War College: Israel-Palestine on Campus
Remembering Michael Latt and Norman Lear while seeking peace and justice
Me with Norman Lear in March 2015. We switched hats. I wore glasses then.
I’ve got a lot on my mind as the year winds down, including the loss of some people whose efforts to spread love and understanding are needed now more than ever.
The first is Michael Latt, a strategist, producer, founder, and C.E.O. of Lead With Love, an entertainment marketing agency that uplifts the creative work of women and people of color. I worked with him on projects like #BlackMenSpeak, #JusticeForFlint, and the MLK Now annual event, to name a few. (Check out this L.A. Times piece about his life.)
The other is Norman Lear, the epic writer, producer, and Hollywood legend. Just days after the 2016 election, I had the opportunity to interview Lear about his life’s work. His TV shows literally helped raise me in the 1980s. His commitment to active citizenship inspired some of my own work with How To Citizen. This 2015 interview with him on Death, Sex & Money reveals some of his humor and humanity.
Today, I’m going to dive back into the Israel-Hamas war, at least tangentially. Previously, I focused on how the war was playing out on social media. Today, I want to focus on how it’s impacting life on American college campuses and what schools could do differently. But I’ll be candid: This is a very hard subject for me to write about. Of course, I remain horrified by Hamas’s brutal attack and the growing revelations of sexual violence that were part of that attack. Meanwhile, the Israeli response, as many predicted, has unleashed orders of magnitude more suffering upon civilians through siege, mass displacement of already displaced people, and indiscriminate bombardment. I want to see greater efforts to resume the ceasefire, return the hostages, and get much-needed aid to the millions of Palestinians who did not attack Israel on October 7.
This is an incredibly difficult subject to talk about, think about, and write about. And that conflagration is already manifesting itself at our elite institutions, including one I have a lot of familiarity with…
I forgot to tell yall about the custom AI I built that helps you make cocktails and mocktails. I call it “Bar-Tunde” and you can access it if you have a Plus subscription to ChatGPT. Most people don’t have that, so you can also check out my Instagram. I have a story highlight sharing how it works and some of the things people created. Each recipe comes with a toast in my voice (sort of), and an image of the drink. You can even tell it what ingredients you have, and my little robot will design something for you. I hope it brings some holiday cheer and fun in these intense times.
I was a guest on the new podcast, Good Citizen, hosted by Ted Roosevelt V. Yes, related to that Roosevelt.
And I guarantee this will make you feel better. With the Moms for Liberty threesome scandal in Florida (man, I love word combos!), watch this student speak at a school board meeting on why Bridget Ziegler should resign.
As for the main event in this newsletter… My full essay features some of my conversation with Shira Hoffer, the undergraduate Harvard student who created the Hotline for Israel/Palestine in an effort to promote peace through education by offering people a chance to text in their questions about the conflict. I’m sure I’ll be talking with Shira again and am excited for you to learn even more about what she’s been doing. A few more peace building, empathy expanding options:
The First Year Connect program from the peace-building group Search for Common Ground
Dartmouth’s departments of Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies have built on their pre-existing relationship to jointly offer forums where people can inquire and learn about the history
Harvard’s Kennedy School, where the Middle East Initiative has been hosting a series of similar conversations.
the Solidarity Speaks series hosted by Israelis and Palestinians through Green Olive Collective
And now for the excerpt from full Puck essay:
There’s a legitimate debate to be had on college campuses about freedom of speech and intellectual vitality. Monocultures aren’t good in nature or in academia. But how do you foster an environment of open debate and inquiry, while also creating an inclusive environment to which everyone can belong? This necessary debate, however, is happening alongside an illegitimate one, in which antisemitism is weaponized and positioned as the only harm being perpetrated, pushed by people who lack credibility and have alternative motives that stray far from the goal of protecting Jewish students.
Rep. Stefanik, also a Harvard graduate, who drove the viral questioning that led to the ouster of Penn’s president, is also a self-described “ultra MAGA” backer of Donald Trump who has trafficked in the racist and antisemitic “great replacement theory.” After insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, Stefanik voted to toss out Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes for Biden, making false claims of fraud. Her baseless claims about the 2020 election got her removed from the prestigious Senior Advisory Group at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. She has never apologized or taken responsibility for her own speech, or that of the former president, whom she unequivocally supports. Are we to believe that Stefanik was acting in good faith?
Then there’s Bill Ackman, the hedge fund investor and two-time Harvard alum, from the college and business school. Like many, he was disappointed in the university’s initial public statement and a pro-Palestinian student letter that blamed Israel alone for all the unfolding violence. Unlike others, he took to Twitter/X writing, “I have been asked by a number of C.E.O.s if Harvard would release a list of the members of each of the Harvard organizations that have issued the letter assigning sole responsibility for Hamas’ heinous acts to Israel, so as to ensure that none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.”
He wasn’t just asking for names; Ackman wanted to permanently seal off their pathways to the job market. He’s also made it his mission to remove President Gay, not just for her congressional performance but for her alleged lack of qualifications. He’s posted allegations that she plagiarized her academic research, and essentially claimed she only got her job because of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives—not her award-winning undergraduate thesis work at Stanford, or her Harvard Ph.D., or her various administrative and faculty roles at Harvard before assuming the presidency. She mishandled a hard situation, but now she shouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place because she’s a cheater and a diversity hire? Please. The man who created a blacklist for pro-Palestinian students called the D.E.I. era “the McCarthy era Part II.”
Here’s another Ackmanism: “Over its nearly 500-year history, Harvard has been a beacon for excellence based on the equality of opportunity it offers, not by promoting a system or ideology which forces or requires the equality of outcomes.” For the record, Harvard, which was founded in 1636, benefited from extensive financial ties to slavery, and only started admitting women when it merged with Radcliffe College in 1977. Ackman, who wrote his senior thesis at Harvard on the university’s longtime policy of excluding Jews, ought to have a more nuanced view.
Morehouse College president David Thomas shared his thoughts on Ackman’s antics in a post on LinkedIn, which is worth reading in full. In it, he argued that “legitimate concerns about antisemitism on university and college campuses will be hijacked by those with an agenda to undermine black and female leaders in elite institutions whose leadership for centuries has been the almost exclusive province of white men.” Thomas, who was once Ackman’s professor, added that: “Mr. Ackman and others are right to call attention to issues of antisemitism at his alma mater where he attended as a Jewish student. To turn the question to the legitimacy of President Gay’s selection because she is a black woman is a dog whistle we have heard before: black and female, equal not qualified.”
Whether they’re aware of it or not, Ackman and Stefanik belong to a focused and dangerously effective effort to delegitimize the use of education as a tool to move society toward more inclusive policies. That effort includes ending affirmative action in colleges, banning books about race and gender in schools, prohibiting honest lessons about America’s history, and canceling diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Last week, Oklahoma joined Florida, Iowa, and Wisconsin in halting D.E.I. initiatives in public universities and state agencies. It is possible to call out antisemitism and all forms of hate without also rolling back the clock. And we should not cave to bullying and harassment from people claiming to oppose bullying and harassment, whether they do so from the floor of Congress or the servers of X.