“Have we indeed sinned more than any other nation?”
—Chaim Kaplan, The Warsaw Diary (September 10, 1939)
“In the modern world, the Jew has perpetually been on trial; still today the Jew is on trial, in the person of the Israeli—and this modern trial of the Jew, this trial which never ends, begins with the trial of Shylock.”
—Philip Roth, Operation Shylock (1993)
If there are still many Americans who believe that college and university professors are harmless drudges obsessed with moldy futilities, people who know so much about so little that they can neither be contradicted nor are worth contradicting, they should be disabused of their illusions by the recent decisions of three (ostensibly) academic organizations to boycott the academic institutions of the state of Israel. First, the Asian American Studies Association in April, and more recently the American Studies Association, and the Council of Native Americans and Indigenous Studies Association. All have decided that they can no longer share the globe with a Jewish-majority state, any more than the academics included in Max Weinreich’s classic study of Hitler’s Professors (YIVO, 1946) could continue to share Europe with its Jewish minority.
It was these German professors who made anti-Semitism academically respectable and complicit in raw murder. They called into question—and quite successfully, of course—the Jews’ “right to live”; our homegrown anti-Semites—and let us not flinch from calling them what they are—now dispute Israel’s “right to exist,” making themselves accessories before the fact to the planned erasure of Israel by Iran and its Arab satellites. When the new, academic version of the 1933 Nazi boycotts began, ten years ago in England, it appealed to Europeans who were convinced that the Holocaust had given anti-Semitism a bad name, and that it deserved another chance. Now it has found a foothold in America’s universities.
The politicization of professional organizations, especially in the humanities, has a long history in this country. Those among us who have passed our Biblical threescore and ten were reminded by the Americanists’ decision to read Israel out of the family of nations of one Louis Kampf, who in 1971 was installed as president of the Modern Language Association for the express purpose of imposing the values of the New Left. He was to supply teachers who never cared much for literature in the first place a rationale for their hostility to literary studies: the great literary works were nothing but an instrument and a result of class oppression. Kampf and his acolytes, instead of applying for job retraining, envisioned revolution via the English departments. Overcome by the explosive power of boredom, they would “liberate” campus buildings in which they could make literature “relevant.” (I still recall a late colleague of mine who, when asked at the time why she had not renewed her MLA membership, replied that “As a Canadian citizen, I’m not permitted to join foreign political organizations.”)
The New Left, seething with yet unabated hatred of Israel for surviving the Six-Day War, in later years (1998) would also elect Edward Said, the “professor of terror” and veteran of the PLO executive, to the presidency of the MLA. Cynthia Ozick had remarked of Said’s joining of literature to terror that “If, years ago when I was in graduate school, someone had told me that it was possible to be steeped in Joseph Conrad and at the same time be a member of the ‘National Council’ of a world-wide terror organization I would have doubted this with all the passion for civilization and humane letters that a naïve and literature-besotted young person can evidence. I know better now. Professor Said has read Heart of Darkness, and it has not educated his heart.”