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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776
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Wandering In The Academic Wilderness


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Jerold S. Auerbach

Jerold S. Auerbach



It was especially dismaying to witness the responses of my Jewish faculty colleagues. Court Jews reflexively aligned themselves with their Wellesley benefactor, even when it discriminated against their own people. Jewish universalists, passionately committed to every worthy liberal cause, could not bear to identify and condemn discrimination only against Jews.

Self-hating Jews, inclined to identify themselves only in order to legitimate their criticism of Israel, endlessly reiterated the complexity of the issue, the better to evade the stark reality of anti-Semitism. Mostly, there were the Jews of silence, who could not rouse themselves to utter a word in public against anti-Semitism.

Wellesley’s Jewish problem persisted. The Religion Department, which had never granted tenure to a Jew, denied it to a young Jewish scholar with exemplary qualifications. Only when he threatened to sue the college did the president intervene to assure his promotion.

In the English Department a young woman hired to teach Yiddish and Jewish literature was informed by colleagues, “loud and clear, that work in Yiddish wasn’t valuable.” Her American literature syllabus was criticized for including Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick, and Bernard Malamud. She was advised to eliminate the Jews, refocus on early modernism, and add Nathanial Hawthorne and Henry James. She soon resigned her position.

* * * * *

By the nineties, Wellesley, like so many academic institutions, had made a strong commitment to affirmative action and multicultural diversity. The special admissions consideration that once was confined to Christian applicants now was reserved for African-American, Latina, Asian and Native-American students – and, as always, the daughters of alumnae. A small Jewish Studies department was established. But Jewish students, with every reason to anticipate the benefits of heightened tolerance, found themselves marginalized as members of the white majority who were available as scapegoats for the grievances of other minorities.

In the spring of 1993 Tony Martin, a tenured member of the African-American Studies department, assigned for student reading an anonymously written volume published by the Nation of Islam titled The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. A farrago of false claims, it asserted that Jews, united “in an unholy coalition of kidnappers and slave makers,” had played a “disproportionate” role, amounting to “monumental culpability,” in slavery and the slave trade – “the black holocaust.”

Martin’s department chairman accurately described the book as “patently and scurrilously anti-Semitic.” Martin responded by calling his colleague a “handkerchief head.”

To Martin, the explanation for the instant outcry against his assignment of the book was simple: “The long arm of Jewish intolerance reached into my classroom.” He was, he loudly proclaimed, the victim of “a classic textbook case study of organized Jewish intimidation.” In a college ruled by polite decorum, the vehement tirade of an angry black man was frightening and threatening.

Adding fuel to the fire, Martin self-published a venomous tract later that year titled The Jewish Onslaught: Despatches [sic.] from the Wellesley Battlefront. The self-described victim of a “Jewish onslaught,” he denounced allegations of his anti-Semitism as “a clever smokescreen for a burgeoning Jewish intolerance of truly Stalinist proportions.”

Hallucinating a Jewish cabal aligned against him, he noted that the dean of the college, chair of the Board of Trustees, head of student government, “a goodly portion” of the tenured faculty, and “sundry other persons in high positions, were all Jews.” Martin raged against “all the dirty Jewish tricks” used against him.

The college president, evidently terrified of confronting Martin, ignored his rants; said nothing about his teaching of scurrilous lies about the role of Jews in the slave trade; and responded with an impassioned plea for polite manners. That Martin was teaching anti-Semitic fabrication as historical fact did not seem to concern her.

* * * * *

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks the battleground for Jews at Wellesley shifted. The president forcefully reminded the Wellesley community to show respect for Muslim students, lest they be held guilty by association with Muslim terrorists. But she said nothing to reassure Jewish students, who encountered malicious allegations, on and off campus, of Israeli responsibility for the terrorist outrages, accompanied by mendacious claims that several thousand Jews, forewarned of the attacks, had not reported for work at the World Trade Center that day.

Jerold S. Auerbach

About the Author: Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy,” to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.


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