Inside story'I fear it will get worse before it gets better'

Critics say US colleges’ double standards let rabid antisemitism thrive on campus

While praising the free exchange of dissenting opinions, alumni and faculty allege failure to enforce existing codes of conduct has made universities a hostile environment for Jews

Reporter at The Times of Israel

Pro-Palestine, anti-Israel supporters gather for a rally at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14, 2023. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP)
Pro-Palestine, anti-Israel supporters gather for a rally at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14, 2023. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP)

NEW YORK — Harvard Business School alum Clarence Schwab is done with the double standards.

As treasurer of the newly established Harvard Jewish Alumni Association (HJAA), Schwab said he’s tired of Harvard University’s failure to root out antisemitism and enforce its existing codes of conduct. He’s also fed up with the way much of the administration has dismissed the poisonous atmosphere pervading the Cambridge campus ever since the October 7 massacre in Israel, which saw 1,200 people brutally murdered by Hamas-led terrorists and 240 more abducted to the Gaza Strip.

“The school would not, and should not, tolerate menacing conduct aimed at Blacks or Latinos or the LGBTQ community. We want one standard applied equally to all,” said Schwab, the founder and managing partner of Kronor Capital.

Schwab hopes that whoever steps in to replace outgoing president Claudine Gay — who resigned Tuesday just months into her tenure amid accusations of plagiarism and criticism over her response to campus antisemitism — feels the same.

“Claudine Gay’s tenure will be defined by the proliferation of antisemitism on campus. In her repeated failures to condemn calls for the complete and utter obliteration of Jews, Claudine Gay tacitly encouraged those who sought to spread hate at Harvard, where many Jews no longer feel safe to study, pray, and exist,” Schwab said.

“It’s our hope that Harvard’s next president begins their term by loudly and clearly stating that antisemitism has absolutely no place on campus,” he said.

For the better part of the fall semester, chaos reigned on many university campuses across the United States — particularly at elite institutions such as Columbia, Cornell, Harvard and MIT. Frequent antisemitism-laced protests and sit-ins blocked students from accessing classrooms and other campus buildings, vituperative social media posts lauded the terror onslaught, and in some cases, there were either credible death threats or actual physical assaults.

All of this has Schwab and others calling on Harvard University leaders to regain control of their campus. But, as those interviewed for this story said, that’s only possible if universities end double standards, enforce existing codes of conduct and return to principles of free speech. Until that happens, they said, Jewish students will feel neither understood nor safe.

Clarence Schwab, left, with his family in an undated photo. (Courtesy)

“We are at a deeply important inflection moment, and I fear it will get worse before it gets better,” said Rabbi David Wolpe, who in November announced his resignation from Harvard University’s antisemitism advisory group.

A visiting scholar at Harvard’s Divinity School, Wolpe said he resigned from the group after concluding the task force couldn’t make the type of systemic changes he thought necessary. While Wolpe wouldn’t elaborate on what those changes are, he did say universities have a problem when supporters of Israel — and particularly Jews — are targeted to the point that they are afraid to attend their classes or can’t study.

From protests to posters, campuses have been awash in antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric.

For example, when protestors took over MIT’s main entrance on November 9, the 85th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, they chanted, “Justice is our demand, no peace on stolen land,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and other calls menacing to Jews.

Rabbi David Wolpe (Facebook)

At Harvard, there have been reports of students saying “Jews are colonizers deserving of death,” and posters reading “Keep our planet clean,” with images of Stars of David in trash cans, according to a November 20 letter from HJAA to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay and Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana.

At Columbia University, students from the School of Social Work openly defied the administration and held illicit “teach-ins” that exalted the terrorist attack, as did Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP).

At Harvard, faculty “brought burritos and Twizzlers to the students who
seized University Hall,” according to a December 13 letter from HJAA. Meanwhile, at Butler University, the College Republicans club was investigated for condemning as antisemitic the chants of “Not a victim, not a crime,” at an SJP rally.

Don’t keep silent

These are the kinds of incidents that Yeshiva University president Dr. Rabbi Ari Berman and Rep. Virginia Foxx, the Republican chairwoman of the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce, want students to report, both to their respective campus police and to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“Any Jewish student or faculty member feeling physically threatened by either the words or deeds of professors, campus administrators or students, should go to their campus police and report it as a hate crime. This certainly includes calls for Jewish genocide. Our institutions of higher education are entrusted with the mental and physical well-being of students. Students who do not feel safe cannot succeed academically,” Berman said in a press release.

Such efforts are in keeping with the 1990 Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to keep records about certain categories of crimes, including hate crimes, on or near their campuses.

Investigating such hate and bias incidents would be easier if universities adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, Schwab said.

Left to right: Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, Liz Magill, President of University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Pamela Nadell, Professor of History and Jewish Studies at American University, and Dr. Sally Kornbluth, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 5, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

“Of note is that each year the university signs a commitment to uphold the standards of the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ Title VI. One of those standards is the IHRA definition of antisemitism, with its helpful examples. We believe this definition should be part of University policy in identifying and investigating alleged instances of antisemitism,” Schwab said.

Much of what occurred in the past few months happened because university administrators quite simply didn’t protect Jewish students, said Shai Davidai, an assistant professor at the Columbia University Business School.

Davidai became something of an accidental activist after a video of him at a candlelight vigil warning against the explosion of antisemitism at Columbia went viral.

Shai Davidai, assistant professor at the Columbia University Business School. (Daniel Davidai)

Until October 7, Davidai said he considered the Morningside campus “a beacon of light where people can come and study, a place that was equitable and free.” But when the university failed to immediately and unequivocally denounce Hamas, and allowed students to escape disciplinary action for violating conduct codes, he felt compelled to speak out.

Since then he’s taken to LinkedIn and X (formerly known as Twitter) and penned opinion columns to beseech Columbia and other universities to safeguard Jewish students.

“I didn’t realize the place I thought was home wasn’t home. I’m not fighting against Columbia; I’m fighting for Columbia. I’m not blaming the administration for what’s happened. I blame them for not taking a stand. What is happening is happening in a vacuum that they created,” Davidai said.

Institutions need to follow their own rules

As lawyer, legal commentator and author David Lat sees it, there are two issues at hand: free speech and upholding codes of conduct — neither of which are mutually exclusive.

Illustrative: Students at the University of Connecticut hold a candle-lit vigil for victims of the October 7 Hamas atrocities on campus in Storrs, Connecticut, October 8, 2023. (Courtesy)

Lat noted how the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania were heavily criticized after refusing to say at a Congressional hearing that calls for genocide against Jews constitute harassment.

“It’s true that students can’t be punished for political chants according to the First Amendment, which protects most hate speech and offensive speech. But the problem is that until they testified, the universities had shown virtually no commitment to academic freedom, institutional neutrality and viewpoint diversity,” Lat said.

Pointing out that Gay’s resignation reflects how balancing free speech with other values can be difficult — even treacherous — for university presidents, Lat also cautioned against reading too much into her departure, given the steady plagiarism allegations against her.

In short, Lat said, if university presidents hope to reestablish campuses as a place of learning, they must discipline any student who violates the codes of conduct they already have in place.

Posters supporting Hamas have been put up on the University of Connecticut campus. (Courtesy/ Jessica Baden)

“Universities have conduct codes and they need to prioritize them. Someone’s right to free speech can’t interrupt a class. [The university] can prohibit shouting down class speakers and prohibit students from holding signs that block someone’s view. You can put up posters, but you cannot take down someone else’s poster,” he said.

Allowing for free speech also means implementing “a concrete security plan to ensure that students can move through the campus freely and that classes and other shared campus experiences are not disrupted,” said a December 13 letter from the HJAA.

Some schools, such as California State Polytechnic and Los Angeles Pierce College, have turned to free speech zones as a way to allow protests while ensuring freedom of movement. However, these can also be problematic, said Lat.

“The concept isn’t terrible, but its application often is. It’s an idea that gets abused because these rules are not implemented by unbiased people. You’ll have these huge campuses that put a tiny concrete spot in the middle of nowhere for students to protest,” he said.

Yet the tumult on campuses comes not just because of the protests, but also from allowing for double standards, said University of Florida president Ben Sasse.

Ben Sasse, president of the University of Florida and former US senator. (Courtesy University of Florida)

“[H]ere’s what I’ll say about the situation on campuses broadly: Universities can’t have two sets of rules. You can’t have rules for popular beliefs and a different set of rules for unpopular beliefs. Free thought and open debate are central to the mission of a university,” said Sasse, who also served as the Republican senator of Nebraska from 2015 to 2023.

In short, universities ought to be places where students must wrestle with new and complicated ideas, he said.

“A healthy university works to expose students to a wide range of opinions, to challenge their assumptions and to help them refine their arguments. We do that by building a community that values human dignity, embraces complicated questions and promotes intellectual diversity,” Sasse said.

And so when winter break ends shortly, Lat said, he hopes university leadership will have used the time wisely. While it will take time to reorient schools, he hopes they will have at least started the process.

“I hope we can come out of this with a grand reboot. So much of what has happened in the past five to 10 years is unfortunate. We need to wipe the slate clean and have a reset,” Lat said.

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