Bari Weiss and Oliver Wiseman
(Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Why have noxious ideas flourished at U.S. colleges? We have some answers.
Where did all of this hatred come from?
We keep coming back to this question as we’ve tried to make sense of the world since October 7. We’ve asked it in relation to Hamas’s nihilistic worldview as well as in relation to the group’s apologists in the West. The answers we’ve offered so far involve ideology, geopolitics, education, technology, and much more.
In many ways, the epicenter of so much of the hatred directed against Israel and Jews in the last month has been the college campus. Every day brings another example of this dispiriting trend. Today in The Free Press, two pieces untangle the roots of the alarming rise of campus antisemitism.
Campus extremists need no encouragement from outside forces. But today Bari writes about a new report by the Network Contagion Research Institute, which offers a look at the actors far outside of the university campus who have poured fuel on the ideological fire. Among the report’s shocking findings is that “at least 200 American colleges and universities illegally withheld information on approximately $13 billion in undisclosed contributions from foreign regimes, many of which are authoritarian.”
Read the full investigation and report here:
Is Campus Rage Fueled by Middle Eastern Money?
According to a new report, at least 200 American colleges and universities illegally withheld information on approximately $13 billion in undisclosed contributions from foreign regimes.
Since Hamas’s October 7 massacre, it has been hard to miss the explosion of antisemitic hate that has gripped college campuses across the country. At Cornell, a student posted a call “to follow [Jews] home and slit their throats,” and a professor said the terror attack “energized” and “exhilarated” him. At Harvard, a mob of students besieged an Israeli student, surrounding him as they bellowed “shame, shame, shame.” At dozens of other campuses, students gathered to celebrate Hamas.
The response from school administrations has been alarming. With few exceptions, in the immediate aftermath of October 7, university presidents issued equivocal statements about the initial attack. Some professors even celebrated it. And the focus on the part of administration bureaucrats has been on protecting the students tearing down posters and being shamed for doing so.
Where did all of this hatred come from is a question worth pondering. As Rachel Fish and others have documented, for several decades a toxic worldview—morally relativist, anti-Israel, and anti-American—has been incubating in “area studies” departments and social theory programs at elite universities. Whole narratives have been constructed to dehumanize Israelis and brand Israel as a “white, colonial project” to be “resisted.” The students you see in the videos circulating online have been marinating in this ideology, which can be defined best by what it’s against: everything Western.
Many are rightly questioning how it got this bad. How did university leaders come to eulogize, rather than put a stop to, campus hate rallies and antisemitic intimidation? Why are campus leaders now papering over antisemitism? How could institutions supposedly committed to liberal values be such hotbeds of antisemitism and anti-Israel activism?
In large part, it is a story of the power of ideas—in this case, terrible ones—and how rapidly they can spread. But it is also a story of an influence campaign by actors far outside of the university campus aimed at pouring fuel on a fire already raging inside.
We’ve known for some time about the links between anti-Israel campus agitators, like Students for Justice in Palestine, and shady off-campus anti-Israel activist networks.
But thanks to the work of the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), a nonprofit research center, we now have a clearer picture of the financial forces at play at a higher, institutional level.
Today, after months of research, the NCRI released a report (comprising four separate studies) following the money. The report finds that at least 200 American colleges and universities illegally withheld information on approximately $13 billion in undisclosed contributions from foreign regimes, many of which are authoritarian.
Moreover, while correlation is not causation, they found that the number of reported antisemitic incidents on a given campus has a meaningful relationship to whether that university has received funding (disclosed and undisclosed) from regimes, or entities tied to regimes, in the Middle East.
Overall, authors of the report write, “a massive influx of foreign, concealed donations to American institutions of higher learning, much of it from authoritarian regimes with notable support from Middle Eastern sources, reflects or supports heightened levels of intolerance towards Jews, open inquiry and free expression.”
The NCRI report found that:
- From 2015–2020, institutions that accepted money from Middle Eastern donors had, on average, 300 percent more antisemitic incidents than those institutions that did not.
- From 2015–2020, institutions that accepted undisclosed funds from authoritarian donors had, on average, 250 percent more antisemitic incidents than those institutions that did not.
- At least 200 American colleges and universities illegally withheld information on approximately $13 billion in undocumented contributions from foreign regimes, many of which are authoritarian.
- Campuses that accept undisclosed money are on average ~85 percent more likely to see campaigns “targeting academic scholars for sanction, including campaigns to investigate, censor, demote, suspend, or terminate.”
This chart from NCRI captures the relationship between concealed foreign donations and antisemitism on campus:
So who’s doing this concealed funding? Qatar, the country where Hamas’s leadership currently resides, is far and away the largest foreign donor to American universities, as Eli Lake recently documented in these pages:
Of course, correlation is not causation. Still, the NCRI report found that a reliable predictor of the intensity of campus antisemitism was the amount of undisclosed money a given university received from Middle Eastern regimes.
Former Harvard University president Larry Summers told me that he believes “donors and certainly authoritarian leaders who donate to universities may be looking to bolster their image or perception of legitimacy.” But he also said he doubts that “they are looking to or could succeed in changing attitudes or specific policies on campuses.”
“I’m cynical. I usually think things are about money. But I don’t think this is about money. Or at least not primarily,” a former president of a prominent liberal arts college told me. “If you look at the college professors signing on to these various statements, I don’t think it’s because those people got money in any significant way from a country like Qatar. It’s people who are ideologically part of a movement—whether you call it postcolonial or anticolonial—that is deeply opposed to Israel.”
There are other possibilities that may explain the NCRI’s findings. A fairly obvious one could be that Middle Eastern regimes are sponsoring professorships held by, or programs run by, professors or administrators who hold anti-Israel views and use their platform to spread them. This fact, itself, wouldn’t be news.
Another possibility is that universities, eager to attract and retain Middle Eastern funding, promote positions that they think will please the sensibilities of Middle Eastern regimes. Or maybe it is that universities that are indifferent to the atrocities committed or condoned by some of their largest funders are also indifferent to rising antisemitism on campus, allowing it to thrive. The same would hold true for freedom of expression and academic freedom.
At the very least, the NCRI’s findings may explain why university presidents, whose main job is fundraising, may have been so slow to respond in the wake of the October 7 massacre, and when they did, they for the most part released weak statements.
One thing I have a hard time believing is that these countries give nine- and ten-figure gifts to universities expecting nothing in return.
In our second piece today, Rachel Fish delivers a reminder that Jew-hate on campus is nothing new. Her first day of orientation at Harvard Divinity School was September 11, 2001. As a student there, she exposed the fact that the university had accepted a gift from an antisemitic sheik—and campaigned for Harvard to return the money. When Harvard and the sheik cut ties, it “was celebrated in the pages of newspapers across the country as a watershed moment,” she writes. But Gulf money had already corrupted the system: “Alas, the flood had already been unleashed.”
Rachel explains: “For decades, this money has been swirling around the Ivy League and other elite schools. While the funding in and of itself did not originate antisemitism on campus, these countries rightly understood that the campuses were a powerful vessel through which to launch into the mainstream an anti-Western worldview that was once confined to the fringe.”
Read Rachel’s piece here:
If you’re somehow still in doubt about whether what happens on campus actually matters out here in the real world, read Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott’s excellent essay on how cancel culture was born at American universities in the 1960s, bubbled up, and decades on, spilled over into our everyday lives. (And if you want more on this subject, do check out their new book, from which their piece was excerpted, The Canceling of the American Mind.)
And finally, for a much needed palate cleanser, read this brilliant piece by teenager Ben Samuels about Deep Springs College—the anti-Harvard—where, in lieu of orientation, he received a handbook with a copy of the student bylaws and instructions for treating snakebites.
On our radar . . .
→ Killed for waving an Israeli flag? Paul Kessler, a 69-year-old Jewish man, has died after sustaining injuries in an altercation at a pro-Palestinian rally in Westlake Village, near Los Angeles, according to Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. According to KABC, “the nature of the altercation remains under investigation but some reports indicate that before he fell, Kessler was struck in the head with a megaphone by an individual with the pro-Palestinian event.”
→ Is the Ukraine war at a stalemate?: Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has disputed one of his own general’s characterization of the war with Russia reaching a stalemate. Last week, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi told The Economist that “Just like in the first world war, we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate.” He added: “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”
Zelensky pushed back over the weekend. “Time has passed, people are tired. . . but this is not a stalemate,” he said.
The stalemate talk comes at a very difficult time for Ukraine, with its counteroffensive not having yielded the results Kyiv had hoped for, and with the conflict in Israel meaning Ukraine’s allies have other priorities to weigh. Meanwhile, NBC cites senior U.S. officials as sources in a story claiming Western governments have “begun quietly talking to the Ukrainian government about what possible peace negotiations with Russia might entail to end the war.”
→ The economic consequences of the war: Will disorder in the Middle East undo the gains we’ve made in the war on inflation? Free Press–approved historian Niall Ferguson answers that question in his latest Bloomberg column. Niall argues that policymakers and markets aren’t taking the economic risks of this conflict seriously enough. And when it comes to the intersection of war and economics, Niall is worth listening to.
→ Anne Frank sent back into hiding: Let’s check in on Germany, where the Anne Frank daycare center in Saxony-Anhalt wants to change its name in order to “visibly mark” a “fundamental new beginning” for the kindergarten. According to The Jerusalem Post, a think tank report on the proposal notes that “parents with migrant backgrounds feel uncertain about the name and find it challenging to explain to their children.” The report claims the change was suggested because Frank is no longer aligned with “the new focus on diversity.”
→ Swifties gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake: Taylor Swift’s fans keep finding fresh ways of demonstrating their cultural supremacy. First it was keeping the economy afloat over the summer, then it was a hostile takeover of the NFL. Now it’s ruining the moviegoing experience for anyone unlucky enough to be in a theater next door to one showing the Eras Tour movie.