The usual anti-Semitic incidents are listed in a letter from the Anshe Emeth synagogue in New Brunswick, N.J., to Rutgers University president William H.S. Demarest: officials failed to take action after a student mob attacked some Jewish students shouting “We don’t want you Jews here”; the campus allowed vandalism and “narrow-mindedness and bigotry” alien to its principles. The letter writers proposed remedial measures: that president Demarest publicly denounce statements “ridiculing and insulting Jews”; that he threaten expulsion to “students who interfere” with the rights of Jewish students and make serious attempts “to apprehend” the violators. President Demarest met with the synagogue committee, who professed satisfaction. And of course, nothing changed.
The letter and incidents took place at Rutgers in 1920. Israel did not exist. Hitler had not appeared. Islamofascism had not surfaced in the West. The situation, however, was pretty much identical to what goes on at universities year round these days, with highlights during last month’s Israel Apartheid Week, when anti-Semites got together on campuses to demonize Israel, the single democracy in the Middle East.
These days, anti-Semitism uses anti-Israel rhetoric as its cloak of respectability. Other masks have been used. Mabel Smith Douglass, dean, New Jersey College for Women, 1918 to 1933, appeared to go for “anti-Semitism under the guise of vocational guidance,” according to one of the many complaints against her. Dean Douglass, worried about Jewish influence in pedagogy, discouraged Jewish girls from becoming education majors, particularly those in whom “Jewishness is markedly apparent in face or name.” Goldwin Smith, former Regius professor of history at Oxford, later a governor of the University of Toronto, didn’t bother with disclaimers: he denounced Jews in an article in 1881: “All other races profess at least allegiance to humanity. The Jew alone regards his race as superior to humanity. Either the whole human race except the Jews is demoniac, or . . .”
You can pick up quite a bit reading about earlier outbreaks of campus anti-Semitism. First, it becomes clear that there is no point in protesting to the university authorities. They may have mixed feelings about such incidents but they are part of the problem. When you write a letter of protest about Israel Apartheid Week to president David Naylor at the University of Toronto you are wasting your ink. You may be unhappy with York University allowing the wall of barbed wire on campus property as a protest against Israel’s recent Gaza action, or be one of the many Jewish students whose photos were posted on it with derogatory allegations, but if you protest to York’s president Mamdouh Shoukri, you are talking to yourself.
Naylor, Shoukri, and all other campus administrations where this takes place are “enablers” of the phenomenon. They have varying explanations and varying degrees of reluctance to do anything, but the one explanation that holds no water—and the one legitimate reason—is a concern with freedom of speech. I will eat my hat the day any of them allow an Anti-Islamism Week or even an Anti-Taliban Week organized on campus by Jewish students with models of suicide terrorists and photos of Muslim students with negative attachments.
A hat needs a peg to hang on, and anti-Semitism has had a lot of pegs. A study that compared Catholic student anti-Semitism in 1965 with that of students in the same course in 1970 found that anti-Semitism was significantly lower after Pope Paul VI in 1965 exculpated “Jews of today” from blame for the crucifixion. Usury, patriotic disloyalty and evil rituals have been cited, but whatever the trigger, the tone is essentially the same. Jews are bad. The excuse that current criticism of Israel (which is the home of the Jewish people) is not anti-Semitic fails when its supporters hold Israel to standards totally different from those they apply to every other country in the world.
Boycotts and divestment are nothing new. Before the Nazis ever smeared “Juden” on Jewish stores, flyers in 1897 Heidelberg urged locals not to buy from Jews. This action had a campus element too—the flyers were the brainchild of a law student and a journalist. Universities deal in ideas, which is why a lot of bad ideas start there as well as good ones. Israel Apartheid Week is a genuine made-on-Canadian-campus (University of Toronto) product that has now spread worldwide to 44 campuses. Last year it gave birth: we now have a HAIA (Highschoolers Against Israeli Apartheid), which held its first session, closed to all adults, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). For five hours, courtesy of taxpayer dollars, high school students were in the hands of militant anti-Semites and no one knows what they heard.
A lot of anti-Semites are Jews who proudly proclaim their Jewish identity to give credence to their prejudice. Their primary identity, however, is not Jewish—that’s a flag of convenience—but the activist left. Those of us in our sixties have experienced two major rises of anti-Semitism: when we were young it was the fascism of the right, and now that we are old it is the fascism of the left—serious because the left, notwithstanding eight years of George W. Bush, is where the power in society resides.
Tell Jews to stop donating money to universities that harbour anti-Semitism. They would respond that their donations advance good things like health care. Follow that argument and they could donate to Hamas, which as well as training suicide bombers maintains daycare centres. Journalist Barbara Kay has come up with a list of more practical suggestions. Among them: holding universities accountable in courts of law for failing to uphold Charter rights of their students; ranking universities according to crime incitement and intolerance.
Still, none of this really matters. Pakistan has the bomb. Pakistan is being taken over by the Taliban. Campus anti-Semitism may soon seem something to be nostalgic about.