Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe
When Lawrence Summers became the president of Harvard last year, not even his greatest admirers predicted how resolutely he would make the university's motto -- "Veritas" -- his own. Almost from the day he was inaugurated, Summers has insisted on speaking unpopular truths: about the disrespect shown to Americans in uniform, about the rot of grade inflation in Harvard's classrooms, about the absence of "mainstream values" among "coastal elites" -- even about the failure of a celebrity professor like Cornel West to do serious academic work.
Last month, voicing another unpopular truth, Summers spoke out against the spread of Jew-bashing -- not only in Europe and at UN conferences, but at American universities.
"There is disturbing evidence of an upturn in antisemitism globally, and also... closer to home," he said on Sept. 17. "Profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities. Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are antisemitic in their effect if not their intent."
Actually, even antisemitic intent can be found on American campuses these days. At San Francisco State University, for example, pro-Palestinian demonstrators recently confronted supporters of Israel with signs reading "Jews = Nazis" and chants of "Hitler should have finished the job." Earlier this month, anti-Israel rioters at Concordia University in Montreal smashed windows and hurled furniture to protest a scheduled speech by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Fortunately, such naked Jew-hatred is still rare in academia. What Summers had in mind was something less blatant but no less disgraceful.
"Some here at Harvard and some at universities across the country," he said, "have called for the university to single out Israel among all nations as the lone country where it is inappropriate for any part of the university's endowment to be invested. I hasten to say the university has categorically rejected this suggestion."
The divestment campaign Summers was referring to demands that Israel be treated as a pariah, a country so toxic that American universities shouldn't even own stock in companies that do business there. It is modeled on the anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and its planted axiom is that there is no important moral difference between Israel -- a free and tolerant democracy at war with dictatorial enemies bent on genocide -- and the former white-ruled South Africa. That is a position only a moral idiot could endorse.
Supporters of the divestment effort at Harvard and elsewhere were quick to condemn Summers for his "McCarthyesque" attack. "This is the ugliest statement imaginable," fumed John Assad, a neurobiology professor at Harvard's medical school, "to paint critics as antisemitic."
But Summers didn't "paint critics" as antisemitic or anything else; he characterized their *actions* as "antisemitic in their effect." He was not ascribing base motives to those who support the divestment campaign. He didn't presume to read their hearts. Rather, he was pointing out the impact of their behavior. One who supports a campaign that singles out Israel for demonization and obloquy is taking an antisemitic action, whether he intends to or not.
Are Israeli policies fair game for criticism? Of course. But it is not "criticism" to falsely smear Israel as racist -- not when the Arab world seethes with a hatred of Jews more rabid even than the Nazis'.
It is not "criticism" to portray Israel's lawful presence in Gaza and the West Bank as an illegal occupation, yet never murmur a word of objection to China's occupation of Tibet, or Syria's of Lebanon, or Turkey's of Northern Cyprus, or Russia's of Chechnya.
It is not "criticism" to lay the blame for the violence of the Middle East at Israel's doorstep while ignoring the immense risks that Israel has taken and the sacrifices it has made in pursuit of peace with the Palestinians.
It is not "criticism" to accuse Israel of apartheid, when it is the Arab world that preaches "Kill the Jews!" and dances in the street when terrorists do so.
This is not criticism -- it is calumny. It butchers the truth and subjects Israel to an outrageous double standard. It abets the cause of the world's foremost Jew-haters -- people whose explicit goal is the liquidation of the Jewish state. A professor who signs his name to something so grotesque is committing an antisemitic act.
"In our own day," Norman Podhoretz once wrote, "Israel has become the touchstone of attitudes toward the Jewish people, and anti-Zionism has become the main and most relevant form of antisemitism." Antisemitism used to express itself in demanding that good Aryans boycott Jewish shops. Today it demands that good universities boycott the Jewish state. It may look different on the outside, but it's the same old poison underneath.
Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.
Editors note: See how the effort to get universities to divest from Israel operates at www.HarvardMITdivest.org.