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Stopping Campus Antisemitism Requires Confronting The Marxism Behind It

Vile campus antisemitism is the culmination of years of ideological drift, cyclically driven and reinforced by students, faculty, and bureaucracy.

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“Magill last week made a very unfortunate misstep. … Following that, it became clear that her position was no longer tenable.” With these words, the University of Pennsylvania’s then-board Chair Scott Bok announced the resignation of President Liz Magill. 

“Unfortunate misstep” is an understatement for what Magill and two other Ivy League presidents actually did in a hearing earlier this month. When asked whether calls for genocide against Jews violate their campuses’ harassment policies, all three declined to state in the affirmative. That’s not a misstep — it’s a full-blown scandal. 

Still, thanks to well-merited backlash from donors, trustees, and alumni, Magill is out, and some modicum of sanity has returned to the Ivy League. Or has it? 

On one hand, it is a welcome sign of cultural sanity when elites rebuke pro-terrorist protesters and deplorably weak administrators at our most prestigious universities. It shows that common sense can still prevail in our country — at least when it becomes too embarrassing or expensive for people to ignore it.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t congratulate ourselves when leftist institutions make some tiny concession. We can’t fool ourselves that removing one university president or rescinding a few hundred-million-dollar donations will deliver us from left-wing extremism. The truth is that our societal rot goes far too deep for that.

The vile displays of antisemitism on the campuses of Penn, Harvard, MIT, and other schools in the wake of the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas terrorist attacks were not sudden breaks from normalcy. Celebrating the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust and blatantly calling for genocide — these transgressions are notable for the degree of their depravity, but they are simply the culmination of years of ideological drift, cyclically driven and reinforced by students, faculty, and bureaucracy.

The same radicals who gave us “from the river to the sea” and “Intifada” gave us so-called “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” three magic words that permitted Penn to put a man on the women’s swim team and pushed Wellesley College to become co-ed — while remaining an “all-girls” institution. 

The same radicals who gave us DEI gave us “Black Lives Matter,” a seemingly innocuous phrase whose calculated circulation and embrace justified countless instances of violence and looting — and empowered a racist, anti-American group that has now openly aligned itself with Hamas. 

Before BLM, they gave us violent protests against conservative speakers. Before that, they gave us the safe-space craze, which jeopardized campus free speech and made a mockery of academic inquiry. The list goes on.

These movements aren’t identical. Nevertheless, if people who are outraged about today’s outpouring of antisemitism truly want change in the Ivy League and beyond, they need to be willing to oppose all of them — because they are all connected by the same thread of Marxism that threatens academic integrity and the American way of life.

I use that word very intentionally. I know “Marxism” has a history of being misused and overused. But there is no better way to describe the ideological narratives responsible for the past decade of “woke” craziness at colleges and universities. 

Like communism before them, these left-wing cultural narratives divide the world into oppressed and oppressors. The so-called “LGBT community” versus the “straight-cisgender patriarchy.” “People of color” versus “white people.” “Native Palestinians” versus “Zionist colonizers.”

These categories erase individuality for the sake of group identification. They also replace the Judeo-Christian understanding of personal responsibility for evil — an understanding upon which our entire legal system is built — with a perverse conception of zero-sum group power dynamics.

Finally, like other Marxist ideologies before them, these narratives eventually legitimize violence against the alleged “oppressors.” This might look like twisting a professor’s neck. It might look like a “night of rage” against crisis pregnancy centers. It might look like days of rioting, looting, and vandalism in our cities. It might look like shouting, “Gas the Jews.” However it appears, whatever its flavor, violence is the end of the road. Because, if politics is reduced to zero-sum power dynamics, it is an acceptable answer to perceived injustice.

I say this with confidence, as none of this is new. Marxist intellectuals of the 19th and 20th centuries said as much long ago. Jean-Paul Sartre argued that revolutionary murder is therapeutic. Frantz Fanon did the same. Noam Chomsky defended Pol Pot. All three have a longstanding cult among leftist professors and college students. 

As Ross Douthat observes, the current outbreak of campus antisemitism is just a resurgence of “impeccably left-wing sentiments, commonplace in the not-so-distant past, with a long pedigree in the Marxist-Leninist and anticolonial visions that exerted so much sway (and killed so many people) across the 20th century.” In short, this is so much bigger than pro-Hamas demonstrations.

Are we willing to confront the depths of this evil in response? Are elites willing to reject the whole ideological thread, not just its most recent manifestations? 

It’s an open question, but I hope the answer is yes. Unless we say no to the Marxist revolutionaries, they will continue to gain ground in the academy and beyond. And the American values that stand in their way — from equality under the law to the very existence of individual rights — will be slowly chipped away for anyone the left accuses of “wrongthink.”

If that happens, no amount of censure and discipline from our corporate class will be able to make the madness stop. 


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