Jews and Antisemitism at Harvard University

Even as the Israel/Gaza conflict has roiled the Middle East and raised fears of a much wider regional war, some of the political reverberations have also been felt across the American academic landscape.

With graphic images of devastated Gaza neighborhoods and dead Palestinian children so widespread on Twitter and other social media outlets, polls have revealed that a majority of younger Americans now favor Hamas and the Palestinians in their ongoing struggle with Israel. This is a shocking reversal from the views of their parents, which had been shaped by generations of overwhelmingly pro-Israel material across broadcast television, films, and print publications, and such trends are only likely to continue now that Israel is being prosecuted in the International Court of Justice by South Africa and 22 other nations, accused of committing genocide in Gaza.

As a consequence of these strong youthful sentiments, anti-Israel demonstrations have erupted at many of our universities, outraging numerous pro-Israel billionaire donors. Almost immediately, some of the latter launched a harsh retaliatory campaign, with many corporate leaders declaring that they would permanently blacklist from future employment opportunities any college students publicly supporting the Palestinian cause, underscoring these threats with a widespread “doxxing” campaign at Harvard and other elite colleges.

A few weeks ago, our uniformly pro-Israel elected officials entered the fray, calling the presidents of several of our most elite colleges—Harvard, Penn, and MIT—to testify before them regarding alleged “antisemitism” on their campuses. Members of Congress severely brow-beat these officials for permitting anti-Israel activities, even ignorantly and absurdly accusing them of allowing public calls for “Jewish genocide” on their campuses.

The responses of these college leaders emphasized their support for freedom of political speech but were deemed so unsatisfactory by pro-Israel donors and their mainstream media allies that enormous pressure was exerted to remove them. Within days, the Penn president and her supportive Board chairman had been forced to resign, and soon afterward Harvard’s first black president suffered the same fate, as pro-Israel groups released evidence of her widespread academic plagiarism to drive her from office.

I am unaware of any previous case in which the president of an elite American college had been so rapidly removed from office for ideological reasons and two successive examples within just a few weeks seems an absolutely unprecedented development, having enormous implications for academic freedom.

With pro-Israel forces having rapidly notched a pair of huge political victories, it is hardly surprising that they would seek additional lines of attack to extend their success, and late last week they announced a lawsuit against Harvard University, condemning it as a “bastion” of antisemitism and denouncing rampant discrimination against Jewish students, a story widely covered in our media, ranging from the New York Times to the local Harvard Crimson.

Our elite universities play a crucial role in our society and Jews have been deeply involved with their history. In 2005 the eminent sociologist Jerome Karabel published The Chosen, a magisterial narrative history of the last hundred years of Jewish enrollment at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, focusing upon the secretive discriminatory admissions policies that had long been used to restrict their numbers. But in late 2012 I drew heavily upon his award-winning scholarship to produce a very long article focused upon the quiet struggle between our rising Jewish elites and the reigning white Gentile rivals they successfully displaced from power during the course of the twentieth century:

Karabel’s massive documentation—over 700 pages and 3000 endnotes—establishes the remarkable fact that America’s uniquely complex and subjective system of academic admissions actually arose as a means of covert ethnic tribal warfare. During the 1920s, the established Northeastern Anglo-Saxon elites who then dominated the Ivy League wished to sharply curtail the rapidly growing numbers of Jewish students, but their initial attempts to impose simple numerical quotas provoked enormous controversy and faculty opposition.[10] Therefore, the approach subsequently taken by Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell and his peers was to transform the admissions process from a simple objective test of academic merit into a complex and holistic consideration of all aspects of each individual applicant; the resulting opacity permitted the admission or rejection of any given applicant, allowing the ethnicity of the student body to be shaped as desired. As a consequence, university leaders could honestly deny the existence of any racial or religious quotas, while still managing to reduce Jewish enrollment to a much lower level, and thereafter hold it almost constant during the decades which followed.[11] For example, the Jewish portion of Harvard’s entering class dropped from nearly 30 percent in 1925 to 15 percent the following year and remained roughly static until the period of the Second World War.[12]

As Karabel repeatedly demonstrates, the major changes in admissions policy which later followed were usually determined by factors of raw political power and the balance of contending forces rather than any idealistic considerations. For example, in the aftermath of World War II, Jewish organizations and their allies mobilized their political and media resources to pressure the universities into increasing their ethnic enrollment by modifying the weight assigned to various academic and non-academic factors, raising the importance of the former over the latter. Then a decade or two later, this exact process was repeated in the opposite direction, as the early 1960s saw black activists and their liberal political allies pressure universities to bring their racial minority enrollments into closer alignment with America’s national population by partially shifting away from their recently enshrined focus on purely academic considerations. Indeed, Karabel notes that the most sudden and extreme increase in minority enrollment took place at Yale in the years 1968–69, and was largely due to fears of race riots in heavily black New Haven, which surrounded the campus.[13]

Philosophical consistency appears notably absent in many of the prominent figures involved in these admissions battles, with both liberals and conservatives sometimes favoring academic merit and sometimes non-academic factors, whichever would produce the particular ethnic student mix they desired for personal or ideological reasons. Different political blocs waged long battles for control of particular universities, and sudden large shifts in admissions rates occurred as these groups gained or lost influence within the university apparatus: Yale replaced its admissions staff in 1965 and the following year Jewish numbers nearly doubled.[14]

At times, external judicial or political forces would be summoned to override university admissions policy, often succeeding in this aim. Karabel’s own ideological leanings are hardly invisible, as he hails efforts by state legislatures to force Ivy League schools to lift their de facto Jewish quotas, but seems to regard later legislative attacks on “affirmative action” as unreasonable assaults on academic freedom.[15] The massively footnoted text of The Chosen might lead one to paraphrase Clausewitz and conclude that our elite college admissions policy often consists of ethnic warfare waged by other means, or even that it could be summarized as a simple Leninesque question of “Who, Whom?”

Although nearly all of Karabel’s study is focused on the earlier history of admissions policy at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, with the developments of the last three decades being covered in just a few dozen pages, he finds complete continuity down to the present day, with the notorious opacity of the admissions process still allowing most private universities to admit whomever they want for whatever reasons they want, even if the reasons and the admissions decisions may eventually change over the years.

For more than one hundred years and especially in recent decades, our elite colleges have served as a direct pipeline to the commanding heights of American academics, law, business, finance, and media, so dominating those institutions and determining their enrollment provides a considerable measure of control over our entire society. And as Karabel demonstrated in his fascinating volume, throughout the twentieth century those colleges therefore became the battleground of a silent struggle for power between white Gentiles and Jews. The former initially held the upper hand, but the latter ultimately proved victorious, and towards the end of his book the author celebrated their supposedly meritocratic triumph:

Indeed, Karabel opens the final chapter of his book by…noting the extreme irony that the WASP demographic group which had once so completely dominated America’s elite universities and “virtually all the major institutions of American life” had by 2000 become “a small and beleaguered minority at Harvard,” being actually fewer in number than the Jews whose presence they had once sought to restrict. Very similar results seem to apply all across the Ivy League, with the disproportion often being even greater than the particular example emphasized by Karabel.

The Myth of American Meritocracy
Ron Unz • The American Conservative • November 28, 2012 • 26,200 Words

However, my 2012 article challenged the widespread myth of American academic meritocracy and thereby provoked a great deal of controversy, notably including New York Times symposium on the apparent existence of anti-Asian quotas in the Ivy League; all of this prompted a lawsuit the following year against Harvard’s allegedly discriminatory admissions policies. As that lawsuit spent a decade wending its way through the courts prior to its Supreme Court victory last year, I published a series of articles recapitulating and extending my previous analysis:

American Pravda: Racial Discrimination at Harvard
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • October 22, 2018 • 10,300 Words
American Meritocracy Revisited
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • May 4, 2022 • 28,400 Words
Challenging Racial Discrimination at Harvard
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • October 31, 2022 • 5,800 Words
Affirmative Action and the Jewish Elephant in the Room
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • July 3, 2023 • 6,800 Words

In the last of those articles, I emphasized that more than two generations of an enormous Jewish preponderance at our most elite universities had helped to produce a current American government that exhibited a quite remarkable ethnic skew:

Relatively few Americans ever consider applying to Harvard or the other elite Ivy League schools. Indeed, I suspect that much of our citizenry probably regards the composition of those student bodies as totally irrelevant, of far less significance than the identities of our top professional athletes or pop music stars. Yet as I have repeatedly emphasized, those educational institutions tend to provide the next generation of America’s ruling elites, and this applies to the world of politics as well as many other sectors.

Consider, for example, the leading figures in our current Biden Administration, who are playing a crucial role in determining the future of our own country and the rest of the world. The list of Cabinet departments has wildly proliferated since Washington’s day, but suppose we confine our attention to the half-dozen most important, led by the individuals who control national security and the economy, and then also add the names of the President, Vice President, Chief of Staff, and National Security Advisor. Although “Diversity” may have become the sacred motto of the Democratic Party, the background of the handful of individuals running our country appears strikingly non-diverse, especially if we exclude the two political figureheads at the very top.

President Joe Biden (Jewish in-laws)
Vice-President Kamala Harris (Jewish spouse)
Chief of Staff Jeff Zients (Jewish), replacing Ron Klain (Jewish, Harvard)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Jewish, Harvard)
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen (Jewish, Yale)
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III (Black)
Attorney General Merrick Garland (Jewish, Harvard)
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (White Gentile, Yale)
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines (Jewish)
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas (Jewish)

In 2013 Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Moscow’s Jewish Center and noted in his remarks that 80-85% of the first Bolshevik government was Jewish. Although that statement was probably somewhat exaggerated, it does seem a very reasonable characterization of today’s American government, despite Jews constituting less than 2% of our population.

When a nation’s top leadership is drawn from such a narrowly insular, almost incestuous circle, in which standards of strict meritocracy have long since been replaced by shared ideological beliefs and perhaps even widespread implicit ethnic nepotism, enormous problems may develop. Our current inflation rate is now the highest in forty years, and a few days ago, prestigious Foreign Affairs, mouthpiece of the American political establishment, carried a major article discussing the looming possibility of a simultaneous war against both Russia and China and how we could successfully triumph in such a difficult conflict. Since my infancy, no American president has seriously contemplated a war with either Russia or China, but our current national leadership seems quite eager to embroil us in a global war with both of them at the same time.

Current polls indicate that many perhaps most Democrats are strongly opposed to our unwavering military support for Israel’s brutal war against Gaza, and these sentiments seem especially strong among the activists who dominate party politics. Yet despite President Biden’s dismal polling numbers in the rapidly approaching November election, none of this opposition seems to have shifted his government’s unwavering support for the Jewish State. Surely we cannot ignore the possibility that the ethnic composition of his administration is a major factor behind this strange intransigence.

Holding a dominant position at Harvard and our other elite universities provides the crucial leverage allowing a tiny Jewish minority to maintain its preponderant influence across our larger American society, now and in the future. This explains the new lawsuit challenging Harvard for its alleged climate of antisemitism and its supposed discrimination against Jewish students. But I think that lawsuit may ultimately prove extremely counter-productive if it focuses public attention on matters that have been deliberately kept hidden.

Harvard President Claudine Gay was forced to resign on January 2nd, having held office for just six months, by far the briefest tenure in Harvard history, and her interim replacement was Harvard’s Jewish provost Alan Garber. As it happens, all four of Harvard’s previous presidents stretching back to 1991 were either of Jewish ancestry or had a Jewish spouse, three of the four falling into the former category. Given that history, the current claims of longstanding antisemitism at Harvard seem quite implausible.

Meanwhile, antisemitism in other elite colleges seems equally unlikely given that five of the eight Ivy League university presidents are currently Jewish, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, and Dartmouth, as are those of other elite colleges such as Caltech and MIT. This ethnic ratio of top academic leadership has remained roughly unchanged for several decades.

A high-profile lawsuit alleging a longstanding pattern of antisemitism at Harvard and other elite schools may bring these facts to much wider public attention, with consequences not necessarily to the advantage of the aggrieved plaintiffs. Meanwhile, based upon media reports, the actual examples of “antisemitism” cited seem little more than allowing public criticism of Israel and its policies, a situation that naturally offends students who are zealously pro-Israel in their sentiments.

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