The Myth Of Jewish Privilege



Anti-semitism is distinct from other forms of bigotry because it positions Jews as superior, controlling, and as the ones with the most privilege. 

As someone who cares deeply about speaking out against racism and sexism and every other form of discrimination whenever I see it, I find it particularly painful that many of my allies on the Left express no empathy when it comes to combating anti-semitism. Indeed, when discussing anti-semitism, and especially the topic of Israel, the same people I stand with on all social justice and progressive issues are silent when it is Jews who are being persecuted. Worse yet, they often justify and attempt to rationalize Jew hatred.

So, while we join our voices on the deaths of black men by police officers, the war on women's bodies, and the oppression of LGBT people, when Jews are killed in Jerusalem or France or Denmark, or when the European masses chant for Jews to go "to the gas," or when millions repeat the blood libel that Israel committed genocide in Gaza last summer, at best they offer silence.

The first reason for this failure is internalized anti-semitism, which, like other internalized prejudices, blinds us to our biases and enables us to believe the worst of Jews; it primarily manifests itself in how many people assume Israel to be uniquely racist and oppressive and evil, instead of seeing it as ordinary or all too human, just as every human-made nation is. Relatedly, it manifests in the concern many express (often on college campuses such as UCLA and most recently Stanford) that Jews are untrustworthy because they may have a divided loyalty between the U.S. and Israel (an age old anti-semitic trope), and also that Jews are secretly controlling our Congress via the "Israel Lobby" (which invokes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion conspiracy theory). Of course, the idea that Jews are greedy and obsessed with money is also a standard notion seen, for example, in some of Trevor Noah's tweets for which he was called out. 

An obsessive focus with the Jewish State even leads some on the Left to believe that Israel is the biggest threat to the world, and that if Israel achieves peace with the Palestinians all the world's problems will disappear.

The second reason is that progressives often make simplistic and incorrect calculations about race and privilege when it comes to the Jews. As John-Paul Pagano has argued, "most people on the Left today prioritize the well-being of Arabs and Muslims over Jews" because in their "mental shorthand . . . Muslims are people of color and Jews are white." While there is no question that assimilated Jewish Americans with white skin indeed benefit from white privilege, where this leaves Jews who wear religiously identifiable garments is less certain.

In any event, white privilege does not shield one from anti-semitism. As much as we would like to think that anti-semitism has been abolished in this country, the fact remains that, according to the latest FBI statistics, the number one target for religion based hate crimes in the United States were Jews, and Jews are the third-most common victim of hate crimes overall in America, behind African-Americans and gay men.

The Jew has also served as the "other" for centuries in Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East and continues to serve this role today. For example, in Muslim societies which tolerated a Jewish presence, the Jew was forced to occupy a lower social caste—the Dhimmi—and even today such societies believe in Muslim supremacy in much the same way some believe in White supremacy. So, let us not take the unique inclusivity of America and the white privilege held by Jews here as the universal status of Jews.

Third, progressives are also likely to believe (subconsciously or not) in the myth of Jewish privilege. This myth perpetuates a conspiracy theory that Jews are " dominant . . . hyper-powerful . . . have infinite political sway and influence " and it "distort[s] our view of the world." It is perhaps a blindness to this mythological privilege that led Theodor Herzl and others to miscalculate how the world would react to the Jews returning to their homeland and establishing the modern nation of Israel. In this sense, asking for the return of their own country and receiving it was simply one privilege too many.

Ultimately, the failure to grapple with the complexities of race and anti-semitism perpetuates a hierarchy of oppression wherein the oppression of Muslims is made paramount. Nevertheless, given this stance, it is not surprising that when Jews are killed in Europe by Islamists, the first concern is not the rise of Jew hatred, but Islamophobia.

Anti-semitism is distinct from other forms of bigotry because it positions Jews as superior, controlling, and as the ones with the most privilege. Thus, anti-semitism "punches up" at the "dominant oppressor," making all claims of anti-semitism suspect and ultimately invalid.

Many progressives seem unable to accept the irrational nature of anti-semitism or how it is employed against Israel, and the myth of Jewish privilege explains how those with true power (and privilege) are able to ignore the violent acts committed, and the hateful words spewed against Jews around the world.

So, it appears Jews have a special privilege after all. 

If you like this article, please share it! Your clicks keep us alive!