How to Stop Anti-Semitic Conferences on College Campuses

Every year anti-Israel students stage a hate festival on a major U.S. campus. Conferences have been held at Michigan, Berkeley, Duke, and Ohio State. Each year Jews protest; however, university officials turn a deaf ear and make grand pronouncements about how they are defending academic freedom. But what they are really doing is rationalizing their cowardice to stand up to bigotry, anti-Semitism, and advocacy of terror.

Can anyone imagine a major university hosting a conference by the KKK and telling black students they are defending academic freedom? It would never happen. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would turn the event into a national civil rights test, students would probably take over the administration building and politicians would denounce the campus administration and threaten draconian punishments. The same would be true if conferences were held to promote or oppose abortion or to criticize feminism.

The Jewish community has taken a different tack, the traditional sha-still, court Jew approach, and this is one reason college campuses are today the only place in America where anti-Semitism is considered acceptable and tolerated. In the Duke case, for example, a lot of people were upset about the conference and the university’s actions, but none of the community’s major figures spoke out. Other than Hillel and the Israel on Campus Coalition, I believe Hadassah was the only national organization that made a financial commitment to the student program.

Isn’t it time to put our collective feet down and declare that academic freedom cannot be a shield for anti-Semitism?

Right now I’m talking specifically about taking measures related to the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) conference and events like it. The question of how to deal with hostile faculty and other issues on the campus may require different approaches.

Regarding the PSM conference, what options do we have?

One option is to ignore the Israel haters. The argument for this approach is that the conferences actually have little impact; they’re primarily attended by like-minded individuals who compete to see who can be more anti-Israel. Protesting these events gives them more visibility and perceived importance. Also, during the same year when one anti-Israel conference is held, attended by a few hundred students, dozens of pro-Israel conferences are held with thousands of participants. Still, looking the other way reinforces the notion that hate speech against Jews is permissible and insures that it will continue.

A second option is to use the Palestinian hate feast as a pretext for an Israel love feast. This was the approach adopted at Rutgers, which put on a very successful year-long “Israel inspires” program as its response to Israel’s detractors. Duke students also countered the PSM conference with a combination of an anti-terror theme and an Israel education day. While this can turn a negative situation into a positive one for Jewish students, it also lets universities avoid taking a stand against bigotry.

A third option is to stage a counter demonstration. The Jewish establishment has generally eschewed this approach, but there are always individuals and groups that feel the need to adopt a more public, confrontation approach. This certainly makes participants feel better, and gives the sense that something is being done. But, so far, this tactic has had little impact beyond making the Palestinians more visible and seemingly more important. Students and campus professionals also often resent outsiders parachuting in to their campuses and then leaving behind a mess for them to cleanup. Protests generally anger nonpartisan students rather than win their hearts and minds and also gives an air of legitimacy to the detractors by implying that their distorted views represent another side of the story.

To put an end to the acceptance of anti-Semitism on campus, it is necessary to adopt more extreme measures. We have learned from experiences at Columbia and elsewhere that university officials rarely respond to reason; they must be pressured, and the two things they care about most are the university’s image and finances. Thus, they need to be hammered in the media and their pocket books.

For example, Hillel or another organization might begin to publicize campuses least hospitable to Jews. This bottom 10 or 20 list should be disseminated to day schools and guidance counselors. Universities should know that Jewish students around the country are being discouraged from applying to their institutions.

The list should also go to the media. University faithful would undoubtedly come to the schools’ defense, but the damage would be done, and their images tarnished by appearing in a listing of the worst campuses.

Alumni and other donors could be encouraged to withhold support and recruited to pressure the university administration. Politicians could also be enlisted to pressure the campus and efforts might be made to discourage state and federal grants from being awarded to campuses that demonstrate hostility toward Jewish students.

Of course, it would not be necessary to go to such lengths if university presidents had any moral or intellectual fortitude. Just look at what happened to Harvard’s Larry Summers after he recently made a relatively innocuous remark about women and was forced by feminist wrath to backpedal furiously. He didn’t stand up for academic freedom because women are a politically correct and protected class, as are African-Americans, gays, and virtually every group except Jews. Summers is actually one of the few presidents who has made very strong statements condemning anti-Semitism on campus, but he also had to be pushed by an embarrassing public campaign to return the donation of an anti-Semitic sheik.

Is it any wonder that students are confused and morally ambivalent when their role models display the same characteristics?