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November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshvan, 5775
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Wandering In The Academic Wilderness

Jerold S. Auerbach

Jerold S. Auerbach

Not long afterward, a swastika was painted at a bus stop near the college. The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, the center of college multicultural sensitivities, sponsored a three-faiths panel discussion about Jerusalem – which it scheduled on Yom Kippur. Blatantly anti-Semitic e-mail postings by Muslim students infuriated their Jewish classmates: an anti-Israel poem repeated centuries-old anti-Semitic canards about Jews as “Judas,” while a photograph of three Israeli soldiers bore the caption “Three Jewish Animals.”

The president cautioned against “hateful or harmful speech” at a time of anti-Semitism “and other ancient hatreds.” No other “ancient hatreds” were identified.

For Jewish students, Wellesley often provided their first bitter encounter with anti-Semitism. After Angela Davis roused a campus audience with an impassioned endorsement of the vicious hostility directed at Israel and Jews at the Durban Conference against Racism (2001), a Jewish student wrote pointedly in the College newspaper: “I did not come to Wellesley expecting to learn what it felt like to be hated or demonized because I was Jewish,” while college administrators “stand idly by.”

One year after 9/11, Amiri Baraka – formerly the militant black activist Leroi Jones – was invited by the Africana and Art departments, and by African-American student groups, to speak at the college. Baraka had achieved national notoriety for his poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” suggesting that Israel had advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks. He wrote: “Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers/To stay home that day.” (The correct answer, of course, was no one.)

Jewish students were outraged that college funds were spent to import anti-Semitism to the campus – on the Jewish Sabbath, no less. Picketing his speech, they were less concerned with displaying good manners than confronting the anti-Semitism in their midst.

The college assertively proclaimed its commitment to multicultural sensitivity but racial, religious and ethnic animosity continued to fester. Jews, perceived as privileged white Americans, were excluded from its concerns. Jewish students, encountering anti-Semitism and the indifference of college authorities to it, felt vulnerable and often battered.

In 2007, at the invitation of a pro-Israel Jewish student group, Nonie Darwish, the controversial founder of Arabs for Israel, spoke on campus. After Muslims in the audience raucously interrupted her defense of Israel, Darwish was forced to leave the auditorium under police protection. Yet even strongly identified Jewish students, who were deeply attached to Israel, felt the need to apologize abjectly and publicly for extending an invitation that had offended their Muslim classmates.

* * * * *

By the turn of the century, traditional anti-Semitism – at Wellesley as worldwide – had begun to morph into the delegitimization of Israel. Students whose Jewish identity had been battered by their encounters with anti-Semitism at the college, and by the indifference of college authorities to their plight, now confronted the newest expression of an ancient hatred.

With American Jewish history and the history of Israel already embedded in my teaching program, I could provide safe space for the expression of student ideas – and anxieties – about Jewish history and identity. In extracurricular meetings I tried to provide a secure forum where Jewish students, who had dutifully internalized Wellesley’s Jewish problem as their own, could express their pain and apprehension without censure.

They lived, one student revealed, in “a culture of fear in which the Jewish students were afraid to stand up for themselves for fear of being blacklisted or disliked by their friends and classmates.” A student leader explained, “We wanted to be accepted by our peers. We didn’t want to rock the boat or have our classmates dislike us.” In the face of persistent hostility, another student confided: “I’m scared and confused and wonder if maybe…I’m doing something wrong by being Jewish.”

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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5 Responses to “Wandering In The Academic Wilderness”

  1. Progressivism (i.e. liberalism), anti-Semitism, and the delegitimization of Israel have converged

  2. John Jaffe says:

    Outstanding piece, describing painfully and accurately the now legitimized and institutionalized antiSemitism posing as "antiIsrael"
    opinion on many college campuses.

  3. Ltc Howard says:

    Add Brooklyn College, Berkeley, UC Irvine, and many others.

    At one time I used to defend Rabbi Brant Rosen, Jessica Montell, Anat Saragusti ,Alan Eisner, Peter Bienart, etc. as being sincere people. Also, this week , Rabbi Warshal, a prominent rabbi came out in favor of an “open Hillel.”

    I have had much interaction with breaking the silence and with B'tselem. When they accused the IDF of using white phosphorus against civilians, they lied. When they accused IDF snipers of killing a Palestinian woman in cold blood they lied.

    The fact is they are enabling the next Holocaust. Their actions embolden the most extreme elements in the Islamic world who believe it is their sacred religious duty to destroy the Jewish people.

    While, they are quick to provide ammunition for those who hate Israel and they are quick to condemn Pam Geller, they are exceedingly silent at the outrageous attacks made on Israel by the BDS, by breaking the silence, by B'tselem and by European Union funded NGOs.

  4. Ltc Howard says:

    ANOTHER EXAMPLE:"No more Jewish loyalty oaths"
    by Steven J. Zipperstein, Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University, is currently Kronhill senior scholar at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. A version of this essay was delivered on March 2 ,2014 at a forum on pluralism marking the 40th anniversary of the San Francisco Bay Area Lehrhaus Judaica.

  5. Succinct and to he point. Sadly, this assessment can be applied to the present Administration in its entirety. The State Department has always operated within these parameters.

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During much of the 20th century, elite American colleges and universities carefully policed their admission gates to restrict the entry of Jews. Like its Big Brothers – Harvard, Yale and Princeton – Wellesley College, where I taught history between 1971 and 2010, designed admission policy to perpetuate a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite.

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In death as in life, Menachem Begin remained who he had always been: a proud yet humble Jew.

Eighty years ago, in January 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. Barely a month later Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated president of the United States. For the next twelve years, until their deaths eighteen days apart in April 1945, they personified the horrors of dictatorship and the blessings of democracy.

One of my searing early memories from Israel is a visit nearly four decades ago to the Ghetto Fighters Museum in the Beit Lohamei Hagetaot kibbutz. The world’s first Holocaust museum, it was built soon after the Independence War by survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

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