How a Holocaust Denier Influenced the Racial Discrimination Suit Against Harvard

Abe Gaustad
Nov 21, 2018 · 5 min read

A case that pits a group of Asian-American students against Harvard University is moving slowly towards its conclusion. The group Students for Fair Admissions alleges that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants in an effort to promote diversity over “merit.” Harvard strongly denies that its admissions process discriminates against Asian-Americans. While many media outlets have noted that the lawsuit is supported by right-wing opponents of Affirmative Action, few have pointed to the influence of Conservative millionaire Ron Unz, and none at all have referenced Unz’s extremist views.

In 2012, Ron Unz published “The Myth of American Meritocracy” in The American Conservative. The article is quoted extensively in the lawsuit brought by Students for Fair Admission. It’s original publication did cause something of a stir on Harvard’s campus, where it was passed around by administrators via email. While the accusations in the article are disturbing, a far more disturbing thread runs through the 25,000 plus words and 120 endnotes to Unz’s piece. Initially focused on the purported discrimination against Asian-Americans, the article takes a turn and begins, through a serious of dubious deductions, to assert that Jewish-Americans are vastly overrepresented at Harvard and other Ivy League schools, and that this overrepresentation is a deliberate plot by administrators.

Of course, Ron Unz is — or was at the time of his influential article’s publication — careful to present his critique of American Jews in academia in flowing, well-edited sentences with copious references. However, this academic veneer hardly hides his disdain:

“The overwhelming evidence is that the system currently employed by most of our leading universities admits applicants whose ability may be unremarkable but who are beneficiaries of underhanded manipulation and favoritism. Nations which put their future national leadership in the hands of such individuals are likely to encounter enormous economic and social problems, exactly the sort of problems which our own country seems to have increasingly experienced over the last couple of decades.”

Not only is Ron Unz accusing the Jewish members of Ivy League administrations of being “underhanded” and devious, he is asserting that these administrators are the root of all of this country’s social ills. Or, as he puts it:

“This does not seem like a recipe for a healthy and successful society, nor one which will even long survive in anything like its current form.“

One might argue that Unz’s critique is not anti-Semitic in the least and that he merely criticizes favoritism that actually exists. However, Unz uses a slipshod combination of methods to estimate Jewish enrollment at Harvard and the prominence of Jew’s among America’s high-achieving students. Unz employs “name analysis” to determine the percentage of Jewish National Merit Semifinalists but does not use the same technique to determine Jewish enrollment at Harvard. As Nurit Baytch comments in a rebuttal of Unz’s article :

“…[W]hen one uses the same objective and reproducible methodology (once clearly defined) on both data sets, the discrepancy disappears, invalidating Unz’s claims regarding the overrepresentation of Jews in comparison to their academic merit.”

Of course, being wrong doesn’t make one an anti-Semite either, but in the last year, Ron Unz has dispensed with the illusion of respectability entirely and thundered forth into the realm of Holocaust denial and outright bigotry. On his eponymous website The Unz Review, he clearly states his conclusion on the Holocaust:

“I think it far more likely than not that the standard Holocaust narrative is at least substantially false, and quite possibly, almost entirely so.”

And while Unz does couch his claim about the Holocaust in uncertainty, his opinion of the character of the Jewish people is more definitive:

“Jews have generally enjoyed a reputation for producing many of the world’s greatest swindlers and frauds, hardly surprising given their notorious tendency to lie and dissemble.”

The rest of Unz’s 17,000-word bilious discussion of the Holocaust is filled with similar, but less direct, drivel. It’s main points have been debunked many times before and many years ago.

It’s quite likely that Students for Fair Admissions didn’t know that they were using the work of a Holocaust denier to support their lawsuit against Harvard, but having read the article that undergirds their lawsuit, they should have at least suspected so. The media, however, has been equally derelict. The New York Times merely refers to Ron Unz as a “conservative activist and Harvard graduate,” even though his association with the fringe right had been known and documented long before his recent public avowal of Holocaust denial. He has, for example, financially supported the white nationalist organization VDARE, claiming that they write “interesting things.” And both the Times and Politico link to Unz’s 2012 article with no mention of the dubious and ethnically-charged complaints therein. Worse yet, despite Unz’s article still being available on The American Conservative website, both Politico and the Times linked to The Unz Review, where their readers could find not only Unz’s ravings about the Holocaust, but also such eye-opening articles as “9/11 Was an Israeli Job” and “How the Jews Won the battle of Charlottesville.”

Given the recent direct attack against Jews in Pittsburgh, it is high time that more media outlets examine the rampant anti-Semitism that exists on both the right and the left. It is sad to see media outlets becoming less willing to call attention to these bigoted views even as the views themselves become more obvious and the threats more credible. Media outlets should not uncritically spread literature informed by deep-seated bigotry and supported by sloppy, disingenuous research.

The result of the lawsuit against Harvard likely won’t depend much on Unz’s work, but the fact that it could be influential without a full vetting of his motivations is far more destabilizing to our society than some imagined Jewish super-conspiracy. Unz’s willingness to fund and publish apologists for the violent far right is more destructive still.

Unz ends his piece on Holocaust denial with what any serious person must consider a threat in today’s environment. The “current Holocaust narrative,” he writes, is on the verge of collapse, “perhaps with unfortunate consequences for those too closely associated with having maintained it.” One look at the comments on his website indicates that white nationalists are taking his words seriously. It’s high time that the media did so as well.

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