Directors’ Forum: Administering Freedom

For this inaugural Directors' Forum—a new occasional feature in AJS Perspectives—we asked a range of scholars involved in the administration of Jewish Studies programs on college and university campuses to offer personal and/ or professional reflections on the theme of freedom. We gave our colleagues liberty to define the issue as they best saw fit. As you will see, those who responded to our invitation speak to a wide spectrum of issues from a variety of different perspectives. Contributors address the unique freedom to pursue interdisciplinary work afforded by small liberal arts colleges, describing situations in which the restraints of chasing enrollments can inspire curricular innovation. They discuss the mission of public scholarship to forge interinstitutional alliances. They focus on constraints to freedom of speech and academic inquiry that can arise from relations with donors and advocacy groups outside the university—and much more.

Several of the directors whom we approached declined our invitation to participate. Some cited time constraints. As a former and a current Jewish Studies director, we certainly appreciate this challenge! Equally understandably, other colleagues cited a different type of lack of freedom: a reticence to write publicly about experiences with limits to academic freedom for fear of the difficulties that a contribution to this forum might create for the programs they manage.

We are grateful to the six Jewish Studies directors who draw on their experiences below to offer such candid and far-reaching reflections on what freedom can and should mean for Jewish Studies programs on the ground today. The views here are by no means comprehensive, and obviously, not everyone will identify with every position represented here. We encourage our readers to continue the conversation, including with those who did not feel free enough to participate.

—Jonathan M. Hess and Laura S. Lieber

Freedom and Collaboration ~ David M. Freidenreich
The Freedom to Teach across Boundaries ~ Cecile E. Kuznitz
Liberating the Conversation on Academic Freedom ~ Jeffrey Shoulson
Jewish Studies and Academic Freedom ~ Todd Samuel Presner
To Hillel and Back: One Jewish Studies Program’s Sojourn on the Borderline between Jewish Community Professionals and Academic Freedom ~ Benjamin Schreier

David M. Freidenreich

"We teach what we want, when we want, and how we want, and if we're happy, our students will be happy."

My department chair offered these unabashedly individualistic words of orientation and guidance the week I received my job offer from Colby College. Who knew that academic freedom could be so free from constraints? With the partial exception of some course scheduling issues, my colleague's description of the Religious Studies Department has proven true. As the slogan of my adopted hometown in Maine puts it, "Yes, life's good here."

Over the past eight years, however, I've found that I can best realize the potential that this freedom affords by means of collaboration in pursuit of shared goals, not the individualism that is so common within and outside of academia. For that reason, the advice I offer to junior colleagues and those who have just received job offers from other universities is somewhat different from the guidance I received at the start of my own career. "You have great freedom to teach—and research—whatever and however you want. To find happiness and fulfillment in your work, and to increase the likelihood that you'll earn tenure along the way, focus on the intersections between your passions and your institution's priorities."

Colby is a liberal arts college that seeks to foster transformational facultystudent collaboration as well as meaningful engagement with the people of Maine. I have chosen to tailor many facets of my professional life to align with these aspects of Colby's mission. This alignment enables me to work in various partnerships with colleagues, students, and other community members rather than merely as an isolated academic. The professor I have become is quite different from the one who would have emerged at another university—and I have no regrets.

I can indeed teach whatever and however I want, but my chair neglected an important caveat during our initial conversation: if my students aren't happy, they won't take my courses and I won't be happy either. Seminars on ancient and medieval texts, the subject of my formal academic training, simply do not appeal to many Colby students, so I have developed competence and even expertise in areas I could never have imagined in graduate school. This past year, for example, I taught courses on Israeli popular music and, at the request of several students, on Zionist-Palestinian-British relations during the Mandate period. The most unanticipated of my Colby courses, and among the most rewarding, explores the history of Jews in Maine. A number of students have gone on to conduct advanced research on local Jewish history, as have I. One student copresented with me at an AJS conference, and I coauthored a forthcoming academic article with another.

Colby's ethos has shaped not only what I teach but also how I teach. Since earning tenure, I have chosen to spend a tremendous amount of time overhauling my courses to introduce pedagogical techniques that better engage my students. I regularly involve advanced students in course design and revision, and I have reshaped portions of my scholarly research agenda in order to facilitate collaboration with undergraduates. When viewed in the either/or terms common at research universities, I chose to sacrifice scholarly productivity for the sake of pedagogy. This conventional dichotomy, however, feels false at a liberal arts college: my teaching informs my research no less than the reverse, and my professional life is richer because research and teaching go hand in hand.

The freedom to rethink conventional academic norms in pursuit of personal passions and institutional priorities also underpins my professional engagement with Maine's Jewish communities. I regularly give talks around the state because I believe that serving as a public intellectual is not only enjoyable but also a vital part of my job in a region with very few Jewish Studies scholars. For the same reason, I spend a lot of time arranging guest lectures at Colby and organizing public conferences that feature presentations by students as well as scholars. Crucially, I was able to persuade my colleagues and dean to count all of this work as service to the college—equivalent to committee work—for the purposes of merit, tenure, and promotion reviews. Creating learning opportunities for the general public, after all, advances Colby's commitment to serving the people of Maine.

Principles that underpin my use of the freedom I experience—attention to institutional priorities, pursuit of opportunities for partnership, and a willingness to rethink conventional dichotomies—also motivate my work as the director of Colby's Jewish Studies program. Since that program made public scholarship a central element of its mission, Colby has become the state's largest provider of learning opportunities on Jewish topics. Students and faculty benefit from this arrangement at least as much as other community members. Building on this track record, I helped to establish Colby's new Center for Small Town Jewish Life. This center brings the Jewish Studies program, Colby Hillel, and the local synagogue into formal partnerships, bridging the divides between academia and Jewish communal organizations.

The Center for Small Town Jewish Life creates vibrant educational and cultural programs while fostering a sense of community that encompasses students and Maine residents alike. This unconventional collaborative endeavor advances the shared priorities of its three partner entities even as it preserves the autonomy and distinct objectives of each. The benefits of this partnership for Colby's Jewish Studies program have thus far included a second endowed chair, greater visibility, more effective public programming, and expanded opportunities for students to learn from their engagement with the people of Maine. The center's collaborative model is designed to be replicable at other small-town colleges and universities.

It's fitting that Colby's Center for Small Town Jewish Life finds its administrative home within the college's division of academic affairs: its very existence stems from the freedom that academic life can offer to professors who work outside of customary boxes. Through collaboration in pursuit of shared priorities, Jewish Studies faculty are ideally positioned to seize the interdisciplinary and interinstitutional opportunities that such freedom affords.

David M. Freidenreich is the Pulver Family Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Colby College. A member of the Religious Studies Department, he directs Colby's Jewish Studies Program and is associate director of the Center for Small Town Jewish Life. His current research explores the ways Christians have used ideas about Jews to think about Muslims.

Cecile E. Kuznitz

Since arriving at Bard College in 2003 I have served as director of its Jewish Studies Program. Until this fall I was also the sole faculty member teaching full-time in Jewish Studies (in addition to being a member and currently chair of the Historical Studies Program). On the one hand, the need to ground the Jewish Studies curriculum has impelled me to develop a wide range of courses in the field. At the same time, given the general climate on American campuses and Bard's small size—just under 2,000 undergraduates—I have had to diversify my teaching repertoire beyond Jewish Studies in order to attract sufficient enrollments to fill my class slots. While this need to broaden my course offerings in two directions has presented challenges, Bard's support for the humanities and flexible curricular structure has also afforded me the freedom to explore new topics and expand my intellectual horizons.

To complement offerings in my core fields of modern Jewish history and East European Jewish history, I developed a course on Yiddish culture in translation that incorporates a great deal of literature, theater, and film. This class builds on Bard's strength in the arts and well as its support for interdisciplinary approaches. When some graduates of the course asked to study the language itself I was able to offer a tutorial in beginning Yiddish. Through this exercise I familiarized myself with a number of resources and techniques for foreign language instruction. In this way I have taken advantage of Bard's flexibility both to move beyond the discipline of history and to extend my pedagogical range.

As I soon realized that student interest in Jewish Studies would not sustain my full teaching load I considered strategies to attract a broader constituency. Thinking about aspects of the Jewish experience that I might fruitfully place in a comparative context resulted in a new History course entitled "Diaspora and Homeland." The inspiration for this class came in part from personal curiosity: I had been intrigued to see stores selling both saris and reggae music near my childhood home in Queens, New York. I learned that this neighborhood now houses the United States' largest Indo-Caribbean and Indo-Guyanese community, descendants of South Asians who crossed the Atlantic to work as indentured servants after the end of slavery in the Americas. Their sense of a double displacement from the Indian subcontinent and then the Caribbean mirrors the experience of American Jews who recall both the Land of Israel and Eastern Europe as lost homelands.

The semester begins with a consideration of theoretical literature on Diaspora and the place of this concept in Jewish life and thought. We then examine the African and Asian experiences, allowing students to draw comparisons among the case studies themselves. In the course of discussion and written work they have developed intriguing parallels between the thought of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Marcus Garvey and between the ways that Jewish and Chinese immigrants in the United States relate to the "old country." The course attracts a diverse audience; its most recent iteration included students from African American, Afro-Caribbean, Chinese, Tibetan, Israeli, Turkish, Polish, and Ukrainian backgrounds. As a professor of Jewish Studies it is gratifying to see such a range of students exposed to Jewish history and to discover this material's relevance to their own primary areas of interest.

As much as I learned from my forays into African and Asian Studies, I was always conscious of my limited knowledge of these fields in comparison to my own area of expertise. I was thus happy subsequently to co-teach "Diaspora and Homeland" with a colleague specializing in African American history. My teaching partner argued strongly in favor of retaining the unit on Asia, in part to broaden the comparative dimension of the course, in part to force us both out of our comfort zones. What we lost in the depth of knowledge we could draw upon in the classroom we gained in the sense of a shared intellectual journey with our students. While in a large university such teaching beyond our fields might well be frowned upon, I have found that Bard's ethos as a liberal arts college provides the freedom for such curricular explorations.

Bard's small size and flexible curriculum has also allowed me to develop my interest in urban history into a teaching field. Another course that I regularly offer with a colleague looks comparatively at several cities in Europe and the United States. One of our case studies is Vilna, which has been a focus of my own research. I use Vilna's complex history to trace a number of themes—such as the impact of shifting borders and ruling powers—from the medieval to the post-Soviet era, themes that would not arise from our consideration of American and West European urban centers. While I incorporate my own work on Vilna's Jewish community I stress the city's notably diverse population, asking students to compare narratives of Jewish Vilna alongside those of Polish Wilno and Lithuanian Vilnius.

By incorporating a case study much less familiar than others covered in the course, such as Chicago or Paris, we hope to expand students' perspective on the history of the West and perhaps even to spark an interest in the region of Eastern Europe. At the same time, the freedom to teach my own specialization alongside a range of other examples has helped me to think critically about patterns of urban settlement, politics, and culture in a comparative context.

Like colleagues at many other institutions, I have faced the dilemma of sustaining enrollments in a period of retrenchment for the humanities. In addition, I have had to think creatively about how a Jewish Studies program with limited resources can productively serve the interests of a diverse campus. Yet I have found that the freedom afforded by the small size and flexibility of a liberal arts college like Bard has also opened up possibilities for intellectual growth and curricular innovation.

Cecile E. Kuznitz is associate professor of History and director of Jewish Studies and Historical Studies at Bard College. She also serves as senior academic advisor at the Max Weinreich Center, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Her book YIVO and the Making of Modern Jewish Culture: Scholarship for the Yiddish Nation was published in 2014 by Cambridge University Press.

Jeffrey Shoulson

Writing within the intense theological disputes amongst the various Christian confessions that emerged in the wake of Luther's break with the Roman Church some 150 years earlier, John Milton had spectacular literary chutzpah. Milton imagined God mounting a defense of the central concept of human freedom and the responsibility that comes with it, presenting it in an exchange between God and the Son in his 1674 epic, Paradise Lost: "I formed them free, and free they must remain, / Till they enthrall themselves . . . the high Decree / Unchangeable, Eternal . . . ordained / Their freedom, they themselves ordained their fall." (3.124–128). Even without knowing all the finer nuances of Arminian or Calvinist thought with which Milton was struggling, one can sense the high-wire act Milton has undertaken. The notorious complexity of this celestial dialogue—and for some, its failure to make a compelling case—reflect the profound dilemma that sits at the heart of a Christian theology that posits simultaneously an omniscient, omnipotent God, on the one hand, and the justice of holding humanity responsible for its own choices and actions, on the other. It is also my starting point for this reflection on freedom because of how it seems to construe the concept largely in negative terms. Freedom is the default position for all humanity. Yet Milton (or Milton's God, at least) does not seem interested in exploring the affirmative potentialities of that freedom—what such freedom might allow humanity to achieve or create—so much as he is concerned with how that freedom makes falling and failure possible. Man had been created "sufficient to have stood, though free to fall" (3.99), Milton's God insists several lines earlier. In other words, they've been given enough rope to hang themselves.

So much of our current discussion about freedom within the academy seems to me to be framed by this way of understanding freedom. We want to know how far we can push our freedoms before endangering ourselves, before offending or threatening or even circumscribing the freedom of others. We wring our hands at how freedom from constraints turns our students into irresponsible hedonists or insensitive monsters. We lament the outrageous, outlandish, politically troubling claims made by scholarly loose cannons. We worry that unrestrained freedom of expression means the end of "civility" (whatever that might be). We struggle with what seems to be an irresolvable conflict between safety (think "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings") and the freedom to say, to read—and to require our students to read—anything. In short, we seem to assume that freedom is the length of rope we give ourselves and others but that the only inevitable use to which that rope can be put is some sort of hanging. We are sufficiently free, but free only and inevitably to fall.

Given the associations and burdens this discourse of freedom carries with it, I want to suggest that it might be helpful for us to shift our terms, to move from a language of academic freedom to a language of academic liberty. We are, after all, participants in a scholarly framework that we often describe as the liberal arts. It's a term that owes its origins to classical antiquity and stands outside Christian assumptions about the inevitable fallenness of humanity. "Quare liberalia studia dicta sunt, vides; quia homine libero digna sunt," wrote Seneca, "Hence you see why 'liberal studies' are so called; it is because they are studies worthy of a freeborn person." This classical idea of liberty is embedded in a sense of civic participation. Liberty, and the liberal studies that are its precondition, are important because they enable the individual's capacity to engage in, and contribute to, the social and political world. They are not unavoidable threats to civility; rather, they are the very conditions of the cives.

It's an old idea and I am not insensitive to its problematic associations with a certain kind of privileged elitism; Seneca was, after all, citing the idea as a way of distinguishing the freeborn (male) Roman from slaves and other disenfranchised members of his society. But I would nevertheless propose that replacing freedom with liberty offers us a way of thinking beyond the impasse we seem to have reached in our invocation of freedom in the academic world. Academic liberty reminds us that the free range of inquiry and scholarly discourse is in the service of a shared project, collective, social, and political by definition. It is an affirmative, progressive stance, rather than a defensive, reactive one. And we do need to do more than react defensively to persistent attacks on the university, especially in the United States.

While some may see my argument as a tacitly Jewish challenge to an implicitly Christian idea (that is, the collective requirements of the kehillah superseding any abstract claims to individual freedom), it is striking that Modern Hebrew seems to have no exact equivalent for the term "liberal arts." The phrase mada'ei ha-ruah will sometimes serve in its place, itself a calque drawn from the German world of higher education and its idea of Geisteswissenschaften. But these are both terms that more narrowly refer to the humanities and, more importantly for my purposes, situate the area of study in the realm of ruah or Geist, spirit, precisely not the public and civic space of liberal inquiry for which I am advocating. In the shift from freedom to liberty I am suggesting that the humanities—and the arts, and the social sciences, and the physical and life sciences—are not only made possible by free academic inquiry but are what give meaning to the very liberty they depend upon. Academic liberty embeds itself in the varied, diverse, often conflicting lived experiences of those who participate in it and benefit from it. It does not eliminate the clashes of culture and values that arise on university campuses, but it does see those clashes as elemental to its mission rather than as restrictions to its application.

Jeffrey Shoulson is the Doris and Simon Konover Chair of Judaic Studies, professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, and professor of English at the University of Connecticut, where he also serves as the director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life. He is the author of Milton and the Rabbis: Hebraism, Hellenism, and Christianity (Columbia University Press, 2001) and Fictions of Conversion: Jews, Christians, and Cultures of Change in Early Modern England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). His current project is a literary and cultural history of the English Bible from Tyndale the to King James version with a particular focus on the role of Jewish learning in English translations.

Todd Samuel Presner

Over the past couple of years, programs in Jewish Studies have been catapulted to the frontlines of heated public debates over academic freedom, civility, and the limits of free speech. All too often, these debates have pitted Jewish organizations, Jewish students, and Jewish faculty against one another, wreaking havoc on the intellectual and social climate on campus. Part of this is due to the prevalence of self-appointed watchdog groups and advocacy organizations who have taken it on themselves to monitor and report speech on campus (among others, AMCHA, Campus Watch, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and, perhaps most notoriously, Canary Mission). While couched in terms that ostensibly protect Jewish students from hostility, the result is the creation of a climate of paranoia and even bullying against any student and/or faculty member—Jewish or non-Jewish—who deviates from the political ethos espoused by these groups. In contrast to the liberal arts ideals of responsible discussion, engagement, and openness, they promote a military-like binary of "us" versus "them."

Another reason that Jewish Studies has emerged on the frontlines of these debates over academic freedom has to do with the fractious conversations over Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), which have not only splintered and isolated Jewish groups, but have also engendered a dichotomous campus climate in which the violence of macropolitics has come to roost locally. BDS is now a litmus test for determining everything from permitted speakers and appropriate funding to hiring and firing decisions. For many Jewish organizations (not to mention networks of faculty, such as the Academic Engagement Network and the Israel on Campus Coalition), monitoring, reporting on, and combatting BDS is now the most urgent imperative. Opponents of BDS argue that the boycott of Israel enacts a monolithic, singular punishment on Israel by demonizing and delegitimizing Israel's right to exist. Supporters of BDS argue that it is a legitimate, nonviolent form of protest and solidarity with Palestinian society. Neither side, however, countenances nuance, nor considers if there could be an iota of truthfulness in the position of its "enemy."

And overlaid on all of this is the specter of antisemitism, which not only informs but also haunts and sometimes even deforms these discussions. Antisemitism certainly has real, contemporary manifestations within the academy and beyond, which must be vigilantly fought; however, the term is sometimes deployed as a blanket charge to stifle difficult conversations, as in the recent discussions on tolerance convened by the University of California Regents, which, initially, equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism. It is possible to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic, and there exists a diverse intellectual and religious lineage of anti-Zionist thought that is quite distinct from the tropes of antisemitism. (It ranges from advocates of a Jewish-Arab binational state to the Jewish Labor Bund Party in the early twentieth century to contemporary Orthodox Jewish sects who see Zionism as a violation of divine messianism.) It is possible—for varied reasons—to reject a nationalist political ideology without hating Jews tout court, and it is possible to embrace an honest confrontation with the history of the Nakba without impugning Israel's right to exist. But to do so would be to occupy spaces of nuance and grayness, spaces that, in my estimation, are almost completely gone.

While I certainly worry that Jewish Studies (both the academic discipline and the institutional formations that support it, mainly research centers) is becoming more dichotomous and less open, my greater concern is that Jewish Studies and, by extension, the university itself—is threatened by the political and economic forces that believe they are protecting Jewish Students and faculty in the first place. These forces are represented by certain advocacy groups, funders, politicians, and various thought leaders who treat academic freedom as an atavistic vestige of a bygone world and caricature the value of the open university. The representatives of these forces believe the university needs to be protected from speech, ideas, and people that they consider to be dangerous to Israel. They believe that the faculty can no longer govern themselves but need guidance and scrutiny from external groups (sometimes in partnership with certain students, faculty, and administrators) in order to make funding decisions, hiring and promotion decisions, and programmatic decisions based on political criteria that align with their world views. Anything that deviates from these views, anything that could be seen as giving ammunition to the advocates of BDS, or anything or anyone that questions Zionism is immediately attacked. These interventions have happened at numerous universities, including my own, and do not merely imperil Jewish Studies. If they are given standing, these interventions threaten the foundational principles of the university. They imperil faculty governance, free speech, the protections of tenure, and the principles of free and open inquiry. It is quite unfortunate— and deeply ironic—that these are the very principles, which, just a few decades ago, diversified higher education and gave rise to American Jewish Studies programs and centers for Jewish Studies in the first place.

Today, however, Jewish Studies programs are placed in an exceptionally precarious position of either alienating their base of community support or becoming complicit in the erosion of the ideals of the university, usually by their silence or quietism. While certain Jewish organizations such as Open Hillel, Jewish Voice for Peace, and even J Street have attempted to support speakers and programs with alternative views on Israel and Zionism, these groups have remained marginalized and largely excluded from the mainstream Jewish community and its advocacy efforts on campuses. Their members are painted by external watchdog groups as self-loathing Jews who affirm the narratives of the Nakba, Palestinian rights, and Israeli apartheid and, thus, are no better than traitors. This either/or, with-us or against-us narrative is corrosive and has brought about a staggering closing down of debate, historical perspective, and possibilities for ambiguity, multiple narratives, and nuance.

In my view, Jewish Studies programs must model and ardently defend academic freedom by upholding the principles of faculty governance, faculty autonomy, open inquiry, and rigorous debate. Jewish Studies programs and centers—perhaps now more than ever—have a fundamental mandate to be free and speak freely. As such, they can provide leadership in addressing campus polarization and help bridge the gap between the community and the academy by serving the larger intellectual, ethical, and civic values of our democracy. This is the public mission of Jewish Studies worth investing in, fighting for, and defending most urgently.

Todd Samuel Presner is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Director of UCLA's Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. He is professor of Germanic Languages and Comparative Literature, as well as chair of the Digital Humanities Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. His most recent book is a coedited collection, Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture (Harvard University Press, 2016), with Claudio Fogu and Wulf Kansteiner.

Benjamin Schreier

Gramsci wrote that there's no human activity—even Jewish Studies program director—from which all forms of intellectual participation can be excluded. We all know that restrictions always threaten intellectual activity: there's the unfreedom we impose on ourselves and there's the unfreedom imposed on us from without. And then there's the unfreedom that attends professionalized discourse about Jews. Much can potentially be said about how Jewish community formations attempt to manage the activities of academic Jewish Studies; this is my story of one manifestation of this imposition.

In mid-May 2016 I learned that, after a conversation with the local Hillel director here, a donor complained that the Penn State Jewish Studies Program, of which I serve as director, was pro-BDS and anti-Israel in terms of its faculty, speakers, etc. An initial WTF notwithstanding, it didn't take me long to figure this one out.

But I should back up. Because I talk here about Israel on campus, academic Jewish Studies, Jewish identity politics, and Hillel, I begin with a disclaimer—actually a two-parter.

First: Jewish Studies ideally should steer clear of Jewish communal politics, except as it makes them an object of study; otherwise, it risks delegitimization.

I present the second part of my disclaimer as a series of declarations of belief, so my cards are on the table. I'm Jewish. Like many people, I believe a state shouldn't treat different nationally defined populations under its control as different classes of citizen. Israel has as much right to exist as any other state, in proportion to which it can deter challenges to its sovereignty. It's perverse—and sad—that in the name of "the two-state solution" ethnic cleansing has become the leading desideratum of mainstream liberal opinion. The contention that BDS is a priori "anti-Israel" is nonsense; what the hell does that phrase even mean?! (The phrase undoubtedly performs work: it repeats the fascist fallacy of representing a nation with state policies.) To call BDS a priori antisemitic is idiotic. Finally, I serve on Open Hillel's Academic Council—mostly because despite Hillel International's claim that it "strives to create an inclusive, pluralistic community," its "Standards of Partnership" seem aggressively opposed to the principles not only of inclusion and pluralism, but freedom of thought, without which the academy degenerates into paid advocacy and public relations. For the record, I believe Hillel International's commitment to support "Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state" should avow its foundation in ethnic cleansing. (It's the "and" that does it, folks!) More generally, I'm disgusted by attempts to define "Jewish" in ideologically restricted and nationalistically aggressive ways.

I am currently in my third year as the director of Jewish Studies. Like many North American Jewish Studies programs, ours is well supported by donors but lacks many declared students—though our total numbers of majors and minors position us on the good side of average among our Big Ten peers. Unlike on some campuses, our majors and minors are often not the same people who participate in Hillel activities, so my efforts to increase the visibility of the Jewish Studies Program brought me to Hillel, whose director has been friendly, and at semiregular meetings we have discussed how Jewish Studies and Hillel could work together. We cosponsored a number of events over the last couple of years.

We also admitted where our aims diverged. Put simply, Jewish Studies' mission to nurture an ability to think critically about the ascriptive history of the term "Jewish" does not necessarily align with Hillel's mission to nurture a positive Jewish identification. We chose to focus on common ground.

But I have recently come to worry that Hillel International's current take on identity work renders it an unfit partner for people and institutions dedicated to the ideals of free critical thinking and ethical integrity.

First came a faculty panel discussion that the Jewish Studies Program organized in November 2015 focusing on the upsurge in violence in Israel. I enthusiastically let our local Hillel know about it, but then the director called to warn me that the three speakers we arranged, a historian, a political scientist, and a sociologist—as well as the Israeli assistant professor who was moderating—represented various combinations of positions he judged too far to the left on Israel, pro-BDS, anti-Israel, antisemitic, etc. (He also complained about the map of Israel we put on the flyer, which indicated the Green Line; he found it provocative.) He offered to find another speaker who might present the occupation and its consequences in a more Israel-friendly light. I admit that "Israel-friendly" is my term, and I mean it sarcastically, to counterbalance "anti-Israel," and to be as meaningless. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Because I value critical thinking, I tend to suspect claims that "fair" means "balanced," that a position can escape bias, that a person's ability to perform analysis is dependent on his or her opinions, or that there's some ideological line representing the neutrality point in a discursive system. Rather, fairness and objectivity are achieved through challenging positions and suppositions, trying to understand why one's antagonists think as they do, etc. Anyway.

Initially, he wanted to invite someone from the Israeli consulate, but when we called bullshit he backed off, promising to look for an academic. Then he sent word that he had "confirmed" Asaf Romirowski, a think-tanker associated with Daniel ("My peace plan is simple: Israel defeats its enemies" and "Barack Obama Practiced Islam") Pipes's intimidation outfit Campus Watch, famous for publicizing harassing "dossiers" on academics it judges to be "wrong" (its word) on the Middle East. (For the record, those are actual Pipes lines—the first from one of his "articles," the second the title of another.) Though he apologized and cancelled the invitation after I told him he had no right to invite or "confirm" anyone for our panel, especially a propagandist, the Hillel director suggested we put off the event in order to organize something more to his liking. The panel went off very well, with a packed room and no complaints except something vague and unexplained from the Hillel director about it getting "out of hand."

Then, this May, I heard about the donor's complaint. I wrote the Hillel director, asking for clarification; he explained that this donor is also one of his board members, who had asked for a more or less routine report on the state of Israel-related affairs on campus. He explained that he indeed told the donor that he had concerns that the Jewish Studies Program was too critical of Israel.

My concern here is about campus climate, not my job; my dean rightly sees this as an academic freedom issue. I worry (1) that Hillel's increasing hubris vis-à-vis Israel on campus and the nationalist litmus test that is its new "Standards of Partnership" are toxic to inclusivity and hostile to freedom of thought; and (2) that a donor could leave a conversation with the Hillel director feeling confident enough about the term "anti-Israel" to use it as an accusation.

Ideologically programmatic action is of course illuminating, however. The Hillel director's attempt to influence the panel last fall exposes Hillel's Israel strategy. The first step is to simplify discourse on Israel by dividing it into two relatively self-evident positions: one that's relatively opposed to the occupation and one that's relatively defensive of it. The second step is to overlay onto this ostensive difference of opinion another seemingly obvious opposition, but one of identity: between being "anti- Israel" and "Israel-friendly," an identitarian opposition that draws persuasive power from the ostensible self-evidence of the term "antisemitic." This superposition reinscribes the reductive divide between opposition to and support of Israeli policies, rearticulating it as one between illegitimate and legitimate speech. Adding a voice more explicitly friendly to Israeli state policies would mean the panel would present a more obvious disagreement: one that could easily be recoded as a Manichean alternative between pro- and anti-Israel people, which for Hillel is really one between pro- and anti-Jewish people.

In our current ideological climate the term "anti-Israel" is reckless more than simply meaningless. Part of what's going on is that we're living through a significant shift in the regime of knowing, specifically in regards to identity. Claims of position are increasingly legible as—and only as—claims of identity. It's getting too easy to see in a scene of discursive antagonism conflicting kinds of irreconcilable people rather than conflicting sets of arguable claims. Such a shift is not without consequence in the new university, with its existential reliance on donor support.

I find Hillel's intellectual thuggery odious, but Hillel's voice is one among the diversity of opinions that come into contact on university campuses every day, an encounter that stands near the heart of the Enlightenment project. What's really dangerous is Hillel's effort to redeploy an intellectually specious opposition as an institutional cudgel to suppress some arguments and the academics who voice them. In helping to produce and legitimize a climate on campuses in which donors can carry concerns that in fact function as potential threats to university administrators, Hillel is making common cause with the McCarthies of world history.

Benjamin Schreier is associate professor of English and Jewish Studies and Lea P. and Malvin E. Bank Early Career Professor of Jewish Studies at Penn State University, where he serves as director of the Jewish Studies Program. His most recent book is Ihe Impossible Jew: Identity and the Reconstruction of Jewish American Literary History (New York University Press, 2015). Since 2012 he has been the editor of the journal Studies in American Jewish Literature.