The unspeakable brutality and depravity of the October 7 Hamas assault on Israel led soon afterward to aggressive protests on many of our college campuses. The protests (and declarations, blog posts, marches, signs, etc.) were overwhelmingly in favor of Hamas, not the victims. Liberal feminist and women’s-rights groups were silent or dismissive of the widespread gross sexual abuse of Israeli women during the attack.
At a large rally near campus, one professor at my school (Cornell) said that the attacks were “exhilarating.” While paying lip service to protecting civilians, his visceral reaction to what was known to be a barbaric attack elicited applause and genocidal chants from the large crowd. A student at Cornell was arrested for making threats against Jewish students. Jewish students have testified in Congress to the poisonous atmosphere at Cornell and the complicity of some faculty.
Jewish students have been vilified as if they were guilty of some heinous crime.Jewish students have been vilified as if they were guilty of some heinous crime. Mobs of pro-Hamas students have harassed and taunted them. At Cooper Union, a group of Jewish students had to take refuge in the library when they were harassed by an anti-Israel mob. At George Washington U., slogans like “Glory to Our Martyrs” were projected on buildings. The genocidal chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is now commonplace. At Arizona State, Jewish students needed a police escort to escape a howling mob throwing rocks. “By any means necessary” is the frequent phrase used by these student mobs to justify Hamas’s crimes against humanity.
Why did American campuses erupt with expressions of hatred for Israel and Jewish students? What could possibly motivate college students to act in such an inhumane, deplorable way?
In my view, the October 7 assault ignited an antisemitic blaze that has been decades in the making. I can trace it back to my days at Harvard Law School in the early 1980s, with the racialization of education. That is when Critical Legal Theory, later repackaged as Critical Race Theory (CRT), took hold at Harvard and quickly spread throughout American colleges and universities. At my website, CriticalRace.org, we have documented how deeply CRT, and variants like “anti-racism” and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), have captured American education.
These racialized ideologies simplistically divide the world into oppressor and oppressed groups, and in them Israelis (and, by extension, Jews everywhere) are identified as part of the white, privileged, oppressor class. The chief concern of those who support DEI ideology is the destruction of that supposed power structure so that we can have social justice and equity. This belief system has metastasized into open antisemitism.
Yet the problem is even deeper than expressions of antisemitism. What the mobs are against, at the core, is Western civilization, with its distinctive characteristics of individual liberty, limited government, and capitalism. They are intent on tearing our system down and have made common cause with Islamicists who desire a world with only one religion, which they would enforce through Sharia law. This is what many now call the Red-Green alliance.
Both the Islamicists and American DEI advocates portray Israel as an evil force in the world, but, for the latter, Israel is merely a proxy for Western civilization.
Radical American academics and Islamicists have a shared goal of tearing down the United States.To Islamicists such as the Iranian Mullahs and their followers, Israel is “the little Satan” and the United States “the Great Satan.” American left-wing academics use “social-justice” verbiage more palatable to a Western audience, speaking of the U.S. as “systemically racist.” They constantly tell their students that America is irredeemably stained by slavery and colonialism. They often succeed in getting their impressionable students, who seldom hear any rebuttal, to see themselves as detached from their country and eager to see it radically transformed. Radicalized American academics and Islamicists have a shared goal of tearing down the United States and destroying Israel.
American college students don’t realize how fortunate they are to live in America, and they never contemplate how much worse off they would be if our institutions were in fact torn down and replaced with a government devoted to the nebulous concept of group equity. When they hear from Hamas or Osama bin Laden or Ayatollah Khamenei that Jews are evil and that violence against them is justified, they’re inclined to believe it. The idea fits perfectly with the worldview they’ve been absorbing through their years in school, strongly reinforced by college professors and administrators.
Those college professors and administrators have, for the most part, refused to forthrightly condemn the brutality by Hamas but instead have sought to draw moral equivalence between the sides, saying that Israel’s so-called settler colonialism is wrong and that it’s crucial to avoid Islamophobia. Yet the Israeli “settler-colonial” narrative is a historical fabrication and an inversion of the truth.
The Jewish people have a continuous connection to the land of Israel predating Islam and the Arab Muslim conquest of the region by millennia. The people who, in the mid-20th century, began identifying as “Palestinian” are not indigenous and are in fact themselves colonizers or the descendants of colonizers. The creation of Israel was the single greatest indigenous liberation in modern history, but it is demonized and mischaracterized precisely because the liberators were Jews.
The war on historical truth perpetrated by the “settler-colonial” narrative is fundamental to anti-Western and antisemitic racialized activism, which, by its ideology, much be spread to every aspect of campus life.
How deeply the DEI ideology has penetrated American education was displayed recently when a Cornell student was invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the fear felt by Jewish students on our campuses. She was constantly interrupted by screaming protesters. It’s a terrible commentary on our schools and colleges that so many students come through their years of education thinking that the way to deal with people who disagree with you is to shout them down rather than to respond in a rational manner.
The war on historical truth is fundamental to anti-Western activism.Our schools are not only brainwashing students with a radical, divisive ideology but are also conditioning them to “cancel” anyone who disagrees with it. If some hostile force were intent on destroying our nation from within, it could hardly do anything more effective than what our educational institutions have already been doing.
American education leaders proclaim that they are against hatred and bigotry, but if they were serious about that they would stop propounding harmful DEI ideology and instead uphold the dignity of each individual. Unfortunately, they won’t do that without a lot of pressure.
Where can that pressure come from?
One source is alumni groups that can and should threaten to withhold contributions unless their schools stop promoting racialized political activism. You can have your DEI bureaucracy or you can have our donations, but you can’t have both. Alumni can also make their voices heard in opposition. Pressuring schools to eliminate their DEI bureaucracies and refocus on students as individuals, not as mere proxies for a group identity, would be a major step forward.
Secondly, most boards of trustees have sat silently by as the institutions they’re supposed to oversee have been taken over by forces that are hostile to the traditions of Western civilization. Some trustees are the mob’s allies, but others should now be able to see how much damage has been done to their schools. Trustees should let presidents know that their continued employment depends on stopping DEI abuses.
Finally, the biggest source of pressure should be federal and state funding. Although the federal government has no constitutional role to play in higher education, it has become a gigantic player, directing billions of dollars into college and university budgets. School officials have become dependent on that stream of money to keep their extensive operations afloat. States also contribute vast sums to public universities. If federal and state politicians were to assert their control over the budget and declare that funding would end for any colleges that continue operating DEI bureaucracies spreading the toxic ideas of group “privilege” and “oppression,” that would accomplish a great deal.
The shocking outburst of antisemitism on American college campuses is a symptom of a deeper malady, namely a hatred for the values of Western civilization. Radical faculty and administrators have been promoting that ideology to students for decades, and the results are now plain to see. We must reverse course before it’s too late.
William A. Jacobson, Esq., is a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School and founder and president of the Legal Insurrection Foundation.