Thursday, October 28, 2010


A York University (Canada -- good to see them again) professor, apparently somewhat infamous for decrying Jewish influence on, well, life, has alleged in a letter to the university president that York's Hillel is serving as an "agent of a foreign government" and should be disbanded. While Hillel does do advocacy work to prevent Israel from being demonized on campuses, it isn't Israel's "agent". Insofar as Jews have widely divergent views on what Israel should or shouldn't be doing, I suspect that many of Hillel's members oppose Israeli policies on a regular basis. Consequently, it would be highly surprising if Hillel's pro-Israel advocacy extended beyond a few "red-lines" that tend to unify the Jewish community.

And that gets to what this is really about -- the view that Jewish political agency (of which Israel, of course, is the preeminent example) is something dangerous, aberrational, and illegitimate. Suppose that our dear Professor was correct and Hillel did come to the conclusion that virtually all decisions made by the Israeli government were right, proper, and worthy of praise. Why isn't it their right to advocate it?

"Agent", of course, implies a form of bad faith -- that the group is bought and paid for, rather than "honestly" engaging in the deliberative project. As is usually the case in these sorts of allegations, there is really no way to prove this is the case, so it is deployed more as a rhetorical trope -- a discursive shunt which enables the speaker to preemptively discount whatever her interlocutor is saying as unworthy of consideration (regardless of its facial content). When Jews speak, we can't take what they say at face value -- there's always a deeper game at work, and that's what we need to be on the lookout for. Not listening with open ears and a critical eye, but furtively scrambling for the hidden agenda. It's an outlook that's fundamentally incompatible with respecting Jews as political subjects. Which, alas, many do not.


chingona said...

our dead Professor

wishful thinking?

Bruce said...

The Canadian professor is disturbing and to some extent is yet another canary in the coal mine. I am not an alarmist, and the sky is not falling on American Jews, or on steadfast American support for the State of Israel. But I have been a part of the American labor movement for almost 25 years now and I have become familiar with much of what constitutes the left-of-center in this country. There is a simmering presumption (some innocent and some even laudatory) about Jewish influence that, in light of consistent historical predicate, makes it irresponsible to ignore. In its uglier form, such as the faux but nicely wrapped scholarship of Professors Walt and Mearsheimer, and the extrapolations therefrom, it is nothing less than alarming. When it becomes fashionable to imply that American Jews conspired to send American boys and girls to perish in the deserts of Iraq, it's deja vu all over again.

P.S. American unions continue to be some of Israel's biggest American supporters.

David Schraub said...

Chingona: Oops. Corrected. :-).

N. Friedman said...


Your comment was rather well taken. By the way, our dear Professor Noble seems to have a thing against Jewish holidays. He evidently claims to be a leftist. The left - our side of the aisle - really needs to clean up its act and make Antisemitism unacceptable.

Socialist Bernard-Henri Lévy has very aptly titled a chapter in his book, Left in Dark Times, as follows: "The New Anti-Semitism will be Progressive - or Nothing at All." That is just about right. And, tt seems more and more that the New Anti-Semitism will be something indeed.