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Visibly Jewish men being assaulted in city streets. Hostile demonstrations in public places. Crowds chanting “Gas the Jews!” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Globalize the Intifada!” Jewish students humiliated in college classrooms and libraries. Synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses vandalized. Even murderous attacks on Jews in synagogues to the point where shuls and Jewish day schools need to hire security guards.

Sounds like Nazi Germany in the 1930s, doesn’t it? But it’s not – these incidents are taking place in America.


Recently, many Americans, especially Jews, were shocked when the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania, appearing before a House of Representatives committee, hedged about whether calls for genocide against Jews violate their universities’ policies; they said it depends on the context and whether the speech leads to action, to which the questioner, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) asked whether that means having to wait until students begin committing genocide before facing consequences.

In the wake of those statements, the president and chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania resigned, but Harvard and MIT backed their presidents. Even when accusations of plagiarism surfaced about Harvard president Dr. Claudine Gay, the university just shrugged and directed her to revise several journal articles she had published, though not her doctoral dissertation. Ultimately, she had to resign, though not without allegations that she was a victim of racism.

What has happened to these storied institution and to what was once deemed the medina shel chesed (land of kindness)? To answer this question, we need to go back a century.

After the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Conference established the concept of a reconstituted Jewish state in the British Mandate of Palestine, the local Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world became enraged, and led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, rioted periodically and carried out pogroms, the most infamous of which was the massacre of yeshiva students in Hebron in 1929. The same time period saw the rise of the German Nazi (National Socialist) Party, led by a rabble-rousing failed would-be architect, Adolf Hitler. During the decade of the 1930’s these two seemingly disparate movements, Islamism and Nazism, became ideological confrères to the point where al-Husseini came to Berlin and encouraged Hitler to kill, rather than expel, European Jews to keep them from emigrating to Palestine.

Where does America enter the picture? Like other totalitarian mass movements, the Nazis sought global domination and exported their ideas throughout the Western world. At the national level in America, isolationist aviator Charles Lindbergh and a right-wing Catholic priest, Father Coughlin, popularized fascism. Automaker Henry Ford’s newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, dared to reprint the notorious antisemitic Czarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Inevitably, restive youth began to embrace the cause of antisemitism as well, and Harvard was no exception.

The groundwork for Nazi influence at Harvard had been laid in the 1920s when the university’s president, A. Lawrence Lowell, supported by future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, proposed a 15% quota on Jewish admissions, which had reached 21% by 1922, ostensibly to prevent further antisemitism than what had already developed. Even many years later, FDR was still proud of doing that – and said so to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (a German Jew), in 1941.

Although Jewish opposition developed, led by Harry Starr, president of the Menorah Society, the university created a 13-member committee, including three Jews, that decided to implement the quota indirectly by increasing the proportion of students from the South and West, where there were few Jewish applicants. By 1931, the 15% goal was achieved.

With the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, the issue developed further. In Washington, D.C., Harvard’s most famous alumnus, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, expressed admiration for the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in a series of letters, to which Il Duce responded in kind. Their correspondence ended in 1935, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, a move which was unpopular with the American public. At that point, FDR’s advisers persuaded him to back away from Mussolini.

Meanwhile, on campus, a controversy arose in May 1934 when, as uncovered by University of Oklahoma professor of history and Judaic studies Stephen Norwood, the University committed the first of three faux pas, as recounted by Michael M. Grynbaum in The Harvard Crimson student newspaper: “[T]hat a high-ranking Nazi officer was offered an honorary position at his 25th Harvard reunion, that crew members of a Nazi naval ship were invited to a reception benefiting Phillips Brooks House, and that the University recognized [in 1936] the 550th anniversary of the University of Heidelberg, a German institution purged of Jewish professors. Norwood also cited Crimson editorials as evidence of antisemitism within the Harvard student body.”

Although the Nazi officer in question, Ernst F.S. (“Putzi”) Hanfstaengl (Harvard class of ’09), a close friend of Hitler’s and a high-powered press officer in the Nazi Party, ultimately declined the offer to serve as vice-marshal due to media pressure, he did visit in June 1934 and was fêted by receptions at the homes of prominent alumni, including James B. Conant (class of ’14), Lowell’s successor as Harvard president. Several protesters against the visit were arrested by police, and the Crimson editorialized in favor of Hanfstaengl’s visit, arguing that “if Herr Hanfstaengl is to be received at all, it should be with the marks of honor appropriate to his high position in the government of a friendly country…a great world power.” Describing Nazi Germany as a friendly country is sickening.

The student newspaper also editorially defended the visit of a Nazi naval vessel to Boston Harbor, which was greeted by prominent local politicians against the backdrop of student protesters. As the Jewish Chronicle reported in 2008, “Later that year, the Harvard administration hosted Germany’s Boston consul general, Baron Kurt von Tippelskirch, at a ceremony honoring Harvard graduates who had died while fighting in the German army in World War I.” Professor Norwood understandably concluded that Harvard ignored anti-Jewish actions of the Nazis. He further asserted that Conant “was not just silent” towards antisemitism, but “actively collaborated in it.”

Norwood said Conant refused to hire many Jewish professors and insisted that Harvard maintain friendly ties with German universities, despite knowing their curricula had been modified to support Nazi beliefs. In Norwood’s view, “Harvard faculty, student leaders, and top administrators ignored news reports of systematic persecution in Nazi Germany, instead tacitly condoning antisemitic viewpoints that were ‘pervasive’ in American society at the time.” Harvard denied all these accusations.

World War II and the Holocaust dampened Harvard’s enthusiasm for Nazism, and after the war, meritocracy was restored and Jewish enrollment began rising again. After being held around 10% during the 1950s, Harvard’s Jewish admissions rose to 25%, as did Yale’s, and other Ivy League schools had even higher percentages. For a generation or more, we were living in the “golden age of American Judaism,” but there were two ticking time bombs about to go off.

One time bomb was the development of critical race theory, among whose major contributors were Derrick Bell, a Black professor at Harvard Law School, and his students, Kimberlé Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda. In essence, the theory held that systemic racism was a built-in structure of American society, and that everyone was either an oppressor (white) or a victim of oppression (person of color). Since the Jews were classified as “white adjacent,” that lumped us into the oppressor class, thereby justifying antisemitism. (Ironically, the majority of Israeli Jews are themselves people of color, tracing their ancestry to North Africa or the Middle East.)

By 1980, Bell had established courses at Harvard Law School that reflected his views; subsequently, in 1986, Crenshaw did likewise after being hired as a professor at UCLA Law School. And, as described by Asra Q. Nomani in her book Woke Army, Hatem Bazian, a Palestinian college student who emigrated from Jordan to northern California with an obsessive desire to destroy Israel, was able to inject his anti-Israel ideology into racial politics with the assistance of an anti-Zionist Jew, Professor Judith Butler at the University of California, Berkeley.

A second time bomb was masterminded by Palestinian-American activist James Zogby, who asserted in a television interview recorded about 1990 that he had the key to undermining American and Jewish support for Israel by portraying the Palestinian movement as “pro-democracy” and seeking racial justice, thereby enlisting college students and the media. His ideas were in line with the theorizing of Herbert Marcuse, a German Jewish Marxist who emigrated to America after the Nazis’ rise to power, and were built upon Columbia University Professor Edward Said’s critique of the West and advocacy for a Palestinian state with the right of Palestinians to return to Israel.

Said justified Palestinian violence against Israel and the West both to emancipate the Arabs from Western racism, cultural stereotypes, and political imperialism and to free whites from their sense of superiority. His ideas soon took hold at Harvard, where he had received his Ph.D. Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies quickly turned itself into a hotbed of Said’s “postcolonial” hatred, where he enjoyed special support from Roger Owen, who worked at and directed the Center from 1993 to 2013.

As a consequence, summarizes Jonathan Tobin in his column of December 22, 2023: “The political left in this country has become a lockstep cheering section for the Palestinians and even for the barbaric Hamas terrorists whose atrocities are deemed a form of ‘resistance.’ The reason for this is due to the progressives’ adherence to the woke DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] and intersectional playbook that divides humanity into two distinct and immutable groups that are perpetually in conflict: white oppressors and people of color who are victims. They believe in diversity only with respect to certain racial groups and not opinion. They have replaced ‘equal opportunity’ with its polar opposite ‘equity,’ which demands equal outcomes based on race and background rather than individual ability. And they seek to include only those approved minorities from which Jews are conspicuously absent.

“Though DEI and intersectionality had been gaining ground throughout society before then, especially in the education system, the Black Lives Matter summer of 2020 made it a dominant force with only a few brave conservative voices raised in dissent.

“That was bad enough for America, as it worsened race relations after decades of improvement. But as some of us pointed out at the time, this was particularly dangerous for Jews. That’s because the BLM movement was, like the rest of the progressive intersectional mindset, hopelessly antisemitic. Their categorization of Jews as ‘white’ and ‘oppressors’ was a permission slip for Jew hatred. As a 2021 survey of DEI college administrators showed, the woke commissars enforcing the new rules were disproportionately anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.”

Thus, as A. J. Caschetta writes in Campus Watch, “Joined with the post-George Floyd academic obsession with anti-racism, attendant calls for ‘de-centering whiteness,’ and attacks on ‘systemic racism’ and white supremacism, the Israel-Palestinian conflict was framed as one more white-on-brown struggle. Therefore, in the mind of an anti-racist ideologue, attacks on Israelis by Palestinians are justifiable.”

An additional source of academic hatred of Israel is massive financial aid from Islamists. In particular, Harvard, as Caschetta notes, “has a long history of promoting Islamism and normalizing anti-Israel sentiments. In 2005, it accepted a $20 million donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal directed toward Middle Eastern studies.”

How has Harvard specifically implemented antisemitic policies? Students J.J. Kimche and Angelique Talmor cited these examples in July 2022:

“The Chan School of Public Health hosts courses such as ‘The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health,’ which focuses on demonstrating how Israel’s ‘settler colonial’ society undermines the health of ‘indigenous people.’ Harvard Divinity School’s program of Religion and Public Life has hosted a year-long series of anti-Israel seminars, platforming numerous speakers who advocate for the ‘decolonization’ and even the ‘de-Judaisation’ of Israel. It is hard to imagine that any other national entity would be subject to seminar after seminar informing them that their own national aspirations are uniquely illegitimate.

“This makes Harvard less welcoming for Jewish students. Those who wish to enter the classes of Amos Yadlin, a retired Israeli general and politician, at Harvard Kennedy School have had to walk through a gauntlet of protesters accusing them of complicity in genocide. Jewish students have had to walk next to the ‘apartheid wall’ constructed in Harvard Yard during Passover, which employs Holocaust imagery to depict Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians and declares that ‘Zionism = Racism.’

“Inside many classrooms, Jewish students are too intimidated to speak out against the new intellectual and social orthodoxy that deems Israel to be the world’s worst human-rights violator. Having witnessed this process repeat itself across the university, we can’t avoid the suspicion that such hatred of the world’s largest Jewish collective is a smokescreen for something darker.”

Indeed, we truly live in perilous times, recalling that the Nazi takeover of Germany was led by university students. It is especially frightening that after the Simchas Torah massacre, more than thirty Harvard student organizations signed on to a letter entirely blaming Israel and excusing Hamas’ actions as a justifiable response to “oppression.” In the succeeding four weeks, harassment, intimidation, and even physical assault against Jewish students has reached a level that many are afraid to wear yarmulkes, Stars of David, and other overt evidence of their religion and heritage on campus and in the Cambridge area or to keep mezuzahs on their doorposts for fear of actual violence.

The University’s response has been so tepid that an alumnus, billionaire hedge fund manager William “Bill” Ackman, A.B. 1988, M.B.A. 1992, wrote a letter more than 3,000 words in length to Harvard President Claudine Gay decrying the University’s failure to act and calling for seven steps, including immediate suspensions for the students involved in a physical assault against a first-year Israeli student in the Harvard Business School, and disciplinary actions for those who chant “Intifada!” on campus or post antisemitic invective on university message boards. There are also reports of donors stopping contributions and withdrawing job offers to students involved in antisemitic acts.

Disturbingly, the social antisemitism of the 1920s has given way to physical, even violent antisemitism in the 2020s. Yet according to Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss, writing in the October 27, 2023 issue of The Jewish Press, G-d causes suffering when He finds us becoming too comfortable, while we should be imploring Him to send Moshiach. We can only hope and pray that from this great darkness will come a greater light.

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Richard Kronenfeld, a Brooklyn native now living in Phoenix, holds a Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford and has taught mathematics and physics at the secondary and college level. He self-identifies as a Religious Zionist.