Several America-based Students for Justice in Palestine groups have issued statements justifying the recent atrocities committed by Hamas. They claim that Israel is entirely to blame and that Hamas’s actions are a legitimate response to a 75-year-old military and colonial occupation. More worrying than these ridiculous statements (see my article on statements made by British Students for Justice in Palestine groups) are the demonstrations which took place which seemed to revel in the mass slaughter of Jews
Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who has long been involved in the American culture wars, argues that these blatantly anti-Semitic statements and demonstrations cannot be attributed to a few misguided groups of students. University administrators and course designers are equally to blame.
He outlines the contents of various courses embedded in the Harvard syllabus which promote highly radical versions of critical race theory. A particularly disturbing course is one called Colonialism and its Postcolonial/Decolonial Afterlives which features readings from Lenin and Frantz Fanon. The latter argues that violence is legitimate because it “frees the native from his inferiority complex” and “restores his self-respect”. It is worth pointing out that Ralph Leonard, a British-Nigerian writer, has recently argued that Hamas apologists misunderstand Fanon’s work.
These courses were brought in under a decolonising agenda which was then given an even more radical twist by the introduction of a frankly bizarre course called Decolonize Harvard? by Professor Marcello Garzo Montalvo, a visiting assistant professor of Latinx Studies. In this programme he promoted what he termed ethno-political struggle and critical race theory. He also highlighted Harvard-based anti-Israel activism. This can therefore be regarded as yet another example of woke theory and teaching directly leading to anti-Semitism.
Miriam Abrams, the pen name of a Jewish student at Columbia University, draws out the link between what is taught by a Professor Joseph Massad and anti-Semitism even more explicitly. In an article in the Electronic Intifada Massad described the terrorists who used paragliders to enter Israel as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance”. The same article described the reaction to the slaughter of Israelis by “millions of jubilant Arabs” as “awesome”. His stance seems to be reflected by a Statement of Solidarity by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine and Columbia Jewish Voice for Peace which said they were taught by “renowned scholars”.
Rufo calls this ridiculous process a form of western civilisational suicide and predicts it will lead to barbarism. An apparent confirmation of his point came from Najma Sharif, a writer for Solo House & Co and Team Vogue, who reportedly tweeted in celebration of Hamas atrocities. Sharif's Twitter feed is currently protected so it is impossible to verify this claim.
A particularly unfortunate aspect of the scene in America and on its campuses is that some Jewish critics of Israel almost provide a sort of cover for the nonsense outlined above and make it look respectable. For example, Jewish Voice for Peace, a left wing anti-Zionist group, published a statement headlined “The Root of Violence is Oppression” three days after the Hamas attack on Israel. It unequivocally put all the blame for the terrorist outrage on Israel: “The Israeli government may have just declared war, but its war on Palestinians started over 75 years ago. Israeli apartheid and occupation — and United States complicity in that oppression — are the source of all this violence.”
Limor Simony Philpott, the external affairs manager of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, gave a more thoughtful take on this subject in an article in the Spectator. She argued that the Israeli government might bear some responsibility for Hamas's actions because in the past it has given the terrorist organisation some support. Israel at that time was attempting to build a counterweight to Palestinian nationalism and sow divisions among the Palestinians. Israel's goal, she maintains, was the thwart the possibility of a Palestinian state as a solution to the conflict.
Those who took part in the anti-Israel demonstrations are facing a backlash. Students who signed the statements have had their names circulated amongst CEOs of various top-ranking American companies. Some of these firms have withdrawn job offers and cancelled entire internships schemes. While some might regard this as an example of people being cancelled for their views, others will see it as a sensible precaution being taken by businesses conscious of their reputation.
This is a hands on, hard-hitting approach to tackling the problem of anti-Semitism. It sends the message that institutions fostering these views will forfeit donations and students attending particularly toxic courses risk making themselves unemployable. However, there is always the possibility that Middle Eastern actors such as Qatar might provide money, as has already been mentioned on this site.
The Jewish Institute for Liberal Values (JILV) published a policy briefing suggesting that the ethnic studies curriculum in American schools and universities needs to be detoxified. That is the interdisciplinary subject on the study of different ethnic groups that often strays into anti-Semitism. The JILV argues that such courses are the mirror image of right wing extremism. What is needed instead is a more balanced and nuanced approach to the topic as it recognises that ethnic studies courses are here to stay. However, such an approach presupposes goodwill which does not appear to be on offer at present.
It is baffling how such courses were ever adopted. Rufo’s assertion that administrators and course designers must take their share of responsibility for the anti-Semitism on American campuses is right. The so-called decolonisation process has endorsed courses which are frankly little more than revenge fantasies which include political slogans and academic jargon to give them a veneer of seriousness. Any attempt to introduce such courses in British universities must be resisted. In Britain we must also proactively seek to detoxify any courses slipped in under a decolonisation agenda both at school and university level.
Guy Whitehouse is a member of the Academy of Ideas and the Free Speech Union. His views do not necessarily reflect those of those organisations.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Radicalism of fools project.