The concerted movement to curtail criticism of Israel on university/college campuses has been well-covered in these pages – in general and at individual schools such as Fordham, UCLA, and Duke/UNC. Campuses are portrayed as hotbeds of antisemitism where Jewish students are physically unsafe, targeted solely because of their religion and heritage. This is part of a broader effort to prompt school administrators and government officials to impose restrictions on Palestinian rights advocacy by inventing a crisis requiring intervention to protect Jewish students.
Analysis of several recent incidents shows how factually-questionable or even provably-false reports are widely proliferated by a gullible media to manufacture a fictional campus antisemitism crisis.
Item 1: In November, at York University in Toronto, students gathered to protest a presentation by members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) extolling the virtues of Israeli militarism. The protesters were met by members of the Jewish Defense League, a violent extremist group formed by openly racist Rabbi Meir Kahane many decades ago. A few pro-Israel activists claimed that the anti-IDF protesters chanted “Jews go back to the ovens.” In an age of ubiquitous mobile phone video recorders, the confrontation was recorded by a number of witnesses, yet none of the accusers were able to capture any audio or video evidence of this vicious antisemitic chant. In fact, members of the Christian Peacemakers Team who witnessed the protest confirmed that reports of the offending chant were entirely fabricated.
Nevertheless, the lie that pro-Palestinian protesters rabidly called for genocide of Jews reached the highest levels of government. Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and even Canadian PM Justin Trudeau all tweeted their strongest condemnation of the fictional antisemitic outburst based only on highly-implausible verbal reports despite the absence of video evidence that surely would have been presented had the story been true.
Item 2: Last December, a NY Times editorial criticizing Trump’s executive order threatening campus free speech gratuitously included an entirely-false narrative of antisemitism at Emory University earlier that year. In April 2019, the Emory SJP chapter had distributed mock eviction notices on dorm room doors to dramatize Israel’s harsh military rule over Palestinians. There were initial false reports that only Jewish students had been targeted with the notices, but the University conclusively refuted those lies within a few days. Eight months later, the Times editorial repeated the original indisputably false claim that only Jewish students were singled out.
When informed of the error, the Times issued a correction but the damage already had been done. A legitimate attempt to promote sympathy for Palestinians had been falsely portrayed as an antisemitic attack on Jewish students. The inadequacy of the Times’s subsequent correction was demonstrated by its own failure in republishing the original false claim of antisemitism while failing to notice the University’s contrary finding a few days later.
Even worse, after the editorial had been corrected, the Times, rather than apologize for its defamatory error, continued to list the incident as an actual example of campus antisemitism. It merely changed the narrative from an action that actually had targeted Jewish students to one that had “frighten[ed] some Jewish students,” as if its mistake was regrettable but merely trivial.
Item 3: No one is better at projecting hysteria over campus antisemitism than the Times’s own Bari Weiss, who laid the groundwork for her pundit career while a Columbia undergrad seeking to muzzle professors critical of Israel. In September, during a joint appearance with Jake Tapper, (around 14:00) Weiss delivered a well-rehearsed monologue on recent campus antisemitism that included:
the piece that was published yesterday by a student at Hofstra. She’s a religious woman, two roommates asked to move because they didn’t want to live with someone who was a religious Jew, a professor told her he would not reschedule things for the high holidays, and then told her imagine a world without Jews. Imagine that happening to any other minority, and yet, no one bats an eyelash. I find that amazing.
The Hofstra student, Leilah Abelman, did claim that a professor, during a class lecture, had proposed a “world without Jews.” There are several obvious questions presented by the op-ed: Was this professor actually musing about genocide, as clearly implied by both Abelman and Weiss? If so, why did Abelman not name the antisemitic professor? Why protect the anonymity of someone publicly calling for genocide of the Jewish (or any) people? And why were there no other reports from Abelman’s classmates of this outrageous remark? Were all her classmates casually tolerant of a call for extermination of the Jewish people? It seems very likely that Abelman was concealing the context of the professor’s remark, if not fabricating the incident altogether.
Note the “nobody bats an eyelash” end to Weiss’s soliloquy. Is she surprised that 24 hours after Abelman’s op-ed appeared in the Hofstra student newspaper, there was no public outcry about this obscure event? In fact, Hofstra announced a couple of days later that it was investigating the allegations made in the article. Weiss’s alarming but evidence-free message is clear: Not only is antisemitism flourishing on college campuses, where professors openly advocate for a second Holocaust, Jew-hatred is casually discussed under the indifferent neglect of authorities who otherwise would rush to protect every other vulnerable minority population.
Item 4: In November, the Times published an op-ed by a George Washington U sophomore named Blake Flayton, histrionically entitled “On the Frontlines of Progressive Anti-Semitism,” Flayton complains that although he identifies as a “progressive,” other progressives reject his progressive brand of Zionism. Stinging from this rebuke by those he expected to embrace him, Flayton mostly sticks to vague generalities in his description of the antisemitism he must endure daily. For example, he feels he must “refrain from calling out antisemitism on our side for fear of . . . losing friends or being smeared as the things we most revile: racist, white supremacist, colonialist.”
But Flayton also offers a more concrete example of antisemitism from the University of Virginia, where he claims that “Jewish students (emphasis his) were barred from joining a minority student coalition to fight white supremacy.” Wait – a progressive group at UVA actually refused to accept Jewish students? It turns out that the UVA Minority Rights Coalition (MRC) did refuse to accept the Jewish Leadership Council to its ranks in 2018, but not because the JLC students were Jewish. The MRC’s public statement said that Jewish students “comprise a minority community that faces real threats of discrimination” and deserve MRC support. However, the JLC’s umbrella includes a single organization called “Hoos for Israel” that was deemed inappropriate for MRC membership. Repeating that it “strongly supports Jewish students’ needs and concerns and believes that Jewish representation in MRC is vital,” the MRC attempted to forge a compromise that admitted the JLC but without its Hoos component. The JLC declined to accept the compromise.
So UVA’s Minority Rights Coalition repeatedly confirmed that cooperation with and protection of Jewish students was a high priority, and it only had a problem with a single pro-Israel group. Flayton falsely characterized the group as refusing entry to Jewish students solely because of their Jewish heritage. Somehow this egregious misrepresentation escaped the attention of the Times’s rigorous fact-checkers.
Item 5: In The Forward, Jodi Rudoren, formerly the Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief, reported yet another campus outrage: “One female undergraduate said that speaking her native Hebrew on campus garnered a catcall of, ‘You kill Muslim babies.’ This is not O.K.”
Of course it’s not OK. But is it true? It turns out that Rudoren omitted a few pertinent details. She was relying on the word of Ofir Dayan, daughter of Israel’s consul general in New York, as reported in the New York Post. Dayan, an NYU student, claimed that she was merely talking Hebrew on the phone when:
“A girl heard me and started screaming, ‘Stop killing Muslim ¬babies! . . . You’re a murderer!’ ” Ofir said. “Then she screamed, ‘Zionist, get out!’ A nearby public-safety ¬administrator did nothing.”
Dayan concluded: “SJP is violent,” she said. “I’m worried about my personal safety.”
So the daughter of an Israeli official claimed that the mere sound of the Hebrew language triggered a “girl” (anonymous but obviously a belligerent, no doubt violent SJP member) to scream “baby-murderer” and order Dayan to “get out” of the area, or the city, or the US, or whatever. On its face, this is a dubious story, and by its very nature it’s impossible to confirm or disprove. But Ofir Dayan’s word was accepted as gospel truth by the consistently awful New York Post and repeated as gospel truth by the editor of the somewhat less consistently awful Forward.
Rudoren concealed not only Dayan’s identity but also their prior acquaintance. In 2012, Rudoren penned a fawning portrait of Ofir’s father, Dani Dayan, who was then a “worldly and pragmatic” activist on behalf of illegal settlements throughout the West Bank. At that time, Dani had big ambitions for the then 18-year-old Ofir, hoping she would follow in his international-law-violating footsteps and “establish an [illegal] outpost on the most challenging hill in Samaria.” So Rudoren was well aware of Ofir Dayan’s background when she referred to her merely as a “female undergraduate.”
Item 6: And then there’s Batya Ungar-Sargon, who didn’t get or didn’t read the playbook. In October, she foolishly accused protesters against her panel at Bard College of antisemitism because the panelists were all Jewish, and she berated her fellow conference participants of ignoring the flagrant bigotry. Ungar-Sargon was contradicted by virtually every other attendee who published an account denying any antisemitic element of the protest. She should learn from Ofir Dayan to avoid making false claims that can be refuted by multiple eyewitnesses and stick to unwitnessed encounters with unidentified malefactors.
All of these incidents, as originally (or finally) reported, suggest a viral outbreak of rabid antisemitism in higher education. Student demonstrators in Toronto were screaming for the incineration of Jews; Jewish students in Atlanta were singled out for harassment; a Long Island professor called for genocide of the world’s Jewish population; a UVA progressive student organization refused to associate with Jews; a student in New York became apoplectic at the mere sound of the Hebrew language; a Bard forum on antisemitism was protested because the presenters were Jewish. Most of these incidents were proven false and the rest are thoroughly implausible but conveniently impossible to disprove. As a whole, they contribute to a general perception of hostile, potentially catastrophic campus antisemitism requiring authorities to step in to protect Jewish students from the dire threat to their physical well-being posed by Palestinian rights activities. These pseudo-events morph into a public consensus even if incident after incident is found not only to be false but maliciously planted.
Another calculated effect of this dishonest media barrage is that new accounts of antisemitism enjoy a presumption of legitimacy. Each new incident merely reinforces what everyone already “knows.” The most elementary fact-checking is unnecessary because who could rationally doubt that antisemitism is not only tolerated on campus but has become quite fashionable?
There is never any real accountability for those who knowingly circulated demonstrably false narratives – the Jews/ovens chant at York, the flyers singling out Jewish students at Emory, etc. The compliant media, predisposed to believe the worst based upon previous bogus reports, dutifully accepts most claims without the slightest skepticism or investigation. Even when Batya Ungar-Sargon was embarrassed with her pompous indignation at Bard, her discomfort was quite temporary and she immediately resumed her punditry with the support of her editor-in-chief, Jodi Rudoren. (In fact, Ungar-Sargon preposterously claimed vindication even after the avalanche of reports contradicting her posture of outrage). With no downside to publicizing exaggerated or even fabricated cases of anti-Jewish animus on campus, we can expect new horror stories to regularly emerge, “confirming” the defamation that Palestinian rights advocates represent the left flank of “the world’s oldest hatred.”