In the film Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella is inspired by voices and surprisingly is able to attract a crowd to a baseball field he built in his Iowa cornfield. Similarly, while Drexel’s Jewish community is dwarfed by that of its neighbor and rival, the University of Pennsylvania, hopes to compete for bright Jewish students by building the Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life. “Our goal at Drexel is to make the University a greater school of choice for Jewish students from our region and across the nation,” said Drexel President John Fry.
This three-story, 14,000-square-foot facility is well in excess of the needs of Drexel’s current Jewish community.
|A Tale of Two Hillels||Hillel at Drexel University||University of Pennsylvania Hillel|
|Jewish Undergraduates||900 / 16,616
|2,500 / 9,712
|Jewish Studies||5 classes offered.
|50 classes offered.
Minor and major offered.
However, what is Drexel doing to attract the Jewish students they need to fill it?
Over the last year Israel has been removed from Drexel’s list of recommended countries for international students and internships, and Drexel students and faculty must seek special permission to study or work in Israel.
However, a new, more troubling controversy has recently arisen.
Most of Drexel’s Jewish community members were surprised to learn that Noam Chomsky was among the people to be given an honorary degree at the University’s commencement ceremony earlier this month.
The inclusion of “Noam Chomsky: Professor emeritus at MIT, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician and political commentator” on the list of laureats on Drexel’s website escaped the attention of many when it was uploaded on April 20.
However late in coming, the Jewish community is beginning to react. Lori Lowenthal Marcus recalled in The Jewish Press that “Chomsky is one of the best known and most outspoken American critics of Israel”:
He has called the Jewish State such a consistent and extreme violator of human rights “that you hardly have to argue about it.” For that reason, he claims, U.S. military aid to Israel is in direct violation of U.S. Law. At least Chomsky rejects (sometimes) the claim that Israel is an Apartheid state. But that’s because he thinks Apartheid is too gentle a term for Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Arabs.
“To call it apartheid is a gift to Israel, at least if by ‘apartheid’ you mean South African-style apartheid. What’s happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse.”
Perhaps a case could be made for the Department of Computer Science to honor Chomsky for his technical contributions to their field, but her mention is specifically made of Chomsky’s “political commentary”. In the Jewish Exponent, Prof. Abraham H. Miller pointed out that this “political commentary” is wedded to bizarre:
Chomsky seemed to be wedded to ideas of moral equivalence, which the steel trap of his syllogisms ensnared America with some of the most brutal regimes to ever desecrate the meaning of human decency.
Chomsky saw a moral equivalence between the genocidal, fanatical regime of Pol Pot and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. To Chomsky, America was to be indicted for selective outrage at Pol Pot but not at Indonesia, which was an ally….
When the tragedy of 9/11 fell upon America, and while the nation was still consumed with shock and grief, Chomsky once again found a lesson for America in moral equivalence. Ever playing the role of the dispassionate intellectual, Chomsky made a frigid comparison of 9/11 to President Bill Clinton’s cynical bombing of a civilian pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum in August 1988.
Marcus quoted one former Hillel member who took Drexel Hillel’s Rabbi Isabel de Koninck to task for appearing on stage with Chomsky:
It is a bit disturbing that a figurehead of the Jewish community would allow herself to be next to him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some students felt alienated and more hesitant to be involved in the organization after seeing such a photo.
The Rabbi declined to comment on this controversy. However, Drexel President John Fry defended Chomsky’s actions:
I believe Drexel’s decision to award him a degree was justified. Chomsky was among 15 people honored by Drexel at this year’s commencement ceremonies. The decision to include him among this group is consistent with academia’s tradition of recognizing those from a wide variety of fields — with a broad spectrum of perspectives — who have made significant contributions to education, business, science, and civic and cultural institutions. The awarding of honorary degrees does not in any way indicate endorsement of a recipient’s opinions.
As a scientist, Chomsky’s work is at the forefront of his discipline, and he is often described as the “father of modern linguistics.” As a political philosopher and activist, he is widely read and debated, especially with regard to U.S. and Israeli foreign policy.
Furthermore, Fry vaunted his support of The Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life at Drexel University. However, if Drexel is seen as lending its support to those who slander Israel, then will the needed Jewish students come, or will this beautiful new facility sadly become a reminder of the vibrant Jewish community which Drexel could have had?