The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of Berkeley Law School, authored a powerful essay in the Los Angeles Times. He recounts the anti-semitism he has seen with his own eyes and ears on campus:
But none of this prepared me for the last few weeks. On Friday, someone in my school posted on Instagram a picture of me with the caption, "Erwin Chemerinsky has taken an indefinite sabbatical from Berkeley Law to join the I.D.F." Two weeks ago, at a town hall, a student told me that what would make her feel safe in the law school would be "to get rid of the Zionists." I have heard several times that I have been called "part of a Zionist conspiracy," which echoes of antisemitic tropes that have been expressed for centuries.
These incidents are, regrettably, becoming more and more common. I've heard many horror stories over the past few weeks. Anti-Semitism is as old as civilization itself. It never vanishes. In every generation, anti-semitism simply manifests in different forms.
Virtually every law school has courses of critical racial studies. Query how much of that curriculum focuses on anti-semitism? Every law school has a DEI department. Query how much of that programming focuses on anti-semitism? I suspect the answer to both questions is very little. Indeed, in 2021, Stanford's DEI Department said the quiet part out loud. They do not focus on anti-semitism as not to diminish discussion of anti-black racism. And, anti-semitism is not as important because Jews can hide behind their white privilege.
I was first exposed to this line of thinking when I was protested at CUNY Law School in 2018. I saw, with my own eyes, a woke mob. I learned quite a bit. One of the more jarring experiences was being called a white supremacist and a Nazi. My grandparents, who were both Holocaust survivors, could never have fathomed their grandson would be called a Nazi. One of the students engaged me, and explained that as a Jewish person, I was both an "oppressor" (because of my white privilege) and I was "oppressed" (because I was Jewish). This sort of dichotomy is textbook CRT. Everyone must be separated based on their level of victimhood. Those at the top of the oppression pyramid can dictate the terms of engagement for those at the bottom of the pyramid. I was inserted somewhere in the middle of that pyramid, but still, my role was constrained. Anti-semitism simply does not matter enough when other, more oppressed people, are being victimized. David Bernstein's recent post is a must-read on this point.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2022. Before and after Dobbs, I wrote about Jewish people raising RFRA objections to abortion laws. I fully expected that I would be attacked for my views. Critics would say I am wrong about RFRA, wrong about Jewish teachings on abortion, and wrong to suggest that some people raising these claims are insincere. What I didn't expect was the claim that I was an anti-semite. I received many emails, voicemails, and other missives to this effect. (I do not read my Twitter notifications, so I'm sure that claim was rampant on social media). It was so easy for critics–including many Jews–to call me an anti-semite.
Yet today, there is an utter unwillingness to label anything anti-semitism. Here is Chemerinsky again:
Of course, criticism of the Israeli government is not antisemitism, any more than criticizing the policies of the United States government is anti-American. I strongly oppose the policies of the Netanyahu government, favor full rights for Palestinians, and believe that there must be a two-state solution. But if you listen to what is being said on college campuses now, some of the loudest voices are not advocating for a change in Israeli policies, but are calling for an end to Israel. Students regularly chant, "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" and "We don't want no two states, we want all of 48," referring to going back to 1948 before Israel existed.
An oft-repeated mantra among some is that Israel is a settler colonialist country and should be forced to give the land back to the Palestinians. I have no idea how it would be determined who is rightly entitled to what land, but I do know that calling for the total elimination of Israel is antisemitic.
And Chemerinsky issues a call to all of the silent administrators across the nation:
There has been enough silence and enough tolerance of antisemitism on college campuses. I call on my fellow university administrators to speak out and denounce the celebrations of Hamas and the blatant antisemitism that is being voiced.