The “see no evil” response from Northeastern’s provost is part of the problem.
Americans for Peace and Tolerance has released a documentary on Northeastern’s Holocaust Awareness Week, and Charles Jacobs has published a column in the Jewish Advocate summarizing his criticisms of it. In response, Northeastern Provost Stephen Director has complained that Jacobs “cherry-picked his examples”:
The present-day facts are clear: Northeastern is a vibrant academic community where people of all backgrounds and faiths come together in pursuit of knowledge.
In dismissing a dozen examples of intellectual and moral abuse of the Holocaust program at Northeastern as “cherry-picked,” Director expresses either a lack of awareness or a dishonesty about the nature of the intellectual and moral stakes. That Jacobs could “cherry-pick” any examples of people using this venue at Northeastern to make the morally sadistic comparison of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews represents a failure of judgment on a colossal scale.
How can one make such a comparison without including a comparison of how Israel treats its “occupied” Palestinians with how the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war have been treated by their Arab hosts? They have been and continue to be far more ruthless and cruel with their own people than the “Nazi-like” Israelis are with the Palestinians.
Comparisons of Israelis with Nazis are not sober assessments of empirical reality — the hallmark of good history and journalism. They are wild and intentionally debasing accusations — Israel-baiting — made in a moral and intellectual fugue. This represents a disorientation of empirical reality so radical that its prominence on campus needs to be addressed, explained, and corrected, and not covered up with claims of “academic freedom.”
Academics are not “free” to make things up, and universities are not required to give those who do a pulpit. That, as Stephen Director should in principle know, is a crucial component of the “pursuit of knowledge.”
Instead, in his apologetics, he sounds like the FBI after Waco: “We didn’t do anything wrong, and we won’t do it again.” We can’t learn from mistakes we don’t admit.
Far from an example of “academic freedom,” this situation is actually the opposite. The radical voice that compares Israel to the Nazis and tars as “right-wing” those Jews who object has essentially driven the entire political spectrum off-kilter. What Northeastern calls diversity and vigorous debate “in pursuit of knowledge” actually represents the shutting down of precisely the kind of debate that must take place, replacing it with unchallenged intellectual and moral abuse.
Moderate vs. extremist. Left vs. right. Dove vs. hawk. None of these ranges mean anything anymore as a result of the skew those running the Holocaust program at Northeastern bring to the university community. This skew is reflected in many places, including the news media. A “moderate” in the Palestinian system (e.g., Mahmoud Abbas) does not translate into a moderate in ours; and a “hardliner” in ours is a (way too) soft-liner in theirs. Someone who promises his people the land from river to the sea, who demands the ethnic transfer and cleansing of a religious minority from territory he rules, who wants to keep his own people stateless, whose “authorities” bully and intimidate the press, who uses torture against his own opposition? This is not a “moderate.” Any Israeli leader with such a record would be immediately branded — by Jews and other Westerners alike — as a vicious fascist. Of course, in comparison with the genocidal Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Abbas is at least willing to say he’s willing to (maybe) negotiate, and therefore appears on our current skewed political register as a “moderate.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, who allows a much wider range of dissent and lives by far more demanding democratic principles, is branded a “hawkish” right-wing extremist when he resists pressure to compromise with foes. But since holding Palestinians responsible for their choices — suicide bombing, hate propaganda, river-to-the-sea ambitions — would be blaming the victim, it’s so much easier for the politically correct to blame the “hardliner” Netanyahu for the failure of negotiations rather than the “moderate” Abbas.
As a result of this skew of the political spectrum, for nearly a decade Northeastern’s hijacked Holocaust program repeatedly invited highly politicized, intellectually dishonest, morally hysterical people who demonized Israel and who tried to exclude, silence, and intimidate anyone who defended her.
This is a widespread phenomenon on American and Canadian campuses. It occurred partly on a public stage — see the attacks on people like Nonie Darwish, Netanyahu, David Horowitz, and Michael Oren – and partly in a private way: scholars who might challenge these accusations were pointedly disinvited from the discussion. Northeastern apparently mistakes a situation in which defenders of Israel were systematically intimidated and denied a voice while rabble-rousers with revolutionary agendas controlled the stage for a “vigorous exchange of diverse opinion.”
Nothing better illustrates this off-kilter political register than Provost Director’s pointing to Northeastern’s invite of Michael Oren — a scholar of impeccable credentials both as an academic and as a public intellectual — as a balance to Alice Rothschild. You’d need a Kahanist who wanted to ethnically cleanse the West Bank of Arabs to match her unhinged radical ideas. And yet, no one at Northeastern is going to defend such a racist “right-wing” speaker on the basis of academic freedom. So we end up with a spectrum that goes from radical left to a mild, even timid, center – moderates who rather than challenge shrill and dishonest accusations, plead “can’t we all just get along?”
Meanwhile, no one at Northeastern is exposed to anything that is not “peace” oriented. Heaven forbid students be exposed to evidence that points out how the peace movement has been hijacked in the service of war.
Indeed, one might conjecture about the reason this “vigorous” voice has become so rhetorically extravagant in its insults against Israel and her defenders. Branding those who object as “racists, fascists, and Islamophobes” serves to intimidate and marginalize an opposition which, if sane people could hear their voice, would lead them to walk away from this deranged anti-Zionist, anti-democratic discourse.
That’s what’s so disturbing about the typical “university” response to objections from Jews regarding the demonizing of Israel: administrators are in total denial about a serious — some of us think urgent — problem on our campuses today. The voice of a loyal opposition has been banished by the voice of a hostile opposition which uses a discourse that violates so many of the rules of the “public sphere.” Empirical evidence, disciplined reasoning, honest use of analogies, open and un-coercive consent: these are key elements of the public sphere. And the public sphere is where a discourse of fairness and empathy takes place, the oxygen supply of our experiment in freedom and prosperity. Our many “cherry-picked” case studies violate this not on occasion, but as a matter of principle.
Northeastern administrators should consider themselves co-defendants in the recent findings on the administrators at the University of California. Far from performing their role as the university’s quality control mechanism, they now routinely function as the enablers, protectors, and even apologists for the politicized university and its degraded scholarly and educational standards.
This is not a slip or a stumble. This is a catastrophic failure of the last generation. Under the guise of “cutting-edge scholarship” in “theories” (post-modern, post-colonial, queer, etc.), they bring us dishonest, accusing voices that demonize and scapegoat and never self-criticize. They demand that we believe the voices of the “subaltern” Palestinian “other”; they insist that to question that testimony would be cruel, would be “blaming the victim.” Accordingly, they pump our information system with poisoned lethal narratives, with icons of hatred which they proudly claim will help make the world a better place. They represent an insane marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism: while Palestinians make the most terrible accusations against Israel, “good Jews” like Alice Rothschild say: “Yes, you’re right, we are terrible.”
(Indeed, one has to wonder what happened to Alice as a “child” according to her own “psycho”-analysis of the abuse syndrome: i.e., Jews, having been abused by Nazis, now abuse Palestinians. What abuse has Rothschild experienced that she so abuses her own people? Was it at the hand of her fellow “progressives”?)
This is not just a Jewish question. What the “Left” has done to Israel, it does to every other Western nation and culture: it insists we liberals, in order to prove our good will, adopt Islamism’s demonizing narratives about the infidel, especially the Jew. The consequences are terrible for those like we Jewish and non-Jewish liberals who, in a paroxysm of self-critical good will, accept this dishonest and vicious story about ourselves. But they are in some ways worse for Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim culture, where our acceptance of these hate- and violence-filled lethal narratives strengthens the grip that the producers of this war-mongering propaganda have on their own people. And in the process, peace is the first and last casualty.