We must rebuke the inadequacy of appropriate responses by our alma mater to condemn terrorism and murder, hostage taking, and antisemitism.
The first two sentences of President Eisgruber’s Oct. 10 statement were relatively strong: “Even in a world wearied and torn by violence and hatred, Hamas’s murder and kidnapping of hundreds of Israelis over the past weekend is among the most atrocious of terrorist acts. This cruel and inhumane attack has provoked a bloody war that has already claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis and will tragically take many more as it continues.” He should have stopped right there. Like most other college leaders, he pulled out the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) card, invoking the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli struggles and referring Princetonians to read the “thoughtful compilations” on such issues provided by Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. Like so many of our educational leaders, he failed to take a stance against antisemitism.
Responding to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ speech condemning Israel, the Yad Vashem Chairman, Dani Dayan asserted without equivocation, hesitancy, or indecision:
“The slaughter of Jews by Hamas on October 7th was genocidal in its intents and immeasurably brutal in its form … . However, it puts to test the sincerity of world leaders, intellectuals and influencers that come to Yad Vashem and pledge ‘Never Again’. Those who seek to ‘understand’, look for a justifying context, do not categorically condemn the perpetrators, and do not call for the unconditional and immediate release of the abducted – fail the test. …”
The situation on campus and in the Middle East is incendiary and may seem a tricky line for educational administrators to walk, given the importance our First Amendment rights. Recently, an open letter written by Princeton alumni and circulated online responded to the so-called “free speech” of Princeton students on the eve of Kristallnacht remembrance chanting for Intifada from “Princeton to Gaza.” These words are genocidal: They call for the murder of Jews both on campus and globally. There was harassment of Jewish students who attempted to document the event on video. Deciding what represents free speech is up to the courts, but unprotected speech includes defamation, true threats, and fighting words.
The linguistic roots of the word “antisemitism” suggest a dual animosity toward “semites” — both Arabs and Jews, the biblical descendants of Noah’s third son, Shem (“sem-“). Yet, the actual term “antisemite” did not originate until the 1870s in Germany, where it was used to describe an ideological antagonism toward the Jews of Central Europe, who, according to Wilhelm Marr’s 1879 treatise, “Bund der Antisemitism,” were designing to destroy German society from within.
Whether we dub it “antisemitism” or “Jew hatred,” it is thriving on Princeton’s campus and ascending exponentially in the world. In the name of humanism and humanity, we must oppose it. This antisocial and philistine behavior defiles and violates the principles embedded within our alma mater’s motto and edict, “Dei sub numine viget” and “Princeton in the nation’s service” (given, admittedly, the controversial nature of the man who promoted both, Woodrow Wilson).