate the codes of conduct at each respective institution. The ensuing trifecta of responses, initially almost humorous in their pathetic and blatantly bigoted natures, soon soured upon each repetition of a rehearsed reply.
In a monotonous, robotic tone, each woman echoed that the merits of such a statement would be context-dependent. I beg any one of these lauded academics to enlighten me, to bestow me with the knowledge of the circumstances and context under which calls for genocide would be acceptable. Ms. Stefanik’s question bore no hidden “gotcha”. There is no nuance to be considered. There are no ulterior political motivations: the American Jews on college campuses bear no connections to Bibi Netanyahu’s coalition, nor responsibility for Israeli policy. Yet, they now trudge from class to class with their heads lowered, tucking in their Star of David necklaces and removing their yarmulkes amidst cries for “intifada revolution”.
Now bestowed with blatant permission from the figureheads of world-renowned institutions, campus antisemitism will only blossom. The University of Pennsylvania’s Liz MacGill has arrogantly proclaimed that calls for Jewish genocide will only be punishable once offenders “turn their speech into conduct”, giving Penn students the green light to do everything short of forming the Fourth Reich. Under the teachings of MIT’s Sally Kornbluth and Harvard’s Claudine Gay, the condemnation of a candlelight vigil for Goring and Eichman would only be deserved under certain contexts, and the propagation of Nazi-era propaganda can continue so long as the word “Jew” is replaced with Zionist!
I struggle to make sense of this dystopia. I cannot grapple with a world in which Elise Stefanik, budding insurrectionist and staunch defender of George ‘Only Fans’ Santos, is the voice of reason and logic in conversation with the leaders of the most prestigious universities in America. I have replayed the video clips dozens of times now, each time desperately searching for some slip of the tongue, some dubious wording, some explanation for why these brilliant academics require context to condemn calls for the extermination of my people.
It seems that on-campus antisemitism is a contagious affliction, one that has quickly spread from university leaders to their student bodies. On a post uploaded by Harvard’s Hillel in response to Dr. Gay’s failure on the stand, Harvard student Clark Milo comments “This honestly all just seems like a tactic to villainize and avoid criticism of Israel and its origins.” The notion of Jews fabricating antisemitism in an attempt to garner sympathy is an age-old trope; I am unsurprised and uninspired by its presence here. Rather, I envy this commenter, someone so immersed in privilege and unawareness that he can dismiss explicit calls for violence and the lived Jewish experience of genocide by writing “Who on this campus do you think genuinely desires… the ‘genocide of Jews’?”
Oh, how the Fuhrer must be cackling in Hell! According to Mr. Milo’s assertion that Jews are counterfeiting our own oppression, why is it exactly that a University of Pittsburgh park was defaced with side-by-side graffiti of a swastika and the slogan ‘Death to Israel’? Why is it that a Nazi march paraded through the streets of college town Madison, Wisconsin? What was the intention of the vandal who chalked “Holocaust 2.0” on a sidewalk at the University of Maryland?
Replace the term “Jew” with any other marginalized group of people, women, the LGBTQ+ community, the differently-abled, racial minorities, and this obsession with context will cease. Any candidate applying for admission to Harvard, Penn, or MIT who was to state in their application that systematic murder is only contextually and circumstantially reprehensible would face automatic rejection. Why are their presidents held to different standards?
When Jewish blood spills, will you ask for context then?