Commentary Magazine


Topic: Swarthmore College

Drawing a Line in the Sand on Hate

Those seeking to keep Jewish organizations alive and well in an era when assimilation is shrinking the numbers of those affiliating with such groups can’t be blamed for emphasizing inclusiveness. There aren’t that many Jews to start with, so a big tent is always a necessity when it comes to creating a viable community. But there are times when such groups must draw the line. That’s what Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut did when he warned the group’s Swarthmore College chapter that it was out of line for deliberately ignoring guidelines about Israel advocacy. Fingerhut will take a beating in some quarters for this decision since it will be portrayed on the left as an attempt to suppress free speech or as a measure that will exclude some Jews from the umbrella organization for campus activities. But Fingerhut made the right call.

By telling Swarthmore that its willingness to host anti-Israel groups and speakers was out of bounds, Fingerhut is sending a necessary message that should be heeded throughout the American Jewish world. At a time when worry about inclusiveness and outreach has become an omnipresent mantra, Hillel has reminded us that inclusiveness for its own sake is a trap, not a formula for a stronger community. Providing a platform for those who advocate for Israel’s destruction is legitimizing hate, not facilitating a productive dialogue. If Swarthmore wishes to promote anti-Zionism and efforts to boycott, divest, and sanction the Jewish state, it cannot do so under the imprimatur of Hillel.

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Those seeking to keep Jewish organizations alive and well in an era when assimilation is shrinking the numbers of those affiliating with such groups can’t be blamed for emphasizing inclusiveness. There aren’t that many Jews to start with, so a big tent is always a necessity when it comes to creating a viable community. But there are times when such groups must draw the line. That’s what Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut did when he warned the group’s Swarthmore College chapter that it was out of line for deliberately ignoring guidelines about Israel advocacy. Fingerhut will take a beating in some quarters for this decision since it will be portrayed on the left as an attempt to suppress free speech or as a measure that will exclude some Jews from the umbrella organization for campus activities. But Fingerhut made the right call.

By telling Swarthmore that its willingness to host anti-Israel groups and speakers was out of bounds, Fingerhut is sending a necessary message that should be heeded throughout the American Jewish world. At a time when worry about inclusiveness and outreach has become an omnipresent mantra, Hillel has reminded us that inclusiveness for its own sake is a trap, not a formula for a stronger community. Providing a platform for those who advocate for Israel’s destruction is legitimizing hate, not facilitating a productive dialogue. If Swarthmore wishes to promote anti-Zionism and efforts to boycott, divest, and sanction the Jewish state, it cannot do so under the imprimatur of Hillel.

As JTA reports, Swarthmore’s chapter rejected Hillel’s guidelines for campus activities saying, “All are welcome to walk through our doors and speak with our name and under our roof, be they Zionist, anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or non-Zionist.” On the surface that sounds reasonable and non-judgmental. Why shouldn’t a student group welcome anti-Zionists? Aren’t their views just as worthy of a hearing as those of people who support Israel’s right to exist?

Actually, no they’re not. There are plenty of venues, especially on contemporary college campuses, for those who wish to argue for waging economic warfare on Israel or to claim that the Jewish state must be dissolved. In a free country, people have the right to spew all kinds of hatred. But there’s something particularly bizarre about the notion that it is the responsibility of Jewish groups to facilitate such activities.

Israel is not perfect and Jewish groups should reflect the same diversity of opinion about its politics and government that is present in the country’s lively free press and democratic political system. But supporters of BDS and anti-Zionism are not mere critics of West Bank settlements or urging Israel’s leaders to make more concessions to the Palestinians in peace talks. They are working for Israel’s destruction.

Doing so puts them not only outside what passes for reasonable discourse in a Jewish community but in the category of those who are supporting hatred and rationalizing violence. These Israel-haters don’t merely judge democratic Israel by a double standard not applied to genuine tyrannies around the world like China or Iran. They would deny the Jews the right to their own country (wherever its borders might be drawn) in at least a part of their ancient homeland and their right of self-defense against the terrorists and terror-supporting states that threaten it. That is something they wouldn’t think of applying to any other ethnic or religious group. As such, it is an act of bias. While some are shy about calling such activities anti-Semitic, that is exactly what they are no matter whether those taking part claim Jewish ties or not.

Swarthmore is not alone in wishing to legitimize Israel haters. As I noted last week and yesterday, the willingness of liberal groups like the New America Foundation to support the author of a vicious anti-Zionist book shows the troubling manner in which such haters have been able to use their connections on the left to mainstream their noxious point of view. But as dangerous as that trend is, it is even more insidious for Jewish groups to fall prey to the same trick.

Some in the Jewish community, such as Rabbi Melinda Weintraub, the director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs Civility Initiative (who spoke at a forum with me at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center this past weekend), think it is a mistake to close any doors to groups taking such positions. She says we are misconstruing their positions or misunderstanding the motives of anti-Zionists and believes the community will be stronger if it places no such limits on dialogue with the BDS crowd.

But a community that is willing to treat hatred against Israel as normative will not only be incapable of organizing support for the embattled Jewish state. It will be committing suicide. A community that stands for nothing but inclusiveness is one that stands for nothing and has no reason to go on functioning. A group that legitimizes such hate is adopting a deconstructionist view of Jewish life that would both make a mockery of its liberal principles and betray its Jewish mission. Hillel has no more business hosting a BDS advocate or anti-Zionist than it does in providing a platform for neo-Nazis or a racist like David Duke.

Fortunately, Hillel has recognized that as much as it wishes to encourage diversity it cannot compromise on fundamental principles. A line must be drawn when it comes to advocating against Zionism or for Israel’s destruction. The Israel-haters have no place in American Jewish life.

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All in the Name of Diversity

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is looking into suspected gender discrimination at colleges and universities. As this report explains, women are “more plentiful” in college admissions, despite years of angst generated by the feminist civil-rights lobby about supposed discrimination against girls. Women are approaching 60 percent of the applicant pool. So it may be that, in the name of gender bias, schools are now trying to suppress the number of females they admit in order to give a boost to less deserving males:

William and Mary admitted 43 percent of its male applicants and 29 percent of its female applicants in fall 2008, according to its institutional data. Vassar College in New York’s Hudson Valley admitted 34 percent of the men who applied and 21 percent of the women. Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania admitted 19 percent of male applicants and 14 percent of female applicants. Wesleyan University in Connecticut admitted 30 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women. Female applicants far outnumbered male candidates at all four schools.

This week the commission will decide on the precise schools to examine from a pool of “nonprofit, non-seminary, four-year institutions that have more than 1,000 students, are at least moderately selective and are within 100 miles of Washington.” If the schools are public or publicly funded and have a two-tiered system for women and male applicants, “that would be illegal,” a commission spokeswoman explained.

Some of the college administrators aren’t so adept at covering their tracks. For example, the dean of admissions at the University of Richmond confides: “It’s always going to be an issue because there are not enough men in the pipeline.” So they need a little “help,” one supposes, so that “enough” men arrive on campus. Others try to obscure the issue in a haze of verbiage, parroting the language of applicable Supreme Court cases that have held that, for example, admissions officers can consider the applicant’s race as one of many factors:

According to higher-education leaders, investigators will be hard-pressed to find a college, public or private, that is intentionally favoring one sex over the other. Most of the region’s selective colleges practice “holistic” admissions, a process that considers each applicant as an individual, and as a whole, rather than as a sum of grades, test scores and demographic traits, in the quest to build a diverse class.

“In terms of importance, an applicant’s gender is near the bottom of the list of factors considered,” said Tony Pals, spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in the District.

“Near the bottom” — but apparently still a factor.

This is noteworthy for several reasons. First, where are the Justice Department and so-called feminist groups? They apparently don’t much care if women are now on the short end of gender preferences. It’s all about “diversity,” you see. And second, one realizes how misplaced has been the hue and cry about anti-female discrimination in education. Apparently there is no civil-rights or other organization upset that men now make up only 40 percent of the college-admissions pool. Are they being discriminated against? Are their educational needs being ignored? We don’t know, and no one seems interested in finding out why.

As I and others have pointed out before, the commission is filling a gap in the civil-rights arena, asking questions others won’t. The results of the study should be illuminating.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is looking into suspected gender discrimination at colleges and universities. As this report explains, women are “more plentiful” in college admissions, despite years of angst generated by the feminist civil-rights lobby about supposed discrimination against girls. Women are approaching 60 percent of the applicant pool. So it may be that, in the name of gender bias, schools are now trying to suppress the number of females they admit in order to give a boost to less deserving males:

William and Mary admitted 43 percent of its male applicants and 29 percent of its female applicants in fall 2008, according to its institutional data. Vassar College in New York’s Hudson Valley admitted 34 percent of the men who applied and 21 percent of the women. Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania admitted 19 percent of male applicants and 14 percent of female applicants. Wesleyan University in Connecticut admitted 30 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women. Female applicants far outnumbered male candidates at all four schools.

This week the commission will decide on the precise schools to examine from a pool of “nonprofit, non-seminary, four-year institutions that have more than 1,000 students, are at least moderately selective and are within 100 miles of Washington.” If the schools are public or publicly funded and have a two-tiered system for women and male applicants, “that would be illegal,” a commission spokeswoman explained.

Some of the college administrators aren’t so adept at covering their tracks. For example, the dean of admissions at the University of Richmond confides: “It’s always going to be an issue because there are not enough men in the pipeline.” So they need a little “help,” one supposes, so that “enough” men arrive on campus. Others try to obscure the issue in a haze of verbiage, parroting the language of applicable Supreme Court cases that have held that, for example, admissions officers can consider the applicant’s race as one of many factors:

According to higher-education leaders, investigators will be hard-pressed to find a college, public or private, that is intentionally favoring one sex over the other. Most of the region’s selective colleges practice “holistic” admissions, a process that considers each applicant as an individual, and as a whole, rather than as a sum of grades, test scores and demographic traits, in the quest to build a diverse class.

“In terms of importance, an applicant’s gender is near the bottom of the list of factors considered,” said Tony Pals, spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in the District.

“Near the bottom” — but apparently still a factor.

This is noteworthy for several reasons. First, where are the Justice Department and so-called feminist groups? They apparently don’t much care if women are now on the short end of gender preferences. It’s all about “diversity,” you see. And second, one realizes how misplaced has been the hue and cry about anti-female discrimination in education. Apparently there is no civil-rights or other organization upset that men now make up only 40 percent of the college-admissions pool. Are they being discriminated against? Are their educational needs being ignored? We don’t know, and no one seems interested in finding out why.

As I and others have pointed out before, the commission is filling a gap in the civil-rights arena, asking questions others won’t. The results of the study should be illuminating.

Read Less




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