Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dog days of Summers

Ryan Lizza has a pretty good piece in last week's New Yorker (I was away) about Larry Summers.

It's worth reading and has a few nice details -- but there was one criticism I would make:

Lizza missed one of the biggest controversies of Summers' Harvard presidency -- when Summers denounced the movement to divest from Israel as "antisemitic in effect if not intent."

He became a pariah among the left wing of the Harvard faculty, who (I thought) were gunning for him forever after. No, his squabble with Cornel West didn't help. Nor did his comments about women in the sciences (which, although impolitic, seem like pretty weak tea in the light of day). But when the vote of no confidence came up, the organizers couldn't resist throwing in the phrase "in effect if not intent" in their official complaint against him -- just to be cute and stick it to Summers one last time.

But for many supporters of Israel (including your humble schlub) Summers was a hero. He said something which I wish more mainstream figures said clearly: There is an obvious double-standard when it comes to Israel, and it has something to do with antisemitism. And this was at a time when criticism of Israel -- especially on college campuses -- was at a completely hysterical pitch.

It might have ruined Summers at Harvard -- but I always respected him immensely for it.