AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman
Last Friday, the Harvard Crimson, the official student newspaper of Harvard University, published an editorial expressing full-throated support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, or BDS movement. BDS calls for a full-scale boycott not just of Israel, but of Israelis themselves, urging universities to disinvite Israeli speakers, to end cooperation with Israeli academics and universities, and end all economic ties with Israel or Israeli companies. Its focus not on advocacy for Palestinians or efforts to improve their quality of life, nor on governmental lobbying, but instead on achieving change through targeted harassment of individuals based on their nationality, a nationality defined by the Jewish faith.
BDS has long been seen as beyond the pale even by otherwise left-wing schools and politicians. The Crimson itself expressed such concerns as recently as last year. No more. The shift in stance is further evidence that for a large segment of the American academic elite, the personal is political. Targeting individuals’ livelihoods is legitimate if pursued for justified political ends. In other words, it’s cancel culture on a national scale.
Why should we care what college students think? Well, as today’s political battles over Critical Race Theory and other previously obscure left-wing academic obsessions prove, what happens on college campuses does not stay on college campuses. It enters the mainstream of American politics.
College students are no strangers to poorly thought-out political positions, of course, especially those who perceive themselves as attending elite institutions. On February 9, 1933, ten days after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, members of the Oxford Union society voted 275 to 153 to declare that they would “under no circumstances fight for [their] King and country.” Winston Churchill was alleged to have remarked that “if you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no brain,” though the accuracy of that statement is dubious. Nonetheless, it is accepted that young people will be idealistic and, believing anything is possible, see a refusal to address wrongs as a choice rather than a compromise with reality.
Likewise, anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism are not new features on campuses. As far back as 1920, Harvard was a leading advocate for quotas limiting the number of Jewish students admitted. “The anti-Semitic feeling among students is increasing, and it grows in proportion to the increase in the number of Jews,” Harvard’s President Lowell wrote in a 1922 letter. “If [the] number [of Jews] should become 40 percent of the student body, the race feeling would become intense. If every college in the country would take a limited proportion of Jews, I suspect we should go a long way toward eliminating race feeling among students.”
In various forms, the prejudice has persisted to such a degree that the Trump administration launched a federal civil rights probe into anti-Semitism on college campuses.
In endorsing BDS, therefore, the Crimson is echoing Harvard traditions both recent and historic, even if they are not the sort of examples anyone should want to follow. While the Crimson addresses charges that BDS is antisemitic, the editorial provides no rebuttal, merely assertion. “In the wake of accusations suggesting otherwise, we feel the need to assert that support for Palestinian liberation is not antisemitic,” the paper says. “We unambiguously oppose and condemn antisemitism in every and all forms, including those times when it shows up on the fringes of otherwise worthwhile movements.”
The problem is that BDS is not merely about political protest against the actions of the Israeli government, but about targeted harassment of anyone and anything associated with or sympathetic to the nation of Israel, including many Americans of Jewish faith. BDS is not about a pro-Palestinian student refusing to travel to Israel or buy Israeli goods. It is about not allowing Jewish students to study abroad in Israel. It is about professors refusing to write recommendations for Jewish students. It is about prohibiting other students from attending a speech by the Israeli Ambassador. It is, for all practical purposes, a campaign of cancelation against many Jews. Moreover, it ignores that the state of Israel was created specifically as a haven for Jews from worldwide persecution throughout history. To attack Israel’s existence is, at best, to turn a blind eye to the reality of this persecution.
The ascendency of the BDS movement at Harvard represents something else, as well: the triumph of a “control freak” Marxist form of politics which is also evident in Critical Race Theory. The Crimson’s endorsement of BDS proves that ambitious Harvard students have now normalized the idea that the weaponization of social justice language against dissenters and critics is the way you get ahead. That is scary. Already, this sort of young person dominates the staffs of congressional Democratic offices and think tanks in D.C. David Shor, Barack Obama’s pollster, who was himself driven from a job for “wrong think,” has called out the hijacking of the Democratic Party by this clique of over-educated young people who have installed the ethos of petty academic warfare into their party politics.
The people it attracts are a different sort entirely from the idealists Churchill spoke of. Wallace Sayre, a professor at Columbia University, quipped in 1973 that “academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” Movements like BDS and CRT have sought to increase the stakes of academic disputes, allowing those involved to pretend that what is at issue is not personal egos and ambition, but rather social justice and the salvation of humanity. Naturally, when they graduate, they try to escalate these disputes to the national level.
While the populist realignment may keep many of the BDS crowd mostly out of electoral politics for some time, it is harder for any American to escape the influence these students will have once they begin to climb the corporate ladder. The editorial writers for the Crimson are not just tomorrow’s White House Correspondents, they are also Disney’s next President of General Entertainment.
Americans should be concerned not because university students have silly issue positions. They should be concerned because—as BDS’s mainstreaming at Harvard shows—we are educating a generation of tyrannical control freaks who believe free speech is violence, and that Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter could lead to genocide. It is a good first step for Florida to adopt legislation like the Stop Woke Act. In the long run, however, what has to be done is not change the topics taught or even the slant, but the principals underpinning the education to begin with.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
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