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Speaking of Universities

Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers is in the news again. The current controversy was set off because he condemned increasing anti-Semitism at Harvard and around the world. As the New York Times reports:

"Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent," said Mr. Summers, referring both to the push for divestment and to actions by student organizations at Harvard and other campuses to raise money for groups found to have ties to terrorist groups.

"Where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists," he added, "profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities."

Why should the president of the university have resisted making these obvious, in my opinion, comments?

"We are essentially being told there can be no debate," said John Assad, an assistant professor of neurobiology at Harvard medical school who signed the Harvard divestment [of Israeli interests] petition.

Psychology professor Elizabeth Spelke makes a surprisingly conservative argument:

"Labeling the petition anti-Semitic is a strategy to detract from the criticisms of Israel," Professor Spelke said. "It turns the substance of a political debate into a debate of morals and supposed racism."

A quick search on Google suggests that Spelke's work, itself, is admirably untouched by left-wing racial doctrine, but I do have to wonder what she thinks of charges of racism as they are generally made in our society (i.e., to shut down conservative arguments). And of course, there's Harvard sophomore Eli Sprecher's point that "comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa does border on anti-Semitism."

But I prefer this:

In May, Mr. Summers declared that Harvard had "no intention" of divesting, adding, "Harvard is first and foremost a center of learning, not an institutional organ for advocacy on such a complex and controversial international conflict."

Posted by Justin Katz @ 09:54 AM EST