When Great Institutions Lie – Part I
So long as institutions pay no price for the exploitation of their name by agenda-driven members, they will not rein in their members
Over the past week, two major US institutions have produced studies that discredit their names and reputations as credible organizations. Their actions are important in and of themselves. But they also point to a disturbing trend in the US in which the credibility of important American institutions is being undermined from within by their members who pursue narrow partisan or ideological agendas in the name of their institutions.
The political implications of this larger trend were clearly in evidence in the 2016 presidential election. From a larger, longterm sociological perspective, if the current trend is not reversed the implications for American society will likely be long lasting and deeply destructive.
The first study was produced by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. It dealt with the Obama administration's policies regarding the war in Syria and specifically the acts of mass murder undertaken by the Assad regime. Authored by Cameron Hudson, a former Obama administration national security official who now serves as the director of the museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, the report absolved the Obama administration of all responsibility of the bloodbath in Syria.
As reported by Tablet magazine, the paper argued that “a variety of factors, which were more or less fixed, made it very difficult from the beginning for the US government to take effective action to prevent atrocities in Syria.”
The paper's claim was based on “computational modeling and game theory methods, as well as interviews with experts and policy-makers.” It argued that had then-president Barack Obama not ignored his own redline and actually responded with force to the regime's 2013 chemical weapons attack at Ghouta, it wouldn't have made a difference.
In the last months of the Obama administration, Obama appointed several of his loyalists, including his deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, to positions on the board of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Rhodes was one of the architects of Obama's Syria policy.
After sections of the report were released to Tablet and the report was posted on the museum's website, its findings were angrily rejected by prominent Jewish communal leaders and human rights activists.
For instance, literary critic Leon Wieseltier told Tablet, “The first thing I have to say is: Shame on the Holocaust Museum.”
He added, “If I had the time I would gin up a parody version of this that will give us the computationalmodeling algorithmic counterfactual analysis of [thenUS assistant secretary of war] John J. McCloy's decision not to bomb the Auschwitz ovens in 1944. I'm sure we could concoct the f***ing algorithm for that, too.”
Wieseltier was exactly right. A mathematical model is based on inputs and outputs. If you input specific data, you will get specific consequences. From an academic perspective, the study's findings are worthless.
In the wake of the firestorm the report provoked, the museum pulled the study from its website and canceled its scheduled formal presentation on September 11.
But the damage that the Holocaust Memorial Museum did to its reputation by producing and publishing a transparently false, politically motivated report is not something that can be mitigated by pulling it from its website.
As some of the Jewish communal leaders who spoke to Tablet suggested, the Holocaust Memorial Museum diminished its moral authority as an institution by publishing a report clearly produced to rewrite recent history in a manner that absolved the Obama administration of all responsibility for the mass murder in Syria.
While distressing, the impact of the Holocaust Memorial Museum's action is limited to a historical falsehood. The goal of the second study published this week by an esteemed institution is to distort and indeed block discussion about a problem that is ongoing.
This week, Stanford University's Research Group in Education and Jewish Studies published a report which purports to show that there is no significant antisemitism on US college campuses and that Jewish students do not feel threatened by antisemitism.
The Stanford's conclusions fly in the face of a massive body of data, collected by researchers over the past decade, which all show the opposite to be the case. If the Stanford study is believed, it will discredit the work of hundreds of professional researchers and academics, journalists and Jewish and academic leaders throughout the US.
But that's the thing of it. The Stanford study is utter nonsense.
As the researchers, led by Associate Professor of Education of Jewish Studies Ari Kelman, made clear in their report, their study is the product of interviews with a deliberately chosen, non-representative group of 66 Jewish students from five California campuses who are not involved in Jewish life.
The researchers said that they deliberately chose only Jews who aren't involved in Jewish life on campus, since they make up the majority of Jewish students on campuses. The researchers claimed that reports on campus anti-Semitism are generally distorted, because they generally highlight the views of the minority of students who deeply involved in Jewish life at their universities. Their views, the researchers said, are different from the views of Jews who aren't involved.
There is certainly a valid argument to be made for researching the views of uninvolved Jewish students about anti-Semitism on campus. But the researchers didn't do that. They didn't survey a random, and therefore statistically meaningful sample of uninvolved Jews.
They went to great length to ensure that the “uninvolved” Jewish students were their sort of “uninvolved” Jewish students. As they wrote, “We screened students with respect to their activities in order to determine whether or not they fit our general criteria so as to minimize those with vastly different definitions of ‘involvement' than ours.”
Armed with their painstakingly selected, nonrepresentative 66 Jewish students, Kelman and his team concluded that all the researchers who have conduct-
ed statistically relevant studies of Jewish students on US university campuses are wrong. There isn't a problem with antisemitism on campus. All the Jewish students the researchers spoke with felt perfectly safe on their campuses as Jews.
Caroline Glick is the Director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center's Israel Security Project and the Senior Contributing Editor of The Jerusalem Post. For more information on Ms. Glick's work, visit carolineglick. com.
Caroline Glick writes: “But the damage that the Holocaust Memorial Museum (pictured above) did to its reputation by producing and publishing a transparently false, politically motivated report is not something that can be mitigated by pulling it from its website”