The October 7 attack on the people of Israel by agents of Hamas included an indiscriminate rain of missiles on towns and villages, the brutal door-to-door hunt and murder of unarmed civilians, rapes, mutilations, and kidnappings. Some of the victims were American citizens. All civilized people have condemned these atrocities. But not all American college students and faculty members. Instead, a significant faction of the academy has celebrated the atrocities as an act of “decolonization,” “resistance,” or legitimate expression of grievance.
Many college and university presidents, and others in positions of campus authority, have either remained silent in the face of these celebrations of barbarity or have issued temporizing statements that take care not to condemn the views of those who endorse the terrorist attacks.
While there is room for debate about Israel’s policies towards Palestinians in general, there is no legitimate room for debate over Hamas—a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. Temporizing with terrorists or coddling their sympathizers only produces more terrorists and more atrocities.
That said, college students and faculty members have a right to express their opinions peacefully. We at the National Association of Scholars must walk a fine line between respecting the rights of students and faculty members to say abhorrent things, and the need to express the countervailing force of civilized condemnation. What does it mean to tolerate speech while condemning its content? It means to live in the tension of two ideals that sometimes clash. We can and will hold the apologists for terror accountable for their efforts to make atrocities an acceptable part of political disagreement. But we will not reciprocate by silencing them.
The moment calls for something more than a response to the individual students, student groups, and faculty members who have spoken out in support of Hamas or against Israel. Numerous observers have now made the point that the atrocities committed by Hamas have provided a moment of reckoning for American higher education. An unmistakable line has appeared between the apologists for gruesome terror and supporters of civilization. It is the line between those who sow moral confusion and those who uphold a basic moral order.
Anyone who cannot draw a compelling distinction between the agents of Hamas, who behead babies, and the agents of Israel, who are attempting to defeat Hamas, forfeits the respect due to those who hold positions of authority in our institutions. By all means, let those who justify and celebrate evil display exhibit themselves publicly and express their views. But they should not do so with the expectation that their colleges and universities will treat this as an excess of youthful exuberance or coherent protest against what they see as “settler colonialism.”
But here another element comes into play. How does it happen that so many students in our elite colleges and universities deploy terms such as “settler colonialism” to characterize the state of Israel and to invalidate the rights of Israeli citizens? Have they studied Middle Eastern history in any depth? Apparently not, but they have certainly encountered—and uncritically absorbed—the clichés of the anti-Semitic left. That has happened in their college classrooms.
The National Association of Scholars has for many years pointed to the growing domination of college campuses by proponents of anti-democratic, anti-American, and anti-Western ideologues. The results of that domination extend far beyond the current war and its tensions. We have kept our eyes on adversaries of the United States such as China, Russia, and Iran, who have gained privileged access to our universities. That includes actual members of Hamas studying with student visas arranged by our universities.
This picture of American higher education as the primary institution to further the interests of those who hate our country is now beginning to register with formerly complacent members of the public. Americans generally like to think the best of our institutions, even when they sometimes fall short. That the Hamas atrocities have attracted highly visible supporters on college campuses has shocked many Americans out of their complacency. They are further shocked that so many college presidents have hesitated to criticize Hamas’s apologists or have drawn a moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas.
This moment, I hasten to add, will not last. Complacency is a comfortable bed and many will return to it. Consider what happened after the September 11 terrorist attacks. For a while, the nation was unified in its horror, grief, and anger. But soon the progressive left crafted a new narrative in which America itself was somehow the “root cause” of the attack.
The both-sides-are-to-be-blamed false equivalency has already been proclaimed by some cultural authorities and promoted by the mainstream press. It is a matter of time before Americans again lose sight of how awful much of American higher education has become in its anti-Semitic undertones and its desire to promote “global liberation.” Liberation from what? Liberation from civilization itself.
So let us rise to the moment while it lasts. This is a moment when both criticism and condemnation are indeed necessary: criticism of the inhumanity of those who celebrate cruelty, and condemnation of the ideology that makes such repugnant views persuasive to many faculty and students and compelling to those so credulous as to indulge it.
That ideology has several names, among them decolonization, postcolonialism, resistance, antiracism, and liberating violence. For more than half a century, academe has provided a haven for those who teach these doctrines in an effort to destabilize the foundations of the liberal order. That attack encompasses polemics against Christianity, Judaism, and secular conceptions of moral obligation and the rule of law. By extending a warrant of justified revolt against moral order and the rule of law by some who are deemed to have suffered “systemically” under the existing order, the proponents of these views have set the stage for the moral catastrophe we now witness.
This must end. The leaders of higher education in the United States must speak forthrightly in defense of civilization. If they don’t, then we must as a public lawfully liberate our campuses from foolish solidarity with doctrines aimed at justifying cruelty, anti-Semitism, and the gross abrogation of basic humanity.