My tailor grandfather taught me the difference between being a Jew and being honored.
When I was a little boy, holding my grandfather’s hand as we exited the synagogue, all the well-dressed people were walking around a disheveled, crying man at the bottom of the steps. My grandfather immediately went up to him and asked what was the matter. Years later, my grandfather told me that the man replied with sobs that he’d lost his job because of drinking, his wife had left him after he had an affair, and he was too ashamed of what had happened to his life to come into synagogue. My grandfather took him by the hand and in they went, me trailing behind.
Afterwards I asked my grandfather why he hadn’t also invited the man home with us for supper. My grandfather answered that as long as the man behaved, he should be welcome in synagogue, but due to how he had behaved toward his responsibilities he wasn’t welcome in his house. Any Jew who wants to join communal prayers can do so. Any Jew who dishonors his people doesn’t deserve to be honored.
Our universities used to be called temples of learning but most universities have relaxed their former standards, as have many Jews.
This past academic year, two disputes erupted at my alma mater, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and the most recent escalated from CUNY’s John Jay College to the decision by the full Board of CUNY’s Trustees being reversed by a small inside committee. All three became major brouhahas in the press and blogosphere. In all three cases, misleading, false and slanderous narratives about Arab-Americans, Palestinians, and Israel were honored by CUNY. Those who challenged those narratives were branded as foes of academic freedom or free speech. Shouts of academic freedom and free speech were red herrings to obscure that the choice of a book as the sole required reading for all incoming students was built on clearly erroneous statistics about discrimination toward Arab-Americans and attacked US foreign policy in support of Israel, that the choice of an adjunct to teach Middle East Politics is an avid supporter of Gaza and foe toward Israel, and the choice of a playwright to receive an honorary degree ignored his repeated extremist derogations of modern Israel as a nation that shouldn’t have been created and that engages in a policy of “ethnic cleansing.”
There is no right to be honored, academic, First Amendment or otherwise. They may be allowed to speak at the university if meeting standards of scholarship but the university administration may rightfully refuse to invite or honor those who do not merit honor into the house to sup, not to mention sit at the head of the table.
The sad fact is that in these three egregious incidents the majority of politically liberal Jews were either indifferent or attacked those who stand in opposition of the anti-Israel tide engulfing academia.
Not surprisingly in NYC, with its concentration of Jews and of Jews who are prominent in liberal causes, these incidents revealed a schism within Jewry. There are those, most, who will not tolerate Israel being slandered or its extremist foes honored, or who care deeply about the credibility of our universities as temples of scholarship. There are those who care more deeply about liberal causes, who are very rarely if at all heard from when non-liberals rights are trampled, when Israel is under attack, or when scholarship is devalued by schlock offerings.
The liberal intelligentsia in New York City believe they are open-minded people, although their minds are only open to their own visions. Those visions endanger support for CUNY and Israel’s survival, and undermine the respect that true academic freedom and free speech deserve. There is a real line between informed criticism and outrageous, poorly supported slurs. There is a real line between actual academic freedom and free speech and abuse of them. There is a difference between being a Jew and honorable, or being honored made meaningless in these three instances by those of Jewish background defending the dishonorable and breaking bread with them or by leaders of major Jewish organizations lacking the clarity and spine to defend Israel and universities from those who would forfeit them to boors.
The reviewer in The Jewish Daily Forward of Tony Kushner’s latest play, who says his “politics aren’t far from Kushner’s” says of Kushner’s “true purpose: eulogizing the fate of communist politics in present-day America.” Placing our rightful concerns for “social justice” above all else is a prescription for opening our house’s doors without concern for our own honor or survival. When you are facing in the wrong direction, progress means walking backwards. That’s “progressive” thought tearing down the standards of the university by extolling and honoring those opposed to hard-won Western civilization and decency.
My immigrant grandfather voted on New York’s Socialist Party line, and he knew the difference between right and wrong. So must we American Jewish heirs to what his generation built, here, in our universities, and in Israel.
Tracked: May 18, 15:07
Here are this weeks full results: Council Winners First place with 3 2/3 votes! The Colossus of Rhodey-Why We Dont Revere Our Intellectuals Second place with 2 1/3 votes Joshuapundit-Historical Resonance, Barack Obama And The Coming Election Third place t with 2 votes Snapped Shot-Shooting al-Aqsa Third place t with 2 votes The Noisy Room-A Kinder, Gentler Hatchet Job Fourth place with 1 1/3 vote The Glittering Eye Why does The Unemployment Rate Stay So High? Fifth place with 1 vote Bookworm Room Community Servitude Sixth place t with 1/3 vote New...
Tracked: May 21, 14:03