Thursday, June 23, 2011

Yale backs down (sort of)

After abruptly cancelling the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of anti-Semitism – and subsequently enduring two weeks of criticism – Yale University is now launching the new Yale Program for the Study of anti-Semitism (YPSA). Ignoring the past two weeks’ absurdities – the hysterics who called Yale anti- Semitic because of its decision and ham-handed handling of the issue – the new center is most welcome. That one of the world’s leading universities recognizes anti-Semitism as worthy of scholarly study is significant. This center should study anti-Semitism past and present, in the United States and the world – acknowledging the characteristics that define what Robert Wistrich calls “The Longest Hatred” and its many variations.

It is surprising how lonely this new program will be; there are few such centers in America. In an age of super sub-specializing, and despite campus hypersensitivity to all kinds of injustice, that five years ago there were no American centers studying anti-Semitism is scandalous. Dr. Charles Small deserves great credit for launching the first center in America, and for demonstrating how illuminating such centers can be.

Small needed to be a pioneer because anti- Semitism in America is often obscured by a cloak of invisibility. The “Longest Hatred” is today a most overlooked, masked and rationalized hatred. The obscuring is partially because American Jewish history is an extraordinary love story, a tale of immigrants finding a welcoming home suited to their skills, values and ambitions. American anti- Semitism does not compare to European anti- Semitism. The whys and whats of these differences are fascinating and also invite study.

The invisibility cloak works most effectively in hiding the “New anti-Semitism” – which singles out Israel and Zionism unfairly, disproportionately, obsessively. “Delegitimization” – an awkward term for an ugly phenomenon – is familiar to pro-Israel insiders, but means nothing to most others, many of whom simply explain all hostility by pointing to Palestinian suffering. This rationalist analysis ignores Israel-bashing’s irrational, often anti- Semitic, pedigree. The modern anti-Semite often claims, “I am not anti-Semitic, I am just anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.” And the discussion quickly becomes muddled, because there are valid criticisms to level against Israel and Zionism, as there are about all countries and nationalitisms.

ON CAMPUS today, the burden of proof usually lies with bigots to demonstrate they are not biased. Except, somehow, the burden usually falls on Jews when we encounter bias. Treating Israel as what Canadian MP Professor Irwin Cotler calls “the Jew among nations” frequently is anti-Semitic. Especially on campuses, the discussion is distorted because much modern anti- Zionist anti-Semitism comes from the Red-Green alliance – that unlikely bond between some radical leftists and Islamists. They should be natural enemies, yet they unite in hating Israel and Zionism.

Because so many professors and students are progressive, especially at elite universities, they frequently dismiss criticism of leftist anti-Semitism as McCarthyite or “neo-con.” But the anti-Israel hatred found on the Left has its own morphology and pathology. Good scholarship could explore its roots in the Stalinist 1930s and the anti-colonialist 1960s, could compare its European and American strains, while explaining what it says about the Left’s stance toward the Western world and the Third World.

More broadly, there is an historical mystery involved in how Zionism was tagged with the modern world’s three great sins – racism, imperialism and colonialism – and why Israel is compared frequently to two of the 20th century's most evil regimes, apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany.

In abandoning the realm of the rational, these accusations also demand study. Consider that Israel’s struggle is national not racial, so how is Zionism one of the few forms of nationalism deemed racist? Knowing that colonialism means settling land to which settlers have no prior claim, why are Israel’s origins called colonial? And how does imperialism properly describe the world’s 96th largest country holding on to neighboring territories it acquired after a war fought in self-defense, given that there are security as well as historic-religious reasons, and given Israel’s willingness to return the Sinai to Egypt in 1979 in exchange for the mere promise of peace? With so many absurd accusations piling up, and frequently echoing with historic anti-Semitic tropes, scholars can provide clarity – without addressing the right or wrongs of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Scholars can also clarify the relationship between this genteel, often masked, “progressive” indictment and the cruder Islamist indictment – part of a systematic campaign to delegitimize Zionism, ostracize Israel, and characterize Jews as apes and pigs, monkeys and shylocks. How central is this rhetoric to the Islamist movement? What is the significance of the ugly caricatures and words emanating from the Arab world? It is not anti-Islamic or anti-intellectual to note and analyze the centrality of Jew-hatred in this anti-Western ideology.

We need consciences, not scholarship, to condemn anti-Semitism, and we have institutes galore to track it.

Scholars can help define boundaries, create categories, sharpen vocabulary, explain origins, compare phenomena and provide context – also giving a reality check and warning of pro-Israel overreactions too.

Anti-Semitism has been around for too long, done too much damage, perverted too much contemporary diplomacy and campus politics, to be ignored.

Yale University should be congratulated for relaunching this program. Others should follow.


Feds crack down on campus flirting and sex jokes

When I was growing up it was widely believed that colleges and universities were the part of our society with the widest scope for free expression and free speech. In the conformist America of the 1950s, the thinking ran, few people dared to say anything that went beyond a broad consensus. But on campus anyone could say anything he liked.

Today we live in an America with enormous cultural variety in which very few things are considered universally verboten. But on campus it's different. There saying something considerably milder than some of the double entrendres you heard in cable news coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal can get you into big trouble.

These reflections are inspired by a seemingly innocuous 19-page letter on April 4 from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights to colleges and universities. The letter was given prominence by Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has done yeoman work opposing restrictive speech codes issued by colleges and universities.

OCR's letter carries great weight since there are few things a university president fears more than an OCR investigation, which can lead to loss of federal funds -- which amount to billions of dollars in some cases.

The OCR letter includes a requirement that universities adopt a "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof for deciding cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In other words, in every case of alleged sexual harassment or sexual assault, a disciplinary board must decide on the basis of more likely than not.

That's far short of the requirement in criminal law that charges must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And these disciplinary proceedings sometimes involve charges that could also be criminal, as in cases of alleged rape.

But more often they involve alleged offenses defined in vague terms and depending often on subjective factors. Lukianoff notes that campus definitions of sexual harassment include "humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable" (University of California at Berkeley), "unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people" (Iowa State University) or "elevator eyes" (Murray State University in Kentucky).

All of which means that just about any student can be hauled before a disciplinary committee. Jokes about sex will almost always make someone uncomfortable, after all, and usually you can't be sure if flirting will be welcome except after the fact. And how do you define "elevator eyes"?

Given the prevailing attitudes among faculty and university administrators, it's not hard to guess who will be the target of most such proceedings. You only have to remember how rapidly and readily top administrators and dozens of faculty members were ready to castigate as guilty of rape the Duke lacrosse players who, as North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper concluded, were absolutely innocent.

What the seemingly misnamed Office of Civil Rights is doing here is demanding the setting up of kangaroo courts and the dispensing of what I would call marsupial justice against students who are disfavored by campus denizens because of their gender or race or political attitude. "Alice in Wonderland's" Red Queen would approve.

As Lukianoff points out, OCR had other options. The Supreme Court in a 1999 case defined sexual harassment as conduct "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims' educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution's resources and opportunities." In other words, more than a couple of tasteless jokes or a moment of elevator eyes.

Lukianoff and FIRE have an admirable record of defending students' and faculty members' free speech regardless of their point of view, but anyone familiar with their work knows that the most frequent targets of campus disciplinary groups are male, conservative, religious or some combination thereof.

I wonder whether there is some connection between this and the dwindling percentage of men who enroll in and graduate from college. Are we allowing -- and encouraging -- our university administrators to create an atmosphere so unwelcoming and hostile to males that we are missing out on the contributions they could make with a college or graduate degree?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has shown an admirable openness to argument and intellectual debate. Perhaps someone will ask him whether he wants his department to be encouraging kangaroo courts and marsupial justice on campuses across the country.


One in four primary school pupils in Britain are from an ethnic minority and almost a million schoolchildren do not speak English as their first language

More than a quarter of primary school children are from an ethnic minority – an increase of almost half a million since 1997, it emerged yesterday.

The Government’s annual school census painted a picture of a changing Britain where schools are under mounting pressure from mass immigration.

In some areas, only 8 per cent of primary pupils are from a white British background. Nearly one million children aged five to 16 – 957,490 – speak English as a second language, up from almost 800,000 five years ago. And 26.5 per cent of primary pupils – 862,735 – are from an ethnic minority. When Labour took office in 1997, the total was 380,954. At secondary level, the total of ethnic minority children – 723,605 – has risen from 17.7 per cent to 22.2 per cent in five years.

The biggest group of ethnic minority pupils were Asians [from India & Pakistan & Bangladesh], making up 10 per cent of primary pupils and 8.3 per cent of secondary pupils. The number from ‘other white backgrounds’ in primaries has almost doubled since 2004 – from 74,500 to 136,880 – reflecting arrivals from Eastern Europe and other new EU member states.

In Manchester, Bradford, Leicester and Nottinghamshire white British primary pupils are in a minority. And in Luton just 30 per cent are classified as white British. In some London boroughs, such as Newham, only 8 per cent of children up to the age of 11 are from a white British background.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of think-tank MigrationWatch, said this was an ‘inevitable consequence of Labour’s policy of mass immigration’. He added: ‘We now have nearly a million schoolchildren whose first language is not English and who consequently need extra attention which can only be at the expense of English-speaking students.

‘This underlines the need for the Government to meet its commitment to get net migration down to tens of thousands by 2015.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘Having English as a second language doesn’t always mean that English skills are necessarily poor. It only shows the language the child was initially exposed to at home – the evidence is clear that once English is established, children catch up and even overtake their peers.’

Overall, 24 per cent of children in primary and secondary schools are of an ethnic minority – 1,586,340. The DfE classification of ‘white British’ does not include Irish, traveller, gipsy or Roma pupils.

A record number of parents are lodging appeals after their children were refused places at their primary school of choice. DfE figures show there were 42,070 such appeals in 2009/10 – a 10.5 per cent rise on the year before and a doubling since 2005/6. Immigration and families trying to get into sought-after schools have been blamed.


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