A slightly different version of this article originally appeared on The Algemeiner on January 23, 2023.
When reading a statement claiming the “Jewish lobby” has “subjugated” the United States, several likely sources for the comment may come to mind, such as neo-Nazis, Henry Ford, or Kanye West.
Yet, in a display of just how normalized antisemitism has become, those comments instead came from a “human rights expert” at the United Nations, and have now been legitimized by multiple Western universities.
The stamp of approval for the antisemitic conspiracy theory propagated by universities can be found in a “joint statement” published by the anti-Israel non-governmental organization Al-Haq. Among the signatories are Dalhousie University (Canada), HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht (Netherlands), Leiden University (Netherlands), and University of Groningen (Netherlands). At one point, Liverpool John Moores University (United Kingdom) was also listed. However, an following inquiry from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a university representative stated they were “unaware” they had been included and were looking into the matter to have their name removed. Shortly after, the university’s name was removed. A representative from the University of Groningen would only confirm that no board member was involved in the letter, but as of this writing, the university’s name still appears on the list. Though also contacted, no other university has responded to CAMERA’s inquiries.
The statement itself refers to the recent revelation of a Facebook post by Francesca Albanese, the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory Occupied since 1967,” which stated:
America and Europe, one of them subjugated by the Jewish lobby, and the other by the sense of guilt about the Holocaust, remain on the sidelines and continue to condemn the oppressed — the Palestinians — who defend themselves with the only means they have (deranged missiles), instead of making Israel face its international law responsibilities.
Widespread condemnation of Albanese’s blatantly antisemitic comments followed. However, according to the signatories of the Al-Haq statement, these condemnations were “baseless accusations of antisemitism” and part of a “smear campaign.” Further, the signatories added, in an apparent legitimization of the underlying antisemitic conspiracy theory, such condemnations “stymie reflection on the political enablers of Israel’s continued impunity,” presumably a reference to the “Jewish lobby.”
To be clear, at no point did Albanese refer to any specific individuals or organizations she felt were unfairly shielding Israel from criticism, but rather a Jewish collective that she believed had “subjugated” — i.e., controlled or dominated — the United States.
The libel of Jewish cabals controlling and manipulating governments has manifested over the years in everything from the notorious fabrication “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to Nazi propaganda. Today, it remains a popular antisemitic conspiracy theory, often found in the form of white supremacist messages about a “Zionist Occupied Government” (or “ZOG”). As explained by the American Jewish Committee: “By manipulating Western governments, antisemites claim ZOG controls the world economy, limits free speech, confiscates land, and usurps military and police forces.”
This is clearly what Albanese was arguing.
It is thus extraordinarily disturbing to see universities employ what the scholar David Hirsh has named the “Livingstone Formula,” which he defines as “the insistence that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism dishonestly in order to silence criticism of Israel; that they don’t even believe it themselves.”
It’s an unfortunately common tactic, particularly among many of the other, particularly unsavory organizations listed as signatories. For example, MIFTAH once posted a neo-Nazi article that accused “the Jews [of using] the blood of Christians in the Jewish Passover” and, when caught, employed the same tactic it’s using today by claiming it was the victim of a “smear campaign.” Another signatory is “Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East,” whose chair also cried “smear campaign” after being denounced for employing the dual loyalty trope against several Jewish Canadian elected officials.
While it is apparent that Al-Haq has attempted to artificially inflate and lend undeserved credibility to its joint statement by listing institutions that had not actually agreed to sign on, it is also apparent that some universities have become institutional accomplices in the normalization and legitimization of antisemitism at a time when antisemitic beliefs and attacks have risen to shocking levels.
In the Netherlands, for example, a 2019 survey found 43% of the population think “Jews are more loyal to Israel” than to their own country. In Canada, we recently learned just how much university administrations and faculty can play a role in fueling discrimination against Jews in their institutions and in employing the same Livingstone Formula. As described by a senior advisor on antisemitism at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, “I was frequently at a loss as to how to escape from the circular reasoning that dismissed my experience of discrimination while dehumanizing me, calling me out as racist for defending myself against racism, and ascribing to me sinister, hidden power.”
As this latest incident shows, far from being centers of enlightenment and progress, too many universities are instead establishing themselves as hotbeds of bigotry and backwardness, embracing the kind of crude antisemitic conspiracy theories that helped fuel some of history’s most violently racist moments, from pogroms to the Holocaust.