Jewish Scholars Who Turn against Jewish Peoplehood Won’t Satisfy the Anti-Semites

In the 1920s, many leading figures in Yiddish literature and scholarship relocated to, or chose to stay in, the Soviet Union, where they found government support for their work, albeit at the cost of ideological conformity. Zelig Kalmanovitch, a leading East European Jewish intellectual at the time—and an anti-Communist who, later in his life, would embrace both Zionism and Orthodoxy—was greatly disappointed when he saw his friends make this decision. Kalmanovitch’s leading biographer, Joshua Karlip, reflects:

Over the past several weeks, I have thought quite a bit about Kalmanovitch’s feelings of betrayal and foreboding as one Jewish-studies colleague after another has added his or her voice to the anti-Israel chorus present in academia today. Colleagues at secular universities report to me the enormous pressure exerted on them by their departments to sign anti-Israel proclamations. Many do so, fearing for their careers.

One major difference exists, however, between [Soviet Jewish scholars of the 1920s] and Jewish-studies professors on U.S. university campuses in 2021. Captive in a one-party state, [they] had little choice but to translate its orthodoxies regarding the original sins of religion and nationalism into his Yiddish scholarship. In contrast, American Jewish scholars are free not to sign statements calling for the end of Israel. That many are signing these statements anyway reveals either their cowardice or, in many cases, their conviction in the rightness of their cause. History suggests that both motivations are likely to lead to the same dismal result.

Almost all [these writers and scholars] perished in the Stalinist purges of 1936-1937 and 1948-1953, accused by the Soviet government of the same national chauvinism that they had zealously pursued in other Jews.

A century ago, a combination of an aversion to Jewish peoplehood and the naïve belief that Jews possess the power to end anti-Semitism through a disavowal of the Jewish collective compelled some of the leading Yiddishists to sign a national suicide note in the Soviet Union. Nearly 100 years later, these same motivations have led many Jewish-studies scholars to attempt a similar move to channel progressive political passions in what they understand to be a salutary direction here in the United States: they blame Israel for the intensification of hatred against it while embarking on a radical de-Judaization of their own academic discipline.

The larger academic world, however, will not stop its Jew-hatred with calls for the elimination of Israel, no matter how enthusiastically Jewish-studies professors sign on. The same academic departments that today are pressuring Jewish-studies scholars to condemn Israel as an admission ticket to academic respectability will tomorrow turn that hatred on the discipline of Jewish studies and its practitioners.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish studies, Yiddishism


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus