Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 26 October 2023


US campuses are becoming hotbeds of hate

Once supportive of Israel, American students now major in pro-Palestinian views that often tip into outright antisemitism

The Times

Loud declarations of support for terrorists who chop the heads off in-utero babies after they’ve murdered the mothers are the kind of things we have become used to seeing on certain sections of the so-called Arab Street.

Demonstrations on behalf of radical Islamists calling for the eradication of the state of Israel have been commonplace on the leafy squares and elegant boulevards of western Europe for decades.

What’s new about the global reaction to the latest horrors in the Middle East are widespread expressions of solidarity with extremist Palestinian movements on the bustling avenues of American cities. Most Americans have long been strongly pro-Israel — not, as the characteristically antisemitic trope has it, because of the power of the shady “Israel lobby” but because they see it for what it is: a bastion of democracy in a neighbourhood alien to the values on which western civilisation stands.

But perhaps no more. The torch is being passed to a new generation of Americans who seem to take the view that Israel is the terrorist and Hamas the champion of freedom.

Since the atrocities of October 7, there have been hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrations across America, the vast majority on the green pastures of university campuses, many nakedly antisemitic. In just the latest case, on Wednesday, Jewish students at the Cooper Union in New York had to barricade themselves in a library as fellow students banged on the doors and demanded “justice” for Palestine — something they seem to believe is best achieved by hurling slurs at young men in yarmulkes.


The conversion of so many of America’s young — mainly its most expensively educated — to the anti-Israel cause is a new phenomenon that is, at the same time, just one more predictable feature of the ongoing retreat from civilisation, tolerance and decency taking place in America’s institutions of higher education.

A poll this week by Harvard-Harris revealed the scale of the shift in America’s younger population, most of it among students and the recently graduated. While 84 per cent of Americans overall said they side more with Israel than Hamas in the current conflict, the population aged between 18 and 24 is evenly split — 52 per cent say they are with Israel, 48 per cent with Hamas.

Mark Penn, president of the Stagwell Group, and a former Democratic political consultant who runs the poll, says the results show the extent to which American youth are “brainwashed”. This fits with the wider picture of campus culture at most American universities and shows the degree to which the radical rot is eating away at the ivy-clad groves — because it’s not just 18-year-olds with their wafer-thin grasp of the world who declare their affection for Hamas.

“F*** your fake outrage at Palestine when you’ve literally been silent about the violence perpetuated by Israel against Palestine every day,” wrote Derron Borders, “diversity and inclusion director” at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management, on social media on the day of the Hamas attacks.

He was not alone. Teachers, administrators and officials at America’s most famous universities have offered similar pronouncements. A large number of the most egregious expressions of hatred for Israel have come from the legions of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officers like Borders. This is hardly surprising. The same race-obsessed, intolerant attitudes that characterise the identitarian academic crowd, tinged with threats of violence, align well with apologetics for the kind of “decolonisation” that is practised by Hamas terrorists.

DEI officials, whose numbers have mushroomed in the past decade, are enforcers of the most intolerant and anti-intellectual rules now routine at American colleges. You won’t get a job at most universities without establishing your bona fides as a social justice warrior. An academic paper published this week by Steven Brint and Komi Frey of the University of California, Riverside analysed how the University of California, Berkeley uses DEI criteria in its hiring of academic staff.

One typical example: a faculty subcommittee rejected 75 per cent of applicants for positions in environmental and life sciences based on DEI criteria alone. The candidates who managed to clear this first hurdle were repeatedly asked about DEI commitments in later rounds.

This elevation of race and other identity-based “qualifications” above academic excellence is standard across US campuses. The prestige of these institutions has been such that there has been little challenge, except from the political right, which has no sway over most of the left-wing-dominated university administrations. But the expressions of enthusiasm for Hamas on campuses may be changing that.


A large number of wealthy alumni have looked on with horror at recent events. The elite colleges receive billions of dollars every year from their unimaginably successful former students, and a growing number, many of them Jewish, have announced that they are pulling their donations.

Some of the most coveted employers are also threatening not to hire students with terrorist-friendly CVs. Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager, told me last week he believed too many universities are “endorsing bigotry”. “At BlackRock, we hire about 570 young people every year worldwide, and we do an extensive background check on everybody. And if we’ve noticed in some people’s backgrounds that they support hatred ... they probably would not ever be hired at BlackRock.”

Universities are the bedrock of our culture: the freedom to explore ideas in an open environment has generated the greatest advances in human knowledge. How ironic that these institutions may finally be awakening to the virtues of free inquiry only out of fear of losing some of their vast wealth and seeing their radicalised students’ lucrative career prospects cancelled.

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