For eighteen years I had the great privilege of working as Executive Director of Harvard Hillel.
As a leader of Jewish communities on campus, in New England, and around the nation, I have helped cultivate a new generation of Jewish leaders and citizens. I navigated moments of tension and war: the tumultuous 1990s, as the Oslo Accords began to crumble; the Second Intifada; 9/11 and its fallout; the Iraq War; Israel’s Second Lebanon War and its war on Gaza in late 2008.
During my long career as a Jewish educator and leader — including thirteen years living in Jerusalem — I have seen and lived through my community’s struggles. Now, as an elder leader, with the benefit of hindsight, I feel compelled to speak to what I see as a disturbing trend gripping our campus, and many others: The cynical weaponization of antisemitism by powerful forces who seek to intimidate and ultimately silence legitimate criticism of Israel and of American policy on Israel.
In most cases, it takes the form of bullying pro-Palestine organizers. In others, these campaigns persecute anyone who simply doesn’t show due deference to the bullies.
The recent effort to smear our new University President, Claudine Gay, is a case in point. I applaud the decision by the Harvard Corporation to stand by Dr. Gay amid the ludicrous charges that she somehow supports genocide against Jews, and I hope Harvard will continue to take a clear and strong stance against any further efforts by these powerful parties to meddle in university affairs, especially over personnel decisions.
The toppling of the president of the University of Pennsylvania is a sobering example of what can happen when we empower these unscrupulous forces to dictate our path as university leaders. The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. Our vigilance must be up to the task.
As a leader in the Jewish community, I am particularly alarmed by today’s McCarthyist tactic of manufacturing an antisemitism scare, which, in effect, turns the very real issue of Jewish safety into a pawn in a cynical political game to cover for Israel’s deeply unpopular policies with regard to Palestine. (A recent poll found that 66 percent of all U.S. voters and 80 percent of Democratic voters desire an end to Israel’s current war, for instance.)
What makes this trend particularly disturbing is the power differential: Billionaire donors and the politically-connected, non-Jews and Jews alike on one side, targeting disproportionately people of vulnerable populations on the other, including students, untenured faculty, persons of color, Muslims, and, especially, Palestinian activists. [Continue reading…]