By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, September 26, 2002
WHEN Lawrence Summers became the president of Harvard last year, not
even his greatest admirers predicted how resolutely he would make the university's motto -
"Veritas" - his own. Almost from the day he was inaugurated, Summers has
insisted on speaking unpopular truths: about the disrespect shown to Americans in uniform,
about the rot of grade inflation in Harvard's classrooms, about the absence of
"mainstream values" among "coastal elites" - even about the failure of
a celebrity professor like Cornel West to do serious academic work. Last week, voicing
another unpopular truth, Summers spoke out against the spread of Jew-bashing - not only in
Europe and at UN conferences but at American universities.
"There is disturbing evidence of an upturn in anti-Semitism globally, and also ...
closer to home," he said on Sept. 17. "Profoundly anti-Israel views are
increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities. Serious and
thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect
if not their intent."
Actually, even anti-Semitic intent can be found on American campuses these days. At San
Francisco State University, for example, pro-Palestinians demonstrators recently
confronted supporters of Israel with signs reading "Jews = Nazis" and chants of
"Hitler should have finished the job."
Earlier this month, anti-Israel rioters at Concordia University in Montreal smashed
windows and hurled furniture to protest a scheduled speech by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Fortunately, such naked Jew-hatred is still rare in academia. What Summers had in mind was
something less blatant but no less disgraceful. "Some here at Harvard and at
universities across the country," he said, "have called for the university to
single out Israel among all nations as the lone country where it is inappropriate for any
part of the university's endowment to be invested. I hasten to say the university has
categorically rejected this suggestion."
The divestment campaign Summers was referring to demands that Israel be treated as a
pariah, a country so toxic that American universities shouldn't even own stock in
companies that do business there. It is modeled on the anti-apartheid movement of the
1970s and 1980s, and its planted axiom is that there is no important moral difference
between Israel - a free and tolerant democracy at war with dictatorial enemies bent on
genocide - and the former white-ruled South Africa. That is a position only a moral idiot
Supporters of the divestment effort at Harvard and elsewhere were quick to condemn Summers
for his "McCarthyesque" attack. "This is the ugliest statement
imaginable," fumed John Assad, a neurobiology professor at Harvard Medical School,
"to paint critics as anti-Semitic."
In fact, Summers didn't "paint critics" as anti-Semitic or anything else; he
characterized their actions as "anti-Semitic in their effect." He was not
ascribing base motives to those who support the divestment campaign. He didn't presume to
read their hearts. Rather, he was pointing out the impact of their behavior. One who
supports a campaign that singles out Israel for demonization and obloquy is taking an
anti-Semitic action, whether he intended to or not.
Of course Israeli policies are fair game for criticism. But it is not
"criticism" to falsely smear Israel as racist - not when the Arab world seethes
with a hatred of Jews more rabid than even the Nazis' was.
It is not "criticism" to portray Israel's lawful presence in Gaza and the West
Bank as an illegal occupation yet never murmur a word of objection to China's occupation
of Tibet, Syria's of Lebanon, Turkey's of Northern Cyprus, or Russia's of Chechnya. It is
not "criticism" to lay the blame for the violence of the Middle East at Israel's
doorstep while ignoring the immense risks that Israel has taken, and the sacrifices it has
made, in pursuit of peace with the Palestinians.
It is not "criticism" to accuse Israel of apartheid when it is the Arab world
that preaches "Kill the Jews!" and dances in the street when terrorists do so.
This is not criticism - it is calumny. It butchers the truth and subjects Israel to a
cruel double standard. It abets the cause of the world's foremost Jew-haters - people
whose explicit goal is the liquidation of the Jewish state. A professor who signs his name
to something so grotesque is committing an anti-Semitic act.
"In our own day," Norman Podhoretz has written, "Israel has become the
touchstone of attitudes toward the Jewish people, and anti-Zionism has become the main and
most relevant form of anti-Semitism." Anti-Semitism used to express itself in
demanding that good Aryans boycott Jewish shops. Today it demands that good universities
boycott the Jewish state. It may look different on the outside, but it's the same old