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9th May

First Published in The New York Sun, May 9, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

If you were to walk on the lush, treelined 18-acre campus of the Fieldston School in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, you could imagine that you are on a campus of the Ivy League. The campus has a college feel, with a quad, archways, a well-stocked library, a theater, a dining hall, and athletic facilities to accommodate nearly any sport.

This ambiance is not lost on parents who aspire to see their children move on to actual Ivy League schools. None of Fieldston’s Manhattan competitors can physically match this mini-university atmosphere.To immerse their children in this collegiate environment, parents pay a college-like tuition of $28,545 a year.
But if Fieldston aspires to the best of university life for its students, it has regrettably also adopted some of the worst aspects of campus culture, a politically correct antagonism toward the Jewish state. Four months ago, Fieldston scheduled a forum on the conflict in the Middle East, lining up two speakers so clearly antagonistic to Israel that the announcement unleashed public outrage, both within the Fieldston community and beyond. A professor at Long Island University, Muhammad Muslih, was to speak in favor of a “two-state solution,” while Mazin Qumsiyeh, who once taught genetics at Yale, was to promote a “onestate solution.”
That was promoted as “balance.” Mr. Qumsiyeh espouses positions so extreme that Fieldston parents and alumni forced the school to pull the plug on the first forum. But there is a clear desire on the part of the Fieldston administration to make sure that their students “get the message.” A committee was appointed to schedule a more elaborate and presumably more balanced daylong presentation.

That’s not how things turned out.

While pro-Israeli speakers have been recruited, they will only appear in individual panels, not at the main school-wide forum. Two speakers have been recruited for that more important program, professors Tony Judt, who has said that the idea of a Jewish state is a “political anachronism,” and Rashid Khalidi, whose support of the Palestinian Arab cause has been well documented.

Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale was one of those recruited to participate on the panels. He was unaware that pro-Israel speakers were shut out of the school-wide program. Feeling “duped,” blindsided by the Fieldston administration, Rabbi Weiss withdrew. He also organized a letter of protest that has been delivered to Fieldston’s principal, John Love.Rabbi Weiss was joined by his colleagues Adam Starr of the Orthodox Hebrew Institute, Rabbi Barry Dov Katz of the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel, and Rabbi Stephen Burton of the Riverdale Temple, a Reform congregation. They characterized themselves as “deeply disappointed” by the “unbalanced” presentation. Protests are being scheduled to take place in front of the Fieldston campus during tomorrow’s program.

Mr. Love has refused to respond to either the rabbis or the press and has been defensive in responding to members of the Fieldston community.Alumna Phyllis Leventhal wrote to Mr. Love, asserting: “You can surely count me out as a loyal alum. My allegiance is to where men meet to seek the highest … which your politically correct attempts at ‘educating’ sorely, dangerously, and most egregiously miss.”

Ms. Leventhal’s concerns, apparently shared by many parents, students, and alumni, were curtly dismissed by Mr. Love: “I don’t know how to respond to such an email,other than to say that I am sorry you feel this way, about me and about the hard work that the student faculty-committee has put into this day.”

What is clear is that both the original canceled program and Tuesday’s even worse offerings are not an accident born of ignorance and innocence. It is a deliberate attempt on the part of the school to advance the agenda that is poisoning so many college campuses. This is worse, because some of the students to which this brainwashing endeavor is directed are as young as 12.

The Fieldston School was founded by Felix Adler — part of his Ethical Culture movement — more than 125 years ago.The school is no longer formally affiliated with the Ethical Culture Society. Adler’s movement stresses the ideas of secular humanism, breaking the link of ethical behavior to organized religious beliefs, “deed, rather than creed.”

Unquestionably, Adler, whose father was rabbi of Temple Emanu-el, an early leader of Reform Judaism, would be uncomfortable with the idea of a Jewish state. But I suspect that he would be more distressed by the radical Islam that drives homicide bombers to target innocent Jewish civilians.

The proposal of replacing democratic Israel and its values that honor life and Western ethics with an Islamist state run by the terrorists of Hamas is a far cry from the moral ideals of Felix Adler. Had Adler been alive today, I suspect that he would also be as deeply upset with this unbalanced program at his school as are Rabbi Weiss and the other religious leaders in Riverdale.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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