The Rot in the Universities Hasn’t Spared Jewish Studies

October 30, 2023 | Daniel B. Schwartz
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Since the war began, we have seen university students, administrators, and faculty alternately respond with cowardice, hypocrisy, and sheer anti-Semitism. But what about those scholars dedicate specifically to Jewish concerns? On Monday October 9, the Association of Jewish Studies (AJS)—a body whose members are overwhelmingly Jewish—issued a statement of “deep sorrow for the loss of life” that, in Daniel B. Schwartz’s words, “managed the rare feat of being both drab and discordant.” It seemed especially milquetoast when compared with the forceful statements the AJS issued after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, or the renewed Russian assault on Ukraine in 2022.

The next day, after receiving much criticism, the AJS’s executive committee issued a new, somewhat bolder statement. Schwartz describes his reaction:

That’s more like it, I thought. But on a second reading, I noticed something—or rather its absence. here was now an agent—Hamas—and specific actions, but there wasn’t exactly an object. Civilians were targeted in Israel, but what sort of civilians? We know that tourists, Thai workers, and Arabs were murdered, maimed, raped, and kidnapped along with the Jewish residents of the towns, kibbutzim, and moshav on the Gaza border. But we also know that the aim of Hamas was to kill, torture, and terrorize Jews. Indeed, they have gloried in precisely that in their social media posts about the attack, and, after all, it is infamously called for in their chartering document.

Why did the half-dozen distinguished scholars who form the executive committee of the Association of Jewish Studies first feel obligated to obfuscate about the terrible events to which they were ostensibly responding and then, even after resolving to speak more frankly, still find it hard to speak of Jews? After all, they (we) are, in one way or another, the subject of their academic life work. I wasn’t in the room, but I have a guess, and so, I bet, do you.

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