by Lev Tsitrin
Empathy and sensitivity are, needless to say, highly commendable; yet there can be too much of a good thing. “Rutgers University chancellor, provost apologize after speaking out against increase in anti-Semitism” offers a fascinating instance of sensitivity overload.
In a nutshell, here is what apparently happened: Rutgers sent out an e-mail to its student body expressing alarm at the rise of anti-Semitic incidents and advising Jewish students on how to report instances of anti-Semitism on campus.
Apparently, there was blow-back, and the next day an apology was sent out, acknowledging that the prior e-mail “failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members,” and affirming “condemnation of all forms of bigotry and hatred, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
There is a good deal to unpack here. Firstly, why would anyone object to a condemnation of anti-Semitism, unless they are themselves anti-Semites? Rutgers’ apology was thus issued to placate the very anti-Semites (or, as the apology letter put it, “our Palestinian community members” and their supporters– who were apparently outraged at Israel for defending itself against the rocket fire from Gaza) whom the original e-mail condemned.
That’s schizophrenic. Why apologize to people you condemn? Having gotten some flack from them, why not show them the error of their ways? Why not send a follow-up saying “we see from the response that not all on campus got the memo that anti-Semitism is wrong and unacceptable and that we won’t tolerate it?” Why include anti-Semites into “our vibrant diversity” when they don’t recognize Jews as fellow human beings? Why cravenly “take the lesson learned here to heart, and pledge our commitment to doing better”? What lesson did you learn from anti-Semitic howls you must have received in response to your e-mail, Rutgers? How is coddling to anti-Semites “better” than, yet again, condemning them?
And why the ritualistic putting of “anti-Semitism and Islamophobia” on the same line, as if they were one and the same — when in fact they are fundamentally different? Anti-Semitism is attributing to Jews the nefarious intentions they don’t have, and the actions they did not commit. The medieval blood libel of accusing Jews of ritually using Christian blood, is one such myth. The coordinated attempt to take over the world, as “recorded” in the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” is another. Anti-Semitism is based on myths that have no real existence, myths the are engendered by, and dwell in, the anti-Semite’s own sick mind — it is a self-imagined, self-sustained, outrage. An anti-Semite sees in a Jew the physical incarnation of his deep-seated fears and insecurities; he looks at a Jew — a biped just like himself — but sees a fire-breathing dragon instead. Anti-Semitism is irrational and sick.
Islamophobia, however, is a result of very recent, actual experience of a well-justified fear, a rational fear which started with the attack of 9/11, and kept reinforcing itself with attacks all over the world — in Spain, England, France, Belgium, the Philippines, attacks that accompany Islamists’ idolatrous claims to “true faith” that to them justifies their vision of world-wide domination, to be gained by intimidating us into submission. It is a fear of suicide bombers, it is a fear of Iran’s ayatollahs, of ISIS, of al Qaeda, of another 9/11. This fear is not irrational at all. If anti-Semitism is an irrational fear of dragons that has been transferred onto humans, irrational not least because dragons don’t exist, “Islamophobia” is very much akin to a fear of crocodiles. Crocodiles do exist — and we better stay away from them, for our own safety. “Anti-Semitism” and “Islamophobia” don’t belong in the same line any more that dragons and crocodiles do: one is a fairy-tale myth, another, a zoological fact. The former needs not give us shivers, the latter, very much should.
We live among many dangers, and it is important to be able to tell them apart, and be rational about them. Acting against innocent people because one is scared of a myth — as anti-Semites do — should be condemned, and Rutgers’ initial e-mail served that purpose well. Apologizing to those who see their pet mythology of a demonic Jew assailed, as Rutger’s follow-up apology did, has no useful purpose at all; nor does its equation of the fact and the myth, evident in the equal sign placed between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. No institution of learning, Rutgers including, should engage in coddling up to what is worst in humanity — an irrational surrender to a sick mythology — at the expense of a clear vision of what is right, and what is wrong, of what is the fact, and what is fiction.
A university is no a place for factual relativism. It is a place of enlightening, not darkening the mind — and its leaders should not apologize to anti-Semites, those forces of deep, irrational darkness.