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Truth and the Modern American University

An article by Nathan Bloom and Phyllis Chessler published yesterday on FrontPageMag.com highlights the absurd hypocrisy that characterizes academic debate over Jew-hatred.

Bloom and Chessler focus on the release on June 23 of an “Islamophobia” report co-sponsored by Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). That release date happened to coincide with Yale’s strange flip-flop on its anti-Semitism program, providing an unusually stark juxtaposition that tells us a great deal about the ideological assumptions of those who man the watchtowers of the current American university.

The ostensible reason for the Yale anti-Semitism program’s closure was a failure to “meet high standards for research and instruction,” but not even anti-Israelist blogs like Mondoweiss bought that as an explanation. The explanation became, instead, that the original “Initiative”  (YIISA) was too focused on “advocacy” as opposed to “scholarship.” Since some of the presentations at YIISA’s conferences moved from dispassionate analysis of Jew-hatred to a consideration of what actually should be done about it, a holy intellectual line had been crossed. The program’s death and rebirth seems to have been, in the end, a successful effort to remove Charles Small from its leadership, thereby hopefully avoiding all that unseemly advocacy.

Which brings us back to the “Islamophobia” report. It’s worth noting – because it doesn’t get said nearly often enough – that CAIR was founded by the Islamic Association for Palestine, a group the ADL calls“a Hamas-affiliated anti-Semitic propaganda organization.” Leaving all that to the side, CAIR says itself that its “vision” is to be “a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding.” Yet such blatant advocacy does not prevent an “interdisciplinary research center” at Berkeley from plastering its name on, promoting on its website, and sending its director to CAIR headquarters in Washington, D.C., to help announce the release of a report authored, save for sections on the Ground Zero mosque and the 2010 election, by CAIR itself.

The hard truth is the humanities departments of the American university have been effectively transformed away from centers of scholarship and into centers for ideological advocacy for at least a generation now. Those who guard its prerogatives do not guard intellectual purity but the perpetuation of an intellectual monoculture that stifles the free inquiry of students and faculty alike, setting rigid boundaries around what can and cannot be thought.

Instead of confronting this reality honestly, brave academic advocates like Deborah Lipstadt nevertheless go on shoveling the argument that YIISA essentially has itself to blame for its closure, since it didn’t watch the advocacy/scholarship line closely enough. As a tactical argument (in the sense that if we want to change the university we must acknowledge that stern power is held there by our adversaries and therefore we must tread carefully) it is fine as far as it goes. But in demanding Jews hold themselves to a standard perpetually ignored by everyone else in the interest of principle alone, Lipstadt and others are arguing in favor of Jewish weakness and not much else.   

To fight effectively for truth in the modern American university, we need to acknowledge honestly where we are. Only then will we be able to discern how to get to where we need to go.



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