Many readers may be aware that it is currently the holiday of Chanukkah. And maybe you know that during this holiday, the Jewish people light a menorah (candelabra) with eight candles to remind us of a miracle: in ancient times, there was only enough oil to light a lamp for one day, but the oil lasted for eight days. But why was there so little oil left over? Why was the holy temple destroyed? The Syrians forced the Jewish people to accept their Hellenistic beliefs, and worship pagan idols. A small band of Jewish rebels, known as the Maccabees (Hammers), fled from the Syrians, and hid in the hills. Against all odds, the Jews defeated the Syrian army, and rededicated, or sanctified their temple. Chanukkah translates to dedication.
The Chanukkah story is not an outlier. Throughout the entirety of recorded history, there have been countless attempts to wipe out the Jewish people. It is told that King Louis XIV asked Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, to provide evidence of miracles. His response was simple: the Jews. As all other civilizations come and go, the Jews somehow continue. Nevertheless we persisted, as the saying goes. This story may be apocryphal, but it conveys an important lesson: in every generation, there are attempts to exterminate the Jews, yet this scrappy minority survived. Indeed, many Jewish holidays can be summed up with some humor: they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat.
In every generation, different rationales are put forward for why the Jews cannot be accepted: they practice heretical beliefs (monotheism), they reject the true religion (polytheism), they follow laws without reason (chok), they committed deicide (Jesus), they spread disease (the Black Death), they were infidels (Islam), they engaged in harmful practices (usury), they refuse to convert (Inquisition), the holy land belongs to us (multiple crusades), they don’t belong (multiple expulsions), they do not belong (pogroms), they cause struggles (Nazis), and so on. The history of civilization can be written based on whatever the elite society of the day thinks about the Jewish people. As Justice Scalia reminded us, the Holocaust “happened in one of the most educated, most progressive, most cultured countries in the world.”
In the wake of the Holocaust, there was perhaps a brief moment of lucidity when the nations of the world recognized that the Jewish people needed a home of their own to ensure these atrocities never happen again. To put it in terms even Tirien Steinbach could understand, Israel would be a “safe space,” or “affinity housing,” for the world’s most oppressed minority. (Don’t ask her if the Jews are worth the squeeze.)
Regrettably, as soon as Israel was established, the millennia-long train of anti-semitism simply morphed into its latest manifestation: anti-Zionism. They don’t hate all Jews, they just oppose all Jews who seek to protect the the only speck on planet Earth devoted for their protection. This doctrine was dressed up in all the academic garb of Marxism, anti-colonialism, and critical racial studies. Anti-Zionism was championed by elite academics on campuses. DEI apparatchiks, ostensibly hired to promote equity, reified the anti-Zionist trope. Students, who are woefully unfamiliar with world history, see the children of the Holocaust as just another oppressor. And, as they are taught, any act of resistance against the oppressors is not only justified, but necessary. The right type of violence demands silence.
The “gotcha” questions about whether a call for genocide is anti-semitic largely misses the mark. The deeper question is why are elites, in every civilization, drawn to theories that antagonize the Jews. Whether it is Hamas, Hitler, Hadrian, the Hellenists, or Harvard, the root cause is always the same: the Jews are different. The wise people of the day can always make up some rationale to get to that conclusion. Really nothing ever changes. Recently, during the oral argument in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, Justice Gorsuch observed “Harvard’s move to a holistic application approach happened in the 1920s because it wanted to impose a quota on Jewish applicants, but it didn’t want to do through front door, so it used diversity as a subterfuge for racial quotas.” There are always subterfuges to treat the Jews differently.
This background brings me to recent events on campus. Let me make two points at the outset. First, I think Eugene has accurately described First Amendment doctrine, as well as the analogous principles that private universities purport to follow. Second, modifying campus speech policies would likely be turned around to censor Jewish students in the future who defend Israel’s policies.
The problem here is not the First Amendment or any campus speech protocol. The root of the problem is the rotten core of college campuses. From the earliest age, students are inculcated with a flawed philosophy: the world must be divided between the oppressed and oppressors. And the answer to any question turns not on any sort of objective moral truths, but based on a dogmatic preference for the plight of the oppressed. So long as this ideology predominates, no committees or task forces can make any difference. Simply adding Jews to the list of “oppressed” people masks the underlying rot. Indeed, the past two months have demonstrated the complete failure of DEI as an institution. If DEI could not handle the most blatant outbreak of anti-semitism since the Holocaust, what good does it serve? These apparatuses should be abolished and the intersectional pyramid should be toppled.
I still favor robust protections for free speech on campus, and oppose governmental intervention in academia. I also worry what happens when donors can influence what happens in academic progress. I’ll admit, these views are much less sturdy then they were a few months ago. Let’s see what the future brings, as Presidents lose their jobs, as donors withdraw donations, and perhaps, a future Department of Education in a Republican administration brings down the Maccabee.