“Don’t Know Much About History”: Implications for Human Rights?

Juxtapose two stories:
• At the University of the West Indies, in Cave Hill, Barbados, African drumming, a history lecture, and a song with the chorus, “We cry for the ancestors!” were featured at a ceremony unveiling a monument inscribed with 295 names of slaves who once lived on the plantation where the university now stands.

• Elizabeth City State University, a 2,300 student historically black college in North Carolina, is thinking about cutting seven undergraduate majors, including history, because these majors are “low productive.”

The first story comes from a New York Times op ed discussing efforts by Caribbean nations to unite around a common agenda demanding reparations for the slave trade and slavery. The question the second story, from Inside Higher Education, raises is: in the future will there still be debates anywhere about reparations for slavery and the slave trade—or for the Shoah—or for other past crimes if history ceases to be taught or taught seriously? Over half of U.S. high school students can’t locate Vietnam on a map—and aren’t sure in which century the American Civil War was fought. What can we expect in the future if historical illiteracy becomes, not merely an adolescent ‘fact of life,” but educationally normative?

The 1960s pop song—“Don’t Know Much About History”—may become an understatement.


Woody Allen May Be Seeing the Light About Israel—Sort Of

Woody Allen’s recent remarks about bigoted critics of Israel re-raise the perennial question about the Jewish roots to his serio-comic gift.

Born Allen Stewart Konigsberg in the Bronx in 1935, Allen was the son of Austrian and Russian-Jewish immigrants. His Orthodox family spoke German and a well as Yiddish at home, and while growing up in Brooklyn he lived at times with paternal relations who were refugees from Hitler’s Germany. Allen prayed each morning with phylacteries, attended temple every Saturday with his paternal grandfather, and Hebrew School in the afternoons for eight years until his Bar Mitzvah.

Three-time Academy Award-winner including as director for Best Picture “Annie Hall” (1977), Allen started as a teenage joke writer for comedian Sid Caesar and “The Tonight Show,” evolved into a standup comic, wrote plays as well as movie scripts, shaped from behind the scenes the television success of “Saturday Night Live,” graduated from slapstick comedy to films exploring the meaning of life, and is celebrated in France as a great auteur.

According to one student of Allen, Michael Abbott, “Allen’s didacticism, his tortuous self-questioning, his familiar use of a question in reply to a question, his mosaic storytelling style—all are rooted deeply in Talmudic thought and tradition.” Allen viewed matters differently: “I was unmoved by the synagogue, I was not interested in the Seder, I was not interested in the Hebrew school, I was not interested in being Jewish, . . . .” It just didn’t mean a thing to me. I was not ashamed of it nor was I proud of it. It was a nonfactor to me. I didn’t care about it. It just wasn’t my field of interest. I cared about baseball, I cared about movies. To be a Jew was not something that I felt ‘Oh, God, I’m so lucky’. Or ‘Gee, I wish I were something else’. I certainly had no interest in being Catholic or in any of the other Gentile religions.”

Yet Allen developed a persona very much in the tradition of Jewish humor. First, in his comedy monologues and early films like “Take the Money and Run” (1969) he was the Nebbish—a comic nonentity. But then he graduated to the role of Shlemiel—the failure with a brain and sense of humor—in an Americanized version of Menashe Skulnik of the Yiddish theater.


High Academic Quality Protects Students’ Freedom to Learn

header_audience_students_parentsThe efforts of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) to protect academic freedom intersect with and draw strength from our efforts to maintain high academic quality on America’s college campuses. These issues are closely related, and our Free to Teach, Free to Learn guide highlights the potential challenges universities and their trustees face to ensure that freedom to learn is indeed firmly reflected in academic practices and the curriculum.

The notion that academic freedom requires faculty to have complete control of university curricula in simply incorrect. Such a position forgets that academic freedom entails both professors’ freedom to research and teach as well as students’ freedom and ability to receive a quality education.


Pope Francis: Let anti-Semitism be banished from every heart

This morning, Pope Francis met with members of Rome’s Jewish community to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Nazi deportation of Rome’s Jews.  According to Radio Vatican, the pope took the occasion to express his feelings of closeness to the Jewish people.  In his remarks, Pope Francis also issued a ringing denunciation of anti-Semitism:

“We will remember in a few days the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Jews of Rome. We will remember and pray for the many innocent victims of human barbarity , for their families,” said Pope Francis.

“It will also be an opportunity to keep vigilant so that, under any pretext, any forms of intolerance and anti-Semitism in Rome and the rest of the world not come back to life,” the Holy Father said.

“I’ve said it other times and I would like to repeat it now: It’s a contradiction that a Christian is anti-Semitic: His roots are Jewish,” said the Pope. “A Christian cannot be anti-Semitic ! Let Anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman!”


Kenneth Marcus Speaking at American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists event


The President of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law, Kenneth L. Marcus will be presenting in an upcoming special luncheon hosted by the New York area chapter of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (AAJLJ). During this luncheon, Marcus will cover many of the topics that the Brandeis Center focuses on. Specifically, he will address resurgence of anti-Semitism on American Colleges. He will also look at the relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel propaganda and advocacy, and the role of lawyers in responding to resurgent campus anti-Semitism. Marcus will address the impact of recent cases on college campuses as well as LDB’s continuing work to protect Jewish students from discrimination, harassment and hostile environments.


Happy Dussehra

The Louis D. Brandeis Center wishes a very happy Dussehra (Dasara) to those who celebrate this festival.  As we mark this joyous occasion, which commemorates the victory of good over evil, we thank those in the Indian community who have joined hands with us in our battles against campus anti-Semitism and in favor of religious…


The Swastika as a Symbol of Happiness

The Polish criminal code, similarly to criminal codes in other European countries, prohibits incitement to racial hatred; public insult due to race, national, ethnic or religious origin; as well as public propagating of National Socialist and Fascist systems. Those who oppose the penalisation of words – including racist and xenophobic words – will most probably not approve of the situation in which it is possible to obtain a 3-year jail sentence for shouting “Hitler should have finished his work.” But the European system of human rights protection, founded on the rubble of a Europe devastated by the Holocaust and totalitarian regimes, applies legal measures for counteracting racism which constitute part of the concept of the “militant democracy”.

Białystok and Wrocław are big Polish cities where racism, anti-Semitism and the activities of extreme right-wing organisations are very visible. In those cities, in the last few months, disquieting and for some even frightening decisions have been passed by the prosecutors and judges. In the case of Wrocław, a judge has absolved of the blame of offending due to racism and calling to hatred due to racism a group of activists from National Rebirth of Poland, whose slogans and calls constitute the purest form of racism one could imagine. The judge’s explanation was shocking indeed: he stated that the opinions of those prosecuted are merely a proof of their fascination with the theory of “the preservation of separation in the rich mosaic of races,” developed by Arthur Gobineau, the author of “An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races”, whose main ideas were borrowed by Hitler and Nazism. If this very fact constitutes in the judge’s opinion an excuse for calls such as “Blacks to Africa,” we need to consider if the judge himself is not, by any chance, fascinated by the “mosaic of unequal human races”?

Not long afterwards, one of the Białystok prosecutors who received a notice of the crime committed by unknown perpetrators who painted swastika symbols on the buildings in public spaces, decided that the case needed to be abandoned because the swastika can of course be a symbol of National Socialists, but in fact should be seen as a symbol of happiness and wealth in the Asian culture (!).  It is possible that  neo-Nazis, who probably painted those swastikas, were themselves outraged by the fact that they were propagating Asian culture, which, as any other “under-culture”, they abhor. A question arises again: is the prosecutor aware of the scale of the problem of racism in his own city? Does he know of the devastations of synagogues, setting the flats of foreigners on fire, neo-Nazi marches? Did his history teachers at school not tell him what the swastika after the Second World War means in our part of the world? Has he ever heard of the crimes committed under the swastika symbol in Poland by the Nazis?


Call for Papers: Budapest Conference on “Narratives of Violence”

This announcement from our colleagues at the Pears Institute  for the Study of Antisemitism and the International Consortium for Research on Antisemitism and Racism (ICRAR) will be of interest to our anti-Semitism scholars:

A major international conference on Narratives of Violence, conceived by the International Consortium for Research on Antisemitism and Racism (ICRAR), of which the Pears Institute is a founding member, will be held in Budapest, Hungary, on 16-18 June 2014, hosted by the Jewish Studies Program at Central European University.

The call for papers appears below. Paper proposals of 200-300 words, together with a brief CV, should be sent to ICRAR@bbk.ac.uk by 1 November 2013. 

Narratives of Violence

A major international conference on Narratives of Violence, conceived by the International Consortium for Research on Antisemitism and Racism (ICRAR), and hosted by the Jewish Studies Program at Central European University, will be held in Budapest, Hungary, on June 16-18, 2014.


Anti-Semitic Group Hate Speech Permeates Facebook

Facebook logoVery recently, Facebook Inc. has come under scrutiny for allowing certain hate groups against the Jewish community to stay online, while blocking other hate groups that target other minority communities. Within Facebook’s public, community standards, the company explicitly prohibits the “attack of others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.” These are standards that Facebook has set for its users, so it is natural that they should live up to the same guidelines, and focus on removing hateful, anti-Semitic groups.  As part of the effort to urge Facebook to disable the hateful groups, a group called “Remove Hate From FB” has called for an “offline” protest at on October 14th at Facebook’s headquarters.


UC Berkeley Student Assesses Campus Anti-Semitism


UC Berkeley freshman Elijah Z. Granet has written an interesting account of anti-Semitism that he has faced there and on Facebook.  Granet’s op ed in The Daily Californian relates his own personal experience with anti-Semitism before he even set his foot on UC Berkeley’s ground. He elaborates on the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights’ decision to dismiss claims that the university had failed to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism at that campus. Granet argues that OCR would never hold Berkeley legally liable, no matter the degree of hostility faced by Jewish students because the issues faced by Jewish students stem from the general student body and not from a single organization. Recent incidents and reports reinforce the idea that Jewish students are not welcome at UC Berkeley.  Despite these hateful events, Granet believes we can still move on. 


Government-Created Anti-Semitism (Part 3)



In a recent article written for The Tablet, Kenneth R. Timmerman said that when he traveled to Gaza, Amman, and Damascus in 1994, he kept asking Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood leaders whether they thought the Jews had a plan to dominate the world. Timmerman recounted the enthusiastic answer one Hamas leader: “Yes, indeed. I have a copy right here.” The man then pulled down from a shelf his copy of an Arabic version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Says Timmerman: “It was a response I heard again and again.”

Why did that happen? How did a horrible anti-Semitic tract spread though the Muslim world? Once again, this was not a natural development; anti-Semitic hatred was cultivated by the Soviet government’s disinformation experts.

In 1948, when the state of Israel was re-established, Stalin hoped to fill it with Russian Jewish agents. His plan was to use them to transform Israel into a springboard from which he would launch Soviet expansion into the Middle East. In 1948, however, Golda Meir visited Moscow, and she was enthusiastically greeted by huge groups of Russian Jews. Soon, many of these Jews were promoting the idea of a mass emigration to Israel.


Government-Created Anti-Semitism (Part 2)

JewishCatholic2False accusations against Jews can lead to horrific ends, but so can false charges of anti-Semitism. The problem is that charges of anti-Semitism are almost always met with denial, and it can be difficult to separate legitimate from illegitimate claims. That makes it particularly important to expose false charges when they are uncovered. The importance is magnified when the false charges were made as part of a government plan to advance a political agenda.


University Trustees Must Step Up and Defend Real Academic Freedom

header_audience_trusteesIn ACTA’s last post here at the Brandeis Center Blog, we noted several examples of how professors abuse and violate the principles of academic freedom. How has the landscape of academic freedom changed over the years and who is best positioned to stand up and fight for it today?

The first “Key Document” in ACTA’s Free to Teach, Free to Learn guide is the 1915 “Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure.” This declaration set forth the guiding principles of the American understanding of academic freedom.


Government-Created Anti-Semitism (Part 1)

Many people think of Nazi Germany as the cradle of government created anti-Semitism, but long before anyone had heard of the Nazi Holocaust, the Russian concept of pogrom was well known. The 1939 edition of an authoritative Russian dictionary defined pogrom as: “the government-organized mass slaughter of some element of the population as a group, such as the Jewish pogroms in tsarist Russia.”


Upcoming Guest Blogger: Ronald J. Rychlak

We are delighted to welcome Ronald J. Rychlak as our next guest blogger.  Professor Ronald J. Rychlak is the Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada Lecturer and Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he was formerly Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Rychlak is the author or co-author of eight  books, including Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism, upon which his pieces for the Louis D. Brandeis Center Blog are based.  Brandeis Center Blog readers will recall that Rychlak argues in Dininformation that the KGB deliberately fomented anti-Semitism in Muslim countries in order to turn them against the United States.  We discussed this fascinating historical question in a prior blog entry and invited Rychlak to provide us with more background on the issue.


Brandeis Center Welcomes More New Staff and Interns

In response to the resurgence of campus anti-Semitism, the Louis D. Brandeis Center has recently added four new vibrant and passionate members to its team. Ari Plaut, Sitara Kedilaya joins as Civil Rights Legal Fellows, while Maria Islam and Eesha Bhave join as Fall interns.

Sitara Kedilaya is a recent honors graduate from American University Washington College of Law. Her experience is diverse, with a focus on civil litigation. Prior to joining the Brandeis Center, Sitara interned at the U.S. Department of Justice, a law firm in Philadelphia, and several non-profit organizations. Sitara joined the Brandeis Center because of her passion and experience in serving and seeking justice for underrepresented populations.

Ari Plaut grew up in Baltimore, MD. He graduated from University of Maryland College Park with a degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology. He spent nine months in Israel following his graduation, doing an internship program working with Darfurian refugees. Afterwards, he went to Case Western Reserve Law School and just graduated. Ari joined the Brandeis Center because he seeks justice and strives for fairness and equality.


Maria Islam is a sophomore at American University majoring in international studies. Before joining the Brandeis Center she has interned at the U.S. House of Representative and a law firm in Atlantic City. Maria is interested in the Brandeis Center because she wants to pursue a career that involves advocacy and human rights.

Eesha Bhave is also in her second year at American University, studying political science and international studies. She looks forward to working with the Louis D. Brandeis Center because of its emphasis on addressing injustices on college campuses.

“This is a very exciting time for the Brandeis Center to welcome our new staff,” says LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus. “I am absolutely thrilled to work with such intelligent and devoted students and new graduates. They will foster more innovative ideas which will diffuse our mission; which is to stop anti-Semitism and promote justice for all through research, education, and legal advocacy.”


Given the Troubling Reach of Ron Paul’s Political Shadow, Senator Rand Paul Will Deserve a Fair Hearing—But Not a Free Ride—If He Runs for President

During the 1960 presidential campaign, after Protestant Minister Norman Vincent Peal questioned the fitness of a Catholic to be elected president, Adlai Stevenson quipped: “I find St. Paul appealing, but Rev. Paul appalling.” More than half a century later, the 2016 presidential race may face a second “Pauline” moment.
When John F. Kennedy ran for president everybody knew that his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, had won himself no friends in the Jewish community for his Isolationist views during his service as U.S. Ambassador to the UK in the 1930s. This was the context in which JFK made big news during the 1960 campaign. Wanting MLK’s support, the Kennedy campaign faced problems getting it—including an endorsement of Nixon by Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. on religious grounds. Then King, Jr., was arrested in Georgia, and JFK not only called Coretta personally, but exerted behind-the-scenes influence to get her husband released. MLK all but endorsed JFK, and even “Daddy King” relented.

According to Kennedy aide Harris Wofford, Kennedy told him: “Did you see what Martin’s father said? He was going to vote against me because I was a Catholic, but since I called his daughter-in-law, he will vote for me. That was a hell of a bigoted statement, wasn’t it? Imagine Martin Luther King having a bigot for a father!” Then Kennedy added that he had told the younger King “he understood and not to worry ‘because we all have fathers.’”

This story is brought to mind by recent news that former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul—and father of Kentucky and potential presidential aspirant Rand Paul—will journey to Canada, north of Niagara Falls, to deliver a September keynote at the “Fatima: The Path to Peace” conference, a “traditionalist” Catholic movement akin to actor Mel Gibson’s religious brand, noted for attacking Jews as “the perpetual enemy of Christ.”


Students, Professors, and Academic Freedom

Academic freedom image - raised hands

I would like to begin by thanking Ken Marcus for giving my colleague Avi Snyder and me the opportunity to guest-post for the Brandeis Center.

Avi and I work for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a Washington, DC-based non-profit dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education.

Earlier this year, ACTA published Free to Teach, Free to Learn: Understanding and Maintaining Academic Freedom in Higher Education. Free to Teach integrates classic texts in the history of academic freedom—some stretching back nearly 100 years—with commentary from scholars and advocates who work on academic freedom issues. It also incorporates a series of case studies that examine particular controversies which posed challenges to advocates of academic freedom. In this way, Free to Teach aims to offer broad-based guidance to trustees, administrators, and the public on key issues related to academic freedom.


ACTA and Academic Freedom

From the beginning, academic freedom has been a core concern of the Louis D. Brandeis Center.  As civil rights lawyers, we are concerned both when academic freedom is violated and also when the doctrine is abused.  For example, we are concerned when anti-Israel activists suppress the ability of pro-Israel speakers to communicate their messages on campus.  We are also concerned when the doctrine of academic freedom is abused in efforts to justify or protect hateful, harassing or biased academic lectures.  LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus has presented some of these issues in the current issue of the Journal of College and University Law.  See his article on “Academic Freedom and Political Indoctrination.”

In order to share with our readers the latest research on academic freedom, we have asked experts at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) to appear as our guests on this blog.  ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities.  Under the inspired leadership of Anne Neal,  ACTA has recently issued an important trustees’ guide on “Free to Teach, Free to Learn: Understanding and Maintaining Academic Freedom in the United States.”  This guide compiles critical source materials, case studies and commentaries from leading experts.  We are pleased that two of ACTA’s key staffers, William Gonch and Avi Snyder, will be our guests over the coming weeks.


No Joke

No Joke No Joke

“Growing up,” said my son Jacob, “ if you had told me that someone in my family would write a book about Jewish humor, I would have imagined it to be my father, or perhaps my brother, who has something of a legendary wit; certainly not my mother, who was generally regarded as the proverbial straight man in the family.” The nice things he went on to say about me at a launch for the book No Joke: Making Jewish Humor did not contradict his surprise that I should have been drawn to this subject.

I surprised myself. When I took up the study of literature in college, I was attracted by what normally appeals to adolescents—death and heartache, sex and romance, and how to navigate the shoals of life. Yiddish that I chose as my field of concentration seemed to me the most consequential branch of literature, haunted as it was by the fate of its speakers in Europe. I wrote my Masters’ thesis on a group of Yiddish prose poems about the final days of the Ghetto of Vilna. My doctoral dissertation on “the schlemiel as modern hero” addressed the same concerns for Jewish fate from a different angle. We tend to think of the schlemiel as a character in Jewish comedy, but the French aristocrat Adelbert von Chamisso, author of the original Peter Schlemihl (1814), was an exile most of his life, and his tragicomic hero sells his shadow to the devil with the same unfunny consequences as Goethe’s Faust who sells the devil his soul. The man without a shadow and the man without a country lack what “normal” people are expected to possess. The schlemiel of Yiddish folk culture is likewise a hapless person in a tragic situation.