James R. Russell
James R. Russell

Saying no to NYU

New York University has study centers all over the world and runs several campuses in the Middle East, one of which is in Tel Aviv. Predictably, there is a petition by NYU students and faculty to shut down the campus in Israel. The move is a cog in the BDS wheel, which is in turn part of the larger machine of anti-Semitism that powers the universities, media, and Democratic party, and is making life in the USA for Jews intolerable.

Many of us unlucky enough to have chosen college teaching as our profession have felt it coming for a long time. When I came up for tenure years ago at a university in the Big Apple, I was told by the chair of the advisory committee in my then field, Armenian studies, that his community did not want a Jew teaching their language. A decade later, at another Ivy League campus up the coast where I had found a job, a dean wrote to me that “real Americans understand that Israel is the source of all our problems.”

I am now out of both that field of study and out of American academia, completely and forever. I’m now interested only in Torah and Judaica, and that’s the way I like it. To me, America is no different from any other place in the Diaspora: it is no longer home and it is not a good place to be. The only reason I do not live in Israel is that my gentile partner of over forty years will not move there and we are too old to be uprooted again. We’ll stay here, and if they come for us, like they always have everywhere, well hell, we’ll go down with guns blazing.

One read with interest, then with increasing and familiar frustration, an op-ed here in the Times of Israel by Kyle Hogeboom, a recent NYU grad who did time at NYU’s Tel Aviv center, now studies in law school, and hopes to work for the US government. Of course one wishes him personal health and happiness.

Mr. Hogeboom writes that the NYU Tel Aviv campus should stay open, since it affords its students a view of Israel they wouldn’t have otherwise. The reasons for boycotting it, he writes, reflect a double standard: nobody, he points out, is agitating to close NYU’s operations in China, despite the genocide going on there. All that is true, and laudable.

It’s when he talks about what he’s learned about Israel that it gets worrisome. For he speaks of the recent conflict between Israel and “Palestine (specifically Gaza)”. That’s a distortion. Hamas, a terrorist organization defined as such by the United States, controls Gaza and attacked Israel, whose people it has sworn to exterminate. But the standard academic and media hypocrisy of so-called evenhandedness enables one to open Israel to condemnation for defending itself against aggression. As though there were two parties to a conflict for Big Brother to mediate.

Hogeboom praises the TA campus for enlightening its students about “the harsh reality of child-immigrant deportation in Israel,” referring presumably to the steps a sovereign government takes to protect the integrity of society against illegal aliens. I leave it to others fully to parse the hypocrisy and mendacity of the focus NYU curriculum here. Let’s just remember that pre-independence Israel fought the Arabs and the British to take in thousands of child survivors of the Holocaust whom nobody wanted or cared about. Israel rescued thousands more Jewish children from Yemen and Ethiopia in airlifts, and saved them thereby from certain death.

But what Kyle’s doing here isn’t just cherry-picking or bridge-building with the tenured radicals he may yet need to network with and profit from in his career. It’s more and worse. Israel-harming-children is the latest mantra of the Jew-baiting left, and is no more than a refraction of the old blood libel, according to which we kidnap and murder Christian kids and use their blood for matzah. Child abuse with a twist.

The old-style blood libel against the Jews is alive and well, including on Arab TV shows in countries we made “land for peace” deals with. The new version showcases the poor children of Gaza– nevermind they were used as human shields, nevermind they are raised to be suicide bombers and haters, nevermind everything– and also introduces, as a soft-porn alternative, “child-immigrants”. For the American audience there’s the extra element of intersectionality: Israel’s doing to those defenseless, wide-eyed little waifs what the big bad Republicans are doing to illegal aliens, sorry, “undocumented immigrants”, on the border with Mexico. See, that’s how BLM and BDS are joined at the hip. And if you want to BE hip (or be employable), you better get with it.

I’m used to this horse manure. It’s the big lie American schools teach, along with “critical race theory” and all the rest of the warmed-over ideology of Nazism. It’s the stock in trade of the New York Times, which used to be a newspaper, and of NPR and All Things Considered, which used to broadcast news. And of course there are Israeli academics ready and willing to import it all to Tel Aviv. As some assimilated German Jews were happy to say, Raus mit uns. Away with us.

What really made my eyebrows travel up past my ears and to the back of my bald head, though, was Kyle Hogeboom’s smug assertion that he is “Christian… the faith that connects Moses and Mohammed.” After four decades of teaching I can confidently tell you, gentle reader, that I have never heard any statement that is more ignorant or farther from the truth. Stupid is far too mild a word. Other terms come to mind, but this is a family publication.

Christianity from the first appearance of the Arabian creed rejected Islam as a schismatic cult; its Prophet, as an arch-heretic. Armenian texts portray Muhammad as a lunatic who escaped from the asylum; they promise that Christians will one day shatter the Kaaba and throw the pieces to the bottom of the ocean deep. In the Inferno of Dante, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is doomed to rend his own body in half, over and over, since that, says the Italian poet, is what he did to the Church.

Many years ago, when I was teaching the required course in Literature Humanities to a class of Columbia freshmen, the assigned edition of Dante contained a caricature of Muhammad in the fires of hell, tearing himself in half. I asked the students voluntarily to tear out that page so as not to hurt one of our number, a Pakistani student named Farooq Hamid who later became a lifelong friend. Political correctness lay in the dark future and Islam was not yet profitable or popular. Most of my students refused. But I tore the vile cartoon out of my book, and my Muslim brother did not feel entirely alone. I got in trouble with the authorities, though.

Medieval Christians believed Muslims to be idolaters who worshipped small golden figurines of the pagan god Mercury, which they called “mawmets”. The latter word is a distortion of Muhammad; and until recently most Christians called Muslims “Mohammedans” in the parochial, ignorant belief that the Prophet had to play the same central role as their god-man Jesus.

This is untrue: Muslims, like Jews, worship the one God, prohibit images of Him, and reject as blasphemous the very idea that the transcendent Master of the Universe became a finite, mortal man who asked us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Although the Holy Qur’an has a Christology, in that it teaches that Jesus was a prophet, Christianity’s own Islamology– to coin a phrase– was acted out in the Crusades, when the Jews and Muslims of Jerusalem were massacred, and in the Spanish Expulsion and Inquisition, when the Jews and Muslims of the Iberian Peninsula were driven from their homes into exile.

Christianity does not connect Moses and Muhammad in any way at all, and never has. To say it does is sheer fantasy and the worst kind of ignorance. Is this what they teach at NYU? For as regards Moses (and the religion of Israel), until very recent years the only Christian theology about us was the doctrine according to which the Church had “replaced” us and had superseded our faith, which is supposedly nothing more than a prelude, a prophecy that Jesus and the Church fulfilled. That’s why there’s an “Old” Testament, preceding the “New” one.

Jews, inconveniently, didn’t convert en masse, and didn’t disappear. Christians invented theological, then biological anti-Semitism to explain that: we were to be the visible, negative proof of the veracity of their new religion, perpetual villains to be paraded or killed as examples of what the rejection of the Church gets you. For the left in this country, the “Palestinians” are the new innocent, crucified victim all over again. On the right, inquire deeply into the beliefs and motives of many Evangelists and you will discover that their support for Israel isn’t about us, it’s about them: they want us all to go there so their apocalyptic scenario can play out, our nation will be atomized at Armageddon, and their messiah will then make his second appearance.

Kyle Hogeboom’s patronizing, paternalistic Christian triumphalism, couched in a statement that is pure fantasy, sticks in my gullet. But this is the sort of rubbish America’s universities churn out, and Kyle, though ill-served, is far from the worst. His career may well take him to the State Department and from there to the Democrats’ new consulate for the “Palestinians” in our capital. I hope he’ll meet some Israeli, like me, though more diplomatic, who will explain to him, as the Russians say, where the crayfish spend the winter. He has a lot of unlearn.

Meantime I’m all for closing down not just the Tel Aviv campus of NYU, but NYU itself. Albeit for reasons the opposite of those offered by the BDS petitioners. Because if this is the education it gave poor young Kyle, then his own funds were ill spent, and so were the taxpayer dollars that go into the drain of America’s idiot factories. Here’s a new slogan: Defund the universities! (And REfund tuition!)

Once upon a time we had a Prime Minister, born Meyerson, who as a little child had survived a pogrom in the Ukraine. She grew up in the Milwaukee. When the reborn State of Israel needed some cash from Jews abroad, the young woman didn’t say it wasn’t her job. She didn’t play politics. I’m told she left for New York so fast that some nice Yid in the City had to give her a warm winter coat, since in her haste she hadn’t packed one and didn’t have an expense account to go to Macy’s and buy one. I can’t vouch for this and maybe it’s hagiography. But that’s what our chalutzim were like. Her mission was a success: she raised ten times what she’d been sent to collect.

Years later, when she was Prime Minister, she used to greet foreign dignitaries at her kitchen door and offer them home-baked cookies. One of the American officials who came over often would badger her about “land for peace”. (Kyle’s got the lingo down pat: “illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank” is what he calls an Israeli town in the Land of Israel. Way to go, Mr. Future Undersecretary.) One day as she opens the kitchen door, the American gentleman extends a bouquet to her.

“So today you’re saying it with flowers,” said Golda Meir in her plain Midwestern drawl.

Come on over for some coffee and cookies, Kyle. I’ll teach you the history of Israel, Christianity, and Islam. For free. It’s an open invitation. Meanwhile, may I offer the modest proposal that you return your NYU diploma and request a refund.

About the Author
James R. Russell is Emeritus Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, and has served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Associate Professor of Ancient Iranian at Columbia, and part-time Lecturer in Jewish Studies and Biblical Hebrew at California State University, Fresno. He is at present Adjunct Professor of Iranian Religions at the Daneshgah-e Adyan va Mazaheb, Qom. He is on the Editorial Board of the journal Judaica Petropolitana, St. Petersburg State University, and a founding member of the International Association for Jewish Studies, chartered in the Russian Federation. His PhD is in Zoroastrian Studies, from the School of Oriental Studies of the University of London. His recent books include "Poets, Heroes, and Their Dragons", 2 vols., UC Irvine Iranian Series, 2020, and "The Complete Poems of Misak Medzarents", CSU Fresno Armenian Series, 2021.
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