Regarding the Department of Education’s attempts to protect Jewish college students, Eric Levitz of New York Magazine shamelessly defrauds his readers. In “Trump’s DOE Vows to Help College Students Restrict Free Speech (About Israel),” he lies to the public in two distinct ways.
The background to this story is that recently the DOE’s Civil Rights division announced it will investigate campus discrimination using the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes anti-Zionism and the application of double standards with regard to Israel.
Levitz finds it “hard to imagine a clearer example of a ‘government censor’ imposing an official truth on universities — for the sake of sparing sensitive students the discomfort of scrutinizing their beliefs — than the Education Department’s new policy.”
FRAUD #1: Whitewashing Problematic Anti-Israel Activism
It’s hard to imagine that an analysis of government oversight of anti-Israel activism completely ignores even one example of the problematic nature of that activism, or at least why many consider it problematic. But that is what Levitz does. So readers of his “analysis” would have no idea that just in the past few months of the academic calendar, the following “scrutinizing” of Jewish students’ “beliefs” took place:
** A San Francisco State University professor posted to her program’s Facebook page that welcoming Zionists to campus is “a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, [and] Palestinians.” What followed were graffiti and flyers all over campus stating, “Zionists Are Not Welcome On This Campus.” A Jewish student commented that “this atmosphere on campus is beyond difficult or upsetting. It’s evolved into something frightening and ugly.”
** At a University of Illinois rally against white supremacy, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) led a large crowd in chanting, “No Zionists, no KKK, resisting fascism all the way!” After a student organization declared “there is no room for Zionists” on campus, a Jewish student observed that fellow Jews “reported being harassed, targeted and feeling unsafe.”
** At NYU, 53 student groups, at the urging of SJP, pledged to boycott not only Israeli goods or initiatives, but Zionist student groups. As the SJP president stated, “our point is to make being a Zionist uncomfortable on the NYU campus,” to which a Jewish student leader noted “when the open goal is to make me personally as a Zionist feel uncomfortable on campus, things start to feel unsafe.”
** A University of Michigan professor, citing solidarity with BDS, rescinded his offer to write a recommendation letter for his student, who requested the letter for an application for a study abroad program in Israel.
** So-called campus disorientation guides have increasingly labeled the mainstream Jewish campus organization Hillel, as well as Zionists generally, as racists and white supremacists, to be shunned. Vasser’s guide urges students to “slap a Zionist”. This call for violence wasn’t a first. Other campus leaders have publicly relished physically assaulting Zionists, to relatively little outcry.
Without this vital context, readers are left to assume the DOE’s Civil Rights division is on a baseless political witch hunt. Just to be sure, Levitz further spells this out. He describes the new DOE policy as “part of a broader crackdown on dissent against Israel on college campuses. These efforts appear to be inspired by the very impulse that the right’s free-speech warriors claim to revile — the urge to suppress an argument out of fear that one’s position isn’t strong enough to withstand debate.”
Levitz flips truth on its head. Suppressing free speech has been the strategy of anti-Israel activists, not pro-Israel activists. Myriad campus pro-Israel events are methodically disrupted and shut down by anti-Israel groups. Israeli speakers and those who host them are constantly threatened. It’s the pro-Israel side that sponsors a spectrum of opinion, even inviting critics of Israel to address students. Not content with simply rejecting dialogue with Zionist students, anti-Israel activists actively seek to shut down their free speech. The examples are plentiful, but again, Levitz completely and intentionally ignores this.
More subtly, Levitz tries to give the impression that campus anti-Israel activism is driven by contemplative questions about democracy and self-determination. “Who determines when a person has applied a ‘double standard’ to Israel? What gives the government the right to tell students which nations they can and cannot consider democratic? Is it inherently anti-Semitic to insist that a nation cannot subject ethnic out-groups to martial law and still call itself a democracy”?
There’s nothing wrong or inherently anti-Semitic with asking these questions, nor with asking how this new definition of anti-Semitism will be applied by the DOE, especially to those accused of applying double standards. But then Levitz dishonestly asks “is refusing to endorse the Jewish people’s right to self-determination really tantamount to a civil rights violation?”
No, it’s not. However, what could be a civil rights violation is the overt labeling of that right as “racism” and those Jews who practice that right (and their supporters, which include most Jews) as “racists” to be boycotted and shunned. Anti-Israel activism has a devastating real world impact on Jewish students. That’s why Levitz scrupulously avoids fleshing out this intrinsic part of anti-Israel activism.
Levitz claims “criticism” of Zionism is not inherently anti-Semitic. He expresses concern that students will be denied the right to advocate for a one-state solution. But is that really at risk? What is actually at risk is not the right to merely criticize Zionism, but the right to publicly smear Zionist Jewish students as racist. This is what truly upsets Levitz.
FRAUD #2: Decoupling Zionism from Jewishness
Levitz withholds from his readers the morally questionable behavior of anti-Israel activists, but that’s not enough. He needs to ensure that his readers see Zionists and Jews as two completely separate things.
So it needs to be stated here that an overwhelming majority of Jews are Zionist, e.g. support the right of a Jewish state to exist in at least a part of the land of Israel. Zionism forms a central part of Jewish identify for most Jews. Not merely a philosophical position, anti-Zionism is a movement actively campaigning to undermine and destroy an existing Jewish society, often with overt support for “resistance” (terrorism) targeting Israelis.
While it’s fair to point out that not all Jews are Zionist (Levitz states that “myriad Jewish groups have opposed the concept”) or have a connection to Israel, it’s unacceptable that in any analysis of this issue, one would avoid addressing the basic centrality of Zionism to Jews today. That 90% of Jews identify as the very thing campus anti-Israel activists loudly declare as racist, is the kind of honest framing that Levitz intentionally avoids at all costs.
Levitz’ tone deaf take on the concerns of Jewish students, his subtle attempt to decouple “Zionists” from “Jews” and his repackaging of anti-Zionist activities and intentions, are Levitz’ way of avoiding a deeply unpleasant truth: the Palestinian cause is now unabashed in attacking Jewish identity and physically intimidating Jews who express their support for Israel’s right to exist.