Nelson’s distress is palpable and honest. The prominent appearance of neo-Nazis and known Holocaust deniers in the comments sections below his piece must have also caused him considerable unhappiness. But as Nelson defends the “bright line,” he fails to trace it sideways from the Holocaust to other controversies. He may find calling Israel a “Nazi state” distasteful or false, but despite the demonstrable abuse of history and deliberately pernicious analogy, it will be permitted to stand. Of Siddique’s comments regarding Jews having “taken over America,” Nelson says nothing.
He also has yet to comment on the recent remarks by Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, who opined on al-Jazeera:
As you well know, all the major U.S. news media sources are Zionist. … The British, the Americans, and the French created Israel as a Jewish Bantustan and stuck it there in the heart of Palestine and the Arab world to control and dominate that region of the world.
Why not question Boyle’s “overall professional competence”? Would that, like wondering whether calling Israel a Nazi state is unacceptable, be going too far?
Siddique, Boyle, and countless others point to moral and intellectual failings in American academia that are not easily addressed by academic tradition, university regulation, or outside law. They are insiders and will likely remain so. And while Nelson’s forthrightness regarding Holocaust denial is commendable, his diffidence regarding Israel and anti-Semitism is lamentable, and indicates that academia is in fact unwilling to drawn meaningful “bright lines” regarding knowledge or propriety.
Israel and Jews are demonized in crude ways, and critics of this are accused of being infringers of academic freedom and Zionist propagandists. But the pairing of official diffidence and the disinhibition of anti-Semites in academia is ultimately opportune. The “higher education bubble” is already under scrutiny for grotesquely inflated costs and empty promises of useful skills. Closer examination of its localized cultures of hate, and attitudes of both entitlement and impunity, will not help its case. Such examinations are precisely required. What comes after that, however, is unknown.