This week, a group called CampusTruth.org took out a quarter-page ad in the New York Times deriding growing anit-semitism on college campuses.
Their website notes several anti-semitic incidents at campuses around the country. As a gay person who has lived with homophobia for years, these incidents sound very familiar: name-calling, harrassment, intimidation. What's not familiar is hearing the name "Jew" rather than "fag" being yelled out of a passing car. What's even more unfamiliar is to find the name calling and intimidation being sponsored by groups that on the political spectrum would more readily label themselves "leftist" rather than "right."
These aren't the only recent incidents. Ward Churchill, a tenured college professor from Colorado, recently created a stir when he was scheduled to deliver a speech to a college in New York, where families of 9/11 victims would be in attendance, that would compare the victims of 9/11 to Adolf Eichmann. (Missing from all the discussion of Churchill's supposed critique of the "guilt" of 9/11 victims is any mention of just how shabby a piece of intellectual thinking it is - hardly worthy of a D+ on a high school term paper, let alone a college teacher with tenure. His reasoning that the political inaction of American citizens working in the towers under an American government that conducts war in the middle East is morally equivalent to Eichmann's actions of "making the trains run," would, in the first place, make all Americans - himself included - equivalent to Eichmann, whether or not they happened to die in a horrible and tragic airplane bombing that day. Not to mention all the basic lessons from Russeau, Kant, Satre, and dozens of others about the social compact and the nature of culpability that any freshman college student learns to impress his girlfriend. But more on this later.) Less well known is that Churchill is also a "holocaust denier" who claims that counts of holocaust deaths have been greatly exaggerated by Jews. We've heard this canard before. But it's the first time I've heard it from a leftist, postmodern college humanities professor cloaked in the language of neo-Marxist deconstruction.
The marriage of anti-semitism with the left is not a new event. Stalin was notorious for Siberianizing Jews, and Communist russia was was supporter of eccumenicism. But the number-one Jew hater in history certain must be Mr. Hitler. Fascism, from the original German fheurer through his many mini-incarnations in the neo-nazi movement, has been our most strident font of anti-semitism for decades, to the point of practical cliche, where it even becomes the butt of a popular Broadway musical. ("The Producers" fabulous hit, "Springtime for Hitler."). Jews of my generation and younger - mid-forties, comfortably urban - have really never experienced anti-semitism in this country. So this slow but distinct rise in anti-semitic voices is somewhat interesting, at the least, if not actually disturbing. (If I sound a little more sanguine than CampusTruth.org, please forgive me. I have not read any stories about Jews being lynched or beaten to death...so I still feel it is still not quite yet the problem that racism and homophobia is right now.)
What is...oddly...most disturbing is to hear these old neo-nazi canards being espoused by card-carrying liberal deconstructionist members of the left. When did Deleuze and Guitiari, Eagleton and Foucault, lead to holocaust-denying and equating Zionism with racism? Hmmm...well, if one digs deep enough, one finds right-ist, anti-semitic tendancies in at least one or two of these famous deconstructionist thinkers. I think it was maybe Lacan. But I could be wrong about that.
I don't think one can blame Lacan for this one. I think what's led to the recent headlong embrace of this thinking by the left is our war in Iraq. The thinking goes like this: Richard Perle, Wolfowitz, these Jews in the Defense Department have dragged us into this war. Then, isn't Isreal better off with Iraq out of the picture? Aren't we torturing Arab's in Abu Ghraib? And if I hate George Bush (because he's a rightist, big-business American pig), and George went and had a war and killed Arabs, and Arabs hate Jews, and Jews work for George, then, I must hate Jews too. The friend of my enemeny is my enemey sort of an equation.
The level of sophistication this shows is I would say about 2nd grade. Maybe that's giving it too much credit. That it is coming from the left is...at best...disappointing. At worst, it speaks of the utter inability of the left to put together a cogent thought - let alone create a working policy for a country like America, or even win an election.
It is, I must say, about the level I would expect from someone like Ward Churchill. Churchill was recently fired from his job because of the scandal his appearance in New York created. That Mr. Churchill was fired I find not the least bit upsetting. That he was allowed to work at all - and that what he was passing off as education or deconstruction or whatever it was he was teaching was actually taught at some point to impressionable college students - that I find disturbing. Nevermind whether it was anti-semitic. It wasn't event coherent. And it certainly isn't based on anything that someone would find in any humanly flawed but critically sharp thinker like Lacan. Or Derrida. Or Marx. Or Russeau. Or Kant. Or even my grandmother, for that matter.
I guess that what I'm saying is that what depresses me about the recent anti-semitism of the Left isn't what it says about Jews. It's what it says about the Left. If the even SOME of the Left will madly rush to embrace a logic of a kind of "the friend of my enemy is my enemeny" racism, at the expense of all of the great leftist thinkers who would have us look at historicity, positionality, and contextuality, then what hope do we have of building any kind of progressive movement with vitality and relevance? What kind of hope do we have to ever wrest back our country from the anti-progressive interests that have hijacked our political agenda and pose the real challenges to our intellects? What hope do we even have that the Left even understands its own thinkers, agenda, and ideas?
And if this kind of depressingly vacuous burbling makes me - a lifelong Democrat - shudder...just think what fodder it's giving to our nemesis, the far right.