For generations, Jewish parents have looked to a small collection of colleges as the tickets to success in America for their children. Foremost among the elite institutions are the eight Ivy League schools, and a handful of others, including Stanford, MIT, Duke and the University of Chicago.
Jewish students are substantially over-represented at all these schools, given that Jews make up but 2 percent of the country’s population. Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Brown, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania, routinely have a 20 to 25% Jewish component, or even higher, in their entering classes. The others are in the 10 to 15% range.
Jewish philanthropy to these schools is even more disproportionate. As Jews have prospered in America, the Ivy League and elite school alumni have learned that not all their children, the “legacies,” will be admitted. With many schools admitting fewer than 10% of all applicants, the competition is fierce for spots even among the alumni’s children. As a result, stepping up with big gifts is a key to establishing a favored position when admissions committees look at the legacy pool.
One thing the Jewish parents of future hedge-fund managers, lawyers, professors, elected officials, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, journalists and corporate leaders are probably not counting on is that their children will be entering the most toxic environment in America – at least when it comes to attitudes toward Israel. For Jews, there has always been the belief that there is safety in numbers. If their children, heaven forbid, chose to go to Brigham Young University or the University of Oklahoma, that would be dangerous on three fronts: not prestigious enough, not enough Jewish students and too Christian. But at Harvard or Penn or Columbia, what could go wrong? Hillel is large and active at each of these schools. Buildings are named for Jewish donors. Many professors are Jewish. There are Shabbat services, kosher food options and Jewish holiday observances. But if Jews in America care about the future of the state of Israel, they might want to think twice about their commitment to schools that are at forefront of delegitimizing the Jewish state.
This week news emerged that Harvard University will be holding a two-day conference in early March, hosted by the prestigious Kennedy School of Government, to discuss ending the state of Israel, and in its place forming a bi-national state which after a full “right of return” is granted to Palestinian refugees, which would soon be dominated by Arabs.
The list of speakers is chock-full of virulent anti-Zionist professors, rabbis and activists, some of whom are of course Jewish, giving legitimacy to the anti-Semites in their midst. The media monitoring group CAMERA issued a notice about the Harvard event with short bios on some of the speakers:
• Ali Abunimah has intentionally understated Hamas violence and disseminated false quotations to make Israeli leaders appear cruel.
• Diana Buttu has repeatedly and falsely understated the extent of Palestinian terrorist violence and mischaracterized international law. She has even gone so far as to claim that Hamas rockets have no explosive heads. This is an obvious falsehood.
• Marc Ellis wrote a column describing how a Palestinian friend of his was murdered because Jewish settlers coveted her family’s land, falsely implying she was killed by Jews when, in fact, her murderer was an Arab. Ellis is currently defending himself against charges by Baylor University that could lead to his dismissal.
• Leila Farsakh falsely asserted in a French newspaper that the PLO had agreed to share land with Israel in 1974. The truth is that in 1974, the PLO reaffirmed its rejection of a land-for-peace deal in what is known as the “Phased Plan” for the destruction of Israel.
• Ilan Pappe repeatedly published a fabricated quotation to make Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, appear to endorse ethnic cleansing. Pappe has so little regard for historical facts that he freely admits, “I am not as interested in what happened as in how people see what’s happened.”
• Nadim Rouhana was denied tenure at Boston College due to the insufficient quality of his scholarship.
• Stephen Walt is best known for his book, written with John Mearsheimer, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” The book claims American Jews are a fifth column that controls American policy.
Just weeks ago, the University of Pennsylvania hosted a BDS conference, at which advocates discussed strategies for boycotts, sanctions and other delegitimization efforts directed at Israel. At both Harvard and Penn, student funds paid for or will help subsidize the conferences. It is impossible, of course, to think of any other country that would be singled out in this fashion on any university campus for the kind of abuse and slander hurled at Israel. Is there a conference to discuss the slaughter in Syria, or Iran’s threats to wipe out not only the Jewish state, but the Jews?
In fact, Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was invited to speak at Columbia University by its president in 2007. President Lee Bollinger’s introduction, in the spirit of being fair and balanced, did contain criticism of Iran’s authoritarian rule and of its leader’s Holocaust denial, but little was said about Iran’s threat to create a second Holocaust by wiping out the Jews in Israel. Students in attendance seemed more upset with Ahmadinejad’s denial that gays exist in Iran than with any threats to Jews in Israel.
Would Columbia have invited Adolf Hitler to speak had he visited the U.S. in the 1930s? Isn’t it in the interest of students and faculty for all views to be shared and debated?
In the special election to replace the late Senator Edward Kennedy in Massachusetts in 2010, two towns out of the Commonwealth’s nearly 300 gave by far the greatest amount of support for the Democrat, Martha Coakley, providing her with 85% of their votes. They were Cambridge, home to Harvard and MIT, and Amherst, home to the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College and Amherst College. College towns are as reliably Democratic as African-American sections of major American cities. The difference is that the voters in college towns are overwhelmingly white.
There is no greater lockstep in political thinking than on the campuses of American universities, particularly elite schools in the north-east. A critical component of the worldview of the academic Left now is hatred of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause. The universities can try to make student life “comfortable” for Jewish students, who by and large pay the freight (full tuition). But in the classroom, at conferences, in student activity groups and at simulated Israeli checkpoints established in the campus plazas, the hostility to Israel is alive, aggressive and increasingly unrestrained. Jewish students are too often unwilling to push back, afraid either to risk their grades or to isolate themselves from fellow students by appearing to be too supportive of Israel.
These schools do produce more than their fair share of America’s future leaders. Universities have always had a political climate more liberal than the rest of the country. But intense hostility to Israel is a more recent phenomenon. University political activity feeds off identifying victim groups and fighting for their cause. The Palestinians are now in the upper tier of such groups. Some students may tune out the venom toward Israel that is routinely directed at them in far more classes than just Middle East studies or modern history. But others will absorb some of the toxin. It is not surprising that the graduates of America’s elite schools are far less sympathetic to Israel than graduates of other universities, and much less so than the rest of America’s adult population. In essence, anti-Zionism has become completely acceptable at the top of the academic ladder, and from there, over time, it has been and will continue to permeate the rest of mainstream society - in leftist churches and synagogues, and the mainstream media in particular. You cannot slander gays, women or Muslims, but Israelis have become fair game.