For the past decade, universities in North America and in the English-speaking world have declared partisan and ideological positions that negated the traditional academic principle of institutional neutrality.
As a result of the unintentional death of George Floyd, almost all Canadian and American universities declared that they were aligned with Black Lives Matter, in spite of the Marxist and antisemitic views of the BLM-sponsoring organization. But, in response to the recent Hamas atrocities in Israel, the murder of 1,200+ unarmed civilians, the burning alive of children, the murder of infants, the raping and murder of girls and women, and the violation of elderly people, no university has managed to say Jewish Lives Matter.
We have seen across a multitude of Canadian and American universities student groups declaring their solidarity with the Palestinians and celebrating the Hamas “victory.” They fly Palestinian flags and display posters of the hang gliders used by Hamas. They chant “from the river to the sea,” the Palestinian slogan meaning the total destruction of Israel. While the Hamas founding charter directs it to destroy Israel, it also commits it to kill all Jews in Israel and beyond. Not all student groups make this explicit, but calls to “gas the Jews” have reportedly been heard.
Official university responses to student enthusiasm for atrocities against Jews have been mild at best, expressing reservations about violence; none to my knowledge have condemned Hamas.
“It is particularly distressing to see recent social media posts by an association known as ‘Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights’, which publicly associates itself with McGill University. The University denounces these abhorrent posts, which celebrate recent acts of terror and violence that have resulted in widespread loss of human life.”
But McGill didn’t stop with a righteous sentiment. It disenfranchised the group in question:
“Given the incendiary content of the SPHR’s recent posts, I have directed the Deputy Provost to inform the SSMU [the Students’ Society of McGill University] that SPHR’s use of the University’s name is non-compliant with the terms of the MOA [the Memorandum of Agreement between the Students’ Society and the University] and, furthermore, to revoke permission for this club to use the McGill name and take whatever other measures might be necessary to rectify the situation.”
In this, as in some previous cases, McGill University has maintained some degree of sanity, as most other Canadian universities have gone completely far-left extremist, coddling antisemites.
Hatred of Jews and of Israel is now widespread and virulent in universities across (what was once) the Western world. Of course, vilifying Jews, discriminating against them, stealing from, exiling, and murdering Jews has been a 2,000-year-old habit in the Christian and then Muslim spheres of influence. This culminated in the Holocaust, the half-successful Nazi genocide against the Jews.
There have always been justifications, that is to say, rationalizations, for Jew hatred and abuse. But Jew hatred in our universities rests on two updated academic theories: Marxist-Leninist “postcolonial theory” and critical race theory.
Postcolonial theory rightly states that imperial conquest and colonial occupation has a major deleterious effect on the indigenous population. But then, quite oddly, asserts that all of the problems in the world are due to European imperialism and only European imperialism. The world’s long history of many imperial states, including current non-European ones, is ignored. No mention is made of Islamic Imperialism in which Bedouin tribes from Arabia conquered and occupied half the world, from Arabia to the Mediterranean, from India to Morocco, from the Maghreb to Sicily and Iberia. Nor do we hear of China’s current imperialism and colonialism in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia, and now reaching out into the Pacific. No, only Europeans are to blame.
Postcolonial theory is the most popular and dominant theory in anthropology; even the archeologists claim adherence to the gospel. All of the other social sciences have also been contaminated. The application of this theory to Israel takes considerable contortions, given that Jews were the indigenous population when Rome invaded, that Jews in the diaspora were subjugated, and that Israel was founded by homeless refugees as part of a liberation movement of the Jewish people. Nonetheless, Israel is characterized by postcolonial theorists as a colonial settler state that oppresses the “indigenous” Palestinian population, most of whom came from Syria and Egypt in recent times.
Critical race theory, a neo-Marxist racial class theory, hits both Israel and Jews everywhere. In Israel, Jews are classified as white and Palestinians as “people of color,” although many Jews are of Middle Eastern origin and are physically indistinguishable from Palestinians, who have always been classified as white. This application of American racial categories is nonsense, but serves to activate BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) against Israel.
Critical race theory also vilifies Jews everywhere, classing them as white, white adjacent, or hyperwhite, and therefore vicious oppressors of BIPOC. It’s odd that Jews were only recognized as white once it became a bad thing. So Jews, like white people, are deemed oppressors on campus, and increasingly excluded and attacked. But Jewish supporters of Israel get both barrels as oppressors at home and abroad.
If you wonder why university students celebrate the barbaric atrocities of Hamas, the lies of postcolonial theory and critical race theory explain a good part of it. The other part is our honoring student identities, Middle Eastern identities among them, rather than Canadian and American identities. This is what comes of multiculturalism and the rejection of national identities.
Our universities today don’t reflect the American values I grew up with, or the Canadian values I have come to know during my long working life. Freedom of speech and conscience, equality before the law, promotion through merit and achievement, equality of opportunity, and the search for truth have all been thrown out in favor of virtue signaling through preferential treatment of some categories of people over others.
In Canada, the weak Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been sidelined by the government and officially replaced by “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” But in the United States, presumably the Constitution and civil rights law still reign. Public universities are legally required to abide by the Constitution, but even private universities, almost all funded one way or another by the government, cannot flout government directives.
The U.S. Supreme Court has recently rebuked universities for unconstitutional racist admissions policies. Some Republican-governed states have passed measures to rein in the excesses of “social justice” discrimination and exclusion. All public universities are funded largely by tax dollars, and state legislatures and provincial legislatures in Canada have the capability to impose conditions on their grants.
Although politicians don’t usually want to get involved in the internal affairs of universities, universities have been so corrupted, and are so blatant in their violation of values, principles, and laws, that legislators have a duty to intervene. Universities today don’t serve their countries and the citizens, but undermine them. They should be stopped.
Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University and Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.