A reader asks:

Is your argument that there was no anti-semetism at Williams?

No! As we continue our 40 (!?) day review of Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, my argument will be:

There was (and is!) antisemitism at Williams, just as there was (and is!) everywhere in this fallen world. But:

1) There was much less antisemitism at Williams than people now believe to have been the case. Many current Ephs suffer from the delusion (take pleasure in the fantasy?) that historical Williams was a bad place, filled with racism, antisemitism, misogyny, classism and a variety of other ills. That’s wrong, or at least a dramatic overstatement.

2) There was less antisemitism at Williams historically than there was at other elite colleges. The clearest example of this fact is that Harvard/Yale/Princeton had explicit quotas for Jewish enrollment while Williams did not. Wurgaft does not provide many (any?) comparisons to places like Amherst but my sense is that Williams also does well on dimensions like early Jewish representation on the board of trustees and on the faculty.

3) Much of what is described as “antisemitism” historically (and today) is not really antisemitism. See here for an example. If I am angry with someone and I call him an “ugly bastard,” I am not necessarily revealing that, in my heart-of-hearts, I am prejudiced against either the unattractive or the born-without-married-parents. I am simply choosing words which I hope will wound them. Similarly, a 1950s Eph calling someone an “ugly Mick” or “ugly Jew,” is not necessarily anti-Irish or anti-Jewish. (Of course, he might be! And he is certainly guilty of the (worse?) sin of rudeness. The right response to which is: Where did he prep?)

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