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Anti-Semitism in Harvard Yard By: Suzanne Fields
The Washington Times | Thursday, September 26, 2002


Let's give a round of applause to Larry Summers, president of Harvard, for standing up to the anti-Semites in Harvard Yard. He delivered a bold speech admonishing all those whose actions are "anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent."

Petitions have been circulating on campus demanding that Harvard divest its endowment of any investments in Israel. Harvard is not alone. The divestment movement has been gathering momentum on many college campuses where the elite and privileged heap scorn on Israel for "human rights abuses," but never find an offense in China, Rwanda or any Arab countries that support suicide bombers and other terrorists.

Mr. Summers' speech was not academic. The Harvard president put his mouth where his policy is. He rejected a petition signed by 69 Harvard professors calling for divestiture in Israel. But when so many college presidents and faculty drop their eyes when confronting an anti-Semite on campus, he must be counted among the brave for using his bully pulpit to criticize men and women who consider themselves to be "serious and thoughtful people."

He carefully examines the image of "the new bigot." No longer is the anti-Semite one of the uneducated rabble-rousers of the politically uncouth in brogans and white hoods. The new bigot carries petitions in Harvard Yard in the heart of the Ivy League decked out in running shoes with politically correct labels. "Where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israel have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists," says Mr. Summers, "profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities."

The usual suspects on the campus left accuse him of misunderstanding the difference between being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. But Mr. Summers doesn't buy that argument, nor does he limit his concerns to issues of divestment. He criticizes student fund-raising events for groups that support terrorism, which enjoy "at least modest success and very little criticism." He observes that many university students who condemn global capitalism lash out specifically at Israel, comparing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Hitler. He reminds the campus that only Israel was singled out with human-rights violations at the U.N. Conference on Racism, with no mention of abysmal human-rights violations by the governments of China, Rwanda, and most of the Islamic countries.

Mr. Summers describes himself as a secular Jew who grew up in an America where his religion was hardly noticed by others in school, college or work. He had not been born in 1922, when A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard, sought quotas for Jews. The freshman class that year was 21 percent Jewish, three times higher than in 1900 and Lowell observed that anti-Semitism among students grows "in proportion to the number of Jews." It was mere coincidence, of course, that Jews ranked high in intellectual competitions, winning scholarships and academic prizes. After much sturm and drang, the quota idea was dropped, but merit qualifications were diluted and geographical requirements altered. Jewish enrollment fell to 15 percent, rising again in the 1930s when merit qualifications were restored. Anti-Semitism has many faces, and some faces wear sinister smiles. Legitimate criticism of Israel, of course, is not anti-Semitic. But protesters at Harvard who single out the Jewish homeland sound suspiciously anti-Semitic. 

For Jews in 2002 — as in 1922 — there are no distinctions at Harvard between actions that are anti-Semitic in their "effect" if not in their "intent." The Jewish stereotype subtly emerges and corrupts even those with "good intentions." A good college education depends on disciplined thinking and debate.

The phenomenon cited by the president of Harvard infects academics abroad too, where hundreds of European intellectuals demanded that Israeli researchers be removed from their ranks; Israeli scholars were ousted from the board of an international literature journal. 

In this country, Jews who are aware of increasing attitudes of anti-Semitism arising from the conflict in the Middle East have found substantial support from Christian evangelicals who share their fears. The president of Harvard wants to broaden Christian support. He delivered his speech at the morning prayer service of the Memorial Church of Harvard, a nondenominational Protestant congregation. The daily morning-prayer service has been a tradition at Harvard since its founding in 1636. The service, meant to bring teachers and students together before classes start, opens with a brief speech by a member or friend of the university.

Mr. Summers said he was speaking out against anti-Semitism "not as president of the university but as a concerned member of our community." He posted the speech on his Summers' Page on the Harvard Web site. It should be assigned reading.

Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times.




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