‘I HAVE NEVER FELT LIKE THIS BEFORE’
I have lost count of the number of times the phrase “I have never felt like this before” has been spoken in my ear, texted to me, or sent to me in an email, in the three months since the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023.
When I talked with Israelis on a trip in November, the phrase described a gut emotion few under the age of 50 said they had ever experienced—the sense that they were personally vulnerable to outside attack in a manner more like an extended military invasion than a terrorist blow. They had lived through years of ineffectual rocket fire that was all but magically extinguished by the Iron Dome and Arrow anti-missile systems. Those interceptions had provided a feeling of near-divine protection. No longer. Israelis feel raw now, and such vulnerability is never momentary or transitory; one might say the opposite. Once it seizes you, it might take years before you wake up one morning and notice suddenly it’s no longer there.
I experienced that blissful moment once in my life, in New York City in 1998, when I was walking alone late at night across Central Park and realized I was doing something I simply would never have done before in my 37 years as a native Manhattanite. The feeling in the gut of every New Yorker of my age—the need to protect oneself from some sudden onslaught, in part because everyone we knew had been attacked in one way or another—was just no longer there, and I had never felt it disappearing. Because of the crime drop, because of increased police visibility, because of the presence of others like me in exactly the same place at exactly the same time, this new sense of freedom was now my new reality.
I am not saying Israelis ever felt secure in quite that way before October 7. They had, of course, lived through 60 years of terrorist attacks (the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964 as a violence-worshipping gang designed to attack civilians on the model of the anti-colonialists in Algeria) and several short wars over the past half century. But through the 2010s and early 2020s, the sense of immediate danger for Israelis had split in two—and might therefore have seemed, oddly enough, twice as weak.
The threat had either become too geopolitically large to affect their quotidian existences (like the existential risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program) or could have only come so suddenly and unexpectedly that it would have been absurd to disrupt your daily life taking personal countermeasures (Palestinians engaged in a bus-stabbing spree at one point; how do you defend against that?).
These kinds of perils were certainly haunting, and they played a significant political role in Israeli elections and Knesset debates, but they were more theoretical to 9 million Israelis than actual.
So, now, when an Israeli says, “I’ve never felt like this before,” what he’s describing is a loss of stability, as though the very earth under his feet is no longer truly solid but might crumble beneath him. This is why the Hamas action, though not a terrorist attack in the traditional sense, may have been the most effective strike against Israel in the history of the Jewish state. It has destabilized people internally, which is terrorism’s goal. It also helps us understand the ongoing traumatic effect of the continuing crisis involving the hostages in Gaza. They have been held in unknown conditions for months now by monsters whose vicious acts on October 7—and sadistic conduct during the captivity of those hostages who have been released—makes the thought of what they might be going through utterly paralyzing and terrifying when it crosses your mind even for a second.
Israelis have the sense that, but for the slightest accident of timing and location, any of them might have been one of those hostages. And they hear the air-raid sirens, and they run to the shelters and do not do so in the almost lackadaisical way most of them did before October 7. The larger threat to Israel’s existence, and their own existences, has moved from the theoretical to the actual. After all, Hamas actually invaded Israeli territory and roamed on Israeli soil for three days before the Gaza envelope was cleared of them. Fail to finish them off now, and it could, it would, it will, happen again.
The second-intifada period, from 2000 to 2003, might have been similar to 10/7 in the steady dread it evoked, particularly for Jerusalemites. But even during those years, when 140 Palestinians took out more than 1,000 Israelis in suicide bombings, it was never clear what strategy the Palestinians might employ to move beyond the chaos they were inflicting and onto Israel’s destruction. Now there is a clear and terrifying path that runs right to, and from, Tehran.
Three Iranian catamite organizations—Hamas, the Houthis in Yemen, and Hezbollah in Lebanon—are directly in the fight to varying degrees, creating massive disruptions in Israel’s south and north, and (to a lesser degree) in water-based commerce in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Due to Hamas, tens of thousands of Israeli citizens have been displaced from the small cities in the Gaza-envelope area. Due to Hezbollah, tens of thousands more have been evacuated from their homes near the border with Lebanon. All in all, more than 100,000 Israelis are living in hotel rooms in the far south or with relatives elsewhere in the Holy Land. Due to the Houthis, commerce in the region is being affected.
Thus, to some extent, the destruction of normal Israeli life sought by Hamas’s terrorists has been achieved, if (one hopes) temporarily. The restoration of some version of normality in Israel will require the country’s leaders to play their hand brilliantly over the next year—which is a tall order for a dysfunctional government and a military and intelligence sector that missed the signs leading to October 7.
And can such normality even be achieved without the outbreak of major hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah—with its hundreds of thousands of rockets and missiles buried just north of Israel’s border with Lebanon? Those hostilities would impose a new obligation on Israel as serious as the one relating to Hamas—to pacify the area of Lebanon such that Hezbollah’s rocketry no longer poses an active threat. Even more alarming: Can such hostilities be avoided until Israel completes its mission in Gaza, or will Israel find itself instead in a two-front shooting war with a third minor front featuring missiles fired from Houthi sites in Yemen?
The ensuing chaos might shake up the globe—and might conceivably provide Tehran with the casus belli it has long sought to wipe Israel off the map.
Now, this is a nightmare scenario, this potential cascade toward a nuclear exchange. And nightmares are things of the mind, not actuality. But things of the mind can be haunting enough to disrupt a person’s, or a nation’s, consciousness even when they are impossible. And remember, this is not an implausible nightmare. Tehran has been openly talking about wiping Israel off the map since 2005.
The choices that Israel may find itself facing over the next year could be excruciating because there’s no way to game them out. This explains the almost universal consensus inside Israel about the post-10/7 goal of eradicating Hamas. To many Westerners, such an aim may seem an unachievable goal—for won’t the root causes of Palestinian suffering that have given Hamas its power simply remain present and keep Hamas alive? Well, Hamas can remain alive and active only if its leaders and fighters remain literally alive. If they are dead, they will have to be replaced by equally skilled leaders and newly trained fighters, and such an effort is the task of a generation, not a few months.
This is not a revenge movie. Fighters and planners don’t just get good at fighting and planning because they’re really angry. The idea that if you cut Hamas down, it will rise up more powerful than you could ever have imagined is not based in geopolitics—it’s lifted from George Lucas’s screenplay for Star Wars. For Israelis to resume the lives they were leading before 10/7, the eradication of Hamas is the only way forward. Any effort to end the conflict short of that aim will leave Israel in an existentially unsettled state whose ramifications could be catastrophic.
So no wonder Israelis say they’ve never felt anything like this before. How could they have? Has anyone?
But what about Jews outside Israel who use the same phrase—who also say, “I’ve never felt anything like this before”?
‘I CAN’T BELIEVE
THIS IS HAPPENING’
For those deeply bound up with the condition of the Jewish state—Zionists whose commitment to the cause has made them hyperaware of the risks and opportunities in Eretz Yisrael, and those whose Israeli family members give them a personal stake in it—October 7 was also a trauma, though perhaps not entirely unprecedented. To feel the individual instability I just described really requires being an Israeli in Israel right now. For the rest of us, the combination of terror, war, hostages, and slaughter evoked feelings not experienced in klal Yisrael, the worldwide Jewish community, since the 1970s.
In four years’ time, recall, Israeli athletes were taken hostage and massacred at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 shattered the triumphalist spirit that had prevailed since the 1967 Six-Day War. By 1974, the Soviet Union had made it clear it would keep Jews hungry to emigrate to Israel imprisoned inside Soviet borders. The United Nations declared that Zionism was racism in a notorious 1975 resolution. A planeful of Jews was hijacked to Entebbe in July 1976.
The idea that Israel, Israelis, and would-be Israelis have become targets of a new kind of evil took depressing, even debilitating, root. The staggering rescue of those Entebbe hostages helped calm the overwhelmingly anxious atmosphere that prevailed at the time among world Jewry—and was followed the next year by the stunning journey to Jerusalem by Egypt’s dictator Anwar el-Sadat and by the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979. The crisis facing Israel seemed to be over, and the depression lifted.
That was nearly a half-century ago. In the decades since, Israel has continued to be a source of unity for American Jews and Jews worldwide, the efforts of the New York Times to convince us otherwise notwithstanding. The data are absolutely clear. American Jews have supported Israel, consistently and in vast numbers—though in broad-brush terms, and there’s no question the fractiousness of the Diaspora community regarding Israel’s internal politics and behavior is often deeply unpleasant and divisive.
For every 10 Jews in the Diaspora, there have been 12 opinions about Israel’s political and social situation. Truth to tell, what we thought hasn’t really mattered all that much, no matter how hard we tried to believe it did. Here at home, we had our own problems anyway, and they weren’t that we were under threat or potential threat from outside forces. Our problem was, as the rueful joke had it, that once-hostile Gentiles didn’t want to kill us, they wanted to marry us. We weren’t at risk of disappearing due to violence; we were at risk of melting away into the great American melting pot.
Consider this astounding fact. After the lynching of the Atlanta businessman Leo Frank in 1915 at the hands of a mob that believed he had raped a worker in his factory, it would be another 52 years until a Jew in America was publicly murdered for being a Jew. That happened in 1977 in St. Louis, when a neo-Nazi shot a few men at random outside a synagogue. It would then be another 41 years before the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. In the intervening four decades, you could count on one hand the number of anti-Semitic killings in the United States. The fact that there were any such killings is awful, of course, but the point stands: American Jews of my age and younger simply did not feel themselves to be at any specific physical risk for being Jewish.
That began to change after the Tree of Life killing spree. Hate crimes in general against Jews began to spiral in number—including two subsequent synagogue attacks in California and Texas. YouTube kept displaying short videos of visible members of the tribe (those with black hats, beards, fringed garments) being randomly assaulted from behind on the streets of Brooklyn and elsewhere in so called knock-out attacks. A kosher grocery store was shot up in New Jersey. The home of a haredi Jew in Monsey, New York, was invaded by a man with a machete. Though polls still demonstrated that the United States remained the most philo-Semitic nation the world has ever known, actual violence against Jews for being Jews was bubbling to the surface after remaining largely still over the previous century.
Even so, as the danger mounted, more secular and less easily identifiable American Jews could readily comfort themselves with the thought that their relative invisibility as Jews was still affording them some kind of protection. And, as they are often made uncomfortable by co-religionists who do place their faith at the center of their lives and (for example) send their kids to yeshivas the New York Times regularly defames, they could stave off any worries that this dangerous new targeting of Jews for being Jews might affect them personally.
The brilliant novelist and essayist Dara Horn published a book two years ago called People Love Dead Jews, in which she explored the ways Jews have been treated sympathetically when we are perceived to be powerless, suffering, and victimized. This observation explains why there was a craze in this country surrounding the construction of Holocaust memorials and museums—because while Jews can agree on little else, we apparently share the hope that reminding people of our historical vulnerability and recent near-destruction will generate concern that can help keep us safe.
For the same reason, leaders of Israel tours love to take Gentiles to Yad Vashem, the original Holocaust memorial, to provide them with a reminder that the impressive country they’re visiting came into being only a few years after European Jewry was all but wiped out. For some of us, this has always left a sour taste in our mouths, as if Jews are saying, “Do not view our present success and think us admirable for it; rather, pity us our horrific past and see us as no threat.” But in Israel and across the world, Jews-as-victims had become a community-consensus approach toward non-Jews, with the implicit message that they should help us, or at the very least, not fear us.
The global response to October 7 changed all that, and in all but an instant. What we learned, and with shocking speed, is that people just don’t love dead Jews the way we thought they did. Or, to put it another way: Rather than serving as morbid protection for the living, the 1,200 dead Jews of the Gaza envelope had instead become the wellspring of a new and unprecedented series of assaults against Jews in the United States.
At a vigil on the Upper West Side of Manhattan two weeks after the attacks, I ran into a very liberal rabbi I’ve known for a long time. As we passed by the concrete blocks put up by the NYPD to make sure a car didn’t drive through to smash into the gathering, I asked how she was. “I can’t believe this is happening,” she said.
And for the first time in our long acquaintance, I agreed with her.
‘THIS TOOK TWENTY
Several seemingly unconnected arguments and controversies in the United States that had been carefully cultivated over the past couple of decades sprang into full flower on October 8 and thereafter. The weapons were ideas that had flowed for a quarter century from university graduate programs to activist groups to K–12 education and then began to reach millions through online mailing lists, listservs, and social-media entertainment services.
These have, over time, included, but are not limited to:
- Efforts to make university endowments and other funds disinvest, boycott, and sanction Israeli companies;
- The adoption of “intersectionality” arguments at all educational levels, featuring the claim that Jews are part of a white oppressor class rather than a tiny and historically oppressed minority;
- Assertions that Palestinians are the indigenous peoples of an area on the globe that has literally been called Judea for 2,000 years (as well as other adjacent areas where Jews have been unceasingly resident since before the birth of Christ);
- The slow but steady journey from the slanderous accusation that Israel is an apartheid state to the reverse-Nazi notion that Israel is a genocidal state (with the people whose genocide it is plotting growing in number by the year);
- The mass adoption of the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free”—a call for Israel’s destruction—among people who have no idea where Israel is, what river is being referred to, and on what sea Israel has its western border.
Throughout Israel’s history, it has been the constant object of conspiracy theories and a means by which Arab states and others have kept their populations focused on a supposed outside evil rather than on the failings of their own regimes. The United Nations has been the key player in this look-hey-squirrel distraction game. Every year, more than half the General Assembly’s resolutions dealing with individual countries are attacks on Israel—which is only one of 193 member nations at the UN and whose population makes up less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the people of the earth.
But for most of the state’s existence, that gamesmanship was largely played out in international organizations and at meetings and publications sponsored by the foreign-policy establishment. The least-read op-ed columns of the world’s newspapers have also been fixated on the “question of Israel” for decades—but it was an elite fixation without a grassroots component. It was bad, don’t get me wrong. But it was a specific concern of a specific class of people—influential people, to be sure, but not a mass movement.
That changed during the 2010s, when the social-media landscape increasingly became fertile ground for resurrected conspiracy theories and long-discredited ideas that could be fed to young people who had not lived through the events they sought to pierce and knew no better. This we all knew from the social-media wars of 2015 and 2016, and the media retailing of the preposterous idea that Facebook had somehow hypnotized ordinary Americans into choosing Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
But what most of us old folk didn’t know was that apps with particular appeal to young people, notably Instagram and TikTok, were being swarmed by “content creators” whose purpose was to “message” these new Protocols of the Elders of Anti-Zion and make them familiar and uncontroversial around the world. And all those efforts were fertilized by hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars spread around for this very purpose by the sovereign funds and large donors living in Persian Gulf satrapies—and by the algorithms designed by ByteDance, the owner of TikTok and effectively a subsidiary of the Chinese military. No one was being asked to choose a president here, or even to pay attention for more than 15 seconds at a time. All that was being conveyed was a vibe. And that vibe was: Palestinians are oppressed, Israelis are the oppressors, and Israel is backed by Jews worldwide.
All of this was happening under the radar—or at least under my radar and the radar of the people I know. It came as a surprise to many of us, no matter how literate we believed ourselves to be in the propaganda war against Israel, to learn that #FreePalestine has been an active social-media hashtag from 2019 onward.1
Indeed, if you’d asked me, or people like me, how involved young people in America and elsewhere actually were in anti-Israel activities, I would have answered that I thought the movement small in number but passionate in determination. Many of us developed real concern about college activism against Israel in the 2010s—in part because there was a youth-movement president who was hostile to Israel and it seemed like he and his young acolytes might actually come together to dig a moat between the Jewish state and the only country on earth that was its reliable ally.
At the time of Barack Obama’s rise, American Jews themselves had been growing obsessed with the supposed fissures in the community. In 2007, the group JStreet was founded to serve as a counterweight to AIPAC, the lobby for Israel’s interests in the United States. Though bizarrely and suspiciously funded,2 JStreet was brilliantly timed. It came into being a year after allegations that AIPAC was puppeteering American foreign policy became mainstream fodder through the writings of academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and then the scribblings of the Tokyo Rose of world Jewry, Peter Beinart.
JStreet was a media sensation, and it rode the wave of the Barack Obama victory. He rode JStreet’s wave too, a bit. He came into office declaring a new approach toward Israel—one he called “tough love,” though there would soon prove to be no love at all in it. Obama’s barely disguised hostility gave surprising new life to a quixotic movement to boycott, ban investment in, and lay sanctions on Israel on the grounds that it was a supposed “apartheid state.”
Though the American Jewish community was divided about its feelings both toward right-wing Israeli governments and efforts by haredim in Israel to control religious sites, this was simply a bridge too far for anyone but the most committed leftists and open anti-Semites. After all, the boycotting of Jewish-owned businesses was one of the first steps the Nazis took toward their eventual Final Solution. Organized Jewry mostly came together again to neutralize the danger of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. BDS efforts in corporate boardrooms and state legislatures were rigorously opposed and went nowhere, scoring only an occasional symbolic victory in some radical latte town or other.
Things were worse on campuses, to be sure. Student activists undertook disgraceful assaults on Jewish organizations and Jewish professors. But here, too, organized Jewry stepped up, hiring lawyers for these groups and people and strengthening Jewish life at Hillel houses and other organizations throughout American academia.
In Washington, the fight was joined as well. Obama proved he was truly representative of the views of the Democratic Party’s leading activists in 2012, when delegates at the party convention loudly and overwhelmingly voice-voted their disapproval of a platform plank declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel.3 That voice vote became a full-blown vanguard trend six years later when the 2018 midterm elections saw the installation of five radical women in the House of Representatives who called themselves “the Squad”—among them a Palestinian given to talking about the dual loyalties of Jews and a Somali Muslim refugee who made dark reference to Jewish money controlling Washington. The Squad in Congress has behaved disgracefully, and the Democratic Party has been appallingly ineffectual in its treatment of their anti-Semitic extremism, but there has been implacable opposition to them and their antics throughout their time in the sun.
All this suggests I should have been more emotionally prepared for the outbreak of anti-Jewish activism on October 8 here in the United States than my rabbi acquaintance was. After all, the focus of her activities and those of people in her ambit has been tikkun olam—the demand that American Jewry join the larger effort on the left to elevate and reinvigorate the welfare state, combat global warming, and be a voice for global peace. She and others expressed fears about American anti-Semitism only when it became a sometime feature of the Trumpian radical right, and it therefore seemed more a subsection of their anti-Trump feelings than a worry on its own. But, as a friend said to me as we watched the horrors unfolding after 10/7, “This took 20 years to develop.”
So what reason had I to be surprised? After all, in the pages of this magazine and on our website, we have been warning about growing anti-Semitism for the past 15 years, on both the left (as detailed above) and the right (with the chants of “the Jews shall not replace us” at the Charlottesville march in 2017). The articles and blog posts we published on the subject had a funereal and pessimistic tone—because, to be honest, we did not really have any concrete idea how to reverse the trend. Oh, we demanded changes to the educational system and encouraged donors and activists to continue bravely opposing the implacable efforts of the other side. But such demands were largely rhetorical, as we saw no real path to changing these institutions.
Nonetheless, having lived 62 years without ever having experienced any kind of anti-Semitism personally outside of Twitter and ugly mail and email, that America has and will always be history’s golden gift to the Jewish people never wavered in my heart and in my gut. Until October 8.
‘IT’S HAPPENING ALL
It wasn’t just the fact that the world didn’t instantly react to the Hamas invasion of Israel the way it did to the attacks of September 11 or the invasion of Ukraine—with an outpouring of support and sympathy across the globe. More than 1,200 people were murdered and at least 3,500 injured in the space of six hours; what civilized person wouldn’t feel the attack was a monstrous barbarity? The answer was: plenty of people, everywhere. That was bad enough. What was worse was how anti-Israel and anti-Jewish actions came flying at us from everywhere simultaneously. “It’s happening all at once,” I told a friend who asked me why this felt so different from other bad moments for American Jews.
On October 9, less than 48 hours after the attack, 31 self-proclaimed student organizations at Harvard—including a chapter of Amnesty International as well as the Harvard Islamic Society and Harvard Jews for Liberation—issued a joint statement: “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence. The apartheid regime is the only one to blame.”
While this was happening in Cambridge, across the country at Cal Polytechnic University in Humboldt, the phrase “Free Palestine, F— Israel” was scrawled across a sukkah put up by the Jewish Union on campus.4 Also, the same day, Black Lives Matter’s Chicago chapter put up a meme on social media featuring the image of a hang-gliding person and the slogan “I Stand With Palestine.” Hang-gliding Hamas fighters had landed on the site of the Nova Music Festival in Israel and proceeded to participate in the murder of 260 people and the rapes and physical assaults of hundreds more.
One night that first week, two Israeli artists in New York printed up hundreds of posters of the Israelis held hostage in Gaza and released the images they had created on the Internet so others could print them out and put them up. In a matter of hours, Jews and others traumatized by the events, and feeling helpless to do anything to help, swung into action. Thousands of the posters appeared on the streets of New York. And just as quickly as they went up, other people started to tear them down.
A street battle commenced. And it has continued for months now, as people print up more posters and laminate them ever more fixedly to lampposts and deserted store fronts while vandals continue to work to destroy or deface them. It has become a kind of proxy war itself between those who want to remind everyone of the horrors of Hamas and those who either don’t care, or simply hate the faces of these Jews and want to obliterate them, or are actively supporting the terrorist organization whose founding charter includes this sentence: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.”
A week after the attacks, on a subway platform in midtown Manhattan, 28-year-old Christopher D’Aguiar punched a 29-year-old woman in the face. Stunned, she asked why, and he said, “because you’re Jewish,” before running away. This began a series of individual assaults on Jews as Jews across the country. The next week, in Skokie, Illinois, a young man named Peter Christos was escorting an elderly Jewish couple through a pro-Palestinian demonstration to help them get to a pro-Israel demonstration when he was attacked by a mob. He said on Twitter that he had been “punched repeatedly, kicked in the head, and hit with a flagpole.” As his surname might suggest, Christos is not himself Jewish, but his attackers did not know that (and in his noble action, he joins history’s list of the righteous who deserve special honor from us for protecting our people).
Three days later, in Studio City, California, Daniel Garcia invaded a home with a mezuzah on its doorjamb at 5:20 a.m. He kicked in the master-bedroom door, where a man and his nine-months-pregnant wife were asleep. “I’m going to kill you because you are Jewish,” Garcia said. Her husband fought with the invader and got him outside, where police found Garcia brandishing a kitchen knife and shouting “Free Palestine.”
Eleven days later, about 15 miles from that house in Studio City, 65-year-old Paul Kessler was killed by a pro-Palestinian demonstrator—hit with a megaphone, Kessler fell to the ground, smashed his head on the pavement, and died. The accused is Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, a computer-science professor at Moorpark College. This was the second time since October 7 that a megaphone had been used in a pro-Palestinian act of violence. In New Orleans, on October 26, a 19-year-old Tulane student named Dylan Mann5 went to help a friend who was engaging with demonstrators as they attempted to deface the Israeli flag, and had his nose broken by a masked man brandishing a megaphone. As of this writing, there have been at least 17 acts of individual personal violence against Jews across the country since the Hamas attack.
Also simultaneously, campuses spat up one educator or administrator after another openly supporting the terrorist group that had murdered and injured so many thousands—and offering incarnadine threats. On Monday, October 9, Cornell University professor Russell Rickford spoke at a rally and declared that now the Palestinians are “able to breathe for the first time in years. It was exhilarating! It was exhilarating, it was energizing…. I was exhilarated!” A few weeks after, the building that housed the Center for Jewish Life at Cornell had to be closed down temporarily because of horrific anti-Semitic threats traced back to 21-year-old student Patrick Dai.
On October 10, at the University of California, Davis, an assistant professor of American Studies named Jemma Decristo made some views known. The department calls Decristo “a scholar-artist-activist [who] writes about Black art and community” and views America as a “problem space.”6 Here is what Decristo tweeted: “One group of ppl we have easy access to in the US are all these Zionist journalists who spread propaganda & misinformation… they have houses and addresses, kids in school… they can fear their bosses, but they should fear us more.” The tweet concluded with emojis of a knife, an ax, and three drops of blood. Though Decristo does not have tenure and is no longer featured on the university’s website, there is no record of any disciplinary action, more than three months after her tweet.
In COMMENTARY’s December issue, KC Johnson offered more examples of the professoriat’s response, all in the first few weeks:
Columbia professor Joseph Massad…celebrated as “awesome” the “Palestinian resistance’s takeover of several Israeli settler-colonies near the Gaza boundary.” Yale professor Zareena Grewal…asserted that “Israel is a murderous, genocidal settler state and Palestinians have every right to resist through armed struggle.” When a journalist pointed out that she was talking about the deaths of innocent civilians, Grewal was dismissive: “Settlers are not civilians. This is not hard.” George Washington professor Lara Sheehi…deemed the massacre a justified response to “Israel’s genocidal intent.” Columbia, Yale, and George Washington each declined to condemn their faculty members’ remarks.
The campus controversies that began to dominate the news, though, were not primarily about the repugnant views of individual professors, but rather the actual harassment of Jewish students and student organizations—and the silence, inaction, and moral turpitude of administrators and college presidents. These were on view also almost from the first week. And they had many causes.
First, and least noted, was that the powers-that-be in higher ed were following the unwritten rule in place since the assaults on them during the 1960s—which is that you’re supposed to humor, cater to, and pat the heads of leftist agitators when they do their thing, whatever that thing is. To be sure, many of these people are in agreement with the agitators, since that’s what they once were, too, back in the day.
Universities are populated by middle-aged one-time radicals who rose to become the deans or administrative managers of the new departments and disciplines higher-ed has incepted to satisfy the ideological fashions of the present moment or to fulfill the reporting mandates of state- or federal-level departments of education so they can be showered with public dollars. But it’s also a deeply ingrained bureaucratic habit to buy off the troublemakers however you can. That is what the pro-Hamas agitators expected and received even as they crossed the line into advocating for the genocide of the Jewish people with the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free.” They openly harassed fellow students who, understandably, do not want their own people to be the victims of a new genocide.
There were almost constant videos of scenes at Harvard and Penn and George Washington University in which students who were also expressing pro-Israel views on the war were coming under visual and verbal assault and at times actual physical menace from others—with those others clearly feeling they were impregnable from criticism or discipline from the administrators on their campuses who were either cowed by them or actually supportive. The fact that a line had been crossed was invisible to the cogs in the higher-ed machine, who did what they always do—pull out the playbook on “how do I get out of this and even get some of these people to like me”?
And this, in turn, is what triggered the remarkable donor revolt at Penn and Harvard and MIT, which has led to the cessation of massive gifts to these schools that will collectively deny them several billion dollars. The refusal on the part of university administrators to speak against the anti-Jewish animus, and instead to speak with demented sentimentality about the pain on both sides of the conflict and the need for civility, was the trigger for the now-infamous hearing before Congress where the presidents of three leading universities publicly found it impossible to say that calls for the elimination of Israel were expressions of anti-Semitism. Indeed, Claudine Gay of Harvard would only say that she believes that Israel should be permitted to exist “as a state,” not as a state for the Jewish people.
How could she have had so little emotional intelligence, or strategic savvy, in answering that question? The answer is that she, and Liz Magill of Penn, and Sally Kornbluth of MIT have spent their careers kowtowing to (and advancing the interests of) a different set of power brokers. They know in their marrows how not to offend that set—especially since they themselves have emerged from it and used it as a ladder to climb to the top of the greasy pole of academe.
As the elite world reeled from their astoundingly tone-deaf and morally depraved performances, an interesting factoid bubbled out that added to the sense of alarmed disbelief among American Jews, especially those who had gone through elite institutions themselves. We learned that the Harvard University student body now has a Jewish population below 10 percent. This had been noted previously, by Tablet in 2018 specifically, but it did not make any real noise back then.
The low number flies in the face of all reason. Harvard (and other Ivy League institutions) set explicit internal quotas on Jewish students in the 1920s at 15 percent. When the quota was lifted in the early 1960s, the Jewish population at Harvard began to rise, reaching as high as 25–30 percent at the end of the decade. Thousands upon thousands of Harvard students in the 1960s and 1970s and afterward have had children. According to reports, 37 percent of those admitted to Harvard are “legacies,” the children of the university’s graduates.
Thus, Jewish applicants to Harvard should actually have a pretty significant leg up, given the school’s embrace of the legacy system.
It does not compute that the Jewish population at Harvard has fallen the way it has without someone putting his or her hand on the scale to tip the balance in the other direction. Harvard and other Ivies with similar declines in the number of Jewish students over the past 40 years appear to be actively attempting to dilute the Jewishness of their campuses. Indeed, a new group formed in the wake of October 7 called the Harvard Student Alumni Alliance reports: “We have seen data that suggest that the Jewish population at the College has declined…5-7 percent today, but that almost all that decline occurred in recent years. We have heard from multiple sources at the University that it is the official, undisclosed policy of the school to drive down Jewish admissions to 1-2 percent of the student body, proportionately matching Jews’ percentage of the U.S. population.”
The very fact that the presidents who sat before Congress felt so little pressure internally or emotionally to say something when Israel and Jews came under attack after October 7, and showed themselves to be unsympathetic at best and heartless at worst when they did speak, is testimony to how unimportant the feelings or concerns of Jews are within the sociological landscapes they tend.
The adoption of some kind of implicit Jewish quota suggests a return to a different sociological landscape, one also dating back a century—and not an American landscape at all. I’m referring to the attacks on Jewish-owned businesses and explicitly Jewish institutions across the country. On October 10, in Fresno, California, the glass door of a shul was smashed by a rock at 6 a.m.; at 8:30 a.m., the Noah’s Ark bakery nearby also had a window smashed with a letter left behind threatening Jewish businesses. (The bakery is owned by Armenian Christians.) A man named Orlando Javier Ramirez was arrested. At least 19 synagogues across the country—among them shuls in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Burbank, Mercer Island, Oakland, and Baltimore—have been defaced with swastikas and slogans or had Hanukkah menorahs vandalized. And at least 18 restaurants and tourist shops in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, the Upper West Side, Flagler Beach in Florida, and Los Angeles have been the sites of protests, acts of vandalism, and petitions for boycott.
Put simply: Since October 7, Jews in America have found themselves targeted on college campuses, at the businesses they own and work at, at the shuls in which they pray, and in their homes and on the streets in a national onslaught that has no precedent in American history or American life.
They’re coming after us.
1 This, notwithstanding the fact that the phrase “Free Palestine” is the name of a pretty peculiar terrorist organization that began on the West Bank but then moved to Syria in the early 2010s as some kind of mercenary force in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
2 Nearly 10 percent of its substantial donation base in its early years, around $810,000, came from one Consolacion Esdicul, a woman in Hong Kong who was allegedly friendly with another donor, a non-Jewish Pittsburgh horse-track gambler who herself had and has no known connection to Jewish matters.
3 The chair claimed the majority had actually voted for it, and the plank was retained.
4 A sukkah is the outdoor booth practicing Jews set up to participate in the holiday of Sukkot.
5 This one hits particularly close to home for me; Dylan was in nursery, elementary, and middle school with my oldest daughter for a decade.
6 Other information on the Internet suggests Decristo is a transgender female. As UC Davis has deleted all mention of Decristo, I was unable to find any educational history or the source or subject of her Ph.D. dissertation.
Photo: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
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