You hear about it, but you don’t really believe it.
What is happening in American universities to Jewish students, and particularly those who support Israel even to a small degree, is appalling, and it hasn’t diminished as courses have moved online during the pandemic. Misoziony, “new antisemitism,” and plain old Jew-hatred that doesn’t even try to disguise itself have become part of the everyday experience of Jewish students in a way that would have been unimaginable for me or for my children when we were students. Read Blake Flayton’s article at the link above. You can say that it’s just a collection of anecdotes, but they are characteristic of the atmosphere at most universities.
One of the more distressing aspects of it is that it is not just coming from other students, but often from faculty and administrators. The adult authority that is expected to protect students goes missing when the victims are Jewish. Administrators that are exquisitely sensitive to reports of microaggressions against “people of color” or sex/gender minorities, often act as though Jewish students do not deserve protection, because after all they are the most privileged of the privileged. In the event that they are not properly anti-Israel – they don’t even have to identify as Zionists – they are vilified and discriminated against in multiple ways for supporting a “racist apartheid state” that can only be repaired by allowing its enemies to overrun it. Those staff members that do sympathize with Jewish concerns or Israel are often afraid that they will be targeted if they don’t stay quiet (see here, here, here, here, etc.)
Campuses are pervaded by a postmodern ideology, which permits free speech only for those that support it, and a postcolonial one that institutionalizes racist attitudes against “whites,” by which they mean (somewhat incoherently) anyone that does not belong to one of a variable collection of “oppressed” groups. Jews, despite a history of millennia of pogroms, expulsions, and genocides, are never included.
Unfortunately, the postmodern/postcolonial ideology (“wokeism”) is not limited to the universities anymore. The so-called “cancel culture” that pervades progressive media is derived from postmodern ideas like truth being a social construct while feelings are a priori valid. The willingness of both the Left and the Right to simply invent “facts” – because the irrefutable “truth” of their narrative overrides any possible falsification by reality – comes from the same place. The ideology has spread to k-12 education, too. And, surprisingly, even the corporate world is becoming suffused with it, as shown by the obsession with various forms of sensitivity training and “anti-racism education.”
This is not surprising, because the woke penetration in the universities has been going on for at least two decades, and graduates now work for the biggest corporations, media, law firms, ad agencies, local and national government, and public and private education. One misses the 19th century robber barons who were interested primarily in money, and didn’t have social objectives like the management of Google or Twitter.
Elements in the black community also seem to find wokeism congenial, because the idea that they are a colonized population makes it possible to argue that all the problems that they face in the larger American society are due to the structural racism inherent in it. That implies that they are owed something in addition to equality of opportunity, because of what was taken from their ancestors by slavery and continues to be taken from them by institutional racism. Unfortunately, the anti-Jewish aspects of woke culture fit in with the historical antisemitic bias of the black community, which was introduced by the Nation of Islam as early as the 1930s, and today is represented by Louis Farrakhan. The racial disturbances and controversies of the 1960s (like the New York teachers’ strike) sharpened the differences between blacks and Jews in urban areas.
Other groups in American society, such as the non-Evangelical Protestant Churches have also adopted a great deal of the woke ideology. Evangelicals, with their belief in absolute biblical truth, and traditional Catholics and Orthodox Jews who also reject the idea of the relativity of truth, have rejected it.
The woke generation adopts various causes that they believe oppose injustice. They are somewhat arbitrary in their choices: although they devote a lot of attention to racism against black people in the US, they almost entirely ignore the phenomenon of black slavery in Muslim countries, which seems to primarily interest conservatives. Of course one of the most prominent causes – far more prominent than is justified by the number of “victims” of oppression and the degree to which they are oppressed – is the Palestinian one.
I would argue that the Palestinian cause, which might better be called “the anti-Jewish sovereignty movement,” actually favors injustice, as its pretense of promoting Palestinian self-determination is easily shown to be a smokescreen for ending Jewish autonomy. Such things as the violence of the Palestinian side compared to the defensive actions of the Jewish side; the vicious racism and religious prejudice of the Palestinians; their poor treatment of women and LGBT people; economic inequality; cruelty to animals; neglect of the environment; oppressive, undemocratic government; and other characteristics that are normally anathema to the woke are completely acceptable when the perpetrators are Palestinian.
One reason for the popularity of their cause is the large number of Arab and Palestinian students in American universities. Google “scholarships for Palestinian students in the USA” and you get a surprising number of results. There are numerous organizations (including the US State Department) that offer them, and some like the FMEP and AMIDEAST, which would be expected to seek out political activists. Many of these students are activists, and they tend to be highly focused on their goals. Many lead chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and similar groups.
Since the 1970s, Arab countries pumped millions into American universities to establish departments and endow chairs of Middle East Studies – by which they meant Arab/Muslim studies – which often became centers for political activism.
Devotees of the Palestinian cause are found throughout American society, among the woke population as well as more traditional liberal segments. The degree of misinformation that these people have absorbed can be stunning. Recently, liberal/progressive icon Barack Obama published a book in which he presented a short discussion of the Israeli-Arab conflict and its history. It was remarkable for the number of falsehoods and biased statements it contained, clearly aimed to justify aggression against Israel and to damage the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Did he honestly believe this tissue of lies for the eight years that he was President of the US? Or did he simply write them into his book to justify his anti-Israel policies and to influence his successors? I’m not sure it matters.
American Jews are in a difficult position today. The traditional violent Jew-hatred that was mostly expressed by uneducated people is still there, and social media has given it a new life, resulting in several murderous incidents. At the same time, the misoziony of the overeducated class, which is trickling down to the average American, often spills over into antisemitism. Jews in urban areas (that’s most of them) also have to face hostility from many of their black neighbors as well.
Finally, Israelis need to realize that the pendulum of public opinion in the US, especially among the decision-making class, is swinging against the Jewish state. The Arab and Iranian strategy of introducing money and activists into Western universities has been hugely effective in changing the national perception of Israel for the worse. The change took some years, but with the help of other social and political trends, is now rapidly accelerating.
We had a brief respite with the Trump Administration, which strongly opposed wokeism and also was truly pro-Israel in a way that few previous ones were. But that was an anomaly. In the past, an anti-Israel president had to contend with a generally pro-Israel public, and a Congress that reflected that view.
The future will be different.