University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill is the first to lose her job in the controversy over a wave of antisemitism at elite college campuses across the country. The outbreak of Jew-hatred has me worried because it does not bode well for America’s future as an open, ever-improving multiethnic democracy.
Since the takeover of higher education by the diversity, equity and inclusion ideology in the early years of the 21st century, we have trained more than a generation of students that the core reality of American life is an intersectional complex of interlocking oppression where our identity determines our role as oppressor or victim.
They have been taught that neutral liberties, such as freedom of speech, are actually tools of the oppressor that must be overthrown. It is no coincidence that UPenn finished second to last in the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s rating of the free speech environment on campus.
This generation has been taught that life’s minor irritations in a bumptious, diverse society are microaggressions that are a critical civil rights battleground. Moreover, they have been taught that “any means necessary” is justified in fighting oppression. Out is the nonviolence of Martin Luther King. In is the antisemitic violence that cost Penn’s president her job.
It is important to know how this ideology became fertile ground for antisemitism, for I fear we are going to see more of it. In the years since George Floyd’s murder, the DEI ideology has spread from elite campuses to state schools, the media, corporate HR departments and anywhere young knowledge workers hold sway. Even in high school, students are afraid to be branded as heretics to DEI’s orthodoxies. Here in Kansas and Missouri, state schools demand prospective faculty genuflect to the ideology with a mandatory “DEI statement.”
Adherents of the DEI ideology as taught at Penn have defined Israel as a white, colonial settler-state, and the Jews who live there as oppressors of the Palestinians. Thus when on Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists raped and pillaged their way across the Israeli countryside taking grandmothers hostage and setting babies afire in their cribs, Penn, its elite sister schools and many schools that aspire to such heights broke out in cries of the genocidal slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
DEI leads to praising Hamas terrorists as heroes
It is no accident that those students endorsed with that phrase a “Judenrein Palestine,” for oppressors deserve no quarter and “any means” is justified in ending oppression. At Harvard, MIT and Penn — and too many other places — the thugs of Hamas are not terrorists; they’re anti-colonial heroes.
And this is what has me worried. For if Israel is a white, colonial settler-state that America’s elite students have been taught to hate, and if that ideology is spreading to state schools and society at large, what else is a white, colonial settler-state?
America is. And if anything, students are being taught that America is worse. Israel, after all, does not stand accused of kidnapping and enslaving the Palestinians or using germ warfare to weaken its colonial victims.
Today, schools from elite universities on down dwell in great detail on America’s colonial-era sins. If violence, even genocide, is justified against Israel, then surely the same must be appropriate for America. In the argot of the 9/11 terrorists and the Iranian mullahs, what’s good for the “little Satan” is good for the “great Satan.”
Don’t get me wrong. I think all of America’s sins, all of them, should be taught to students from an early age, but there are two ways the American story can be taught — as DEI would have it, a tale of hate and oppression still embodied in the very foundations of our society — or as American patriots see it — a saga of hope and progress, of a nation always striving to be better that has made itself a democratic beacon of opportunity for the world.
The antisemitism spreading from America’s elite campuses is not just a threat to Jews who have made America their home. Rather, it is a threat to America itself because Jews and Israel are being targeted for how they are like us, not how they are different.
American education doesn’t need more rolling heads like that of Penn’s president, but it does need reform at a deep level. Educators in America need to decide that they are about building what makes America great, not tearing her down so they can build something new.
David Mastio, a former editor and columnist for USA Today, is a regional editor for The Center Square and a regular Star Opinion correspondent.