A “color-blind” society based on merit rather than the color of one’s skin. That was the calling card for the civil rights movement of the 1960s and efforts to open up the immigration gates for all individuals who could contribute to our society. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, he dreamt of a country where his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Yet in today’s political discourse, this ethos is under attack, increasingly to the detriment of the Jews.
We Jews have been well served when individual merit is the criterion for success. The emphasis on individual achievement and character, and a belief in a better future, is not only in the best spirit of America, but also part of our Jewish tradition. We, too, strive to treat every human being as if he or she were created in the image of God, and in so doing, work toward a “more perfect union.”
But now we are confronted with a new political paradigm: “the original sin of whiteness,” the willingness of white people to accept the benefits that come with the color of their skin.
There is no doubt that white privilege exists; white people don’t have to face conscious or unconscious racism in redlining or traffic stops, or other forms of discrimination. But does that imply that, according to this racial categorization, white people are permanently flawed?
Yes, according to the bestselling book “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” (Beacon Press, 2018), by sociologist Robin DiAngelo. She writes, “When I say only whites can be racist, I mean that in the United States only whites have the collective social and institutional power and privilege over people of color. People of color do not have this power and privilege over white people.”
This collective guilt helps explain why hate-mongers like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Louis Farrakhan get a free pass for anti-Semitic statements from these ultra-left progressives. As Jews are considered part of this privileged class of whiteness, anti-Semitism is lower in the pecking order of discrimination than bias against people of color.
In fact, just 11 months ago Sophie Ellman-Golan, the deputy director of communications for the Women’s March, tweeted that “white Jews, like all white people, uphold white supremacy.” Aside from this absurdity, she ignored the hundreds of thousands of black Jews in the U.S. and Israel.
Perceptions of Israel as a white colonialist state fits within this white privilege paradigm. As Joshua Muravchik wrote in “Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel” (Encounter Books, 2014), Israel became demonized as an outpost of white colonial imperialism subjugating people of color. Ironic indeed, as 50 percent of Israel’s population, which includes Jews from Arab countries and Africa, would normally be thought of as people of color.
Led by academics like Richard Falk, a professor emeritus from Princeton University, and facilitators like Pres. Jimmy Carter, Israel is now viewed by the extreme left as not just an imperialistic outpost, but also as an apartheid state.
And this original sin of whiteness complicates efforts to push
back against anti-Semitism and the demonization of Israel.
Many examples abound.
In March, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that was originally drafted to condemn Omar’s serial anti-Semitism. In the end it was watered down to attack every conceivable form of discrimination, so much so that it became a meaningless exercise, foregoing any accountability.
Another time, after Chelsea Clinton justifiably criticized the aforementioned congresswoman, she found herself the target of vicious criticism and was called out during speaking engagements, supposedly for fostering white supremacy by condemning a woman, a Muslim, and a person of color, something of a holy trinity for social justice warriors.
Most recently a Jewish student at George Washington University wrote in The New York Times that because he is a progressive Zionist, he has been smeared as an “apartheid-enabler, baby killer, and colonial apologist.” He wrote that he need not apply for any progressive student causes as he was tainted by his white Zionism.
But “it’s the occupation, stupid” that explains the anomaly facing this student. So explains Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah, a social justice organization. In a Nov. 14 Facebook post, she simplistically used this issue to justify the GW student’s dilemma. Yet she did not criticize the Palestinians for rejecting two peace plans over the past 19 years that would have ended the “occupation,” nor the violence that followed Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. And on the very day she wrote this post, Palestinian militants in Gaza broke an hours-long cease-fire by firing multiple rockets into Israel. I guess the “occupation” still exists in Gaza.
Would the association of Jews with white privilege or the perception of Israel as a colonial outpost of whiteness disappear with an end to the “occupation”?
Thankfully, the U.S. reversed the Carter administration policy of branding the settlements as illegal, leaving it to the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate the final disposition of the disputed territories captured by Israel after being attacked by neighboring Arab countries.
We’re all aware that the anti-Semitism of the extreme right has disproportionately fostered acts of violence and desecration upon Jewish people and institutions. But it is the ultra-left that is poisoning the next generation of minds.
Max L. Kleinman is president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation; from 1995 to 2014 he served as CEO/executive vice president of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.