Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 29 October 2023

Israel's tragedy should spark rebellion in our woke sick unis.

There is a chance the academic left's deranged response to Hamas's slaughter of innocent Israelis on October 7 may finally have roused the complacent from their torpor.


Has wokeism jumped the shark? In other words, have the radical leftists who for years have exercised increasing power in our universities finally gone too far?

I dare to hope so.

The recent disgraceful responses to the attacks on Israel that we have seen, from US university campuses to the streets of London - not forgetting the streets of Sydney - have dramatically increased awareness that something is rotten in the state of higher education in the English-speaking world. Some of us have been battling against the ideological takeover of academia for close to a decade. Each year, we have been getting better organised. But we have struggled to convince people in the real world just how bad things are. The past three weeks may finally have changed that.

The expression "jump the shark" was coined in 1977 when the scriptwriters of long-running US comedy series Happy Days - now into their fifth season and running short of ideas - had the character of Fonzie jump over a shark while on waterskis. The campus left's response to the attacks of October 7 was equally deranged.

Let's remind ourselves just what happened three weeks ago. Two Gaza-based terrorist groups inspire by Islamist ideology, committed to the destruction the state of Israel and backed by at least one government, staged a trailer for a second Holocaust In their sadism and savagery, they exceeded even th horrors perpetrated by the Russian butchers of Buc in Ukraine. The video evidence of their crimes, much of it recorded by the perpetrators, is almost beyond the human capacity to countenance.

The president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay, misread the room. After more than 30 Harvard student groups published a statement saying they held "the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence", she put out a bromide statement that "no student group ... speaks for Harvard, the University or its leadership". With its bland title and its standard disclaimer that "such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one's individual views of the origins of longstanding conflicts in the region", this response was crafted to appeal to Harvard's overwhelmingly liberal student body and faculty.

Gay had forgotten that Harvard's true target market the very small proportion of hugely successful alumni who give her university the largest donations. They soon reminded her. Similar revolts by donors have been erupting at universities from Pennsylvania to Stanford. At Stanford, the university where I work, there have been several pro-Palestinian demonstrations in recent weeks, most recently one organised by Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine. Anti-Israel graffiti has been chalked on campus sidewalks.

But the most shocking episode occurred in a classroom just days after the attacks, when according to student testimony in the San Francisco Chronicle - a lecturer blamed the conflict on Zionists, said that Hamas's actions Claudine Gay were "resistance", asked Jewish students to raise their hands and then separated those students from their belongings, saying he was simulating what Jews were doing to Palestinians.

The lecturer, Ameer Hasan Loggins (who is in fact a graduate student in the African-American Studies department at UC Berkeley), then asked how many Jews died in the Holocaust. When students answered with six million, Loggins retorted: "Yes. Only six million", arguing that the number of victims of colonialism was larger. He proceeded to ask every student to say where their ancestors were from, labelling each one a "coloniser" or "colonised" depending on their answers. When one student said they were from Israel, the lecturer responded: "Oh, definitely a coloniser."

If that strikes you as outrageous, you have clearly missed the fact such thinking is rife throughout the Anglosphere academy. None of this should have come as a surprise, for it is the culmination of many years of infiltration of our universities by the radical leftist ideology sometimes known for short as "wokeism". The reason such shorthand is necessary is that the academic left is a much more complex coalition nowadays than it was back in the 1930s, when it is now defined in the dictionaries as "aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)".

Like all cults and sects, the woke have their own idiosyncratic language and rituals. These include explicitly stating one's "preferred pronouns" at every opportunity and acknowledging whenever possible that one is meeting on land expropriated from indigenous peoples. In marked contrast to conventional scientific understanding, race is an essential, unalterable attribute (you're either Black, Indigenous and People of Colour or you're incurably white), but gender is almost infinitely fluid. In each case, there is a hierarchy, determined mainly by the extent to which your assigned minority were "victimised" and "marginalised" by the white, cisgender colonisers.

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