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The Great Awakening

Few progressive Jews, I suspect, ever expected to see UCLA students rallying around the chant, “Israel, you can’t hide/We want Jewish genocide”



harles Cooke made an important observation in National Review in the wake of the multitude of pro-Hamas demonstrations on university campuses, while the images of Hamas savagery were still fresh. To wit, the dividing line is not between left and right, Zionist and anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, but between “normal human beings” and “unreconstructed crackpots who have lost their minds.”

“It is simply not within the normal bounds of human behavior to look at what has happened in Israel and to filter one’s instinctive moral reaction through whatever goofy, specious, ugly ideology one might have picked up in an overpriced seminar hall when aged 19,” Cooke wrote.

Happily, the numbers of normal people turned out to outnumber the crackpots, and to include in their ranks President Joe Biden (who both backed Israel’s right to rid itself of Hamas on its border and decried the “grotesque” anti-Semitism run rampant on university campuses), almost all members of Congress, and the leaders of most European countries.

Nevertheless, for many discovering how many crackpots there are whom one once considered comrades in creating a better world, all this has been profoundly disorienting. Few progressive Jews, I suspect, ever expected to see UCLA students rallying around the chant, “Israel, you can’t hide/We want Jewish genocide.” (I suppose we owe those students a debt of gratitude for making their goals so explicit, and not engaging in happy talk about a two-state solution. The Mufti of Jerusalem, who spent World War II in Berlin, would be so proud.)

The press last week was filled with the laments of many in the West whose worldview has been shattered (not to speak of the far-left members of the kibbutzim surrounding Gaza who were fortunate enough to survive.)

The Free Press led the way with an important column by Konstantin Kisin: “Many people woke up on October 7 sympathetic to parts of woke ideology and went to bed that evening questioning how they had signed on to a worldview that had nothing to say about the [mass violation] of women and murder of innocent people by terrorists.”

Boaz Munro, in a Tablet piece, “Jews of the Left,” described the discovery that one is in a toxic relationship: “It’s terrifying to feel the coldness of one’s friends. You feel the walls closing in, the floor dropping from beneath you. Every psychological handhold you lean on (‘America is safe,’ ‘Israel is safe,’ ‘the Nazis are dead’) turns to sand, and you fall down.”

UNHAPPILY, THE DIVISION between normal people and the crazies does not favor the normal among one group: the 18-24 demographic and those who teach them. In a Harvard-Harris poll taken after October 7, a full third of 18- to 24-year-olds did not believe that Hamas had murdered whole families, beheaded babies and kids, or had murdered 1,200 people (actually 1,400). Only 53% in that age group thought that Hamas had indiscriminately targeted civilians, and only 54% in the 25-34 age group. Just over half of the younger cohort felt that Hamas’s actions could be justified by Palestinian grievances, and nearly one-half (48%) of the next youngest cohort. A full quarter of the youngest group thought Israel should be ended and given to the Palestinians and Hamas.

Of course, they were not operating from a large knowledge base. Over a third of the younger cohort did not know that Hamas has been listed by the US government as a terrorist organization for decades. And 46% of all Americans are unaware that the Palestinians, not Israel, have run the Gaza Strip since 2005.

How do these views and level of ignorance play out on campus? Just a few examples from last week.

  • At New York’s Cooper Union, Jewish students were forced to cower in the school library for hours, while those shouting pro-Hamas slogans banged on the doors to gain entry. Campus police made no arrests of the demonstrators baying for Jewish blood.
  • Students for Justice in Palestine projected pro-Hamas slogans, such as “Glory to Our Martyrs,” on the campus library building at George Washington University, which building was, incidentally, donated by Jewish benefactors.
  • The student senate at Brandeis University, an institution originally built by the American Jewish community, failed to pass a resolution condemning Hamas’s attacks.
  • And at Hillary Clinton’s alma mater, Wellesley, the student leader of one campus dorm wrote to all the students in that dorm, “We firmly believe that there should be no space, no consideration, and no support for Zionism within the Wellesley College community.”

A graduate student in ethnic studies at UC Berkeley offered extra credit to undergraduates in her class who participated in the pro-Hamas “national walkout against genocide, settler colonization, and the siege of Gaza.” The Faculty Council of that same ethnic studies department sent a strongly worded letter to the chancellors of the various campuses of the University of California system complaining of distorted messages that termed the Hamas attacks “terrorism” or “unprovoked,” and endorsing the BDS movement. That same Faculty Council is pushing an ethnic studies requirement for all the tens of thousands of incoming students in the University of California system annually, with anti-Zionism as one of the animating principles of the proposed curriculum. 

THE CAMPUS WOKE BRIGADES, it has suddenly become clear, are not just engaging in some youthful hijinks, like goldfish swallowing, which they will presumably outgrow upon entering adulthood. No, the SDS radicals of the ’60s, who went into university teaching, have produced a generation and, in some cases, two generations of students and successors in academia. Entire university departments — Middle Eastern studies, black studies, decolonization studies, and gender studies — have become hotbeds of hostility not only to Israel but to Jews in general. Nellie Bowles offered in her most recent TGIF column at the Free Press a sampling of hundreds of academic job-opening announcements from normal-sounding departments for which applicants must express their commitment to pressing for “decolonization.” One guess who are the leading white, settler colonialists in the world today among the bien-pensants.

In many cases, oil-rich Arab states have simply purchased entire university departments to advance their cause. Qatar alone has contributed $8.5 billion to American universities since the early ’80s. And those donors have gotten what they paid for, as documented by Martin Kramer in Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America. Columbia professor Joseph Massad of the Department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), who vocally cheered Hamas’s October 7 massacre, described Israel as a racist state that has no right to exist in a 2002 speech at Oxford. Former department chair Professor Hamid Debashi wrote in an Egyptian daily, “Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left... its deep marks on the faces of the Israeli Jews, the way they talk, walk, the way they greet each other.… There is a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture.”

The leading scholars of Middle Eastern studies departments are not only filled with hatred of Israel but incompetent, in thrall as they are to the declaration of their guiding light Edward Said, that terms such as fundamentalism and terrorism are inherently racist and reactionary. Not one predicted the Islamic Revolution in Iran. And of the 144 planned sessions for the national conference of Middle East study departments at the time of 9/11, not one dealt with the threat of Osama bin Laden or terrorism. Even after 9/11, a hastily created session focused almost exclusively on how to prevent an American response to “so-called terrorism.”

But if Arab oil money has been well spent in creating departments at many of America’s most prestigious universities for highly ideological professors to indoctrinate captive students, Jewish donors have proven inept in their efforts to create Jewish studies departments as something of a ballast. Those departments are too frequently rife with Jewish professors who are also highly critical of Israel, and they do little to buttress Jewish identity.

PART OF THE GREAT AWAKENING among those who always considered themselves left politically has been the discovery of how lethal are many of the doctrines in which our young are being marinated on campus. Jonah Goldberg’s comment, “Scratch a progressive and you’ll find a totalitarian,” has been proven true.

Take, for instance, the panoply of doctrines that have been used to justify all sorts of infringements on free speech and to stifle diverse viewpoints: Bad ideas are harmful, and thus one is justified, even required, to shout down and prevent from speaking all those who espouse wrong thoughts; believe all women, especially when it comes to claims of assault; micro-aggressions, as defined by the victim, must be strictly policed.

Yet as the aforementioned Charles Cooke notes in another excellent piece, in the wake of October 7, those formerly justifying a wide variety of restrictions on “bad speech” suddenly became First Amendment absolutists, at least as far as the rights of those chanting their support of Hamas’s murderous rampage are concerned. Those chants for “Jewish genocide” are not exactly micro-aggressions, on the general scale of things.

Harvard University offers a prime example. Harvard is not exactly a bastion of free speech or viewpoint diversity. Indeed, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression rated it dead last among American colleges in that respect. But in response to the petition of 34 Harvard organizations placing exclusive responsibility “entirely on Israel” for Hamas’s murder of Israeli citizens, Harvard acted decisively. Dean of students Thomas Dunne created a special task force to deal with what he termed an attack on the Harvard community by those publicizing the names of the students involved.

That task force was charged, inter alia, with vouching for those students with potential employers. One wonders whether Harvard would also find it incomprehensible why potential employers might want to know that a job applicant was a Holocaust denier, if only because such beliefs raise questions about the basic sanity of their holders and create a hostile environment for Jewish employees. Why should promoters of a second Holocaust be any different?

The double standards about what speech deserves protection means that the left’s doctrines of free speech or the limitations thereof are ultimately about one thing — power, i.e., the ability to manipulate what ideas may be voiced to gain and maintain power. Control of the range of acceptable ideas is always the first step of totalitarians everywhere.

Second, the doctrine of intersectionality that all favored victim groups are linked in a common cause by virtue of their skin color or their victimhood ultimately justifies the elimination of all those on the other side — the oppressors and holders of privilege. In the Manichean universe of the proponents of intersectionality, there are only those fighting for a glorious utopian future and those opposing them. And like utopians from the French Revolution on, those standing in the way can be “offed” with a clear conscience.

Here is Hasan Piker, a popular commentator, with 2.5 million followers, who defended the killing of Jewish babies as not only legal, but moral. The Palestinians have a legal right to violently seize back their lands from these settlers, he argues, and “there are baby settlers as well.” The head of Students for Justice in Palestine at George Washington made the same argument: Any Hamas member, even an armed one, is a civilian; any Israeli, even one unarmed, is a soldier.

“WE ARE FINALLY DISCOVERING how deeply our leading institutions have been penetrated by the progressive mindset. What is clearer than ever is that the governing classes of far too many Western institutions want Israel to fail,” Times of London columnist Juliet Samuel writes. “They want it to fail physically, as they state with increasing brazenness. But just as importantly for their fragile worldview, they want it to fail morally. They need this failure because without it, all their nonsensical, convoluted political theories, all the ridiculous victim hierarchies and weird psychological complexes projected onto the world, make no sense and will be revealed as the worthless, nasty nest of guilt and prejudice they really are.”

A prior association with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) or other Muslim Brotherhood associated organizations — i.e., the ones proclaiming “from the river to the sea” — is no bar to employment at the US State Department or senior positions on the National Security Council. Middle-level staffers at the State Department recently staged an open protest over President Biden’s support for Israel after October 7. The Voice of America described the “angry and tearful reactions of State Department staff to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

The Times of London reports: “The BBC has been accused by its journalists of being too lenient on Israel and ‘dehumanising’ Palestinian civilians, allegedly leaving staff crying in lavatories and taking time off work.” In a widely circulated email to BBC director-general Tim Davie, the journalists accused their employer as “treating Israeli lives as more worthy than Palestinian lives,” and protested words such as “massacre,” “slaughter,” and “atrocities” being applied to Hamas’s actions.

The young BBC journalists call to mind their counterparts at the New York Times who forced the departure of the editorial page editor and his deputy over the publication of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton arguing for the employment of National Guardsmen to stop the widespread arson and looting in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Not surprisingly did the NYT eagerly promulgate around the world the myth that Israel bombed the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, solely on the say-so of Hamas, and without any independent fact-checking or consultation with Israel. That story was soon shown to be false in every particular: the responsible party (i.e., a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket); the area struck (the hospital parking lot); and the number of casualties (between ten and fifty, not 500).

The bombed hospital story was the 2023 reprise of the alleged 2000 shooting by Israeli forces of Mohammed al-Dura, a Palestinian boy shown cowering behind his father, later proven conclusively to have been a staged fraud. But now as then, the damage was already done in terms of inflaming public opinion against Israel. According to Honest Reporting, the NYT’s continues to employ as stringers in Gaza at least three Palestinians who have expressed support on social media for Palestinian terrorism and Adolf Hitler yemach shemo.

What do those State Department staffers and young BBC and New York Times journalists have in common? I’d take a large wager that the vast majority were educated at elite universities in their respective countries.

The time has come for Jewish parents, but not only, to ask themselves whether the possibility of landing a post-graduation job at Goldman Sachs is worth the risk of having their children’s minds twisted and subjecting them to possible physical threats on elite campuses.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 984. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com)

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