If we were to be frank with ourselves, we would have to admit that the current outbreak of antisemitism on college campuses and across the country is not unexpected. Rather it represents a predictable, and even more dismaying, organized response by numerous on-campus and off-campus organizations, students, professors and administrators.
In other words, it is a deliberate political campaign to attack Jews, Israel and U.S. policy in the Middle East, which is sponsored, in many cases, by untraceable domestic and foreign actors.
Its outbreak shows not only the degradation of many within the nation’s universities, including students, professors and administrators who tolerate this behavior, but also reflects our own political polarization. This polarization clearly creates vulnerabilities that invite exploitation by our adversaries, in this case, Iran.
This upsurge in antisemitism started once Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. In this context it is noteworthy that spokesmen for the 34 Harvard student groups claiming Israel was “entirely responsible” for the attack had little to say concerning the massacre of 1,400 Israelis and kidnapping of 240 more.
But it was, therefore, predictable that when Israel began its retaliation which it, as a state, is obligated to do to protect its citizens, suddenly a mass of organizations such as the Harvard campus groups emerged claiming that all this is Israel’s fault. During the 2020 protests for racial justice for Black Americans, college protests were full of supporters rapidly and justifiably up in arms. The lack of similar support for Israel is glaring and, for many campus organizations, reflects the habitual double standard of antisemitism.
Such synchronized attacks on Israel across America point to a priori organization and leadership. In 2022, the Anti-Defamation League report on antisemitism cited a horde of campus and non-campus left-wing organizations, often financed through the dark web by Iran or other untraceable foreign funding sources to promote antisemitism along with “professors” who act in suspicious unison to blame Israel first for everything. This points to the failure of university administrators to keep a close rein on donations and an unwillingness to make enemies on the left. Consequently, it is no secret that many of them are now under attack from donors.
But beyond this, the synchronization of antisemitic attacks suggests an organized campaign, primarily on the so-called “progressive” left to demonize Israel, minimize terrorism against it and influence U.S. policy and public opinion. And given what we are now seeing in Europe with large-scale manifestations of antisemitism the same thing is taking place there. And, in all these cases, truth be damned is the motto of these activists and organizations.
Thus, we have Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Minn.) who, in a series of public statements has defended the chant “From the river to the sea,” a phrase used by Hamas that the Anti-Defamation League says is “a call for a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, territory that includes the State of Israel, which would mean the dismantling of the Jewish state.” She has also called President Biden a supporter of genocide and was slow to condemn Hamas. Yesterday, the House voted 234-188 to censure Tlaib for her remarks.
Such behavior, whether it’s coming from the right or the left and whether it’s targeting Jews or any other minority, arguably merits the House’s censure. The Anti-Defamation League’s report demonstrates that in 2020-22, prior to this war, the U.S. was experiencing an explosion of antisemitism, mainly coming from the right. These manifestations, in many cases, were actually violent, as attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh, San Diego and Colleyville, Texas, among others, demonstrate.
Whether the rise of antisemitism or hate speech and crimes against other minorities is a symptom or result of Donald Trump’s presidency or the polarization now evident across America cannot be decided here. But the polarization and accompanying surge in threats to ethnic, religious and racial minorities is a fact and has clearly attracted foreign intervention.
From the ongoing Russian efforts to intervene in our elections since 2016, to more recent Chinese attempts to conduct influence operations here, and aforementioned active foreign efforts to penetrate colleges and inculcate a conception of the struggle in Israel as being examples of racial and colonialist struggles, we see multiple instances of adversaries taking advantage of this polarization to hobble our policies abroad and extend violence domestically.
Accordingly, responsible actors and university administrators and professors must not only police themselves, but they must also identify those who spread disinformation, misinformation and hate and expose and isolate them by the legal means provided for doing so. Just as the further “perfection” of the union called for in the preamble to the Constitution must be our ongoing shared responsibility, so too is the exposure and denunciation of ethnic, religious or racial hatred likewise our common obligation.
Similarly, our universities must hold themselves to higher standards, upgrade their criteria for donations and preserve, no matter how difficult it is, free speech that is not incendiary speech. Falsehoods and lies must be exposed, whether propagated by students, professors, or others. Cancel culture, whether on the right or the left, must itself be canceled. This calls for resurrecting what Arthur Schlesinger, in another context, called the “vital center.” For the proliferation of hate speech and hate crimes threatens democracy for all of us.
Stephen Blank, Ph.D. is a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is a former professor of Russian national security studies and national security affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College and a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College. Blank is an independent consultant focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia.
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