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Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers

Reader comment on item: The War on Campus

Submitted by jackstpaul (United States), Oct 8, 2002 at 04:51

S.R. Sudah, October 2, 2002 at 17:35 indicted Edward Said with the following comment "But among other things, in a rambling and hysterical attack, Said mentions Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers as being a Jew. Now Said must know the implications of naming someone a Jew, in the context of an Arab readership."

S.R. you need to catch up on your reading. Summers gave a major and nearly unprecedented--wholly unprecedented for himself given his brief tenure--for a Harvard President about political issues and academia re: the Mideast conflict 7-10 days ago. In it, in part a response to the divestiture movement, he identified himself as a (approx. paraphrasing) 'Jew, largely secular, who has never identified myself so much as a Jew or felt any impact from anti-Semitism--until now.' It is to that statement that Said addresses Summer's comments--read Said's article and search for news on Summers.

What is most egregious in my mind is Summer's contention--since echoed without substantiation or explanation--that actions such a the divestiture movement 'may be anti-Semitic in effect, if not in intention.' Well, that's a wimpy, duplicitous, and counter-productive way to accuse someone of anti-Semitism without directly doing it, but doing it nonetheless, but desperate people resort to desperate measures.

Bottom line: Summer's introduced his Jewishness as part of the dialogue, not Said or anyone else. Suggesting that it would be appropriate for Summers to "call the Jewish card'--what he has done--without giving Said or anyone else the ability to address that issue is a double-standard. As far as "cardinal sin" in academic or scholarly debate: this isn't/wasn't a "scholarly debate." It's a political debate pure and simple, contra, say, two historians discussing what lead to the 1967 war. So, no, it's not a cardinal sin, it's a matter of relevance: what possible relevance does (any)one's ethnicity—including oneself--have to the issue at hand?

Summers made it an issue and Said responded writing, "A Jewish president of the country's oldest and richest university complains of anti-semitism!" Why? Irony. 1. Because, gee, no surprise one who is Jewish complains of anti-Semitism—a very real phenomenon, 2. As head of the richest and most prestigious university in the US—if not world, it's hard to say Summers has personally suffered from anti-Semitism of the type he was deriding. How could he have been any more successful in academia if not for suffering anti-Semitism? He would now be president of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton simultaneously?

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