On Moral Sadism and Academic Disorientation: Northeastern’s Hijacked Holocaust Program

A version of this piece is up at PJMedia.

American’s for Peace and Tolerance has come out with a documentary on Northeastern’s Holocaust Memorial Program, documenting the hijacking of the program by radical anti-Zionists who spent much of their time comparing Israeli treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Charles Jacobs published a column in the Jewish Advocate summarizing his criticisms.

According to an article on the subject, Northeastern Provost Stephen Director complained that Jacobs “cherry-picked his examples.”

“The present-day facts are clear: Northeastern is a vibrant academic community where people of all backgrounds and faiths come together in pursuit of knowledge.”

But dismissing a dozen prominent examples of previous intellectual and moral abuse of the Holocaust program at NE as “cherry-picked,” expresses either a lack of awareness or a dishonesty about the nature of this abuse. That Jacobs could cherry-pick any examples of people who used this venue at Northeastern to make the morally sadistic comparison of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazis treatment of the Jews, represents a failure of judgment on a colossal scale.

How can an occupation which systematically exterminated millions of innocent civilians in a matter of three years, be compared with one in which the “target” population both grew in number and in prosperity over the course of 40 years? And how can one make such a comparison, without including a comparison of how Israel treats its “occupied” Palestinians with how the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war have been treated by their Arab hosts, who have been and continue to be far more ruthless and cruel with their own people than the “Nazi-like” Israelis.

Comparisons of Israelis with Nazis are not sober assessments of empirical reality – the hallmark of good history and journalism – but wild and degrading accusations – Israel-baiting – made in a moral and intellectual delirium. This represents a disorientation so radical that its prominence on campus needs to be addressed – explained, corrected – not covered up with claims of “academic freedom.” Academics are not “free” to make things up, and universities are not required to give those who do, a pulpit.

Northeast’s administration should not echo the FBI after Waco: “We didn’t do anything wrong and we won’t do it again.” We can’t learn from mistakes we don’t admit.

Far from “academic freedom” this situation is actually the opposite. The radical voice that compares Israel to the Nazis, and tars with “right-wing” tags those Jews who object, has essentially driven the entire political spectrum off kilter. As a result, what Northeastern calls diversity and vigorous debate “in pursuit of knowledge” actually means shutting down precisely the kind of debate that needs to take place and replacing it with unchallenged intellectual and moral abuse.

Moderate vs. extremist… left vs. right… dove vs. hawk… none of these ranges mean anything anymore because a moderate in the Palestinian system (e.g. Mahmoud Abbas) does not translate into a moderate in ours, and a “hardliner” in ours is a (way too) soft-liner in theirs. Someone who promises his people the land from river to the sea, who demands the ethnic transfer and cleansing of a religious minority from territory he rules, who wants to keep his own people stateless, whose “authorities” bully and intimidate the press, who uses torture against his own opposition is not a “moderate.” And any Israeli leader with that kind of record would be immediately branded, by Jews and other Westerners alike, as a vicious fascist. Of course, in comparison with genocidal Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Abbas, guilty on all counts of the above, is at least willing to say he’s willing to negotiate (maybe), and therefore appears, on our current political register as “a moderate.”

Netanyahu, who allows a much wider range of dissent and lives by far more demanding democratic principles, is branded a “hawkish,” right-wing, extremist when he resists pressure to compromise with hard right-wing foes. But since holding Palestinians responsible for their choices – suicide bombing, hate propaganda, river-to-the-sea ambitions – would be blaming the victim, it’s so much easier for the politically-correct to blame the “hard-liner, hawk” Netanyahu for the failure of negotiations rather than the “moderate” Abbas.

As a result of this skew of the political spectrum, for nearly a decade Northeastern’s hijacked Holocaust program, repeatedly invited in highly politicized, intellectually dishonest, morally hysterical people who demonized Israel, and who tried to exclude, silence, and intimidate anyone who defended her. This was a widespread phenomenon on American and Canadian campuses. It occurred partly on a public stage – the attacks on people like Noni Darwish and Bibi Netanyahu and David Horowitz, and Michael Oren – and partly in a private way – scholars who might challenge these accusations were pointedly dis-invited from the discussion. NE apparently mistakes a situation in which defenders of Israel were systematically intimidated and denied a voice, while rabble rousers with revolutionary agendas held the mikes, for a “vigorous exchange of diverse opinion.”

Nothing better illustrates this off-kilter political register, than Provost Director’s pointing to Northeastern’s bringing Michael Oren, a scholar of impeccable credentials both as an academic and as a public intellectual, as a “balance” to Alice Rothschild. You’d need a Kahanist who wanted to ethnically cleanse the West Bank of Arabs to match her unhinged radical ideas. And yet, no one at Northeastern is going to defend such a racist “right-wing” speaker on the basis of academic freedom. Instead we end up with a spectrum that goes from radical left to a timid center… moderates who, rather than challenge dishonest demonization, plead, “can’t we all just get along?”

Meantime, no one at NE is exposed to anything that is not “peace” oriented. Heaven forbid that students should be exposed to evidence that points out how the peace movement has been hijacked in the service of war.

Indeed, one might conjecture about the reason this “vigorous” voice has become so rhetorically extravagant in its insults against Israel and her defenders. Branding those who object as “racists, fascists and Islamophobes,” serves to intimidate and marginalize an opposition which, if sane people could hear the their voice, would lead them to walk away from this deranged anti-Zionist, anti-democratic discourse, as University of California Berkeley students did when given the choice between the demonizers of “Israel Apartheid Week” and real live Israelis who could contradict their delirious fictions.

And that’s what’s so disturbing about the typical “University” response to objections from Jews to the demonizing of Israel: administrators are in total denial about a serious – some of us think urgent – problem on our campuses today. The voice of a loyal opposition has been banished by the voice of a hostile opposition, which uses a discourse that violates so many of the rules of the “public sphere.” Empirical evidence, disciplined reasoning, honest use of analogies, open and un-coerced consent… all these are key elements of the public sphere, that place where a discourse of fairness and empathy takes place, that oxygen supply of the experiment in freedom and prosperity we are trying, and which, successful, promises a global, multi-cultural, civil society. And all of these are principles that our many case studies violate not on occasion, but as a matter of principle.

On the contrary, far from representing “academic freedom,” these “scholars” and their administrative enablers have politicized an academy made great by its commitment to avoid politicization whenever possible. And rather than having the excuse that they politicize academia to save the world of free inquiry, they do so in the name of some wild moral perfectionism that gives voice to extremists with no respect for our public sphere. Northeast University administrators like Director should consider themselves co-defendants in the recent findings on the administrators at the University of California which…

far from performing their role as the university’s quality control mechanism, now routinely function as the enablers, protectors, and even apologists for the politicized university and its degraded scholarly and educational standards.

This is not a slip or a stumble, this is a catastrophic failure of the last generation which, in the guise of “cutting edge scholarship” in “theories” (post-modern, post-colonial, queer, etc.), bring us dishonest, accusing voices that demonize and scapegoat and never self-criticize. They demand that we believe the voices of the “subaltern” Palestinian “other”; they insist that to question that testimony would be cruel, would be “blaming the victim.” Accordingly, they pump our information system with poisoned lethal narratives, with icons of hatred, which they proudly claim will help make the world a better place. They represent an insane marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism: while Palestinians make the most terrible accusations against Israel, “good Jews” like Alice Rothschild say, “yes, you’re right, we are terrible.”

(Indeed, one has to wonder what happened to Alice as a “child” according to her own “psycho”-analysis of the abuse syndrome – i.e., Jews, having been abused by Nazis, now abuse Palestinians. What abuse has Rothschild experienced that she so abuses her own people? Was it at the hand of her fellow “progressives”?)

This is not just a Jewish question. What the “left” has done to Israel, it does to every other Western nation and culture: it insists we liberals, in order to prove our good will, adopt Islamism’s demonizing narratives about the infidel, especially the Jew. The consequences are terrible for those who, like we Jewish and non-Jewish liberals, in a paroxysm of self-critical good will, accept this dishonest and vicious story about ourselves. But they are in some ways worse for Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim culture, where our acceptance of these hate- and violence-filled lethal narratives strengthens the grip that the producers of this war-mongering propaganda have on their own people. And in the process, peace is the first and last casualty.

One Response to On Moral Sadism and Academic Disorientation: Northeastern’s Hijacked Holocaust Program

  1. DavidS says:

    Richard, I am very glad to see you back to blogging. I hope that you have been busy with other worthy pursuits rather than dealing with personal problems of some kind. Whatever the cause for the break, you have lost none of your eloquence in the interim.

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