A New Strategy on Campus: Blame the Jews

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In a riveting and sad New York Times op-ed, Blake Flayton, a student at George Washington University and a “gay abortion rights advocate and environmentalist,” explained why his fellow progressives call him a “baby killer” and “apartheid enabler.” Like 95 percent of Jews, according to Gallup, the op-ed’s author has a “favorable” view of Israel.

George Washington University has been in the news lately for a blatant kind of anti-Semitism. A “pro-Palestinian” student was captured on video, saying, “We’re going to f**king bomb Israel, bro. F**k out of here, Jewish pieces of s**t.” The student, who says she was intoxicated, has apologized profusely and claimed she didn’t “even know why I said that.” I take her at her word. But the line between “Zionist” and “Jew” can be thin in anti-Israel discourse. In vino veritas.

Jewish students, who constitute about a quarter of GW’s student body, say that they experience anti-Semitism on campus. But crude anti-Semitism is not Flayton’s focus.

Instead, Flayton described a rally he attended in support of higher wages for custodial staff. In the course of that rally, representatives of the two leading campus anti-Israel groups, Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, spoke. They “railed against the oppression of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, which, according to them, had everything to do with G.W. janitors making less than their fair share.”

Flayton asks, “Reasonable people recognize that conflating the Jews with being money-hungry or cheap is anti-Semitic. How is tying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to janitors not getting paid enough at an American university any different?”

Good question.

It remains only to note that blaming the Jewish state for every species of injustice is a feature of the campus anti-Israel movement, not an anomaly. At the City University of New York in 2015, multiple Students for Justice in Palestine chapters signed a statement against CUNY’s “Zionist administration.” The topics? High tuition and low wages for campus workers. Jewish Voice for Peace has since 2017 been running a “Deadly Exchange” campaign, the core of which is that Israel is responsible for police violence against blacks in America. The strategy is clear enough: if you blame the Jews—sorry, “Zionism”—for everyone’s ills, you can draw more allies into your movement.

Anti-Semitism, you see, is a potent political strategy. It’s even more potent when student governments ignore Jewish students and condemn, as the student Senate at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign did recently, the “equation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.” Four hundred Jewish students, including the lone Jew in the Senate, walked out.

Once, certain student governments were satisfied to make pronouncements about the Middle East without educating themselves about it. Now they have graduated to lecturing and condemning Jews who complain about anti-Semitism without educating themselves about anti-Semitism.

Kudos to Mr. Flayton for stepping forward and to the New York Times for publishing him. No doubt, some adherents of the campus left are beyond shame. But in my experience, even professed anti-Zionists are more thoughtful and persuadable than their public pronouncements suggest. They genuinely believe, perhaps because they rub elbows mainly with the 5 percent of Jews who do not have a favorable view of Israel, that the people who charge them with anti-Semitism are disingenuous.

They haven’t thought it through, but they’re not beyond help.

A New Strategy on Campus: Blame the Jews

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Jonathan Marks

Jonathan Marks is a Professor of Politics at Ursinus College and publishes in modern and contemporary political philosophy in journals like the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of American Political Science, and the Review of Politics. He is the author of Perfection and Disharmony in the Thought of Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Marks also has written on higher education for InsideHigherEd, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal. He blogs occasionally at Commentary Magazine.

Read all stories by Jonathan Marks