One week after the barbaric terror attack by Hamas, a group of more than 800 “legal scholars” from universities around the world signed a public statement accusing Israel of genocide in the Gaza Strip, calling upon the International Criminal Court to intervene. A perusal of the names of the signatories reveals many are not legal scholars but tenured professors who are longtime anti-Zionist activists. So, their “moral” outrage over Israel’s response to the brutal inhumanity of Hamas’s atrocities is not surprising. That modern-day scholars would protest against Jews is so, well, yesterday. Even more so is the fact that one anti-Israel outlet which shared the petition—the British-based site “Shoah: The Palestinian Holocaust”—appropriated the pre-Enlightenment Christian tradition of placing a fake quotation from the Talmud, claiming that Jews believe “Murdering Goyim is like killing a wild animal,” below its headline.
Yet, academics from around the world joining in support of fascism and tyranny is nothing new. Out of the hundreds of universities represented by these “legal scholars,” five institutions—Harvard, Cornell, Illinois, Yale, and Columbia—have a surreal connection to another time and place.
In the summer of 1936—three years after Jewish scholars were banned from teaching in German universities, Jewish lawyers were disbarred from practicing law in German courts, and Jewish doctors were prevented from practicing medicine in German hospitals—academic scholars from South Africa, Peru, Portugal, Argentina, and twenty-five other nations dressed in their regal academic robes and walked in a processional across the main plaza at the University of Heidelberg in Nazi Germany. The plaza was adorned with an enormous golden swastika and lit with foreboding cauldrons of smoke and flame perched on pillars. Mingling with the group of international scholars were Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, and SS chief Heinrich Himmler. Professors from five great universities in America were in the processional as well. Scholars from—you guessed it—Harvard, Cornell, Illinois, Yale, and Columbia, the five schools mentioned above whose professors signed the statement condemning Israel.
By attending the Nazi-organized event, these American academics were revealing their admiration for Nazi tyranny. Great Britain banned their universities from sending professors to Heidelberg because of the obvious: Heidelberg and all German institutions of higher education had rejected academic freedom to become bastions of fascist ideology. Beginning in 1933, German professors began and ended their lectures with Heil Hitler! Intellectuals who salivated over National Socialism were fast-tracked to leadership positions. Books that were blacklisted as “un-German” were burned. Classic fiction, poetry, and political science books were banned from university libraries.
By 1936, at the time of the international scholars gala at the University of Heidelberg, the new philosophy of education perpetrated by Goebbels had taken root in the lecture halls of German schools: “The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism,” said Goebbels, “is now at an end. The breakthrough of the German revolution has cleared the way on the German path. The future German man will not just be a man of books but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you.” So much for academic intellectual inquiry.
Keep in mind the international gala supporting Nazism at the University of Heidelberg in 1936 was three years after Nobel Peace Prize physicist Albert Einstein was forced out of his teaching position at the University of Berlin because he was Jewish. After Einstein’s dismissal, the University of Heidelberg renamed its physics institute in honor of Philipp Lenard—an anti-Semite who labeled the contribution of Einstein to science as “Jewish physics.” The legal scholar whom the Nazis placed as the new rector of the University of Heidelberg in 1933 was Wilhelm Groh, who immediately terminated without severance pay “Jews and those married to Jews.” So much for legal scholarship.
German philosopher Martin Heidegger, a professor at the University of Freiburg, proclaimed to his students that the soul of Germany needed to breathe the fresh air National Socialism was bringing to education and that academic freedom of expression and inquiry offered no hope. In April of 1933, he became the head of the university, and in May of the same year, he joined the Nazi Party. Afterward, Heidegger instructed his students: “The Führer himself and he alone is the German reality, present and future, and its law. From now on, all things demand decision, action, and responsibility. Heil Hitler!”
By embracing the anti-Semitism, racism, and fascism of the Third Reich, this great German philosopher Martin Heidegger was following in the path of the anti-Semitic philosopher from the Enlightenment—Voltaire—who cursed Jews in his 1771 “Letter of Memmius to Cicero”: “They are all of them born with raging fanaticism in their hearts. I would not be the least bit surprised if these people would not someday become deadly to the human race.” In his essay on metaphysics “One Must Take Sides; or, The Principal of Action” (1772), the philosopher wrote of the Jews: “You have surpassed all nations in impertinent fables, in bad conduct and in barbarism. You deserve to be punished, for this is your destiny.” The public statement of the 800 legal minds—published ten days after the bloodiest day in Jewish history since 1945—does not stray from the scholar Voltaire’s perception of Jews. It seems that being an ostensibly enlightened scholar does not prevent one from being an anti-Semite.
It was not just German philosophers like Martin Heidegger who had a moral collapse of conscience. Let’s not forget the post-war Nuremberg Doctor’s Trial that found sixteen German doctors guilty of crimes against humanity. These medical scholars performed grotesque experiments on concentration camp prisoners and euthanized those whom they deemed as physically handicapped or mentally challenged. Seven of the sixteen medical scholars were executed for their gruesome and monstrous deeds after evidence was presented against them in a court of law over the course of 140 days. We should also remember that there were hundreds of legal, scientific, biological, and theological scholars who justified and participated in the mass murder of over twelve million people—six million of them Jews. Scholarship is not necessarily a sign of moral intelligence.
Presently, Arab states are pouring billions of dollars into Western universities in order to control and reshape the narrative about the Middle East conflict—making Israel the aggressor, the colonizer, the illegal occupant, and the apartheid dictatorship. It’s little wonder, then, that anti-Semitic activists are awarded faculty positions in these universities. Radical Islamist countries understand that to defeat Western democracy, they must first conquer the academy. The Nazis knew this early on, and they had more than enough scholars—useful idiots—who were willing to embrace racism and bigotry and reject intellectual freedom and inquiry in exchange for power and position.
There is nothing novel or noble, for that matter, about 800 scholars signing a public statement against Jews. It’s rather unoriginal. Banal. They join the ranks of the obsequious academics who marched in the plaza in Heidelberg with Goebbels and Himmler in the summer of 1936.