America’s do-nothing vice president, Kamala Harris, isn’t seen much these days. However, she did show up on September 28 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Harris spoke to a class and took some questions, including one from a student who identified herself as half-Iranian, half Yemeni. The student launched into a monologue about how sad she was that the US was supporting Israel, which, in her words, was committing genocide against the Palestinian people-all while Harris was nodding silently. Harris then launched her own monologue about how important it was that the young woman’s view not be silenced. I assume this was her way of dancing around the issue.
Knowing Harris’ philosophy, I did not expect her to correct the young student and tell her that Israel was not committing genocide against anybody. I am hardly surprised at her lame response. What I do want to point out is this, something Harris’ either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about: That young student’s voice is not being silenced. Nor are the voices of her fellow Israel-haters (and Jew-haters) on campuses all over the country. They have free rein to say whatever they want about Israel, without disruption or intimidation. Indeed, it is their views that dominate the academic discourse. The same goes not only for students, but for faculty and activists on campuses everywhere. Over the course of two decades, I have attended enough events at various campuses in California (principally the University of California at Irvine, where I was teaching) to know.
No, it is the pro-Israel students and their invited speakers who have to worry about being silenced. I have personally witnessed how Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) disrupts pro-Israel events. It is the rule rather than the exception. I have personally heard Matan Cohen, an Israeli, pro-Palestinian activist with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), describe pro-Israel talk as, “useless discourse”, and state that pro-Israel students “should not feel comfortable on university campuses.”
Without getting into a long-winded discourse about whether being a critic of Israel is anti-Semitic (I say yes under certain conditions, as outlined in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism), I can personally attest that there is a strong anti-Jewish undercurrent behind the anti-Israel campaign on US college campuses. I have heard certain speakers brazenly cross the line from attacking Israel to attacking Jews as people. I have personally seen university administrators hiding from the problem of campus anti-Semitism and denying its presence on their campus. I know that they would act quickly and decisively if such expressions were coming from white nationalists or neo-Nazis. However, these fringe elements have no voice or presence in academia. The problem is that university administrators remain silent when campus anti-Semitism is expressed by groups like the Muslim Student Association or Students for Justice in Palestine-either all Muslim or predominantly Muslim in membership respectively. Just as in Europe, Islamic anti-Jew hatred is a taboo subject. But it is a fact even if not all Muslims hold hatred for Jews.
I wish Vice President Harris had had the guts and the decency to defend free speech for Jewish students and other supporters of Israel-not to mention pro-America speakers, but I digress. I wish she had taken the opportunity to address the issue of campus anti-Semitism and call out the pro-Palestinian activists for sometimes crossing the line into anti-Semitism. She won’t do that because the anti-Israel activists, whatever their motivation, are part of her base. For her to lend credence to the idea that this young student’s anti-Israel views are being silenced is an affront to the truth.