| The Current |

Degrees of Hate

Is it safe to be Jewish on US college campuses? Are the protests against Israel part of a wider war against Western values? Is there a way forward for Israel advocates on campus?

At leading universities across America, the anti-Israel feeling that normally bubbles beneath the surface of the predominating progressive agenda has suddenly taken over normal life.

Class is out as pro-Hamas students intimidate their Jewish peers and tangle with police, all in the name of social justice and supporting the Palestinian cause.

These colleges that are meant to educate America’s elite have been exposed as citadels of intolerance. Institutions founded to develop critical thinking have become hotbeds of support for the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.

Instead of encouraging intellectual rigor and academic investigation, America’s most prestigious universities have chased away their Jewish students and faculty, to such an extent that they have received praise from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran.

In these leafy precincts supposedly dedicated to free speech and thought, Jewish students fear for their safety — not only emotionally, but even physically. And as pro-Hamas campus groups intimidate Jews, university administrators have dithered, doing next to nothing to guarantee their safety, often ignoring their own policies to protect violent activists.

And to anyone who argues that these protesters are motivated by “humanitarian concerns” over the suffering of Gazans, it must be pointed out that the campus rallies began on October 7, long before the Israeli response. Anti-Semitism has now been revealed to be deeply rooted in the major educational centers of the West.

To observers the world over, the unrest at Ivy League institutions is yet another sign that America itself is in turmoil. Some insist that this will blow over, pointing to the tradition of radical campus activism dating back to Vietnam. But to many who are more closely involved, it all hints at something darker: a shuttering of the academic mind that bodes ill for Israel and for America itself.

The protests raise a host of questions about America’s future. First, is it safe to be Jewish on US college campuses? Are the protests against Israel part of a wider war against Western values? Is there a way forward for Israel advocates on campus?

These questions are at the heart of the testimonies presented here from students and faculty at the schools where some of the most disturbing scenes have been recorded. The rawness and immediacy of these first-person accounts capture the loneliness of being a Jewish student in the post-October 7 world, as well as the stirrings of Jewish pride emerging among those who stand up to be counted.

Shabbos Kestenbaum
Age: 25
College: Harvard University
Career Goal: Religion and Public Policy

On October 7, as Jewish students like me were trying to figure out if our family members in Israel (in my case, grandparents, aunts, and uncles) were alive or not, we had 34 student groups, representing more than 1,000 students, jumping out of bed, some still in their pajamas, to draft as an “emergency statement” to blame the victims in the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

That was day one. There was no condemnation of Hamas from Harvard. And it set off a series of ongoing violent protests. So, for example, at the Harvard Business School, a Jewish student was physically accosted. Since then, we’ve constantly heard violent rhetoric calling for “The globalization of the Intifada,” “Free Palestine,” “Palestine will be Arab,” “From the river to the sea,” and so on. And we’ve had no enforcement of any disciplinary policies from Harvard University. In fact, they have yet to meet with me, a Jewish student and founder and president of the Harvard Divinity School Jewish Student Association. So we see that they don’t really care about the issue of anti-Semitism. We are being treated as categorically different, and that’s why we filed a lawsuit against Harvard.

The lawsuit is alleging that there is pervasive and systemic anti-Semitism perpetrated by Harvard University. When we filed the lawsuit in January, Harvard filed a motion to dismiss it, rather than take our concern seriously. They want the judge to throw it out. And then we responded to that motion to dismiss, and a judge will decide around June whether the lawsuit will go to trial or not. But we tried working with Harvard. We tried going through the president, through the administration, and they’ve either been unwilling or unable to condemn anti-Semitism or, more importantly, to combat anti-Semitism.

After the departure of President Claudine Gay — who, it must be clarified, was forced out not due to her anti-Semitism but rather due to accusations of plagiarism against her — a new president was elected. His name is Alan Garber, and he’s been just as useless. So currently, we have Harvard encampments, we have students who are sleeping in the middle of Harvard Yard in tents, screaming out “Intifada.” They are surrounding us and intimidating us on our walk to class. And Alan Garber has not said anything. He hasn’t disciplined the students, he hasn’t gotten rid of the encampments. So we don’t feel safe anymore.

About three months ago, there was a Harvard employee who challenged me to debate him as to whether Jews were involved in 9/11, and then posted a video on his social media waving a machete saying that he wanted to fight me. I had private armed security outside my house for a week as a direct result of that. So, in that sense, it’s a physical concern. And as it pertains to my mental and emotional state, I’m a visibly Orthodox Jew, I wear a kippah and my tzitzis. I know that I’m a walking target. And the worst is that we don’t feel that we have the support from the staff, from the administration, or from the president, because they haven’t done anything to help.

If you are pro-Israel, or if you wave of Israeli flag, you will be surrounded. You will quickly be made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed. But even if you’re not a Zionist, even if you’re not waving an Israeli flag — if you’re just Jewish, it’s still not a given that you will be protected.

And it’s not just students feeling this, but also many professors. During the first day of the illegal encampment on campus, there were professors in full regalia cheering on the protestors, in classrooms. In classrooms, the students are taught that Israel is a settler, colonial, apartheid, genocidal regime, and that the State of Israel does not have a right to exist. I mean, they’re taught this in classrooms. It’s not a secret.

Since all this began, I’ve lost many friends. No one in my program speaks to me. I don’t think I actually have any friends at Harvard Divinity School anymore. My classmates don’t speak to me. My professors rarely speak to me.  Our classmates are the ones who are instigating a lot of the anti-Semitism. So we don’t feel that we have allies.

But this hasn’t discouraged me. On the contrary, it has strengthened my Jewish identity. In fact, after October 7, I bought a bigger kippah. I actually made a minyan in front of the illegal tents. And I’m very proud to be frum, and I’m proud, kosher, and Zionist. And I’m not going to change. At the same time, there are students — I know this for a fact, because they’ve told me — who don’t wear their kippahs anymore. They wear baseball caps. I know students who’ve taken a leave of absence. They’re not here for this semester. So yeah, there have definitely been people who are scared and intimidated.

My parents are very proud, but at the same time, they’re very nervous. They’re very, very scared for my safety. But this is a reality for Jewish people in 2024. My mom wanted me to come home. But as I said earlier, I am not going to change my behavior, my attitudes, my daily routine, in any way. At the end of the day, they respect my decision to stay here at Harvard and to fight for the Yidden.

It’s difficult to project what might happen in the future. Protestors have said that they are not leaving. And Harvard does not seem willing or able to enforce any policies. So I think there are two ways this could end: Either the protestors just get bored and go home (we must remember that summer vacation is almost here), or Harvard finally decides to grow a backbone, and they call the police and they forcibly remove all of the protestors. But those are the only two options. I really don’t see any other way of this ending.

Harvard needs to call in the police. The police can’t just come; they need to be asked by Harvard, and Harvard thus far has told the police not to come.

Nicholas Baum
Age: 19
College: Columbia University
Career Goal: Finance or Economics

The only thing I can say right now is that nothing good is going on at Columbia. I see nothing but a complete disregard for many Jewish students’ well-being .Before the events of the last few months, we were used to seeing massive protests a couple times a week. It’s an all-too-familiar experience for us, walking toward campus and hearing the screams of hundreds of protesters, many of whom aren’t affiliated with the university in any way whatsoever.

I completely respect their freedom of speech, their freedom to do all of that. But things definitely took a turn for the worse a few weeks ago. Columbia had an especially anti-Semitic night. I woke up to see countless videos and evidence of people outside the gates of my own university yelling, “Jews go away,” “Go back to Europe,” “We will repeat October 7 10,000 times,” or yelling for Tel Aviv to get burned to the ground. That sent shockwaves through the Columbia Jewish community. And it was really at that moment that I, for the first time, no longer felt safe on campus.

Ever since then, attitudes toward Jews have taken such a turn for the worse that many of us have left for good. I attend the Jewish Theological Seminary at Columbia University, so I live in a Jewish dorm, and one by one I’ve seen friends of mine, living in my dorm and on my floor, go back home. There’s been a massive exodus from the place. It’s been a very surreal experience. A few nights ago, when protestors took over Hamilton Hall (an academic building on the campus), it was so strange to think that there were more people sleeping over in that academic building that they had barricaded themselves in, than there were Jews remaining in my Jewish dorm. It was a frightening realization of how much of a minority we were, and how little others seemed to care about our safety on campus.

I’ve remained, but I think I’m probably going to move out before my final exams, since they’re virtual. I think I could have moved out a lot earlier, but the reason I didn’t is that we’ve heard chants of “We don’t want no Zionists here,” “Zionists get off the campus,” and I think the last thing we can do is to let those people win.

Before October 7, I did not have much of a Jewish identity. I wasn’t really raised religious. I never wore a kippah or a Star of David. I sometimes attended Shabbat services, and I lived in Jewish dorms, but outside of that, I had hardly developed an outwardly Jewish identity.

But I felt that it was not only October 7 that helped change my Jewish identity: It was all the different anti-Semitic experiences, chants, actions, assaults over the last few months. While they were frightening, they’ve also compelled me to become a better Jew.

And I think nothing illustrated that better than the first time I wore a yarmulke just to walk around campus. It was the next day, after that especially anti-Semitic night. Before, I would only wear a yarmulke to go to Shabbat services. But when I saw all that anti-Semitism boil up,  I felt that it was time to outwardly express my Jewish identity. Because without a yarmulke, there’s like, hardly anything to show that I’m Jewish.

So, when I wore the yarmulke, on the one hand, I felt a greater sense of fear. People can suddenly identify me as being Jewish. And that could be a serious problem at Columbia University, obviously. But there’s something about how, when your small minority group is challenged, and pushed, and attacked, time after time, that’s when your pride in being such a minority ignites. I don’t know if I can even fully explain it, but I’ve never been prouder of being Jewish than I have the last few months, when it’s become increasingly more difficult to be a Jew.

One of my best friends was also wearing a yarmulke around campus, and he was followed by a man who repeatedly screamed at him, “You’re not Jewish, you’re just European.” I still don’t know what it means, but he was trailed for several blocks by this man who was harassing him and who refused to leave him alone.

Showing you are a Jew, you run the risk of being verbally attacked, of being on the receiving end of an anti-Semitic threat. We’ve seen that time and time again. Jewish students who don’t even have an Israeli flag, who don’t even show that they’re Zionist, may be passing by a protest, and they’ve been yelled at with those chants of “Yehudim go away” and “Go back to Poland,” even if they didn’t have anything that visibly showed they supported Israel. They simply stuck out as Jewish to the people yelling that.

And I’ve heard other horror stories, too. People being spat on for speaking Hebrew. Having necklaces torn off them. Countless people have talked about getting dirty looks for wearing yarmulkes.

The sad thing is that there’s not only a lack of support from the administration, but a lack of support from my classmates. They’re very unsympathetic and uncaring about their Jewish pro-Israel classmates. They support the protests, these people screaming “Intifada,” they’re supportive of the takeover of Hamilton Hall. But they won’t condemn or even talk about the anti-Semitism that’s occurred on campus over the last month. Or they’ve downplayed it.

People say that America’s future leadership comes from these universities. It’s scary to consider that, but it’s true: These are the future leaders of the free world right here. And they are receiving their information very uncritically. They are accepting these terms, like genocide, like apartheid, as self-evident truths that they don’t need to explain anymore. They feel like if they chant these terms enough times, they make them become true.

This is very sad, but I’d guess that most of these students get all their information from social media. I can hardly imagine any of these people watching the news, much less reading a book about the issue. What you’re seeing at Columbia, from these supposedly very smart individuals, is the same thing you’d see from any other human being who didn’t go to university. They’re not being critical. They’re not being nuanced. They’re not showing any rigor whatsoever. They’re just being spoon-fed information from influential social media accounts.

I don’t think these students get their information from their professors, either, but they’re certainly encouraged and supported by them. These professors were helping support the students that were taking over Hamilton Hall. These professors have failed to call out anti-Semitism on campus. It’s not that they’ve necessarily informed these students of this worldview, but they’ve certainly encouraged them to keep going down this rabbit hole.

Now, regarding my parents, I must say that they are scared for me. They’re very worried for me. Especially my mom. She doesn’t want me going anywhere near the entrance of my own university.

Just let that sink in for a second: Imagine going to a university and your parents not even wanting you to go near its entrance. That’s unfathomable in the United States. But that’s what’s happening right now. My parents were worried sick for me. They could not get me home soon enough.

Amanda Silberstein
Age: 20
College: Cornell University
Career Goal: Hotel Administration

Since October 7, there’s been a real historic rise in anti-Semitism on our campus, in anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes. Pro-Hamas student organizations have hijacked the university’s commitment to freedom of speech and utilized it to their advantage to taunt and intimidate Jewish students, and incite violence against Jews on campus. They’ve scheduled events almost daily in which they lie down in libraries and disrupt the learning. And really, the day-to-day life of not only Jewish students but of every single student on campus is impacted by this. And of course, Jewish students are all the more intimidated to really be themselves and to stand up and be proud of their identities.

They have set up an encampment illegally, in direct violation of state law, and have shouted genocidal chants, calling to “globalize the Intifada.” And professors speak at the encampment, as well as making statements to their classes, encouraging students to take part in the encampment. Some professors are even holding their classes there, which is putting Jewish students in a tough position, forcing them to choose between sacrificing their values and their safety or harming their grades.

One of the main cases was a professor of history, Professor Russell Rickford, at a rally downtown, not even a week after the Hamas attack. He said that he was “exhilarated and energized by it” and that Hamas was shifting the balance of power and ushering in a new era of Palestinian resistance. To hear a professor of history say that, glorifying the terrorist organization who days before decimated Israel and so many innocent civilians, defend his words and not walk back any of his prior statements, and only further entrench himself in his beliefs and then have no disciplinary action being taken against him, is really staggering.

We’ve received a lot of direct overt threats. There’s been intimidation and dehumanization of Jews on campus. Throughout history, of course, we’ve seen that actions follow speech, and that speech is used as incitement to violence.

I believe 22 percent of the population at Cornell is Jewish, but not many grew up with a strong Zionist spirit and proud foundation, like I did. For some people, prior to coming to Cornell, religion wasn’t a big part of their life. Being Jewish didn’t define their every minute and every action. To come to Cornell and have your Judaism — a part of your identity that is just there, not something you’re outwardly and unapologetically proud of — used against you, does turn some students away from Judaism. It maybe makes them resent a part of their identity even more. But there are other students who were proud before and now are free to walk around and tell people that they’re Jewish.

Nevertheless, it’s important to clarify that these protests are impacting all university students. Even non-Jewish students, students who know nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all, who are sitting in a library trying to study while other students are marching through yelling, “From the river to the sea.” It’s disrupting normal activities for every single student on campus. Students have had exams cancelled because of these protests, and actions occur right outside of places where exams are being held. So it stretches across campus. And it is frankly really selfish.

They’re of course trying to intimidate Jewish students, but in the process, there’s collateral damage, and every student on campus is feeling the ramifications of this.

I understand that the University administration has a very diverse student body, and they have a lot of different stakeholders to please. But the statements they’ve issued have, first of all, been tepid and anemic at best, clearly written with legal consequences in mind so as to mitigate the situation, rather than out of actual concern for their students. But what’s even worse is that no action has followed these statements. They’ve really been empty promises that have not been upheld.

For example, the school has commented numerous times on the illegal nature of the encampments, first of all from the standpoint of university policy, and also from the standpoint of the state law against trespassing. And despite all of their words, that the consequences for violating school policy are XYZ, they have still been restraining the police from going in and actually dismantling the encampment and addressing students who have broken the law and have repeatedly and intentionally violated policies.

I think they’re more scared of the more strident voices in the student body. They know that we follow the rules. It’s easier to try to assuage the ones who are actually violating the policies, because they’re louder. But they’ve also done a terrible job with the professors — keeping professors who encourage violence on board, those who encourage other professors and students to break university policy and the law. It’s just really insane. It’s to the point that now, when I’m choosing my courses for next semester, I do extra research into the personal lives of my professors — something that really shouldn’t be done, but we have no other option.

Have no Fear
Rabbi Dovid Gurevich
Beit Chabad UCLA

Rabbi Dovid and Mrs. Elisa Gurevich have been Chabad emissaries at UCLA for nearly two decades, often hosting up to 200 guests at their Shabbos table.

What’s going on at UCLA?

It’s very similar to what’s going on many other campuses currently that have been rocked by anti-Israel protests — seemingly very organized efforts. And it usually turns out as it has the past few days here, when the campus erupted with incidents of harassment and assault.

In the recent clashes, what specifically occurred?

Some students occupied the main campus and created a very negative, poisoned atmosphere, and it escalated to counter protests, with people attacking the encampment. And then overnight, it was cleared out by the police, so there was a major confrontation there as well.

Is the UCLA Campus a safe haven for Jews?

I don’t know if it’s any different than many other campuses right now in terms of safety. Obviously when things pop up like this, Jewish students overall feel less safe. But you know, it’s more like isolated incidents.

Was the Beit Chabad attacked?

No, we didn’t have anything at the Beit Chabad at all. We did not have any problem with that, nor did I when I went to campus. Maybe because I’m six foot four.

How do you respond to the attacks against Jewish students?

Some students reported physical assaults. They feel like they need to be around each other, with the community. So you know, coming together for Shabbos or for other encounters has been very therapeutic for them. In that regard, we’re trying to do a big shabbaton soon. Hopefully 500 students will come together for a communal Shabbos. And they all need to be around other Jewish students and feel that reassuring presence.

Do you believe this conflict has impacted the religious life of students?

There’s been a lot more interest and involvement from students who otherwise would not be as into Jewish life. Wrapping tefillin is going up, Shabbos attendance is going up. I used to stand on campus to wrap tefillin and I’d get two or three students. But now it’s like three, four times that margin. Now I don’t even have to ask, they’re ready to roll up their sleeves. So there’s definitely been a shift.

Students are just confronted with a lot of hatred and are realizing who their friends are. These are young people who never really had any firsthand experiences with anti-Semitism before, so it’s all coming together for them.

Can average Jewish students, if they remain aloof from the conflicts, lead normal lives on campus? Can they display their Jewish identity, or is it dangerous?

There are very few incidents. Most of the time it’s very quiet. Even when it’s a war zone, like in the past week. I was near the encampment for a few hours when things got really tense, and it was mostly okay. Of course, there were people chanting this and that and anti-Semitic things. Then someone starts shouting, and it evokes a response, and things get heated.

But overall, Jewish students can go about their lives. They definitely sometimes feel intimidated, but for those who step up and show bravery, expressing their identity has its own payoff. We encourage students to wear yarmulkes, despite everything going on.

When some students did that, they were approached by other Jewish students who said, “Thank you for doing this, I just feel so reassured when I see someone else being proudly Jewish on campus at this time.”

Have you ever witnessed anything like this in all your time at UCLA?

I’ve been here 18 years. And definitely nothing on this scale. Whenever something happens in Israel, it spills out on campus, but definitely not to such a degree.

What advice do you usually give to students?

Our advice is to try not to have fear. We have to look at the bigger picture. We are the eternal people and therefore we have to strengthen and reinforce each other’s positivity, be part of the community and battle the darkness with light.


Free Speech Is Cheap

ZOHAR GOSHEN is an Israeli-born corporate law professor who’s been teaching at Columbia University for over two decades. From 2008 to 2011 he served as the chairman of Israel’s Security and Exchange Commission, managing the response to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and implementing major corporate governance reforms in Israeli Corporate Law. His contributions to corporate law and securities regulation are widely acknowledged and appear in leading publications, and he serves as co-director of the Center for Israeli Legal Studies, which hosts visiting Israeli faculty and scholars throughout the year.

Professor Goshen was one of 235 Jewish faculty members who signed a letter in response to a faculty petition calling on the university to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

The letter, in part, states, “For nearly seven decades, Israel has faced hostile neighbors. Rocket attacks, terrorism in the streets, chaos across the border, and the trauma of war are facts of life for Israelis… We recognize that Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza, and that Gaza has since become a base for attacks on Israeli civilians. We do not mean to suggest that we agree with every policy of the Israeli government… Yet it would not be just or principled to respond to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by disengaging from Israel or from companies that do business with Israel. It would be…  unprincipled to single out Israel for this sanction, while maintaining ties with other nations that — unlike Israel — are undemocratic, repressive, and much less restrained in their use of force.”

Have you noticed a shift within New York’s Jewish community amid the university protests?

For many years, the Jewish progressives in the US, and even some on the extreme left in Israel, have been living with a certain mindset that there is a difference between anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. But now what we’ve been seeing is that there’s no difference, and that has been a shocking revelation for this sector. So on one hand, there is a move back to traditional pro-Jewish agendas, back to the center. Yet on the other hand, some of these progressives have become even more extreme: You could see people holding the Pesach Seder in the middle of the encampment in support of Hamas.

As a Columbia professor who is Israeli and whose extended family lives in Israel, these protests surely hit uncomfortably close to home.

The thing here is that the mask is now off, and it’s not even about being Israeli — it’s about being Jewish. There is a sort of blanket permission to say or do things against the Jews and the Israelis that they would never do against Muslims or African Americans.

I’ll give you one example. At one of the recent pro-Hamas demonstrations, it was claimed that two Israeli students bought stink bombs on Amazon and used them against the Hamas supporters. They were caught and are now standing for discipline. After that event, which they called a “chemical attack,” a law professor went on television claiming that Israelis are coming onto campus right out of the IDF with knowledge of how to attack.

Now, I’ve been here over 20 years, and I never heard in all that time of any incident of an Israeli student harassing Palestinian students or any other student. But think about this: If someone were to go on TV saying that African-American students are coming from rough neighborhoods and attacking students, or that Muslim students are coming from terrorists countries and planting bombs, they’d be fired in a minute.

Have you seen an overt disparity in the university’s tolerance toward attacks on Jews compared to other minorities?

It’s obvious that the level of enforcement of university rules as it applies to activities against Jews is practically zero. And as it applies to activities against any other group, it is very, very demanding and very, very effective. So this is like a complete collapse of the university’s values. For many years, the university would not invoke the rules of free speech, because even though technically you can say whatever you want as long as it’s not actually creating a call for violence against other people, the university said, “No, we’re concerned for others’ feelings, and we want to ensure an environment where everyone feels comfortable.”

This has been the policy for decades, but now, when it comes to the Jews, and someone chants “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which is essentially calling for the destruction of Israel, they say, “No, no, it’s just a political statement.” When it comes to the Jews, suddenly it’s all about free speech.

I’ve been a professor here for over 20 years and I’ve never seen such blatant open anti-Semitism. No one is even trying to hide it — they’re even proud of it. It’s just shocking.

What’s your take on those who draw parallels between this and past university protests?

It’s a complete distortion, and I’ll tell you why: Everyone says, “Well, in 1968 there were these demonstrations against the Vietnam War and Columbia was in the lead on that.”

But there was something inherently different then. The demonstrations were against the government and against the university’s pro-government policies, which had a direct effect on American citizens, and especially African Americans being drafted in large numbers, which hooked into the civil rights movement.

But the current conflict is 6,000 miles away, has nothing to do with them or the US, and it’s being used to attack another group of students on the campus. These are not demonstrations against the government, they are demonstrations against fellow students in the university. They claim the demonstrations are against Israel, but practically, they are attacking Jewish students.

Where do you foresee this heading?

I don’t know what will happen in the future. But I hope that the American Jewish community realizes the future risks they are facing and aligns itself with Israel. And I hope that the American people now see the danger to America from some of the teachings taking place in the universities.

Ticking Time Bomb

THANE ROSENBAUM is a professor of law at Touro University, as well as a legal analyst for CBS News Radio and a novelist. As a former mainstream college lecturer now at Touro, he’s freer than most of his colleagues are to discuss the current dynamic, yet his outspokenness is nothing new. His latest book, Saving Free Speech…from Itself, follows Payback: The Case for Revenge, and The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What’s Right. He’s been criticized for his “politically incorrect” policies, including for comments he made on a talk show where he implied that Arab Muslims who believe in a strict adherence to Sharia law probably don’t belong in the United States because their views are incompatible with American democracy.

You’ve said in the past that, in a way, we’re seeing kids running the political show today. Do you still feel that way?

Well, it’s true, but it’s not entirely true. Actually, the grownups who are running the show are the university professors, who’ve been cultivating and indoctrinating this kind of thinking for the last two decades. I was at Fordham University for 23 years, and another six or seven years at NYU, until I was rescued by coming to Touro. You wouldn’t be able to read what I write or hear me if I were still at those universities — they would have never allowed it. I was roundly attacked every day in those universities. So none of this is surprising to me. I saw it coming.

How do you explain the current situation?

The fact is that the presidents of the universities are terrified — terrified of the students, of the faculty. The crazy part is that they’ve lost hundreds of millions of dollars since the war in Gaza. And it means nothing to them.

But why?

The faculties on most campuses today are dominated by a Marxist progressive agenda that hates America, hates the West. The Middle East studies departments in the United States are dominated by Islamists, and they’ve been waiting for an opportunity to start burning.

You know, the Arab street loves blowing things up and burning things, so yes, there are surely some outside agitators who have no business on campus, but you’re also talking about a lot of easily impressionable kids who — between the faculty and TikTok — have been indoctrinated with these ideas. They couldn’t find Israel on a map, they don’t know what colonialism means, and in their minds, Israel is made up of everyone from Brooklyn.

What does this have to do with the university presidents?

The presidents live in fear because they know that the humanities departments run the school, and they can easily be fired by a no-confidence vote from faculty senate. They can’t be fired for losing money, but they can be fired by a no-confidence vote. This happened shockingly to Larry Summers, a good friend of mine, a number of years ago at Harvard. This is a guy who was the former secretary of the treasury of the United States. But in the end, he said a few things that the humanities faculty didn’t like. And they don’t believe in academic freedom anymore. They believe you have the freedom to think like they think, and if you don’t think like they think, they will make your life miserable. The faculty senates can remove a president faster than a donor who gives hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yet these faculty members weren’t raised in a Tik Tok era.

Campuses worldwide have historically been dominated by left-leaning ideologies. They lost Marxism, but they picked up something new. And a lot of it came from faculty members who were from the Middle East, the ones who dominated the Middle East studies departments. That’s the first thing.

The second is that a whole new series of different disciplines emerged. Gender studies, indigenous literature theory — these are not real academic programs, and much of it is nonsense. The teachers, for the most part, are hired because of their ethnicity or diversity, not because of their merit. And so, we’ve created a ticking time bomb on campus that finally exploded with Gaza.

Marxism was replaced with anti-colonialism, and Israel became the perfect example. It legitimized anti-Semitism, so that 80 years after the Holocaust, it gave them a window of opportunity: “We can hate Jews, as long as it means we love Palestinians. If we show our love for Palestinians, it gives us academic freedom.”

So that’s why you see this craziness on campus where they’re claiming it’s a free speech right, but what that means is that you can say and do anything to Jews, as long as you claim your motivation is Palestine. They can scream, “Go back to Poland,” “Death to Jews,” and “We’re going to burn Tel Aviv to the ground.” They think that’s free speech, even though as a law professor, I can tell you, the First Amendment does not permit any of that inflammatory speech.

Once the fight is against colonialism, and Israel is a colonial state, then everything is allowed. Israelis are settler colonialists on stolen land. And then there’s this ridiculous definition of genocide: If you kill a Palestinian, any Palestinian, even a murderer terrorist — who are more precious than any other people — you’ve committed genocide, you’re guilty of a war crime. Why they were killed makes no difference.

Some say we shouldn’t pay too much heed to protests, as historically, university students have rallied against all sorts of causes. What are your thoughts on this?

Around ten years ago, someone asked me a similar question and I said, “Don’t worry, this is confined to the campus. It’s just the lower-level schools, filled with Middle Eastern students who just came in.”

Boy, was I wrong. They left campus and joined media, publishing, museums, corporate America, cultural entities. The New York Times is filled with them. The major cable TV networks are filled with them.

And the other issue is something called intersectionality. That means that all oppressed groups are united by definition, all facing the same oppressor: white privileged oppressors like the American Jews.

But most of these students from Ivy League universities are white and privileged themselves.

Yep. They hate themselves. They’ve been taught to apologize for their skin. They’ve been taught that their skin is evil, that the only crimes are committed by white privileged people against dark-skinned people, that dark-skinned people are not capable of being racist, because they have dark skin. They’re not capable of anti-Semitism, because anti-Semitism is a crime against white people, and a crime against white people is not a crime.

And that’s what you’re seeing, you’re seeing a perfect storm of anti-colonial, anti-Semitic ideas that have all exploded, and the war in Gaza lit the biggest match, because it offers everything: Israel as a colonial settler enterprise, on land stolen from dark-skinned people.

They’ve been told Israel is an apartheid state. They think genocide is if you kill someone. They don’t know the difference between genocide and collateral damage and casualties of war. Therefore, whatever the Palestinians do against the Israeli is resistance and is justified. And whatever Israelis do in self-defense is colonialism and genocide.

Is there a discrepancy in how red states have handled this issue versus blue states?

In general, red states are more patriotic. Their citizens serve in the military and they believe in fighting for their country, and they believe in American freedom. In blue states, if you serve in the military, you’re a killer. Barack Obama taught Americans that American exceptionalism is imperialistic, it’s arrogant, and that we are no better than Iran. You could say that the blue states think like the colleges.

Pampered Revolutionaries

WILLIAM A. JACOBSON is Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, director of the law schools’ Securities Law Clinic, and is author of the conservative law blog, Legal Insurrection. Professor Jacobson, an outspoken lobbyist against the BDS movement, had his YouTube channel taken down for several days, ostensibly for copyright violations, although he claims he was targeted for his conservative political views. In several controversial 2020 articles against Black Lives Matter, which caused an outrage at Cornell, he described the organization’s founders as “anti-American, anti-capitalist activists who want to destroy capitalism, in an act of revenge.:.” The following year, he launched a database listing the training activities and actions of college administrations pertaining to critical race training.

The Jewish students that I’ve talked with at Cornell and other universities have been devastated by the reactions of their peers and professors since October 7. Are you surprised by what’s happened?

I think what October 7 did is bring to the surface a lot of things that had been developing before. I think it’s a major mistake to say October 7 changed things. I think October 8, 9, and 10, and the reaction brought to the surface the cumulative effect of what had been happening. That was the main impact of October 7.

I do believe, also, though, that Israel’s response to October 7, which I think personally is justified, has been propagandized by the other side quite effectively. And we have to add the flow of misinformation, which Hamas and others have always put out.

They always put out effective propaganda. But this time, it was much more so, due to a combination of factors. One, I think they had a more receptive audience, because of this cumulative effect of the demonization of Israel. But today social media is much more influential than it was in 2014, particularly on younger people. Tik Tok didn’t exist. It is so influential now that a lot of students, in particular, get their news from sources like Tik Tok.

Some say we shouldn’t worry too much about this trend because university students have long engaged in protests. What is your take?

I’ve heard that argument since I started covering the anti-Israel campus movement in 2008, and I disagree. Yes, it’s true, students protesting about food in the dining hall is not, in and of itself, an earth-shattering event. But you see a slippage in support for Israel over the years among the class of college students who ended up becoming very influential in our society. These are the students who go into journalism, into government, who staff the NGOs.

Among that group of students who are politically active, Israel is losing the audience that will have a cumulative effect. And I think it already has, where you have, 17 or 20 Democrat senators who have called for a hold on arms shipments to Israel. I think that would have been impossible ten years ago. What will it be in ten years from now? It might be a majority.

It is a long-term threat to American support for Israel, and that is the most important foreign support that Israel has. It’s a kind of drip, drip, drip. And then all of a sudden, you realize the bucket is almost overflowing.

With the violent atmosphere at some campuses, do you personally feel threatened?

I don’t feel physically threatened in any way from the professors or the students. Physically, I’m in the law school. My title is Clinical Professor of Law. At Cornell Law School, the student body is much more career oriented and professional than the undergrads and the other graduate schools. I’m not saying there’s no anti-Israelism at the law school, but it’s nowhere near what you find in the non-professional schools. There is a strong, meaningful group who I think are fairly characterized as anti-Israel, but they’re not as vocal as the undergraduates.

Most of the professors who are essentially anti-Israel agitators work at the university, not at the law school. The students at the law school generally embrace me. There are some who don’t, but I have a very strong following. A lot of students are afraid to speak out, whether on conservative domestic political issues, or on Israel issues, because of a fear of social media.

I’ve not been threatened about Israel. I have been threatened with my job security regarding my criticisms of Black Lives Matter, but not regarding Israel.

I think that undergrad students perhaps feel more threatened than I do because they have to live among the activists. I don’t live among them. The law school also is physically somewhat isolated from the rest of the campus. But there are law student groups, the National Lawyers Guild and a couple of others, that are pretty actively anti-Israel. They’re just not as open and aggressive as they are at the undergrad level.

Aren’t these people supposed to be smart? Many of them, if they set foot in Palestinian territory, would be killed instantly.

The way I look at that whole issue is that you don’t need a political scientist to explain it. You really need a psychiatrist. There is some kind of psychiatric break that has taken place among the left wing in the United States, and I assume in Europe and in Israel, where they identify with people who would abuse them. I can’t explain that in logical political terms. I can’t explain why people who self-identify in the US as progressives would identify with completely regressive societies. But it is true. You have groups who could not set foot in the Palestinian territories or in Gaza, or in Iran, who would be killed instantaneously in Yemen, who are cheering on the Houthis, because they’re anti-Israel, and anti-US.

Are they anti-Israel, or is there something deeper at play?

I think it’s wrong to view this as a purely anti-Israel movement on the US campuses. Certainly it is anti-Israel, but it’s more fundamentally anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-capitalist. And I do think it’s a psychological phenomenon, which makes it harder to deal with. It’s almost become a cult, and in order to be accepted into the cult, you have to announce your hatred for Israel, you have to announce support for people who actually hate you. So there’s something that’s hard to address, because you have people who’ve had some sort of mental breakdown.

As a law professor, do you believe that the attempted student occupation of the campus is legal?

They don’t have a right to occupy a building or part of the campus. They are bound by the same campus rules that bind everybody else.

The First Amendment is a little bit of a complicated issue. It applies clearly to public universities, but it’s less clear how it applies to private universities. But even assuming it applies everywhere, schools and government are permitted to place reasonable time and location limits on disruptive expressions. So you may have a right to go out into the quad and chant, but you may not necessarily have a right to use sound amplification, because other people are studying and they have rights too. You may have the right to march through campus, but you may not have the right to camp out on campus, because the campus has a “no camping” rule.

If you’re going to apply that rule fairly, and you’re going to allow these people to camp, then you really have to open it up to everybody. You could have a homeless encampment on campus, you could have people who just want to camp out and decide the campus is the place to do it rather than the national park. So Cornell has rules against camping on the campus. And those rules, as long as they are applied to everybody equally, are perfectly lawful. And the only ones who have ever attempted to set up a tent encampment on campus are the anti-Israel students. So you can’t say, “Oh, this is only being enforced against the anti-Israel students.” That’s not true. No one else has tried to do this before! So they want special rules for themselves.

Would it be fair to say that in this case, the children are subordinating the adults?

I don’t think you can assert that just based on age, because the faculty are grownups, and many of them are participating in this. I think what you have to distinguish is the administration from the rest of the campus. And the administration has defaulted on its obligation to enforce the rules fairly. It’s the administrations that are the problem, and that’s why in the US, things vary dramatically from university to university. They’re not all Columbia University, Rutgers, or UCLA.

Universities in Florida have fairly, uniformly, and aggressively enforced their rules. The University of Florida issued a statement when protestors tried to set up an encampment, saying that “we are not a day care, and you knew the rules, you chose to violate them. And now you’ll bear the consequences.” Others have done similarly. How the administrations handle things is extremely important.

In places like Columbia, they have completely handed over the operation of the university to the most radical students and faculty, but that is not everywhere. What we’re seeing on the news is maybe 24, 25 universities where you have a significant encampment.

Now, those are the elite educational institutions, I’m not saying they’re not important. But we have over 2,000 colleges and universities in the United States. So this is an elite university phenomenon for the most part. And the administration and the state leadership is what makes the difference between the situation getting out of control and not getting out of control. And that’s why in places like New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles, the problems are the worst.

So is it actually a group of spoiled rich kids playing at being revolutionaries, not fully understanding the ideology they’re supporting?

There is definitely a phenomenon of people wanting to play revolutionary. It’s very easy to play revolutionary from the comfort of your keyboard, in upper Manhattan, because you’re not the one who’s going to have to fight, the one who’s going to die. And some of them are dangerous people, but many of them are just naive, delusional people.

And that’s why you get a phenomenon like people violently taking over a building at Columbia and then complaining that people aren’t bringing them food. People who illegally and violently take over a school building and are now demanding all sorts of food — these are not real revolutionaries. They wouldn’t last an hour in the Middle East conflict. But from the comfort of Columbia University, they are able to play out these fantasies.

And that’s laughable at one level, but very dangerous at another level, right? Because you have people who never have to bear the consequences encouraging violence in the Middle East.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1010)

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