As Lori Lowenthal Marcus notes, Brandeis University has in recent years bestowed an honorary degree on Tony Kushner, who called the creation of Israel as a Jewish state “a mistake” and who attacked Israel for ethnic cleansing and for causing “terrible peril in the world.” Brandeis has also honored Desmond Tutu, who compared Israel to Hitler, attacked the “Jewish lobby” as too “powerful” and “scary,” and complained of the “Jewish monopoly of the Holocaust.”
Unfortunately, that's business as usual in the modern academy, including at an academic institution founded out of a special concern for the well-being of Jews in America and elsewhere.
But when it comes to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a courageous woman who has fought for human rights around the world—and who may actually like the state Israel—well, that's a bridge too far. In recent weeks, Brandeis president Fred Lawrence came under "pressure"—i.e., received complaints from some students and whining from some faculty—and promptly caved. He has disinvited Ayaan Hirsi Ali from receiving an honorary doctorate this year.
His justification for caving was pathetic. Lawrence announced that "we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values. For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier." Needless to say, he doesn't specify any of these statements. And he doesn't explain how Ayaan Hirsi Ali's life and thought—but not Tony Kushner's or Desmond Tutu's—has been in any way "inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values."
But when you're in craven capitulation mode, you don't really have time to explain. And of course there isn't a good explanation. The fact is that the founders of Brandeis would have been admirers of and proud of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And current friends and supporters of Brandeis can demand an explanation. Indeed, until they get a satisfactory one, they shouldn't support an institution that's displayed such pathetic cowardice and moral bankruptcy. In fact, I'd say to anyone who supports Brandeis: If you continue with business as usual with Brandeis, aren't you then complicit in Brandeis's betrayal of the cause of true liberalism and proud Judaism? If you say nothing, if you do nothing, then aren't you an enabler of this surrender to the enemies of academic freedom and Jewish honor?
The cowardice of a university president isn't a surprise. The question is: Will less cowardly friends, associates and supporters of Brandeis meekly acquiesce in this shameful decision?