By every metric, American Jewish campus life is a shadow of what it once was. The City University of New York is losing the last two Jewish members of its 80-member senior leadership team—in the city with the largest Jewish population in the world. Jewish enrollment in elite universities, most notably the Ivy League, is in free fall. And a sense of security on campuses nationwide has evaporated, as anti-Semitic incidents have hit all-time highs and students report hiding their Star of David pendants and taking winding paths to their campus Hillel.
By contrast, one area of American higher education has seen explosive growth: the programs and officers charged with spreading the gospel of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
This is not a coincidence.
Much like “Hate has no home here” lawn signs and “Coexist” bumper stickers, DEI university activity has become a reliable indicator of overt hostility to Israel and, at the very least, suspicion of any visible expression of Jewishness.
On campus, DEI bureaucracies are straightforward ideological enforcers. Their ideology views Jews as emissaries of (white) power. That’s why DEI officials aren’t merely indifferent to campus Jew-baiting, but its ringleaders.
Take CUNY. The taxpayer-funded university system’s pervasive anti-Semitism—harassment of students, administrators overheard complaining that there are “too many Jews” on the faculty, and support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction campaign to isolate Israel—is the subject of state and city investigations. Amid such complaints, CUNY’s chancellor in 2021 hired a new chief diversity officer, Saly Abd Alla, and put her in charge of investigating anti-Semitism.
Abd Alla was a firm supporter of BDS while working as civil-rights director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a powerful anti-Zionist pressure group. The “anti-discrimination portal” she oversees now at CUNY links to the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism, which absolves BDS of Jew-hatred and undermines the more accepted definition of anti-Semitism put forth by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Abd Alla could be forgiven for assuming she was following her industry’s best practices. On the second night of Passover this year, when the vast majority of Jews could not attend because of seder, Yale University hosted a presentation by Houria Bouteldja. Who is she? After a terrorist named Mohammed Merah murdered a rabbi and three children in 2012 in Toulouse, the French-Algerian Bouteldja announced her solidarity with the Jew-killer: “I went to bed as myself, and woke up as Mohammed Merah. Mohammed Merah is me.” She has equated Jews with Nazis and posted a photo of herself giving the thumbs-up to a sign that urged, “Zionists to the gulag.” The talk, hosted by the European Studies Council, was promoted by Yale’s flagship DEI program.
In September 2021, the Yale Law Journal hosted a talk by diversity trainer Ericka Hart. Journal editors told the Washington Free Beacon that the diversity trainer omitted any mention of anti-Semitism—and when asked why, she said it was because light-skinned Jews cannot be victims of prejudice, and discrimination against black Jews had already been covered by the section in her presentation about anti-blackness. Who told the Journal editors they should invite this absurd “diversity trainer” in the first place? That would be Yale Law School’s DEI director, Yaseen Eldik.
The pattern becomes hard to miss. After a series of anti-Semitic incidents on campus, the University of Maryland put an assistant diversity director in charge of a committee formed to tackle Jew-hatred. The school made the move despite the fact that the officer in question, Jazmin Pichardo, had made a series of anti-Zionist Facebook posts.
In 2021, Fox News report-ed that a student “diversity senator” at the University of Southern California had tweeted in favor of “the complete destruction of Israel” and that she wanted to “kill every motherf—ing zionist.”
At George Washington University, anti-Semitic harassment is apparently now part of required course-work. According to a discrimination complaint, Professor Lara Sheehi harassed her Jewish and Israeli students in a required postgraduate diversity course, retaliated against them when they objected, and brought in a speaker who praised violence against Jews in Israel. It’s not exactly out of character for Sheehi, whose since-deleted Twitter account contained such gems as “Destroy Zionism.”
In 2021, Jewish employees of a Stanford University mental-health division filed complaints against the university over incidents in a staff DEI program. According to Inside Higher Education, staff were divided into two groups, one for people of color and the other for “whiteness accountability.” The Jewish employees were told to join the “whiteness accountability” group because it was for all who are complicit in systemic racism, including those who are “white-passing.” According to the complaints, the DEI committee “endorsed the narrative that Jews are connected to white supremacy, advancing anti-Semitic tropes concerning Jewish power, conspiracy and control.”
Particularly concerning is the public nature of academia’s DEI-related anti-Semitism, which sends a clear message that it is not merely tolerated but celebrated in American higher education. In 2021, the Heritage Foundation’s Jay P. Greene and James Paul looked at the Twitter feeds of 741 DEI employees at 65 universities and found that “of the tweets about Israel, 96 percent were critical of the Jewish state,” and “there were more tweets narrowly referencing ‘apartheid’ in Israel than tweets indicating anything favorable about Israel whatsoever.”
Greene and Paul are careful to note that criticism of Israel isn’t necessarily anti-Semitic. And while we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from the data without a more detailed breakdown of the tweet distribution among the accounts studied, the disproportionate (and disproportionately negative) attention devoted to Israel makes plain the DEI industry’s contribution to the increasingly unwelcome atmosphere for Jews on campus.
The phenomenon isn’t limited to academia. In 2021, Google’s “global lead of diversity strategy,” one Kamau Bobb, was reassigned when executives were made aware of his 2007 post titled “If I Were a Jew.” In that post, Bobb mused that if he were a Jew, he’d worry about his “insatiable appetite for war.” Last year, the Canadian minister of diversity and inclusion, Ahmed Hussen, found himself in hot water after it was revealed that he’d ignored the anti-Semitism expressed by recipients of funding from his department.
Sometimes the association between DEI and anti-Semitism reaches almost comical effect and the mere appearance of a diversity official, or even just the assertion of the principle of diversity, means trouble. The rehabilitation of Al Sharpton was aided significantly by MSNBC’s decision to give him his own show in 2011. Whose idea was that? According to Sharpton, it was Paula Madison, at the time NBC’s chief diversity officer. In 2021, amid a rash of anti-Jewish violence around the country, Rutgers University Chancellor Christopher Molloy and Provost Francine Conway unequivocally denounced the hate…and then promptly apologized for doing so. “Our diversity must be supported by equity, inclusion, antiracism, and the condemnation of all forms of bigotry and hatred, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” they said, titling the second statement “An Apology.”
That pernicious apology was clarifying, because it insisted that “diversity” and empathy for Jewish suffering are mutually exclusive. And that’s the other consistent DEI pattern. In June 2021, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators released a forceful statement denouncing anti-Semitic violence. April Powers, the organization’s chief equity and inclusion officer, dared to declare that Jews “have the right to life, safety, and freedom from scapegoating and fear.”
For that statement, Powers came under criticism from Palestinian writers—and promptly lost her job. “I neglected to address the rise in Islamophobia, and deeply regret that omission,” Powers wrote, adding: “I hope you will accept my sincerest apologies and resignation from the SCBWI.” For good measure, the organization announced that in addition to Powers’s excommunication, seats on both its board and its diversity committee would be created and earmarked for Muslim members only. Serious measures must be taken, after all, if a diversity officer so misunderstands her job description as to denounce anti-Semitism.
Tabia Lee knows that all too well. Lee served as the faculty director for a California community college’s Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education. According to Inside Higher Education, she “questioned antiracist ‘orthodoxy’” at the college, including by trying “to bring a ‘Jewish inclusion’ event to campus.” She was fired.
What do we make of all this? First of all, that the DEI regime is key to understanding the climate on college campuses for Jewish students. Our desire to quantify everything has led the network of Jewish advocacy groups in the United States to measure anti-Semitism by “incidents.” That is certainly part of it—but only part. It is unnerving to see a swastika or “from the river to the sea” scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk outside a campus Hillel. But what those incident reports don’t show are actions and thought leadership sometimes orders of magnitude more sinister. In an atmosphere where DEI has great sway, merely to denounce anti-Semitic violence is to risk one’s job, reputation, career, livelihood. And to express one’s Judaism openly on college campuses in that atmosphere requires a dose of courage no one should be required to show just to live a day-to-day life. In 2021, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law surveyed “openly Jewish” college students and found that nearly 70 percent “personally experienced or were familiar with an anti-Semitic attack in the past 120 days.” In addition, more than 65 percent “have felt unsafe on campus due to physical or verbal attacks, with one in 10 reporting they have feared they themselves would be physically attacked.” And, the Brandeis Center continues, roughly 50 percent “have felt the need to hide their Jewish identity.”
Of those who hid their identity on campus, 30 percent did so because they were worried about how their professors would treat them. And why wouldn’t they worry? George Washington University sided with the professor who harassed Jewish students and retaliated when they objected—all in the name of “diversity.”
These poll results are what happens when you ask the right questions. San Francisco State University last fall surveyed its students and released the results in October: 11 percent experienced anti-Semitism occasionally, but 65 percent—that is, two out of every three Jewish students on campus—felt pressure to hide their Jewish identity. These campuses are incubating fear and shame among their Jewish populations. Incident reports don’t capture this horror, because they don’t capture the chilling effect of the DEI regimes that can make or break a student’s academic, and sometimes professional, career.
What can be done? First of all, DEI cannot be fixed. It cannot be made to accommodate Jews—because Jews are its scapegoat. It’s the oldest story in the world. Throughout Jewish history, the answer has never been “bring in more Cossacks.” Jews on campus know this. A Texas report on anti-Semitism prepared for the state legislature surveyed Jewish faculty on their experiences and polled them on possible solutions. Among its conclusions: “None of the respondents believed that ‘hiring more DEI officials’ would have a positive impact on the campus climate for Jewish students.”
The conservative political backlash against DEI has revealed, however, that officials are not powerless to stop its march. Florida Gover-nor Ron DeSantis has moved to defund all DEI programs at state schools and ban so-called diversity statements in hiring. In Texas, the state Senate’s education committee has advanced a bill aimed at dismantling DEI at public colleges. At the very least, officials can and should limit DEI’s growth by requiring that the number of DEI staffers correlates with the size of the student body. Because DEI bureaucracies are administrative and not educational, reining them in doesn’t violate anyone’s academic freedom.
When it comes to advocating for DEI abolition, Jewish groups should be the loudest voices in the room. This will force them to choose between progressivism and their fellow Jews, and it will be useful to know which ones pass this test and which ones fail it.
Pushing Jews out of “their” schools has always been near the top of anti-Semites’ wish list. Combined with boycotts, these are the two favored tactics of those who wish to see Jews swept to the social and economic fringes of society. And the (successful) pressure to hide their Jewishness continues the long tradition of coaxing Jews into participating in their own erasure.
The administrators, educators, and bureaucrats at America’s colleges and universities are to blame for this state of affairs. And they should be held accountable for it.
Photo: AP Photo
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