LITVAK | The Middle East Conflict and the Faculty’s Responsibility

There is an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry’s Catholic dentist, Tim Whately, converts to Judaism. Jerry is very upset and goes to complain to a priest that Whately has been telling Jewish jokes. The priest, perplexed, asks whether Jerry takes offense at Whately’s jokes as a Jewish person. “No, father,” Jerry insists indignantly, “I am offended as a comedian.” 

There is more than one reason to take offense at what has been going on at Cornell and other campuses in the past three weeks. We shall not speak here of the way in which the specific target of fanatical hatred was rendered publicly unmentionable, not to say invisible until an increasing climate of fear and hostility led to a threat of violence. Neither shall we speak of the persistent unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of Jewish loss and Jewish isolation; and we shall have nothing to say about the still greater reluctance to grapple with a wildly misguided and meretricious deployment of the word “human” as if it were the opposite of the word “Jewish.”     

But there is one objection to the current climate of opinion — so far unacknowledged by the academic community — of which it is still possible, even imperative, to speak. Failure to do so is to compound the damage being done to the integrity of the teaching profession and to the trust between teacher and student in the absence of which no real education is possible.  Whatever our personal response to the unfolding spectacle of physical and verbal violence now being directed at Jewish people not only here, where we live, but everywhere, it is as professors and educators that we wish now to speak and to register our offense.

Originally posted 2023-11-15 12:51:27.