Back in April, I wrote to take issue with a statement written by Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee and Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors. The duo contended that a number of recent troubling incidents involving Jewish students on American college campuses did not rise to the level of a “working definition” of anti-Semitism. Even worse, they sought to dismiss efforts to fight back against the vicious anti-Semitism that masquerades as criticism of Zionism as an unscrupulous attempt at censoring anti-Israel speech. Their stand undermined the campaign to get the government and universities to take the issue of anti-Semitism seriously. My post prompted a subsequent exchange with Stern and Nelson who defended their stance on the issue.
But four months later the head of the AJC has weighed in on the issue to express his disagreement with Stern. According to the Forward, David Harris, the president of the American Jewish Committee has written to express his regret about Stern’s letter and concedes that it should never have been released.
Harris’s rebuke of Stern came in a letter to a lecturer in Hebrew at the University of California at Santa Cruz who had written to the organization to express her dismay. The school was the site of one of the incidents that Stern had contended was not anti-Semitic.
Given Stern’s status as one of the leading scholars on this issue, Harris’ decision could not have been easy but it was the right thing to do, especially considering the organization’s long and honorable tradition of bearing witness against anti-Semitism.
Let’s hope that this incident marks a turning point in terms of the resolve of the organized Jewish world to fight back against the incitement and hate against Israel and Judaism on American college campuses. For too long, too many people of good will have stood back and refused to speak up about the way this abusive behavior has been tolerated in academia. The singling out of Israel and the Jewish people for treatment that is not accorded any other group is textbook anti-Semitism. Combating this abuse is not to be confused with censorship of opinions. As I wrote in April, there would be little debate about whether a university that extended an invitation to speak to a member of the Ku Klux Klan was creating a hostile environment for African-Americans. The willingness of institutions to treat the spewing of hatred against Jews and Israel as a matter of opinion should not be viewed any differently.