Tuesday, April 30, 2024

It’s Tuesday, April 30th, 2024.

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Anti-Semitism in the Name of ‘Free Speech’: Campus Protests Continue at Columbia University and Beyond

One of our responsibilities is to try to connect dots and figure out what we are seeing beyond what you have the major media and others talking about. So, just take yesterday, almost all major outlets for the major media were focused on one thing, and that is the dynamic of campus protests largely undertaken in the name of support for the Palestinian people from the campus left, but also, in a different context where you had several administrations cracking down, trying to close down camps and all the rest, you had television cameras just about everywhere. And it’s not just that. On social media, you have all these different platforms coming alive because these days you don’t need a television camera, all you need is a smartphone to tell your side of the story. So, let’s take a deeper view of what’s going on here.

I think one of the most important things we can see right now is that on the American elite college and university campus, you have a near complete domination by the cultural and ideological left, and that left is still moving left. And there are several patterns that really do demand our attention. So, yesterday, one of the things we faced is the president of Columbia University, Minouche Shafik. And remember, she catapulted into national prominence in her testimony before a congressional committee just days ago. Before she could return to her own campus there in Manhattan, you had protests break out against even what she had said before Congress in terms of at least stating the fact that her university would not put up with openly anti-Semitic behaviors. It was questionable as to whether that assurance was true even at the time.

But it’s clear that by the time she got home, she had called out the police. The police had cleared the area, multiple arrests there in Columbia. But by the time she arrived back on her campus, she was under attack from the ideological right, from conservatives because they didn’t believe what she said. She was also under attack from the left because the left believed that she was absolutely wrong to have called out the police against the protesters.

So, the academic left clearly and control of her campus is now calling for her job. Meanwhile, you have others in Congress and elsewhere threatening legislation to cut off some kind of privileges for these elite universities that are still harboring open anti-Semitism. So, let’s just ask the question, what exactly does that look like? You have university leaders and others saying, “This is just free expression.” So, what are we looking at? Well, for one thing, you had an now infamous student, I’m not going to mention his name, at Columbia University, who was a spokesman, a spokesperson they probably would say, for the Palestinian cause among students just in recent days. And then, it was discovered that just some time ago he had posted on the internet open threats calling for the death of the Zionist cause and the death of those who backed it.

I’m not going to go into his words, I’ll simply say he was openly calling for the death of his ideological enemies who were the supporters of Israel. And you look at this and you say, “How could anything like that happen? And furthermore, how could it have gone under the radar?” And the answer is, well, eventually it didn’t. But there’s simply no doubt that we’re talking about language that is not only anti-Semitic, it is frankly so far over the line that the average American would say, “That amounts to a threat.”

Furthermore, connected to the protests there at Columbia, there’s a long history we just need to remind ourselves Columbia is not accidentally a part of the story. Columbia is in Manhattan, and one of the things Columbia has struggled with historically is anti-Semitism. For example, in the midpoint of the 20th century, and this was not just Columbia, it was many other elite universities, they were very much afraid they had too many Jewish students and so they basically put in a quota system to try to cut down the number of Jewish students. They didn’t want to have too many Jews on the campus. Now, this was a double problem for Columbia because Columbia’s enrollment was actually dependent upon having a large number of Jewish students. There were so many others there in the northeast that were sending their sons, and at the time, primarily it was their sons, to universities like Yale and Harvard, rather than to the hometown Ivy League institution, which was Columbia.

Then in the middle of the 20th century, Columbia catapulted to national prominence with a good number of Jewish faculty members. And they were often classical liberals, but they were also, at least some of them, a part of what became the neo-conservative movement in the United States. But that is now very much a part of the past.

One of the turning points at Columbia was 1968, the most revolutionary year in terms of politics on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. You had campus protests, riots on the streets in cities that included German cities, Paris, you had outbreaks on university campuses, you had riots on the streets and radical politics. You had the same thing in the United States on both coasts, most infamously on the East Coast, it was Columbia University. And as I say, it was infamous. Columbia University is where the students took over the president’s office for a very long time. It is where you had an absolute breakdown of the academic process. Columbia is where the then president who was the epitome of the eastern establishment, Grayson Kirk, was basically removed from office because of the tumult on the campus.

Now, in the reset, we’re now looking at say a generation or two generations later, it is clearly the ideological left far to the left of the left back in 1968, who are now very much in control. And if there is a consistency, it is a consistency in terms of opposition to Western civilization and to what are perceived to be the values and the principles of Western civilization, and what is understood to be at the heart of that not falsely, and that is Christianity. And so, you really are looking at this and it is a very complex picture. And in one sense, it was very much predictable.

So, fast-forward to where we are right now and we need to understand what’s going on in Columbia and so many other universities and frankly it would just take too much time to go through all the campuses that are involved. I do want to state, by the way, that there are universities dealing with this far better than others. Right now, it looks like for example at the University of Texas, they’re dealing with the situation as an administration far more responsibly than what we have in many other campuses. You have campuses where the rules in place simply don’t allow for this. But in a place like Columbia, quite frankly, it’s a complete breakdown of order.

By Monday, the president of the university, Minouche Shafik, had released two statements. One of them was about the values of Columbia University and the other one was a set of policies, it was basically a threat saying that the encampment needed to be disbanded. And so, it was a notice to the encampment dated yesterday. And the university put out on university letterhead the threat that students who would not begin to remove the encampment would face discipline. But there’s no sense at this point that this is anything but a toothless threat. And you have the academic left so much in control, the cultural left, the ideological left so much in control that quite frankly, the president of the university is not going to act in any decisive way.

And already, she’s got leftist members of her faculty, and that’s not an insignificant number, calling for her removal. Not to state the fact that you have the campus activists now openly opposed to her. And it’s not because she’s taken a brave stand. One of the things she mentions, by the way, is that the encampment needs to be dismantled so that the university can continue its academic process, including the commencement ceremony, which would be in the same area. It’s going to be impossible to have commencement under these circumstances. I think it’s pretty easy to see, it is likely impossible to have commencement there at all, and it’s for a multiple number of reasons.

The statement from the university made the very significant and valid argument that commencement is for many students, the capstone of an achievement of an entire family, and this encampment is robbing them of the experience they have earned in terms of commencement from Columbia University, but that’s not likely to move these students at all. And it’s because they’re not driven by concern for their fellow students. They’re not driven by any concern for the good of Columbia University. They’ve been making demands such as divestment of the university in anything that does business with Israel. And I’ll point out that not only is that unlikely, it’s almost impossible just given the complexities of the economy. And you have a set of incommensurate claims being made by both sides, and you would think the university administration would be in the strong position here. And in any sane universe, it would be. But not in the universe in which the ideological left is absolutely in control. And if you have a president of one of these elite universities that gets out of line, it will not last long.

But at this point, I want us to look at an even deeper issue. Why does the ideological left respond in this way? Why is there the judgment that these students are somehow acting on behalf of the beleaguered cause of the Palestinians? Well, you could say, you could just look at the situation in Gaza and understand that the Palestinian people are suffering a very great deal. But if you think that the situation is that this just emerged where the students were not ideologically committed, the campus left wasn’t ideologically committed until Israel was prosecuting its war against Hamas and Gaza, and I’ll just stipulate here, that is a very important war that Israel must win, you’re just not understanding the situation.

The opposition to Israel did not emerge out of Israel’s defensive invasion of Gaza. It is not recent television images that are driving this. It is the political and ideological left’s hatred of Israel as a state that goes back not only to the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, 1949, but far further back. And it has to do with the ideological loathing of so many on the left of Western civilization. And one of the things they hate about Israel is that in this case, Israel represents a connection to Western civilization.

One of the ideological arguments that emerged from Columbia University, from Edward Said who was professor there, one of his arguments is that the Western nations have no business inserting themselves, the United Nations have basically no business inserting itself in this region. And he was speaking on behalf of the theory of self-determination. And this is something that emerged from a good deal of the international political and moral tumult after World War II. But of course, it goes back even earlier than that. You could say that it was rooted in some of the dynamic of World War I. But nonetheless, by the time you come out of those two world wars, one of the assumptions of so many people is that you have a right of self-determination for peoples. The problem is that peoples and nations don’t always correspond.

Part II

The Resurgence of Cultural Marxism on University Campuses: The Worldview Driving the Ideological Left’s Hatred of Israel

But over the course of the last several years on the briefing, we’ve talked about this resurgence of cultural Marxism. And so many people on the left, they hate the term. And there are even many people who aren’t on the left who are intimidated from using the term, but that’s what it is. It’s the shift that took place early in the 20th century in Marxist thought in which it was understood that the revolution actually is not coming by economics. We’re going to bring the revolution by transforming the culture. So, that’s why it’s called cultural Marxism. And don’t for a minute believe that that’s not what is driving all of this. And that cultural Marxism took many forms, and eventually, through the Frankfurt School, it took the form of critical theory, and so you hear that in the contemporary conversation as well.

But a part of that critical theory is the idea, once again, given classical Marxism, that everything comes down to a dynamic between the oppressor and the oppressed. And the cause of the left is to side in every case with the oppressed, not the oppressor. And that’s why you go back to 1948, 1949. The left in so many ways was just primed to define Israel as the problem, as the oppressor, and not as the oppressed. Now you’ll recall that the United Nations and its mandate for the creation of Israel declared that it was doing so because of the oppression of the Jewish people, most horrifyingly in the Holocaust.

And I’ll make another statement. I’m absolutely convinced that if Israel had moved as it was in its beginning in continuity as a leftist secular socialist state, the left would love it, but they hate Israel because Israel turned out not to be an overwhelmingly leftist, secular and socialist state. The energy in Israel right now is far more identification with the nation as a Jewish nation, with a resurgent religious identity within the nation and also with the fact that from the time of the 1980s forward, socialism has been in decline, not in advance. And it was with the rise of anti-colonial ideology and all the rest that you had this shift on the ideological left in the United States from support for Israel to open antipathy for Israel.

The association with the left on the Palestinian cause in this case also raises something else I want us to see. And that is that on the left, one of the rules is you have to support everything on the left. So, that’s one of the reasons why you have LGBTQ. It’s not because all those things actually belong together naturally by the time you get to L and G and B, frankly, you got big differences with T. But you know what? If you buy into the revolution, you got to buy into solidarity. So, that solidarity means when the left focuses on an oppressed group in its view that deserves this kind of advocacy, quite frankly, you just change the T-shirts. It’s the same people. You just write on the back of the sign the new cause. You just call the protest on behalf of the new cause because there are leftist organizations with a lot of money ready to fund all of this, and we’re going to come back to that in just a moment.

But when you look at this, you recognize one of the most incongruous things you could imagine in terms of how the left is operating right now. And I want to make reference to this. You see these groups that include LGBTQ+ activists for Palestinian liberation, down with Israel, up with the Palestinian state. And yet, you just need to recognize that if you are LGBTQ and open, you better be in Israel, not in the neighboring Arab nations. And I’m simply saying that is a matter of political fact. It is a political fact, as I heard one young person say, you have the T-shirt saying LGBTQ+ solidarity with the Palestinians. You don’t have T-shirts reading Palestinians for LGBTQ rights. Or if you do have those T-shirts, they’re on an American college campus.

They are not located in the Middle East, not that T-shirt, not for long.

Part III

Big Money is Fueling Campus Protests — Haven’t You Wondered Why All the Tents Look the Same?

But I said there’s the other issue of how in the world this happens so fast and so predicatively, I mentioned you just change the T-shirts, you just change the signs, you change the chants. But how does that happen exactly? Well, one of the persons who gives us at least some insight into that is a professor there in the business program at Columbia University, Shai Davidai, who’s gotten a lot of attention in recent days because of his statements to the media. And one of the questions he asks, and it’s very perceptive, he also helps to answer this question, is, “How did this come up so quickly? And why do the tents all tend to look pretty much the same?” I mean, it seems like the mainstream media should be asking these questions. Do you really think that all these students in Manhattan somehow had somewhere in their duffel bag, these instantly createable tents that were so conveniently made into an encampment? Does it not strike anyone as odd that this can’t be simply an instant organic development?

And the fact is, it isn’t. There is an entire institutionalization on the left that is just ready to jump into this opportunity. And I’m not going to go into names and acronyms and all the rest. I can simply say that you have big money fueling this, and big movements fueling this. Change the T-shirt, turn around the sign, and you have the same people fueled by the same money and in all likelihood, using the same tents.

In an interview with Gerard Baker at the Wall Street Journal, Shai Davidai lays bare some other facts and that includes the truth that shortly after the October 7 deadly attack by Hamas on Israel, a terrorist attack undertaken by Hamas, there’s no doubt about that, you had statements from not only students but from faculty members at Columbia University siding with Hamas. Davidai mentioned in particular a student group known as Students for Justice in Palestine, they published a letter on October 9th, and as he points out, that means it was written on October 8th, so the yesterday is October 7th.

I’ll just quote this, “And they published a letter saying that yesterday’s event [meaning the October 7th massacre by Hamas] was a historic day for the Palestinian resistance.” I’ll continue, “And it goes on and on to excuse and justify and celebrate the massacre. This is before Israel has even responded.” So, that helps to document the fact that siding with the terrorist group at the expense of Israel came before Israel had responded at all and it came in the form of a letter. I have looked at some of these materials. Some of them are still very much available online. They’re still very much available at archives. It is clear that Davidai is making a very justifiable point here.

By the way, in looking at these materials, I found one of the professors who was cited in the congressional testimony. I’m not going to mention the professor’s name. I’ll simply share this with you from the New York Times coverage. So, again, this is not some conservative website that is simply posting material. This is the New York Times, a sourced article. Just listen to this. “A biography on Columbia’s website describes,” I’ll say this professor, “as a North African Egyptian, Muslim, anarchist, interdisciplinary activist, scholar of indigenous, black critical race and Islamic studies as well as gender, sexuality, abolition and decolonization.” Wow, that sounds like a sure thing for tenure track at an elite university in America, and you wonder why we have this problem.

Well, in summary, we can simply say that there is more going on here that helps us to understand this issue is even bigger, more urgent and more important than the domination of the headlines in recent days would indicate, that also mandates we continue following this story and see how it unfolds.

Part IV

The FTC Bans Most Noncompete Clauses: This Is a Vast Overreach for the Administrative State — And the Issue Is More Complicated Than Some Think

I want to conclude today by talking about a decision that was handed down by our federal government, the Federal Trade Commission in this case, under the direction of a very radical leader known as Lina Khan. And it was a policy statement, a new policy statement by which the Federal Trade Commission decided that it would invalidate so-called non-compete agreements when it comes to the employment context in the United States. It would be immediately effective for most employees. It would be eventually effective for all including senior executive leadership. So, these non-compete clauses and agreements were part of American contract law. And you had a lot of employers who required them. At one point, we’re told there something like one out of five of all employees in the United States had some kind of do-not-compete clause in the contract. So, what does that mean? It means that for some time the contract would say that if you leave an employer, you can’t go work for a competitor or set up your own business as a competitor. You can’t work in the same field, in the same place or region for some time.

And you ask why would those things be necessary? And it’s because especially when you’re looking at a lot of businesses that are built on intellectual capital, and a business model, or some kind of technology, quite honestly, you infuse employees not only with a lot of value and training, but you also give them an awful lot of knowledge that might be useful to a competitor who might decide to lure them away for money. And so, what you have here is the Federal Trade Commission saying that that very contract logic is invalid. And they’re doing so not only for, let’s say, people who are hairdressers, and that’s one of the oddest things I think that is covered by a lot of these do-not-compete agreements, but it covers senior executives even in the tech fields, and it’s done in the name of the employee.

And I think it’s one of the situations in which you could say, “Well, this wouldn’t benefit employees because the employer is the one who benefits,” but that’s not exactly true. You need to look at it in a larger picture. Why did the employer invest so much in the employee and training and education? Why was that employee paid to work with this certain kind of intellectual product or this particular, say, patent process or this particular business model? And so, it’s not only that the employee was giving labor to the business, it’s also that the business was giving value to the employee. And so, here you have the Federal Commission under a very liberal, very progressivist understanding, stating that it’s acting on behalf of employees by invalidating the very idea of this kind of agreement.

Now, this is going to be appealed almost immediately, and this raises another issue. What in the world is the Federal Trade Commission? Did Congress authorize it to have anything to do with this? And the answer is no. And so Lina Khan, who is pushing the limits of the administrative state in a way that should concern all of us, has actually made the argument that this multi-hundred page policy is binding by the authority of Congress, even though Congress never authorized it. Because when it comes to the federal authorization, the congressional authorization for the Federal Trade Commission, it doesn’t say that the commission can’t do this.

As I come to a conclusion today, I simply want to say I can’t imagine scarier language in terms of the federal government and its administrative state, other than, “Congress didn’t say we couldn’t do this.” If that’s the way our government works, then just think of all the endless number of things intrusions into rulemaking, intrusions into business, into private contracting that the federal government now says, “This is our business because Congress didn’t say it isn’t our business.” You can even put on pause for a moment, our concerns about the policy itself. The bigger issue is that if this understanding of government prevails, we are no longer a government of the people by the people. We’re the government of progressive activists undertaken by professional bureaucrats. Or to put it another way, as we close, just imagine this theory, a government prevailing and imagining someone knocking at the door of your business or for that matter at your home and saying, “Congress didn’t say we couldn’t do this.”

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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