Elaine Stefanik, Republican member of Congress and Trump acolyte, insisted in a recent House Congressional hearing without any evidence that calls for “intifada” and the use of slogans such as “from the river to the sea” by students protesting the relentless bombing and invasion of Gaza were tantamount to supporting/advocating genocide of Jewish people.
One doesn’t have to agree with the political wisdom of such slogans to take strong exception to the duplicitous and unproven claim pouring out of her mouth. Stefanik is good at the politics of assertion, to coin a phrase of Fred Garboury, a deceased labor journalist, lovable raconteur, and old friend of mine. Like Trump, in her mind, it is enough for her to say it to make it true.
Some protesting students – a small minority I would guess – do support the genocide of Jewish people, but any factual, data driven evidence proving that supporters of Palestinian national rights en masse embrace such an outlook is nowhere to be found.
But for Stefanik that’s beside the point. Truth isn’t what she is after in these hearings. If it were, she would invite a cross section of students, professors, and administrators to the hearing, not to grill them, but to listen to them with the hope of gaining a better understanding of the clash of contending views over the events in Israel and Gaza as well as the rise of antisemitism (and islamophobia) on their campuses.
Her mission, instead, and it was evident at the hearing, is to establish in the public mind that students, professors, and administrators alike are antisemitic and “elite” universities are breeding grounds of marxism and anti-Americanism as well as antisemitism. Following the hearing, she said in a statement,“ One down. Two to go …” And then added,
“This is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions in America. This forced resignation of the president of Penn is the bare minimum of what is required.”
In other words, her search for the “pervasive rot of antisemitism” in the most prestigious educational institutions in America isn’t over. It will continue at accelerated pace, while coupled to a campaign to root it out far beyond college campuses.
It should not need to be said that antisemitism should be aggressively resisted and rejected across the country as should islamophobia. But if left to the likes of Stefanik, Trump, and their motley antisemitic gang of MAGA followers, it will be weaponized to turn distinguished university presidents, professors, and students into implacable enemies of Jews and Israel, while at the same time pressuring major universities to retreat from their democratic, egalitarian, progressive, and educational mission.
Moreover, don’t think this motley gang will confine itself to “cleansing” antisemitism from our major institutions of higher learning. It will also in the name of fighting antisemitism do everything it can to divide and sap the strength of the anti-Maga coalition in the lead up to next year’s elections.
In its zealous pursuit of this nefarious political objective, it is easy to hear the distant echoes of McCarthyism – an earlier incubus of far right politicians and politics – that employed the cudgel of anticommunism to pursue its broader mission of weakening democracy, restricting free speech, and discrediting and dividing the liberal-left New Deal coalition in the 1950s.
It is imperative to struggle against antisemitism and Islamophobia at this moment, while also protecting democracy and free speech. There should be no dispute about that. But that responsibility should fall on the shoulders of the broad democratic and anti-MAGA movement. It would be worse than naive to think that Stefanik, Trump, and the MAGA coalition, sunk as they are in the ideology and practice of antisemitism and white christian nationalism, will shoulder that lift. It’s akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house. And we don’t want to so that, do we?