Decadence met the devil, and Hamas won.
Academic decadence confronted Hamas’s depravity last week, and the devil won. Following Hamas’s rampage through Israel’s Gaza Corridor—behind Israel’s pre-1967 borders with no “settlements”—many have criticized pro-Palestinian students for blaming the victims and “holding the Israeli regime entirely responsible.” Far more dangerous are most administrators’ mealy-mouthed bleating and most professors’ silence. Student politics change with the winds; this perversion dressed up in academic gowns runs deeper.
Admittedly, many student antics crossed civilizational red lines. “Jihad Day” became “Intimidate Jewish Students Day.” Suddenly, paragliders became symbols of “resistance.” Terrorists on paragliders swarmed the Supernova Festival, slaughtering 260 young people dancing and camping outside. Many victims were the same age as these grade-grubbing radicals, brandishing Daddy’s Black Amex card, masquerading as revolutionaries but really covering their faces because they fear losing job offers.
Toasting those recreational vehicles as homicidal tools is as offensive as brandishing nooses after a mass shooting of blacks or marching around with ovens on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Still, universities shouldn’t ban posters with paragliders or similarly hateful speech. By supporting such savagery, these students show everyone just who they are. Let the court of public opinion judge them. And, yes, let them lose precious post-graduate jobs. Would you trust a colleague who supports barbarians?
The best cure to bad speech is good speech. When students celebrate brutality, universities should remember their defining mission: education. Make their malice a teachable moment. But first, administrators must stand tall, clearly denouncing the massacre and its cheerleaders.
Instead, when students at California State University, Long Beach, circulated a Palestinian “resistance” poster sporting a para-glider, CSULB’s president Jane Close Conoley shilly-shallied about “the conflict engulfing the region” and its “complexity,” as if Hamas didn’t launch a planned assault against Israel.
Harvard University president Claudine Gay, along with 17 Harvard administrators, first called themselves “heartbroken by the death and destruction.” Perpetrated by whom? Even The New York Times found the statement “tepid.” Infuriated alumni triggered a second try, condemning “the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.”
Gay added: “Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region.” Why add the last wiggly clause?
By contrast, Gay’s predecessor, Lawrence Bacow, called Russia’s Ukraine invasion “deplorable,” thundering: “Harvard University stands with the people of Ukraine.”
Even worse, McGill University’s first response illustrated how the therapeutic culture has conquered academia, dulling minds, blurring consciences and glooping up writing. “Yesterday’s news of violent conflict in Israel and Gaza has caused many of us to feel shaken,” it began, a flabby sentence I wouldn’t accept from my students, obscuring Hamas’s guilt and evil.
Affectless, offering nothing to learn, the statement yammered: “We care deeply about your wellness and recognize that the tumultuous times in which we live can at times feel overwhelming. Below, you will find resources available to you for support.” Clearly, this massacre traumatized many. But when did universities become therapy referral centers?
As administrators dithered, most professors dodged. Two years ago, 120 gender studies departments denounced Israel’s actions in defending itself against Hamas. Last Saturday, Hamas pillagers targeted women brutally, raping women to death, parading at least one woman naked in public, mutilating women’s bodies—let alone beheading babies, sometimes in front of their mothers. Isn’t sadistically targeting women a feminist issue, even if they’re Jewish? Shouldn’t feminists mobilize against Hamas for enslaving women sexually? Nothing was heard from professors of peace studies, ethics or humanities, either.
The decades-long demonization of the Jewish state caused this Silence of the Tenured Lambs. Many intellectuals proved that they could never sympathize with Israelis, no matter what abominations Israelis, in addition to and citizens from 40 other countries, endure.
Decadence means “moral or cultural decline as characterized by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury.” The university’s slide into decadence began when identity politics “privileged” who you were over what you did, while adopting the Marxist division between those deemed “oppressed” who could do no wrong and those deemed “oppressors” who could do no right. Postmodernism intensified moral relativism with a long-standing fanatic love for humanity theoretically, no matter the cost to individual humans. A consumer-oriented and performative therapy culture centered academia around students’ feelings rather than pursuing knowledge or respecting truth, let alone seeking genuine justice.
“Social-justice warriors” then launched a culture war, using anti-colonial theory, intersectionality and cancel culture to turn too many classrooms and academic associations into propagandistic re-education centers that would make Chinese Communists proud.
All this, catalyzed by Jew-hatred Zionophobia, dehumanized Jews and neutralized normal ethical responses to Palestinian barbarism.
The illiberal liberals’ totalitarian grip on academia will only loosen if parents, donors and students pressure universities to return to their original missions as educational centers teaching how to think critically.
Last Sunday, Bono, who never attended college, upstaged these overly educated relativists. Empathizing, unlike many academics, he said: “Our hearts and our anger, you know where that’s pointed. … We sing for those. Our people, our kind of people, music people. Playful, experimental people. Our kind of people … .”
That Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden shamed the university leaders, despite his non-Ivy University of Delaware education. After embracing the Israelis targeted by “this act of sheer evil,” Biden saw the issue as right versus wrong, not left versus right, repudiating “the terrorist organization Hamas—a group whose stated purpose for being is to kill Jews.”
Perhaps Bono and Biden should become professors. But I’d worry about modern academics’ perpetual propagandizing dulling their moral sensibilities, too.
Professor Gil Troy is an American presidential historian and, most recently, the editor of the three-volume set, Theodor Herzl: Zionist Writings, the inaugural publication of The Library of the Jewish People.