The Volokh Conspiracy

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"Antisemitic Invective" at the University of Michigan Law School

The only announcements on the law student listserv that attract hateful commentary are from the Jewish Law Students Association


[Author's note: I published a significantly longer version of this post at the Times of Israel.]

I recently posted an article about the increasingly hostile environment Jewish students face at elite law schools. Within hours, I heard from Michigan Law students upset and concerned about what one called "antisemitic invective" on a student email listserv called LawOpen, a listserv used almost entirely for student-group events and to resell tickets.

Students representing the Jewish Law Students Association sent out two separate emails, each advertising an event. The first announced an anti-bias event sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the prominent (and very liberal) Jewish civil rights organization. The second announced that students could apply for a trip to Israel.

The ADL email was met with unhinged invective. One student wrote, among other things, that ADL is a "hateful group" that, among other things, supports "racist, militarized policing." Moreover, the student claimed that ADL's anti-bias work "centers the experience of white Jewish people" and therefore "is not true anti-bias work."

A second student accused ADL of being a "pro-racism organization" and supporting this accusation with a laundry list of charges ranging from the grossly exaggerated to the inventively imaginative. As a rather clear example of the latter, the student claimed that ADL tried to squash medical and social recognition of AIDS. Right-wing hate groups and the Nation of Islam have made wild charges against the ADL in the past, but even after consulting Dr. Google and inquiring with antisemitism experts, I couldn't find a source for that one.

More disheartening to me than the nutty conspiratorial emails about the ADL is the reaction of the rest of the students, which was that no one objected to this absurd calumny. One student raised the question of why this particular event attracted so much vitriol: "We don't have a whole public discourse on every event that FedSoc [the conservative Federalist Society] puts on, in fact any discourse at all, and they're FedSoc."

The second mail, about the trip to Israel, was met with the response, "Enjoy the apartheid with your falafel!" Things deteriorated from there into a very long thread full of fact-challenged denunciations of Israel. Early in the thread, one student interjected that it "makes me really uncomfortable when the only events or announcements that are quickly and harshly disparaged on lawopen happen to be those that deal with Israel or Jewish organizations that hold certain viewpoints on Israel." This had no effect.

Consciously antisemitic or not, the threads at the very minimum reflect a complete lack of concern for the sensibilities of Jewish students at Michigan Law School. Every other group on campus (even the conservative FedSoc!) advertises whatever events they want, no matter how controversial, without provoking enmity. It's only the Jewish law student group that attracts such a reaction, and that reaction continued even after a student pointed out that his colleagues were singling out the Jewish student association's posts.

If this were an isolated incident, I wouldn't have bothered writing about it. But there have been a series of recent related incidents at other elite law schools. The Yale Law Journal brought in an antisemitic "diversity trainer," without any significant soul-searching thereafter. NYU students boldly proclaimed that "Zionists" control the media, and continued to do so even after the fact that this is an antisemitic trope was made clear to them. Georgetown Law Center's Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a speaker with a long history of antisemitic statements, and declined to cancel his invitation when this history was publicized. The law school administration said nothing, even while it was busy denouncing and investigating Ilya Shapiro for an ill-phrased tweet about President Biden's promise to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court. And some of the most prominent law student groups at Berkeley have vowed not to invite any "Zionist speakers" to speak on any issue, in theory precluding the vast majority of Jews from speaking at their events.

Coincidentally, Tablet recently published a piece by Jacob Savage about how Jews are gradually disappearing from visible places in American life where they were once prominent. He blames this on woke and DEI considerations, though in my view broader factors are also at work. But Jews are clearly being pushed out of progressive political spaces. Jews are deemed to be, at best, generically white, more often "privileged whites," and, increasingly, "privileged whites who use their privilege to support Israel's oppression of people of color in Palestine." Under any of those perspectives, Jewish sensibilities don't count on the woke left, at best amounting to "white tears."

We are less than eight decades from the Holocaust (dismissed by the woke as relatively unimportant "white on white violence"), Jews are the only group in the United States that needs armed guards at all of their institutions to protect their constituents from violence. Just last month, an antisemite targeted and shot two Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles.

But at elite American law schools, where many future leaders will come from, students believe that combating anti-Jewish bias isn't "real" anti-bias work, the very liberal ADL is a right-wing hate group, and that not only should Jewish sensibilities be ignored, Jews should be affirmatively provoked until they all fully buy into the woke agenda, including on "Palestine."