In the spring of 2002, amid the Second Intifada and a wave overseas of anti-American sentiment post-9/11, I had a personal epiphany thrust upon me. At the time, I was finishing up my M.Phil. in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at Oxford’s Middle East Centre.
Oxford! The pinnacle of higher education! The paragon of scholarship!
That year, I saw more swastikas than I had in my entire prior 25 years of life put together. Daily, a table was set up on Cornmarket Street displaying an Israeli flag with a swastika spray painted across the middle of it. In April, my friends and I caught wind of a planned pro-Palestinian march that would begin in the town of Iffley and process through Oxford, culminating in a rally in the middle of Broad Street, smack in the center of the town.
We had a vague inkling that this was not intended to be a peaceful activity. So, we mobilized to set up a counter rally of a completely different nature. “For our own protection,” the Oxford police asked us to remain at a stationary table outside the doors of Balliol College on Broad Street. Like simpletons, we objected at first, but ultimately acquiesced. We painted posters with Palestinian and Israeli flags, doves, and rainbows, and played uplifting music from the region.
In retrospect, our naivety was sweet if misguided.
When the mob – and I do mean mob – reached Broad Street, the police escort we had initially scorned was forced to form a protective line of mounted police men in front of our “table of peace.” That’s right. Bobbies on horses lined up between us and an angry mob throwing garbage at us, screaming at us, spooking the horses until they bucked.
My American friend and I who had pushed for the counter rally looked at each other in silent shock. We had no idea, no expectation, that this was what we would face.
And then we looked between the terrified horses, shouting policemen, and screaming rioters to see my professor, Avi Shlaim, walking quietly down the center of the mob.
Thus died my illusions about the place Jews have in higher education in England. Thus died my naivety as to the mutual desire for a two-state solution. Thus died my respect for academe in my department.
It is time to start establishing our own colleges and universities again.
It is time to recognize where we are no longer wanted and to do what we have done traditionally throughout history: create our own institutions where Jews will always be welcomed.
In the past couple of weeks, I have been ruminating about this constantly. Progressive friends have cried over the betrayal of their political compatriots. Liberals have found themselves shut out of discussion spaces, conversations, and organized entities for years. Universities across the U.S. – large, small, private, public, Ivy League, State – have hammered the nail in the coffin of Jew acceptance.
In my parents’ and grandparents’ time, American Jews made their own homes in society. When our doctors and patients found themselves unwelcome in hospitals, we established our own hospitals. Hence the proliferation of Beth Israel and Sinai hospitals across the country.
When country clubs and swim clubs rejected Jews as members, we made our own clubs for Jews.
When schools refused entry to our children, we established our own schools.
The time has come. We need to start creating our own colleges again.
Many Ivy League schools have drastically reduced admissions for Jewish students. Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Columbia – they all used to boast huge Jewish populations. At one point, Jews comprised 35 percent of the University of Pennsylvania’s student body. Today, the figure is closer to nine percent. This is true across the Ivies (with the notable exception of Brown, which stands out as a welcoming school and my favorite alma mater).
Jewish admission rates have plummeted, but our kids have not become less intelligent. They have become less desired and welcomed.
The current wave of virulent, overt, proud anti-Semitism displayed on U.S. college campuses at this very moment is not new. IT IS NOT NEW. Jews in the U.S. have been struggling against the indoctrination of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement for twenty years. All throughout that time, schools permitted the lies and propaganda of BDS to flourish and taint actual scholarship and truth, lending it equal credence and providing it a legitimate platform.
While free speech on campuses is the typical argument in favor of permitting the propagation of BDS across the nation, its venom has seeped beyond Students for Justice in Palestine clubs into purported scholarship, faculty rooms, classrooms, student unions, student governing bodies, and into quads where Israel is denigrated with bloody, libelous posters each year on “Israel Apartheid Week” throughout the country. Jewish faculty are brought under investigation by so-called university “legal” offices solely because they take a stand on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people or attempt to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Jews at their institutions.
Our universities and colleges are entrusted with the role of educating future leaders of our land. This is no minor task. The minds of our youth will shape the paths our country forges.
Institutions such as Harvard Law School, my third alma mater, churned out half of the current Supreme Court. It has produced senators, congressmen, governors, and CEOs – world leaders. These institutions have betrayed the enormous responsibility with which they are endowed. They have churned out a generation educated in libel, slander, anti-Semitic trope, and support for literal terrorist organizations. The Human Rights Clinic writes amicus briefs in support of designated terrorist entities in the West Bank. If a second Holocaust comes, historians will write of their complicity in paving the way.
Jewish students are unprotected which tells me they are unvalued.
I have a simple philosophy in life. If you are not welcome somewhere based on your identity, why would you want to go there? If people want to exclude you, you shouldn’t be killing yourself to stand beside those people.
An overwhelming number of U.S. universities and colleges do not protect or value their Jewish student body. It is time to withdraw our fungible resources – i.e., money – and our most precious resources – our children – from these dens of iniquity.
As such, I propose that the Jewish people do what we have always done throughout history when the spectre of anti-Semitism has darkened our days. I propose we pool our resources, brains, and grit to create our own institutions dedicated to honest, scholarly endeavor.
Institutions open to all – not just Jews – and predicated on truth and humanistic values. Not necessarily religious institutions, but simply a haven where Jewish and non-Jewish people are welcome to approach learning, research, and scholarship in a safe, welcoming environment. An environment that values and nurtures the gifts our people have to give to the world. An environment untainted by the foul stench of Nazi propaganda that has wended its way into and tainted the halls of our current institutions of higher learning.
One cannot force people and institutions to see reason or to do right. As such, let us hold hands and forge a new path forward for our children.