It’s impossible not to be appalled by pro-Hamas demonstrations taking place on college campuses all over the country, but it’s not possible to be surprised. Anti-Israel sentiment has become nearly universal on the Left, and the Left is the dominant faction on the majority of campuses, and not only among the students. Increasingly, both progressive faculty and administrative staff share (and teach) the anti-Semitic tropes that make Israel the villain rather than the victim in every conflict. Diversity/Equity/Inclusion offices are among the worst offenders. It is also clear what is behind this pattern. The Left hates Israel because the Left hates America, and sees Israel as, in effect, the America of the Middle East. Or, as the Ayatollah Khomeini put it, America is the Big Satan and Israel is the Little Satan.
Nor should we imagine that we can talk the Israel-haters out of their delusions. Progressive activists, especially on campus, know nothing about the Arab-Israeli conflict, even though it has been more thoroughly documented than any other. Their view of Israel is not the result of ignorance but of malice. Facts don’t matter. This is what explains the utter indifference to the well-documented atrocities of October 7. For the Left, on campus and off, it is as if these horrors never happened—or worse, that the Israelis had it coming. For the Left the horrors are not the problem. The problem is Israel, and what they object to about Israel is not what it does but that it exists, and this is the same reason that the Left hates America.
This is a new strain of anti-Semitism, which, like actual viruses, appears to mutate in response to its immediate environment. What is new about the environment of anti-Semitism is the post-1947 existence of a Jewish state. This presents a challenge to traditional anti-Semitism, which borrowed from Biblical themes about the Jewish rejection of Christ as the Messiah. No contemporary anti-Semites, and certainly none of those among the campus anti-Semites, care or even know about these traditional libels. What they object to is the existence of an Israeli nation in a part of the world that “belongs” to Arabs.
When I first became involved in pro-Israel activism inside my church (I’m an Episcopalian), I was surprised to discover how little those who disagreed with me actually knew. They knew, of course, about the Holocaust, but they had no sense that Jews had been part of the place that became modern Israel since long before the birth of most modern nations. It puzzled me that they could object to the Jews returning to the very place from which they had been expelled so many centuries earlier, and at such a horrendous cost. What I came to understand is that my critics had somehow absorbed the notion that the entire Middle East belongs, by right, to Muslims, and nobody else can live there without their permission.
The good news is that the campus Left’s disgraceful embrace of anti-Semitism has inspired some clarity in useful places. Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and several other universities have experienced some well-considered pushback from donors and alumni, and there may be more such pressure in the days ahead. Harvard’s new and very progressive president Claudine Gay even managed to stir herself to condemn the harassment of Jewish students in Harvard Yard, although there is no evidence that any of the harassers were punished. And the rot is spreading: at Stanford University, administrators could not even bring themselves to criticize a large student demonstration where the marchers chanted “2, 4, 6, 8, smash the Zionist settler state,” and where an elderly Jewish counter-demonstrator was hit on the head with a megaphone, fell to the sidewalk, and died. At MIT, Jewish students were physically blocked from attending classes, and university officials, instead of punishing the demonstrators, warned Jewish students not to enter MIT’s main lobby. Anti-Semitic demonstrations and threats to murder Zionists proliferate through the U.S., most of Western Europe, and the U.K.
It has become increasingly clear in recent years that administrators at many of our most prestigious institutions of higher learning are lost in a fog of political correctness. Their indulgence of anti-Semitic incitement is not a surprise. It is merely the latest in a long line of politically correct failures. Will their disgraceful conduct help the parents of college-ready students learn a lesson? We already have more colleges than we need; if a few of them went bankrupt, who would weep?