Jewish students assuaged their discomfort by internalizing their hurt. One student was astonished to discover “how lonely Jewish students were feeling.” Another confided: “After banging my head against the wall, tiptoeing around, walking on eggshells avoiding stating any of my beliefs so as not to make anyone uncomfortable, to find out the fact that I am religious offends someone else was too much.”
Torn between their Jewish identity and their desire to belong at Wellesley, it was difficult for Jewish students to realize that when Wellesley made them feel uncomfortable, frightened or confused about being Jewish, it meant that something was wrong with Wellesley, not with them.
Looking back, as historians are trained to do, it was not difficult to discern the strong connection between centuries of irrational hatred of Jews and the contemporary eruption of loathing for the Jewish state. Israel had become the despised national embodiment of the long reviled Jew. In its own distinctive way, Wellesley College – if always politely and decorously – reflected the transformation of anti-Semitism into anti-Zionism.
At least I was spared the folly of my own alma mater, Oberlin College, renowned for its liberalism ever since it became the first American college to admit female and African-American students. The school’s Students for a Free Palestine led a campaign to divest from companies “that profit from the occupation and oppression of Palestinians.” Support came from La Alianza Latina, the South Asian Students Association, the Queer Wellness Coalition and the Center for Women and Transgender People. Oberlin, proclaimed one proud student (without discernible irony), “lives up to its progressive history and reputation.”
Progressivism (i.e. liberalism), anti-Semitism, and the delegitimization of Israel had converged. Although I resisted the Wellesley tide, I could not reverse it. One way or another, the college continued to isolate and demean its Jewish students. After forty years of wandering in the Wellesley wilderness, with my bad Jewish manners on public display, it was time to leave.
By now, “Israel Apartheid Week” (observed during the last week of February) has become the annual rite of Jewish loathing and Israel-bashing on American campuses. It is for a new generation of Jewish college students to confront this obscene spectacle that demeans its anti-Semitic perpetrators far more than its targeted Israeli villains.