October 31, 2023 - 4:35pm

The diversity, equity and inclusion industry has been dented by several recent antisemitism disputes. George Washington University postponed a diversity summit last week over concerns about the “current climate”, after a student group projected messages onto a campus building reading “glory to our martyrs”, “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and “GWU is complicit in genocide in Gaza”. The university wrote that the postponement was related to campus safety as well as the “pain” felt by students. 

Institutions across the country — and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) departments in particular — appear to be reckoning with the same problem. The advocacy group StopAntisemitism found in its 2022 report that the majority of universities it evaluated did not include Jews in their DEI programs.

Speaking to UnHerd, Cornell law professor William A. Jacobson claimed that at his university “opponents of Israel seek to racialise what is a religious and national conflict to put together coalitions of students ‘of colour’ versus ‘white’ Israel and Jews”. He suggested that this process has accelerated since the university announced an anti-racism initiative in early June 2020, following the killing of George Floyd.

Cornell came under scrutiny after history professor Russell Rickford said he was “exhilarated” by the 7 October Hamas attacks, and the FBI is currently investigating recent antisemitic threats made against its Jewish student centre. 

“I’ve not seen any response from feminist and women’s rights groups, which overlap significantly with the pro-Palestinian groups, to the use of rape and sexual abuse by Hamas, including rape of dead Israeli women,” Jacobson said. “It may be old fashioned Jew-hatred, but I think more likely it is because campus ‘social justice’ movements, including at Cornell, have been conditioned by the DEI obsession with race to view Israeli Jews as so uniquely evil that resistance ‘by any means necessary’ is promoted, embraced, and excused.”

In March, Tabia Lee found out the extent of the DEI industry’s targeting of certain viewpoints. A former faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Multicultural Education at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, California, she was fired from her position after hosting Jewish speakers on campus to discuss antisemitism and the Holocaust, and attempting to host a multifaith heritage event. 

“I saw antisemitism on a weekly basis in my two years as a faculty ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ director,” she wrote in the New York Post this month. “Toxic DEI ideology deliberately stokes hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people.” Lee characterised the industry as “built on the unshakeable belief that the world is divided into two groups of people: the oppressors and the oppressed.” Within this, “Jews are categorically placed in the oppressor category, while Israel is branded a ‘genocidal, settler, colonialist state’”, and  “criticizing Israel and the Jewish people is not only acceptable but praiseworthy.”

Last week, Sophia Hasenfus — a diversity, equity and belonging officer at MIT — came under fire for liking a tweet which claimed that Israel is guilty of genocide and does not have a right to exist. Meanwhile, City University of New York (CUNY), which has been subject to several Title VI complaints for alleged antisemitic discrimination, hired Saly Abd Alla, a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) supporter and former civil rights director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), as its chief diversity officer in 2021. 

The problem isn’t limited to academia: former head of diversity at Google Kamau Bobb was moved to a different department at the company in 2021 after a blog post in which he wrote that Jews have an “insatiable appetite for war” and an “insensitivity to the suffering [of] others” resurfaced. 

In the same year, a report from the conservative Heritage Foundation found widespread and inordinate hostility towards Israel in the Twitter activities of university DEI staffers. Tweets they wrote, shared or liked about Israel included numerous mentions of apartheid, colonialism, genocide and the targeting of children, the report found. While Israel was referenced three times as often as China, 96% of the tweets about Israel were deemed negative. The corresponding figure for tweets about China was 38%.


Laurel Duggan is UnHerd’s US correspondent.