This week I read an article about a woman named Jasbir Puar who is an associate professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, where she teaches "queer theory." The article was about a recent lecture she gave at Vassar College, an exclusive liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York, at the invitation of various departments, including the Jewish Studies department.
Before delving into what she said, you should know that Puar is at the forefront of the BDS campaign, and is virulently anti-Israel. Vassar College also has a history of animosity towards Israel, and its faculty and administration inexplicably tolerate brazen antisemitism on campus. Puar's lecture was titled: "Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters," and was described in the online promotion as being about the "oscillating relations between disciplinary, pre-emptive, and increasingly prehensive forms of power that shape human and non-human materialities in Palestine."
The remainder of the blurb is equally dense, pseudo academic-terminology mixed in with phrases reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984. But while Orwell was a satirist, Puar clearly takes herself very seriously. The mystery is why anyone else takes her seriously, but I will get to that in a moment.
I strongly believe in freedom of speech, and in the right of anyone to have an opinion diametrically opposed to mine. If someone thinks that Palestinian Arabs unconditionally deserve their own state, they are entitled to that view, and if they want to join the BDS movement as part of the process to achieve that objective, that is their right. As it is my right to vigorously oppose them, and any campaign whose underlying motive is to undermine and delegitimize Israel, its citizens, and its supporters. I also recognize that people use facts selectively when they want to underpin passionately held views, using statistics and carefully fashioned proofs to help argue their case. That is the way of the world.
But Puar's diatribe was not made up of selected facts, or even distorted facts. It was simply lies presented as fact, all of it based on nonsensical conjecture. Her theory is that there is a deliberate conspiracy in Israel to stunt Palestinian population growth, and she described all kinds of nefarious methods used by Israel to ensure this outcome.
For example, she said that Israel's military is engaged in the "intentional maiming" of Palestinians. This is preferable to killing them as it can be portrayed as humanitarian policy aimed at preserving life, when in fact its aim is to stunt Palestinian population growth by reducing their reproductive capabilities. She also suggested that Israel used "weaponized epigenetics" as a long-term strategy to debilitate Palestinians, and that Palestinian terrorists who do end up dead have their organs harvested for Israeli organ recipients before their bodies are returned to their families.
I am not going to bother refuting any part of her lecture, as quite a number of journalists and others have already torn it apart in articles that have appeared since she spoke. I am actually more puzzled by the audience at Vassar, and more generally in the support she and others like her get in the academic community and from respected media outlets. Any sane person with access to the truth should immediately reject her theories as ludicrous. And yet they don't. We are literally watching a modern day blood libel unfold before our very eyes. Jews and Israel are accused of anything and everything bad, and people believe it. Even Jews believe it! How is that possible?
The Second Duke of Buckingham wrote in the eighteenth century, "The world is made up, for the most part, of fools and knaves, both irreconcilable foes to truth." Clearly, Puar is a knave, while those who listen to and agree with her are predominantly fools. What they share in common is a lack of interest in the truth. The mid-twentieth century advertising guru Roy Durstine once quipped, "My mind is made up — don't confuse me with the facts!" Unless one makes truth a primary objective, it is inevitable that one will be consumed by lies.
I believe that this is the powerful message of the Mishkan, the sanctuary whose construction is commanded in this week's Torah portion, and in particular the Aron, the ornate box kept in the holiest part of the sanctuary. As part of the instructions for its construction, God informed Moshe what the Aron would contain: 'you should place the testimony that I give you inside the Ark.' The commentaries all agree that the Ark housed the luchot — the two tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed.
It is abundantly clear that the Mishkan, which was a prototype Temple, was not required by God so that He could have a place to reside. God does not need a physical residence. Rather it was built for us, so that we could feel the presence of God in our midst in an intense experiential way. Jewish life revolved around the Temple, and every Jew was commanded to visit it regularly and support its upkeep.
But why was the Temple so crucial? I would suggest it was because at its very heart, in its holiest spot, there was a box that contained the word of God, as given by Him to us at Mount Sinai. God's word is the ultimate truth, and here it was in its original unadulterated form. There is nothing holier than the truth, God was telling us, and truth must always be at the center of your life, revered and respected like no other virtue.
Never has that message been more important than it is today, as college students and an unsuspecting public fall prey to liars and lies. Knaves and fools are foes of the truth, but in reality this just means that fools are also knaves.