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

American’s for Peace and Tolerance has come out with a documentary on Northeastern’s Holocaust Memorial Program. Charles Jacobs published a column in the Jewish Advocate summarizing his criticisms.
If it’s anything like the responses from the University of California system to similar criticisms, one can easily imagine the response from Northeastern. They’ll gloss over the problems and present Northeastern University as a thriving, vibrant, intellectual community committed to vigorous open debate, and complain that Jacobs has made a tempest out of a teapot.

But dismissing multiple examples of previous intellectual and moral abuse of the Holocaust program at Northeastern, expresses either a lack of awareness or a dishonesty about the nature of this abuse. That there are 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 demonizes Israel by comparing it 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 they will predictably call diversity and vigorous debate actually means shutting down precisely the kind of debate that needs to take place, in which the accusations against Israeli andPalestinian leadership and combatants for the endless war, are submitted to fair and balanced inquiry.
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, Palestinian refugees, stateless, whose “authorities” bully and intimidate the press, who usestorture 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 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 because he resists being forced 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 left 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 the effort, for example, at Harvard, to balance a “One State Conference” dedicated to Israel’s elimination with Zionist moderates: Stanley Fischer, Dennis Ross and Larry Sommers. For Northeastern to “balance” someone like Alice Rothschild, you’d need a Kahanist who wanted to ethnically cleanse the West Bank of Arabs. And yet, no one at Northeastern, Jews above all, 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 of demonization 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 the opposition because if people could hear the evidence, they would walk away from their deranged anti-Zionist, anti-democratic discourse.

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. NE administrators 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.

A note from Americans for Peace and Tolerance:

In response to Charles Jacobs’ op-ed the Provost of Northeastern Univeristy Stephen W. Director published the following letter to the editor in The Jewish Advocate on April 6, 2012

NU rejects Jacobs’ attack

An opinion piece by Charles Jacobs (“At Northeastern, an abused remembrance,” March 30) troubled many people within and outside the Northeastern University community. Jacobs distorts the facts by cherry picking random examples (many of them quite dated) that he believes reflect negatively on Northeastern.

Jacobs’ conclusions are completely unfounded, and we reject them. The present-day facts are clear: Northeastern is fully supportive of Jewish life and learning – through faculty appointments, research partnerships, student experiences and a range of campus events.

Recently, we have appointed two noted scholars to important faculty positions: Professor Lori Lefkovitz, holder of the Morton B. Ruderman chair, who leads the Jewish Studies Program; and Laurel Leff, the new holder of the Bernard Stotsky Professorship.

The purpose of Holocaust Awareness Week at Northeastern (which is taking place this week) is to remember and to never forget. This is the principle that guides our programming this year and into the future. We are hosting important events to foster Holocaust awareness including the film “Elusive Justice: The Search for Nazi War Criminals,” and a talk by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon.

Later this month, Ambassador Michael Oren will speak to students, faculty, staff about Israel’s strong relationship with the US.

The university has a leading Birthright program, a range of educational opportunities for our students in Israel and internships in a variety of domestic Jewish organizations. In addition, we have an important research partnership with the Technion Institute focused on security issues.

Northeastern is and will remain committed to fostering a vibrant Jewish community on campus. We’re the better for it.


Provost, Northeastern University

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