This article originally appeared in UnHerd.
By Eric Kaufmann, December 8, 2023
Antisemitism on campus is intimately tied to the loss of viewpoint diversity which has occurred in the US, Britain and other parts of the Anglosphere since the mid-1960s.
Congressional hearings on antisemitism at elite US universities revealed that the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania were unwilling to answer in the affirmative to the question: “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your university’s] code of conduct or rules regarding bullying or harassment?” As it happens, I agree with the Washington Post’s Jason Willick, who remarked that these leaders were correct, under First Amendment jurisprudence, to reject the idea that talk of genocide should automatically lead to punishment. The problem, of course, is that these colleges are extremely hypocritical, clamping down on any speech which might offend totemic minorities (BIPOC, LGBTQ) while clinging to a First Amendment justification for tolerating antisemitism.
Financier and Harvard alumnus Bill Ackman has admitted he was unaware of the scale of the radical takeover at top universities until antisemitic incidents made headlines. In an open letter, he drew attention to Harvard’s persistent bottom-ranking performance on the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE)’s free speech rankings — a stark contrast to their free speech rationale for permitting students to disrupt and intimidate Jewish students on campus. He traces this to a generalised hostility to whiteness and sympathy for nonwhite — especially black and indigenous — voices. Issues such as Israel-Palestine have come to be processed through this absolutist racial lens in which Jews are assigned the role of white oppressor and Palestinians that of colonised people of colour.
Ackman quoted a series of faculty members, who describe Harvard as “loud” and “hate-filled” where “protests appear to be encouraged, but where faculty and students can’t share points of view that are inconsistent with the accepted narrative on campus.”
This gets to the nub of the issue. The loss of viewpoint diversity among the professoriate has opened the door to radicalism. The scale of the shift is breathtaking. To take one example from social psychology: Jonathan Haidt and his collaborators showed a major shift from a 2:1 Left-to-Right ratio among staff in 1960 to around a 14:1 ratio in the 2010s. At Harvard, academic political donations data shows that around 99% goes to the Democrats, with only 1% to the Republicans.
As Cass Sunstein, among others, has pointed out using data on judicial panels, when viewpoint diversity is lost, there are no counterarguments to the dominant position and decisions are more extreme. People lose touch with reality as like-minded individuals confirm their biases. People push each other toward extremes while rewards flow to those who exemplify the progressive values of the community rather than those who synthesise competing positions.
As with Islamic fundamentalism in a pious Muslim society, with no cross-cutting values to the dominant ones, people find it difficult to argue against zealots who say the sexes should be separated and women shouldn’t drive. Likewise, on campus, even centrist Left-liberals find it hard to answer back to radicals who justify their claims using the shared equity and care/harm framework of moral foundations. This is compounded by the increasing moral absolutism of Gen-Z, which has rendered young university students more intolerant than in the past.
The combination is toxic, driving political minorities like gender-critical feminists, conservatives, zionists and even ordinary Jews into hiding.
Eric Kaufmann is a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London.