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Fixing the American Campus

David Bernstein

Many American universities have become breeding grounds for hatred of Israel and of Jews. The problem—and the danger it presents to Jews specifically and Americans in general—took years to develop and will take many more to fix, David Bernstein believes. Bernstein, founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values and author of Woke Antisemitism: How a Progressive Ideology Harms Jews, analyzed leftist antisemitism for a December 7 Jewish Policy Center webinar.

Soviet anti-Zionism combined after World War II with French-born post-modernist literary criticism. Influencing many universities’ Middle East studies programs and humanities departments, post-modernism promoted moral relativism and undermined belief in objective reality. It proceeded through “cancel culture” and “social justice” theory to be joined with Qatari funding at numerous schools. These trends created “almost a perfect storm” legitimizing anti-Zionism and antisemitism, Bernstein said. 

“Fifty or more years of ideological insanity … have produced the current insanity” seen on campuses across the country since Hamas’ October 7 massacres in Israel, he asserted. Large anti-Israel demonstrations described by news media as pro-Palestinian, antisemitic assaults against Jewish students, and university administrators unwilling to directly condemn the terrorists’ barbarism or Jew-hatred at their schools have deep roots, Bernstein said.

Though the movement is most evident at what used to be considered “elite” American institutions of higher education, Bernstein said “I think its everywhere.” This includes “flagship” state-supported colleges with atmospheres “just as toxic as at East Coast and West Coast universities.”  

Saudi Arabia, in the spotlight after 9/11 due to the Saudi origins of most of the al-Qaeda hijackers, reduced anti-Israel funding to U.S. universities, he noted. But Qatar has stepped up, with at least $5 billion “to U.S. campuses in recent years,” Bernstein said. The tiny Persian Gulf sheikdom is a world leader in natural gas production; hosts Al-Jazeera broadcasting, Hamas (Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement) leaders and U.S. troops; and tries to act as a go-between between Sunni Arab states and Shi’ite Iran. 

Basically, Bernstein said, Qatari leaders subscribe to the Moslem Brotherhood ideology. The Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in the 1920s, is anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish and has served as the mothership of Sunni Islamic terrorist groups including al-Qaeda and Hamas. 

“We have a stake in this wonderful society of America,” Bernstein said. “This is not just an assault on Israel, Zionism or Jews.” He added that “as long as this ‘oppressor/oppressed binary’” central to woke ideology, and its “decolonialization” offshoot persist in U.S. education, the United States as well as Israel will be in danger.  

In countering woke antisemitism, “we have to start with these sprawling DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] departments” on campuses, he stressed. And though many Jews would like to blunt leftist antisemitism by getting included as a protected minority, Bernstein said that won’t work. He called DEI a “hard ideology” and referred to a Heritage Foundation study that corelated higher activity by campus diversity directors with more reported antisemitism at their schools. “DEI directors on Twitter [now X] … expressed a more favorable view of China than Israel,” he said.

Also fueling anti-Zionism and antisemitism on campuses is the post-colonial studies identification of Israel as a “settler-colonialist state,” Bernstein said. That label makes opposition to the Jewish state, including terrorism, legitimate and Israeli self-defense criminal. It likewise tars the United States and Canada, for example, and sanctifies “the left’s obsession with Zionism.”

Among steps needed to counter campus hostility to Israel and Jews, Bernstein said, are:

*Big donors making sure their money goes to programs supporting open academic inquiry, not to the schools general funds;

*U.S. government turning up the heat on Qatar “to end the funding for these [Middle East] ‘studies’ programs”;

*Supporting “alternative programs” like the new University of Austin and other campuses that stress traditional liberal arts education over “indoctrination into this ridiculous ideology”; and

*Establishing academic programs within existing universities to exemplify free debate, genuine U.S. pluralism and intellectual rigor.

Old, established U.S. universities “have huge endowments; they aren’t going anywhere,” Bernstein conceded. Many are “really problematic” but “we have to deal with higher education as it is.” 

He said the failure of the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and M.I.T. to identify calls for the genocide of Jews as antisemitic and violation of campus speech codes before a congressional hearing on December 6 amounted to “a watershed moment.” Sustaining the attention this brought to the academic “cesspool of indoctrination programs” will advance the long fight to fix American campuses.