The Hamas attack on Israel and the Israeli response have elicited a wave of antisemitic activity on U.S. campuses. In theory, the huge and costly administrative structures that claim to protect students against bias would swing into action. None did.
It has been glaringly obvious that the infamous profusion of “DEI” offices at colleges offers zero protection to Jewish students. As Armin Rosen wrote in Tablet,
The nation’s army of campus DEI staff presumably exists for moments like this one, where an already unpopular minority group confronts an unanticipated surge of stress and potential danger. Yet DEI offices haven’t even bothered with pro forma expressions of fake concern. This week, I called or emailed over a dozen equity divisions at prominent colleges and universities to ask whether they had released any statements, held any events, or created any new programming for Jewish students since the Hamas rampage of October 7 and the wave of campus unrest that followed. The answer is no—of course not.
This should not be a surprise, because those offices do not view Jews as a group they should be protecting nor do they view Zionism as a cause they favor.
How, with all this in view, should Jewish organizations react? There are two possible paths. The Jewish organizations might play along, pleading that Jews really are an oppressed group too and should fit within the DEI guidelines. Or they could state what seems to me obvious: that these DEI bureaucracies have grown too large and expensive, and are by dividing students into oppressed groups and their oppressors teaching students pernicious lessons about the world—and about Jews.
Sadly but unsurprisingly, too many Jewish organizations have chosen that first path: pleading that DEI is fine but Jews need it too.
As Haley Cohen reported in Jewish Insider,
But even as there’s been an opportunity for Jewish leaders to confront the systemic challenges within the DEI system, leading Jewish communal organizations are still preferring to work within that system — urging universities to better incorporate Jews into an oppressor-oppressed hierarchy, instead of calling on them to dismantle the ideology behind it altogether.
The director of academic affairs at the American Jewish Committee said “We tend not to take an overly divisive approach when it comes to DEI….We hope we can create initiatives that actually work within DEI structures if those are the structures being used on campus….”
The senior vice president and chief impact officer at the ADL said ADL’s solution is “universities fixing their DEI to include antisemitism and Jews so that their student body understands antisemitism” so as “to get universities to step up and reverse the dangerous situation they’ve created.” He continued that “One of our core asks for all colleges is that DEI policies and trainings include antisemitism....[The DEI framework] can be applied in an antisemitic way but I think it can also be applied in a way that respects and brings light and makes people understand antisemitism.”
I would be tempted to say “good luck with that,” but it’s absolutely the wrong approach. Jamming an antisemitism course into a framework, and a staff, created for entirely different purposes is a formula for resentment and failure. ADL’s own CEO has said that “The failure of many of these DEI offices to effectively respond to the crisis right now is quite an indictment– it just is.” Right—and it just will be a month and a year from now. The whole theology—and it is a theology, not social science—of the DEI approach is to divide American society into two groups, oppressed and oppressor. The solution that Jewish organizations should be seeking is to destroy that approach, not to shoehorn Jews into a “better” position by showing how oppressed Jews have been and in some ways and some places still are. This is the equivalent of saying the “1619 Project” is a terrific way to understand American history, but gee there were no Jews here in 1619 so don’t blame the Jews that America is irretrievably racist. It is the equivalent of arguing that Zionism would be racism if there were only European descendants there in Israel but the majority of citizens are now descended from people who fled Arab states. It has never worked and it never will.
Such an approach accepts the basic principles being offered by the DEI approach and simply adds special pleading for Jewish inclusion. It’s demeaning, morally wrong, and it won’t work.
It may be that many U.S. colleges are now so morally corrupt as to be irredeemable. Jews send their children to such places at real peril, for they will be taught that their society—and by extension the way their parents and grandparents have lived their lives, and of course the cause of Zionism and the State of Israel as well—deserve nothing but condemnation. Whatever the best reaction to that may be (and the simplest would seem to be to look for colleges that may be less prestigious but still believe in a true liberal education), it cannot be special pleading that Jews in Israel and the United States are oppressed too.