I was still kvelling about earning my Ivy League degree when the glow of that parchment dimmed.
On Tuesday, the presidents of Harvard, M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania put on a pathetic display on Capitol Hill when they were asked if calling for genocide against Jews counted as harassment.
It depends, they all said. Penn’s Elizabeth Magill offered a chilling bit of legalese. “It is a context-dependent decision,” she told Representative Elise Stefanik, a Republican from upstate New York.
Not since Bill Clinton was asked about having sex with Monica Lewinsky and replied, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” has there been such parsing.
It’s hard to be on Stefanik’s side, given that she epitomizes the grotesque transformation of the Republican Party to an insane Trump cult, but she was right to pin down the prevaricating presidents.
Citing a Washington Free Beacon report, Stefanik noted in The Wall Street Journal that Harvard has cautioned undergraduates that “cisheterosexism” and “fatphobia” helped perpetuate violence and that “using the wrong pronouns” qualified as abuse.
When Stefanik asked Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, whether calling for the genocide of Jews constituted bullying, Gay said it could, “depending on the context.”
I felt the same disgust with the Catholic Church sex scandal, seeing church leaders who were charged with teaching us right from wrong not knowing right from wrong. University presidents should also know right from wrong. As left-wing virulence toward Jews collides with right-wing virulence, these academics not only didn’t show off their brains, they didn’t show their hearts.
“I think the inability of these individuals to articulate a simple, straightforward answer to what should have been the easiest question in the world was mind-boggling,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, told me. “It’s like a hurricane of hate in the last few months. You ask yourself, how is this happening? Now we know.” He added, “The truth is that these presidents are not committed to free speech. They’re committed to favored speech. They selectively enforce the codes of conduct when it works for them or their friends in the faculty lounge.”
Leon Wieseltier, the editor of Liberties, a humanistic journal, has an essay on antisemitism in the next issue, echoing Greenblatt with a complaint about the “selective empathy” that made kaffiyehs “cool.”
“I think this is still America,” Wieseltier said, “but what is so wounding and intolerable is how we went from spending four years intensely and rightly focusing on one class of victims in society, and now are prepared to make light of the troubles that another class of victims are experiencing.
“The culture on campuses is a culture of oppressors and oppressed. Israel is now Goliath and no longer David — though God knows it has mortal enemies capable of the most astonishing savagery. The Jews were long ago stricken from the rolls of the oppressed because they are seen as white and privileged. We are a culture which loves victims and worships victimization and gives great moral authority to victims, but we don’t treat all victims equally.”
The U.N. women’s rights agency and social justice groups grossly delayed condemning barbaric sexual attacks on women by Hamas during its Oct. 7 massacre.
Wieseltier also put blame on the authoritarian Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “One of the reasons for this war is the Israelis’ decades-long neglect and humiliation of the Palestinians,” he said. “They thought it would never come back and bite them. Netanyahu plays right into the left’s false analysis of Israel as a colonial settler state.”
As James Carville told Bill Maher: “How the hell am I still looking at Netanyahu’s stupid, crooked, ignorant, negligent face? This guy’s still in power after the greatest intelligence failure at least since 9/11?”
Roger Cohen wrote in The Times that Netanyahu let Hamas grow stronger while taking a “‘kick the can down the road’ approach” on a two-state solution. As the Palestinian issue vanished from the global agenda, Palestinian fury grew.
That is no excuse for what Hamas did on Oct. 7, but Oct. 7 is also no excuse for Israel’s relentless bombing in Gaza.
I think this is still America. But I don’t understand why I have to keep making the case on matters that should be self-evident.
Why should I have to make the case that a man who tried to overthrow the government should not be president again?
Why should I have to make the case that we can’t abandon Ukraine to the evil Vladimir Putin?
Why should I have to make the case that a young woman — whose life and future ability to bear children are at risk — should not be getting persecuted about an abortion by a shady Texas attorney general?
Why should I have to make the case that antisemitism is abhorrent?