Monday, May 06, 2024

On Loving "Campus Jews" While Hating Campus Jews, Part II

A few years ago, I wrote about how many external efforts to express "solidarity" with campus Jews facing antisemitism were defined by their obvious and overt disdain for, if not antagonism towards, campus Jews. What passes for "solidarity," too often, is intentionally and deliberately indifferent to the actual positions and desires of the students they're supposedly coming in to support. As I wrote then:

It is no revelation to say that Jews on campus experience their share of antisemitism, and deserve our support. But one of the more frustrating aspects of that reality is how that "support" often manifests in a fashion that is almost tauntingly unconcerned with what the Jews on campus actually want. "Support", too often, is not support at all -- it is a way for outsiders to exploit a headline or to ride their own hobbyhorses, and the campus Jews themselves are an afterthought....

[T]hose who drive the Hitler truck "in solidarity" do not at all care whether the Jews they "support" find their intervention all that supportive. By golly, Berkeley Jews are going to get this allyship whether they like it or not! And this is hardly an isolated event. Jewish students at the University of Michigan were livid at the Canary Mission putting their campus under the spotlight, complaining that it was making the environment for Jewish students on campus worse rather than better. No matter. Canary Mission's support for campus Jews is cheerfully indifferent to whether campus Jews feel supported.

Outside actors want to come in hyper-aggressive, but when campus Jews express frustration and try to say "you are not helping", they're met with dismissal verging on outrage. The outsiders love and support "campus Jews" as an abstraction, but they find the actual, flesh-and-blood campus Jews to be soft, weak-willed, squishy, and just overall contemptible.

Consider what happened recently at UCLA, where a group of pro-Israel counterdemonstrators (and if ever the phrase "outside agitators" was appropriate, here it is) assaulted a pro-Palestine encampment, leading to some of the most brutal and wide-scale incidents of violence we've seen over the past few weeks. While obviously chains of connection are at this stage blurry, it does seem that the counterprotesters were among the groups being supported by various external "pro-Israel" organizations. Unsurprisingly, the actual Jewish students at UCLA did not feel thankful or more secure by their "supporters" taking this action; to the contrary, it has decimated whatever social standing and moral credibility mainline Jewish students might have possessed with the broader UCLA community. And in the vein, UCLA students issued a statement that was a crystal-clear admonition to their putative "supporters":

We can not have a clearer ask for the off-campus Jewish community: stay off our campus. Do not fund any actions on campus. Do not protest on campus. Your actions are harming Jewish students.

The bold is original. And to be clear: the students who issued these statements are not aligned with the protesters. They identify as Zionists. They don't deny that there has been antisemitism amongst the protesters or on campus in general. That sort of very normie campus Jew is who is trying to communicate the message "you're not helping". And that, sadly, is exactly the sort of campus Jew who historically has been completely and utterly ignored by the rush of outsiders scrambling to demonstrate how much they care about "campus Jews".

In that vein, consider a recently announced academic boycott of Columbia University graduates by about a dozen federal judges, including Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho, on the grounds that Columbia has become an "incubator" of antisemitism. Is there any indication that Columbia's Jewish community wants "support" in this fashion? Is there any doubt that they view these judges' announcement as only making their position worse? No and no. But it doesn't matter, because this line of criticism assumes that Judge Ho and company want to help Columbia's Jewish community, when the truth is absolutely the opposite.  The abstract choice to "defend" campus Jews is paired with a palpable disdain for the campus' Jewish community.

This is at least the second time that Judge Ho has led an academic boycott campaign targeting universities on speech grounds (he sure does love BDS!), and much of what I said the last time applies here as well. It's serendipitous, but also no coincidence, that my introduction to my post about Ho's boycott "on behalf of" (but also targeting) Yale conservatives was a story about my own experience enduring harassment that began as misbegotten "solidarity" with me as a Berkeley Jewish student. The troll in question came to hate me because I was a Jew who didn't hate my time at Berkeley, and the only possible explanation for that sentiment in their eyes was that I was a self-hating Jew. 

Here too, one might find it strange that the very students these judges purport to be protecting -- beleaguered Jewish students attending Columbia -- are also covered by the boycott pledge. But this is intentional -- Ho et al fundamentally view any Jew who decides to attend Columbia for any reason as a traitor who deserves what's coming to them. What was then a parallel now is a traced-over line: the "solidarity" with campus Jews actually a thinly veiled form of contempt for any Jew who even slightly deviates from the orthodoxy James Ho wishes to impose upon the Jewish community.

There are, as always, many reasons why a Jewish (or non-Jewish) student might choose to attend to Columbia. Maybe there is a particular program they want to study in, or professor they wish to work with. Maybe they're curious to learn from people whose views are radically different than their own. Maybe they're inspired by the recent election of an Israeli as student body president of one of Columbia's colleges. Maybe they simply don't find the atmosphere as toxic as a bunch of Texas federal judges infer from afar. 

Ot maybe some of them just agree with what one Jewish student said in response to others who urged her to leave Columbia in the face of antisemitism: "It’s very important to stand our ground and show them they can’t force Zionist Jewish students out of their campus."

To any Jewish student who has thought along that line, who has said that they're not going let the risk of bullying or bad actors stop them from getting the best education possible, Judge Ho has a loud and clear message: "Get fucked." He doesn't care about you. He thinks you're absolute scum. In this, he shares a commonality with many of the outsiders who say they're supporting "campus Jews" while raining contempt upon campus Jews. Every Jewish student in America can and should internalize that message loud and clear.