April 15, 2024

ROSENSAFT | The ADL Campus Antisemitism Report Card Gets a Less Than Passing Grade

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It’s ironic that Shira Goodman, the ADL’s senior director of advocacy, compares her organization’s Campus Antisemitism Report Card to the national college rankings by U.S. News and World Report. 

For as long as I can remember, the annual U.S. News and World Report survey has been criticized for using methodologies that do not adequately or accurately reflect the actual conditions at the different universities and colleges. 

My immediate initial reaction to the D grade given to Cornell by the ADL was — and remains — that it is unwarranted and decidedly does not correspond to what I have seen and have experienced on campus. 

By way of introduction, I am an adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School and have taught a course on the law of genocide and war crimes trials since 2008. This semester, I am teaching about antisemitism in the courts and in jurisprudence to both law school students and undergraduates. I am also the general counsel emeritus of the World Jewish Congress, an international Jewish human rights organization that represents more than 100 Jewish communities across the globe. Fighting against all manifestations of antisemitism was a central part of my day job until I stepped down as the WJC’s general counsel and associate executive vice president at the end of August 2023. 

We all know that antisemitism is alive and fomenting at Cornell, just as it is on university and college campuses throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. This was the case long before Oct. 7 of last year, when Hamas terrorists perpetrated a large-scale pogrom against Jews alongside the Israel-Gaza border, brutally murdering approximately 1,200 Israeli Jews, including women, children, infants and the elderly, raping Jewish women and girls and violently taking more than 200 hostages, again including women, children, infants and the elderly, into Gaza. Tragically, it appears that many if not most of these hostages have died under horrific circumstances. 

I emphasize that the victims of the Oct. 7 carnage were Jews because Hamas, in accordance with its explicitly and virulently antisemitic founding Covenant, targeted and attacked Israeli Jews. The Covenant equates the State of Israel with Judaism and with all Jews — “Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people” — and makes clear that Hamas’ war is “against the Jews” and with the “warmongering Jews.” A refusal to acknowledge this basic root of the Israel-Hamas war is in and of itself antisemitism on steroids.

Since Oct. 7, antisemitism has surged exponentially at Cornell, as it has on other campuses. Far too often, legitimate support for the Palestinians in Gaza and equally legitimate opposition to the policies of the present Israeli government have morphed into expressed desires for the eradication of Israel as a nation state and the vilification of its supporters. 

But the ADL Report Card isn’t meant to — and doesn’t — catalog antisemitic incidents — it purports to evaluate how the respective universities and colleges have addressed and handled antisemitism since Oct. 7. And this is where, in my considered opinion, the report card falls far short of the mark, certainly as it relates to Cornell. 

For instance, the Report Card acknowledges that the two high profile incidents of last fall — the threats of physical violence against Jewish students and the declaration from Prof. Russell Rickford, history that he was “exhilarated” by Hamas’ brutality — resulted in the arrest of the student who had made the threats and Rickford’s leave of absence. The Report Card does not criticize the way Cornell’s administration handled either of these situations or suggest that they should have been treated differently. 

The Report Card goes on to highlight the various actions Cornell has taken since Oct. 7, without in any way suggesting that these were somehow inadequate. According to the ADL, “The University has undertaken a review of public safety operations, launched a new lecture series exploring critical issues around antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate, created two advisory groups, and is organizing trainings. Cornell also released a new policy clarifying that protests may not compromise the safety of others or interfere with University operations, and a policy forbidding the release of personal information of students or staff used or intended to threaten or intimidate others. The school has also spoken out against professors promoting personal beliefs in class, and President Martha Pollack has been consistently outspoken with respect to denouncing antisemitism on campus.”

These all strike me as serious and responsible measures, and the ADL has not indicated otherwise. 

Moreover, I can personally attest to the fact that discussions about antisemitism and Islamophobia and expressions of diverse views about the Israel-Hamas war are taking place at Cornell in an atmosphere of mutual respect. This is no mean feat, but it seems to have gone under the ADL’s radar.

As someone who has had the opportunity to observe conditions at Cornell firsthand these past six months, rather than placing impersonal data into a matrix that appears to ignore sincere efforts to counter intolerance and bigotry, I want to commend President Pollack, Prof. Jens David Ohlin, Law School Dean and the other senior members of the Cornell administration for the sensitive but firm way they have guided the University through what amounts to a global antisemitism pandemic and in so doing have provided Jewish as well as Muslim students with a safe learning environment.

They have earned our appreciation and gratitude, and Cornell deserves a far higher grade than the one it received from the ADL.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School.

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