Last October, protesters from the anti-Israel group, Students for Justice in Palestine, disrupted a panel on anti-Semitism hosted by Bard’s Hannah Arendt Center. The disruptors thought it appropriate to single out an all-Jewish panel focused on hatred of Jews to vent their spleen at Israel. According to Batya Ungar Sargon of the Forward, who served on the panel, the protesters were even applauded by some of the invited conference attendees. These “vaunted intellectuals, flown in from across the country to discuss racism, were commending a display of racism against Jews.”
Racism against Jews? Perish the thought, replied distinguished defenders of the protest. These students weren’t saying that the Jews, alone among peoples, should be hounded when they discuss threats to their safety. No, they were there mainly to protest the distinguished scholar of Yiddish literature and Jewish history, Ruth Wisse, who is, after all, some kind of conservative. Moreover, Wisse had made an imprecise remark about the exploitation of Palestinian suffering decades ago, and that, her critics maintain, suffices as evidence of anti-Palestinian racism. Finally, Wisse’s talk on the panel focused on left-wing anti-Semitism, so why shouldn’t Students for Justice in Palestine protest? Case closed.
Yes, as Ungar-Sargon reported, one of the protesters said that the Israel issue is inextricably bound to the question of anti-Semitism—that is, the protest could properly have taken place against any panel on anti-Semitism. Of course, the pro-Palestinian left doesn’t just go around targeting anti-Semitism panels. Don’t be ridiculous!
Not so. Last Thursday, Deborah Lipstadt, gave a talk on anti-Semitism at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. Lipstadt, a distinguished scholar of modern Jewish history and author of the 2019 book, Antisemitism: Here and Now, is not a conservative. Even the unjust haven’t gotten around to accusing her of anti-Palestinian racism, except insofar as they consider all Zionists racists. And Lipstadt, though she attends to left-wing anti-Semitism, doesn’t single it out. She is perhaps best known for combatting right-wing Holocaust deniers.
So the left—to be fair, just a few—turned up to protest.
They felt that Lipstadt’s talk on anti-Semitism would be a good occasion to declare their support for divestment from Israel and their objection to the premise that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. They did not, as the Bard protesters did, attempt disruption. They merely stood, signs aloft, at the front of the lecture hall.
But in so standing, they confirmed what our intelligentsia pooh-poohed after the incident at Bard. To at least some on the left, the mere presence of a speaker on anti-Semitism, if she utters a peep about anti-Semitism on the left, is reason enough to protest
They profess their opposition to anti-Semitism but reserve all their energy for protesting honest discussions of it.