Ivy League Antisemitism: Who Didn’t Know?

Ivy League Antisemitism: Who Didn’t Know?

Over the past couple of days, we have read a great deal about the presidents of the Ivy League schools who went to Washington and embarrassed themselves and their universities.  Much of what we’ve read has reflected justified incredulity, understandable anger and frustration that the presidents of these highly respected universities would believe that the appropriateness of calls for genocide depends on the “context” in which those calls are made.  Some of the commentary has taken the opposite tack, suggesting that the Ivy presidents were justified in defending free speech while lamenting that they did not do so more consistently.  In both cases – theoretically diametrically opposed – the common denominator is callousness and apathy in the face of antisemitism.  Either the universities in question are tolerating antisemitism when they shouldn’t, or they are tolerating antisemitism when they do not tolerate any other discrimination.  In both cases, the antisemites win.

For our money, the most interesting aspect of the entire episode is how completely unsurprising any of it is.  The presidents of Ivy League schools – Harvard and UPenn, in particular – are unconcerned about antisemitism?  Indeed, they clearly and palpably treat Jews and hatred of them differently and less seriously than they do other people and other hatreds?

Honestly, who didn’t know?

The simple fact of the matter is that much of the Ivy League – and again, Harvard and Penn, in particular – are both historical practitioners of traditional antisemitism and the incubators of the newer, ideologically identitarian antisemitism. That their presidents couldn’t or wouldn’t take a stand one way or another against Jew-hatred should come as a surprise to no one.  To do so would be to disavow their institutional heritage and, more to the point, the ideology around which they’ve built their institutional present and future.

Consider, for example, the following passages from a 2006 review of the book The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by Jerome Karabel.  The review was written by Harvard sociology professor Frank Dobbin, who notes in his introduction that “The Chosen does not make me proud to have taught for nearly 20 years at Princeton and Harvard, schools that have yet to foreswear admissions practices originally designed to keep Jews out.”

The Chosen is a dispiriting book for a college professor to read, not only because it recounts a history of anti-Semitism that was blatant, deliberate, and well known, not only because so many intellectual leaders of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were not merely complicit in discrimination, but architects of it, but perhaps most of all, because so much of the system originally designed to keep Jews out of Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale is still in place, at those Ivy League schools and across the country….

Early in the twentieth century, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale became alarmed at the number of Jews entering each year. At the time, these schools admitted all comers who could pass an entrance examination that was not particularly trying. For the most part, young men from the sorts of backgrounds that the Ivies would not have appreciated did not go to college, and if they did, they knew not to apply to these colleges. That changed as more and more sons of Jewish immigrants from Europe applied for admission. Columbia soon found that 40 percent of its entering class was Jewish. Harvard counted two or three Jews among every ten freshmen. These schools responded by devising the first modern admissions systems….

Explicit talk of exclusion and quotas ran afoul of the sensibilities of some alumni and faculty—though surprisingly few— and so exclusion of Jews became a stealth operation. “Character” became the euphemism for Protestant (Catholics faced discrimination as well). Yale didn’t advertise it, but up to the early 1960s, it kept Jews to 10 or 12 percent of each freshman class….

While all three schools heralded a new era of open admissions in the 1960s and 1970s, and while all three actively recruited African-Americans, key elements of the admissions structure designed to minimize the number of Jews in each class survived. That system continued to disadvantage Jews….

In short, then, Claudine Gay is not the first president of Harvard to tolerate antisemitism, not even close.

As for Penn, its major contribution to antisemitism is its wholehearted embrace of the ideology that has convinced countless young non-Muslims to believe that Jews are oppressors, colonizers, Orientalists, westerners whose entire history is that of subjugation of others.  We have discussed this ideology several times over the last couple of months, most explicitly here.  The inimitable Heather MacDonald described it more directly in the pages of The Wall Street Journal just the other day.  She wrote:

In the name of rejecting hate, colleges built their DEI bureaucracies in the first place and allowed bureaucrats and their faculty sympathizers to put certain facts and ideas off-limits. In the name of rejecting hate, colleges started requiring faculty—even in the hard sciences—to justify their research in the name of “inclusion” and “belonging.” Protected identity categories have constantly expanded while the haters shrank to an ever smaller subset of white males.

The real issue on campuses isn’t antisemitism but the anti-Western ethos that has colonized large swaths of the curriculum. Elite schools once disdained Jews because they were seen as outsiders to Western civilization. Now they are reviled as that civilization’s very embodiment. Students explain that their hatreds come from what they learn in class—that the West is built on white supremacism and oppression. Israel is cast as the Western settler-colonialist oppressor par excellence.

The Columbia University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine explained that “our classes regularly discuss the inevitability of resistance as part of the struggle for decolonization. We study under renowned scholars who denounce the fact that the media requires oppressed peoples to be ‘perfect victims’ ”—that is, not to commit acts of terrorism—“in order to deserve sympathy.” During a sit-in, a law student at Penn announced: “It was here where I read texts about the history of colonial regimes and the importance of decolonization. . . . I just want the university to try to do part of what it tries to teach us in the classrooms.”

As you may or may not know, Penn – and its business school, Wharton – have been among the leading advocates of the institutionalization of DEI and its application across all academic programs and all aspects of human activity.  Just over a year ago, Wharton announced that it would begin offering ESG and DEI “as either a concentration at the undergraduate level or a major at the MBA level….”  (We wrote about that here, and Real Clear Investigations’ intrepid investigator/essayist Ben Weingarten wrote about it here.)  Given that Wharton was also home to the principal moral theorist of stakeholder theory, R. Edward Freeman, it is no exaggeration to say that it, more than any other business school is responsible for mainstreaming the ideology that underlies both ESG and DEI, the latter of which is inarguably the key cog in modern identitarian antisemitism.

Speculation these days is that neither Claudine Gray nor Liz Magill will last the year as the president of her university (Havard and Penn, respectively).  That’s fine by us, we suppose, but firing them is not going to solve the antisemitism problems at either school.  The students and administrators (and many of the faculty) at these and other elite institutions are so up to their eyeballs in this stuff that changing presidents is not going to fix much of anything.  Indeed, we’d wager that their replacements will be just as steeped in the identitarian ideology of antisemitism.  How could they not be?  Although not everyone in academia buys into this ideology, anyone who would ever be considered for the presidencies of Harvard or Penn (or just about any other college or university) almost certainly does.

This is not a problem that is going to be fixed easily.  It’s also not a problem that is likely to be fixed by the Ivies.  It’s long past time to move on from them.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.