Chemerinsky’s Epiphany And Responsibility

It began with an open letter from students at Columbia University and Barnard, which neglected to mention the terrorism perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th, but placed the blame entirely on Israel. It was poorly received by some, who rented trucks to shame the signatories to the letter.

This gave rise to a faculty open letter which condemned the “harassment” of students and proceeded to justify the students’ position that Israel brought the raping of women, beheading and roasting of babies, cutting off of a mother’s breast, gouging out of a father’s eye, cutting off the feet of a daughter and fingers of a son, before eating their meal, upon itself.

Then came another faculty open letter, responding to the earlier faculty open letter.

At the same time, there is no excuse for Hamas’s barbaric attack on Israeli civilians, which was an egregious war crime. There is no justification for raping and murdering ordinary citizens in front of their families, mutilating babies, decapitating people, using automatic weapons and grenades to hunt down and murder young people at a music festival celebrating peace, burning families alive, kidnapping and taking hostages (including vulnerable populations of elderly, people with disabilities, and young children), parading women hostages in front of chanting crowds, and proudly documenting these nightmarish scenes on social media. We are horrified that anyone would celebrate these monstrous attacks or, as some members of the Columbia faculty have done in a recent letter, try to “recontextualize” them as a “salvo,” as the “exercise of a right to resist” occupation, or as “military action.” We are astonished that anyone at Columbia would try to legitimize an organization that shares none of the University’s core values of democracy, human rights, or the rule of law.  Any civilian loss of life during war is awful but, as colleagues on the faculty acknowledged in the letter mentioned above, the law of war clearly distinguishes between tragic but incidental civilian death and suffering, on one hand, and the deliberate targeting of civilians, on the other. We feel sorrow for all civilians who are killed or suffering in this war, including so many in Gaza. Yet whatever one thinks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or of Israeli policies, Hamas’s genocidal massacre was an act of terror and cannot be justified, or its true purpose obscured with euphemisms and oblique references.

That there would be any need to write this shocking, but there it was. On the one hand, it’s good that there remain academics who have not succumbed to the blind faith of identity politics, where Palestinians, as the oppressed, are immune from scrutiny and criticism, no matter how barbaric the acts of Hamas. On the other hand, the faculty who found rape, kidnapping and murder justified are in charge of molding impressionable young minds.

Curiously, no less a social activist than Berkeley law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky saw fit to opine now that antisemitism touched his insular world.

I am a 70-year-old Jewish man, but never in my life have I seen or felt the antisemitism of the last few weeks…

I was stunned when students across the country, including mine, immediately celebrated the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on Oct. 7. Students for Justice in Palestine called the terror attack a “historic win” for the “Palestinian resistance.” A Columbia professor called the Hamas massacre “awesome” and a “stunning victory.” A Yale professor tweeted, “It’s been such an extraordinary day!” while calling Israel a “murderous, genocidal settler state.” A Chicago art professor posted a note reading, “Israelis are pigs. Savages. Very very bad people. Irredeemable excrement. … May they all rot in hell.” A UC Davis professor tweeted, “Zionist journalists … have houses w addresses, kids in school,” adding “they can fear their bosses, but they should fear us more.” There are, sadly, countless other examples.

Much as I can appreciate Chemerinsky’s dismay, his being “stunned” rings hollow. Here he is, a very progressive dean of an extremely progressive law school who was instrumental in the hiring and retention of exceptionally progressive faculty “stunned” that this was what he wrought. What the hell did he think he was doing?

Erwin Chemerinsky is presumably a very smart man. The progressive faculty over which he presides is composed of presumably very smart academics. And a not insignificant portion of them believe that horrific terrorism is justifiable. Did he not grasp that the very same ideological bent he promoted and supported would necessarily rationalize terrorism when perpetrated by an identity group in the “oppressed” column? Did he not realize that was how it worked? Did he not realize that was what he, too, supported until it touched his world?

It may be that the presumably “smart” faculty are good at testing, at remembering factoids that enable them to get top grades, go to top schools, but are not possessed of merely intelligence without wisdom. It may be that their minds are twisted by an ideological belief system that overcomes whatever capacity they possess for rational thought. Or it may be that they’re dangerous believers in a secular religion that would allow them to applaud terrorism without any dissonance.

But now that we know they’re there, that there is a significant cadre of academics who can excuse the rape, kidnapping and murder of women, children and the elderly, in furtherance of their secular religion, what can be done about it? Should they be left to infuse those “minds made of mush” with their values, that terrorism is a fair response by whomever they conclude is the aggrieved?

Much as Erwin Chemerinsky is stunned and hurt that so many in the academy are terror apologists, he fails to recognize that these are his people. These are the prawfs he recruited, he hired, he supported in tenure. He created this cohort of terrorism apologists. What does he plan to do about it now? Or will he complain about it and then pretend he’s not sitting at the table with them going forward? Chemerinsky is as much responsible for these people sitting in endowed chairs as anyone. What’s his responsibility now?

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