Diane Weber Bederman

Anti-Semitism raises ugly head at New York University

There is a virus in the air that has slowly infected our culture. It is called “Tolerism,” a word invented by Howard Rotberg, a Canadian author, to describe the rise of the ideology of tolerance over justice, the foundation of Western culture. Tolerism has infected our edifices of higher learning.

Lisa Duggan, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and president-elect of American Studies Association, recently planned an event “Circuits of Influence: U.S, Israel, and Palestine” which she described as a “kick ass” conference that would feature speakers solely from the anti-Israel perspective, such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.” Lisa Duggan came to my attention through an article written by Richard Behar Contributing Editor, Investigations, Forbes magazine.

I contacted NYU president John Sexton and Lisa Duggan regarding her conference because it appeared to be a one-sided attack against a democracy; Israel. NYU, I wrote is “supposed to be a place of learning, not indoctrinating. If the university wishes to enlighten its student body on the situation in the Middle East, one would expect presenters from across the political spectrum.”

I believe her event gave loud voice to the declining values of education in America, values which Allan Bloom discussed in his seminal work The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed democracy and impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students.

In the Forward, Saul Bellow wrote:

The heat of the dispute between Left and Right has grown so fierce in the last decade that the habits of civilized discourse have suffered a scorching.” And “[T]he university, in a society ruled by public opinion, was to have been an island of intellectual freedom where all view were investigated without restriction.

Rather prescient as he wrote it in 1987.

Behar takes up Bloom’s baton in 2014. In our email conversation, Mr. Behar, who continues to follow this story, wrote:

There’s a festering disconnect inside NYU’s administration. If the BDS movement is anti-academic, as the school’s president says, then isn’t it appropriate for his office to criticize pro-BDS faculty members for their anti-academic activities on campus — particularly when their academic departments are sponsoring such events? “Moreover, the NYU community may want to ask whether it’s acceptable for the university’s president to keep silent after one of his professors — the president-elect of the ASA [Lisa Duggan]– tweets about how ‘fun’ it is to ‘play’ a game called ‘Identify That Zionist!’ Would Mr. Sexton remain as mute if an NYU professor had tweeted about how enjoyable it is to ‘identify’ and name Communist professors, or Mormon students, or Saudis, or people on campus who are transgender? Why is the rounding-up of Israeli Jews, or those who strongly support them, an acceptable game to ‘play’?

To me, Duggan comes across as a bully, with a bully pulpit from which she reaches out to her sycophants and flings ad hominem arguments, because she has no facts to justify this “kick ass” event; an event that she tried to keep under the radar.

Why? Why would a professor collect all these people in New York and try to keep it a secret? Why not proudly declare this conference? What kept her from announcing it from the rooftops or at least through every portal of social media? Does she not take pride in her work, her academic credentials, her sense of social justice?

And yet, she had the hubris to plan and execute an anti-Israel conference at NYU, located in New York, home to almost one third of the remaining Jews. As I have often written, if the Jews were under the care of the World Wildlife Fund they would be declared an endangered species.

This was Ms. Duggan’s response:

Dear Ms. Bederman– I am forwarding your message to Hillel and to Judaic Studies at NYU, so they can be put on notice that you expect their events to include speakers across the political spectrum. Your implied insistence that pro BDS speakers be included will be noted.

I can’t make sense of Ms. Duggan’s conclusion or her actions-sending my letter to the Judaic studies department and Hillel and demanding on my behalf that they open themselves to various voices, especially BDS. Not a word about my concerns. Just a flippant, flip of the finger, response.

Duggan’s short reply to my email was typical of her work as seen in the Forbes article. Dismissive; disrespectful with a dollop of a grandiose infantile delusion of entitlement; vacuous, like her credentials for such a serious issue as Israel and Palestine. She has no scholarly expertise in political science, the Middle East, Israel, or Zionism. Her area of expertise is the history of gender and sexuality.

And that response was not researched. Had she done her homework she would have learned that Hillel, which first opened in 1923,

is a Jewish organization whose mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world… And like other organizations on campus they are allowed to make rules specific to that organization. Hillel foundations engage Jewish students in religious, cultural, artistic, and community-service activities…. However, as set by International Hillel Policy, there are restrictions on the services, topics of discussions, and events that can be held. These restrictions focus mainly on Zionism, where Hillel takes a firm stance in not promoting certain types of views on Israel, such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. … Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.

I don’t know if Ms. Duggan ever attended a Judaic study class, or Muslim or Hindu or any other religion. As a multi-faith chaplain, I have had the great pleasure to learn about many religions and philosophies. And as a student of religion I know that Judaic studies, like Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Catholic teach about the particular religion. Comparative religions on the other hand have a different perspective.

Of course, if Ms. Duggan insists, I am more than happy to come to NYU and audit a class on Islam as Christians and Jews provide alternate understandings and interpretations. May I say in gender studies at NYU, I look forward to the presentation of religious views on homosexuality?

I suggest Ms. Duggan have a sit down with her colleague at NYU Irshad Manji who follows a different path: “Diversity is more than your skin colour or my gender or someone else’s religion. Diversity also means difference of thought, of points of view, of opinions.”

Then she can sit down with other feminists like Judith Butler, Naomi Klein, Judy Rebick, and Abigail Bakan and fight for the rights of women in apartheid Saudi Arabia. Or condemn dictatorial countries that turn a blind eye to acid attacks on women, honour killing, gang rape, forced marriages, sex-selection abortion (female genocide)?

The West is falling into the moral abyss described in the Euston Manifesto, a document written by a group of left-wing intellectuals from the United Kingdom. They wrote:

that it is time to stop making “excuses for, to indulgently “understand”, reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy – regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so… Leftists who make common cause with, or excuses for, anti-democratic forces should be criticized in clear and forthright terms.

This is the disease of Tolerism. Ideology that comes back to bite us.

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "