OpinionThe shameful antisemitism of “Elite Institutions”
The shameful antisemitism of “Elite Institutions”
“I hope in moments of true reflection, university leaders will understand that what you do is who you are,” writes Gil Mandelzis, Founder and CEO of Capitolis.
I am an Israeli, born and raised. I am an American entrepreneur. I am a father. I care deeply about social justice and civil rights. My father was killed in action protecting the Jewish homeland during the Yom Kippur War, and most of my grandparents’ families perished in the Holocaust. Antisemitism does not surprise me. But I am shocked to see blatant antisemitism thriving in my adopted country—and specifically how it is enabled at some of the most prestigious universities in America.
Would the University of Pennsylvania host a literary festival featuring KKK-affiliated authors who promote the lynching of Black people? Would Harvard be tolerant of student organizations publishing a letter blaming Harvey Weinstein’s victims for their sexual assault, calling upon other men to rape women too? Would Stanford allow students to hang banners out their dorm windows calling for the burning of LGBTQ students and faculty? Would professors at Cornell and Yale hold onto their jobs after suggesting Asians or Native Americans should be sent to limited and designated remote areas in America?
Of course they wouldn’t (nor should they!). When these schools responded to Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement, they worked diligently to be sensitive and supportive—an entirely appropriate response for compassionate humans. In fact, Harvard, the apparent bastion of so-called free speech, rescinded the acceptances of ten students in 2020 when it was revealed that those students had used “offensive messages and graphics” on social media about various ethnic groups. Their official Facebook group then warned, “Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.” Clearly, Harvard rejects racists and people with questionable morals. But only sometimes.
Turns out that supporting the burning of Jewish babies, raping Jewish children, and torturing, beheading, and kidnapping innocent Jews does not make the cut for Harvard to question the moral character of its faculty and students. Turns out you can support these things and still be welcome in the communities of Harvard and UPenn, and keep your job at Stanford, Cornell, and Yale.
The Palestine Writes Literature Festival famously hosted by UPenn on Yom Kippur featured known antisemitic speakers who advocated for the ethnic cleansing of Jews. Two weeks later more than 1,400 Israelis were brutally slaughtered by Hamas, a terrorist organization inspired by that same hatred, and whose goal is clearly to kill Jews.
Following monstrous Hamas instructions, babies were decapitated, families burned to death in their homes, young women raped, and people from toddlers to the elderly were kidnapped. While all of this was happening, in the most disgusting act of victim-blaming, 34 student groups at Harvard declared that “the Israeli regime was responsible for all unfolding violence.” Following this massacre, a Stanford professor humiliated Jewish students, telling an Israeli girl that she was a colonizer and making Jewish students stand in a corner. A Yale professor applauded the pogrom on social media, and a Cornell professor described the Hamas attacks as “exhilarating” while leading an off-campus rally.
These outrageous actions and statements were permitted in the name of free speech. UPenn’s president Liz Magill condemned antisemitism but defended its position to allow these actions to happen: “As a university, we also fiercely support the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission. This includes the expression of views that are controversial and even those that are incompatible with our institutional values.” Harvard president Claudine Gay said pretty much the same thing: “Our university embraces a commitment to free expression. That commitment extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous.”
Which begs the question—why is hate speech only tolerated when it is directed at Jews? Why, when 1,400 innocent people are butchered in a single day simply because they are Jewish, is it OK to blame them, celebrate, and rally for the undisputable bad guys? What is behind the double standard and hypocrisy of these so-called “elite institutions”? The only answer can be that they don’t think hatred directed at Jews is that terrible in comparison to the many other things they absolutely do not tolerate. There is a term for that: antisemitism.
If you’re not Jewish, you may not understand what this outpouring of hatred feels like. Antisemitism hurts to the core. Most of my grandparents’ family members were murdered in death camps during the Holocaust. The few survivors made their way to the safe haven for Jews that became the state of Israel. My father was killed fighting in the 1973 war, decorated for his bravery while defending Israel’s right to exist. When institutions of higher learning condone student or faculty support for a vile terrorist organization whose reason for being is the eradication of Jews, it is deeply personal. This is not free speech. This is the normalizing of hate speech against Jews. President Magill and President Gay, Jews are harassed and murdered just because of their religion, and it is as horrific and dehumanizing for Jews to be victimized by hate speech as it is for other minorities. Jews’ lives need to mean something, too.
I’ve devoted a lot of my time and money over the last 20 years to supporting the fight against child abuse in Israel and America (in Jewish, Arab, Christian, and many other communities.) In cases of abuse, there are sins of omission rather than commission. The adults who quietly stand by, doing nothing when they know their child is being molested by the other parent, in the parlance of abuse, are called enablers. They can literally go to jail for that, and certainly have their kids taken away from them. The universities whose leadership did not denounce terrorism supporters and continue to make space for them on the campuses: they are enablers.
I hope in moments of true reflection, university leaders will understand that what you do is who you are. I hope they will see their role as enablers of antisemitism and recognize how hurtful their poor leadership has been. I hope they will ask themselves how we got here, and how they will correct a culture that has enabled antisemitism to flourish.
This is a watershed moment for Jews everywhere—for those of us who had convinced ourselves that antisemitism lived in the fringes. It is very real, dangerous and deadly. The esteemed institutions that are educating our children should be calling out hatred in all forms, not giving it unfettered space to grow. Otherwise, they should, at the very least, have our children taken away from them.
Gil Mandelzis, a native Israeli, is Founder and CEO of Capitolis, a financial technology company with offices in New York, Tel Aviv and London.