Shai Franklin
Shai Franklin
Partner with Gotham Government Relations
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Are you racist, or just anti-anti-racist?

Jews who have jumped on the anti-Critical-Race-Theory bandwagon are not only paving the way for racism – they are also opening the door to Holocaust denial
Dorothy Counts, 15, the first black student to attend Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, is followed from school by shouting white students on Sept. 5, 1957. Dr. Edwin Tompkins, a family friend, escorted her. (AP Photo/Douglas Martin/Charlotte Observer)
Dorothy Counts, 15, the first black student to attend Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, is followed from school by shouting white students on Sept. 5, 1957. Dr. Edwin Tompkins, a family friend, escorted her. (AP Photo/Douglas Martin/Charlotte Observer)

In a midrash (exegesis) to the Biblical story of Sodom, Abraham’s servant Eliezer is wounded in the head by a stone-wielding thug. When he complains to the local magistrate, he’s ordered to compensate his assailant who provided valuable bloodletting services. In our own times, those fighting implicit racism are demonized for daring to threaten the delicate social balance and for somehow promoting racism.

Many have become inured to the endless stream of gaslighting and inverting of what’s right and what’s wrong, who are the victims and who are the perpetrators. But the new absurdity of ‘teaching both sides’ in a Holocaust curriculum in Texas spotlights the perverse premise that hate deserves equal time, lest we stifle open debate.

It is vital we not see this incident as isolated or otherwise disconnected from the sophisticated strategy to discredit commonly accepted anti-racism norms. And it’s time we called this pernicious effort to punish and manipulate school boards, schools and teachers what it is: The enabling of hate.

The nationwide awareness of endemic and deadly racism that peaked with George Floyd’s murder is being eclipsed by the right’s vilification of that very impulse for equality, justice, and historical reckoning. It would be naive to think this backlash doesn’t also have a deliberate partisan motivation.

As we’ve witnessed in Texas, the hate this enables legitimizes “opposing views” of the Holocaust. For Jews, it should have been enough that teachers must not distress their students by treating persistent institutional racism as an unpleasant fact. But it wasn’t.

Combating all forms of racism would seem to be worthwhile on its own, but too many American Jews seemingly keep their heads in the sand until it comes back to bite the Jews. And so it has.

The good news is, it’s not too late for us to push back, not just against the absurd notion that there’s an opposing view on Holocaust facts, but that – six decades after the March on Washington – there can be any legitimate “counterpoint” to the facts of systemic racism.

Much of the viral campaigning and bullying of school officials relates to growing hysteria against “CRT”, critical race theory, which is generally confined to the realm of graduate programs in American and African-American studies. It teaches nothing like what its detractors allege. It’s certainly not being taught in K-12 curricula. And it’s hardly a threat to Jewish survival.

What is being taught at long last is the history and persistence of racism in our institutions, society, and daily interactions – what it means to be Black in America today and why, and that racism is always bad.

Educating against racism and genocide has been recast as the true racism and the gateway to “white genocide”. By the same twisted logic, the U.S. Justice Department’s offer to help local police forces protect school officials and parents and young students from anti-CRT mobs is being framed as the real attack on parents and on freedom of expression.

This presumption – that talking about ambient, persistent racism is more offensive and divisive than the racism being depicted – has long been cynically invoked to justify banning books by Mark Twain and other names in our literary canon. The Sodom-like claim is that, by depicting the realities of racism, these authors are actually fostering racism.

The push to constrain and micro-manage teaching about racism – and, by natural extension, about the Holocaust – is purported to ensure open discussion. In the same upside-down manner, opponents of affirmative action say that by compensating for historical and contemporary discrimination with extra consideration for minority students, universities are actually committing racism.

According to Jonathan Butcher, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, “This idea that there is still systemic racism fails to acknowledge all of the sacrifice and thought and struggle that went into making the [1964] Civil Rights Act possible and what has been achieved since the civil rights movement.” For conservatives who recoiled from the civil rights movement 60 years ago, America is now doing just fine, and inciting a new generation to ask for more will only further victimize White America.

As disarming as it is to keep hearing the same two or three Martin Luther King lines quoted out of context, at its core the hysteria against the CRT boogeyman is a fight against everything that’s been learned and achieved since MLK walked this earth.

The Texas law provides a handy list of acceptable and required texts on racism, the most recent of which is the 1965 Voting Rights Act – enacted four years before the Moon landing.

Not to let Mark Twain off the hook, the new Texas law effectively banning CRT has also set off a new purge of public school libraries. And to be fair to most Texas Republicans, they didn’t mean to water down the Holocaust curriculum, only to sanitize the persistence of structural racism in America.

Calling for “open discourse,” influential Jews have joined this assault on justice and truth, with a number of our intellectual elite signing a letter that’s buttressed those now banning books and infusing Holocaust education with dissenting views. Referring to mainstream Jewish support for anti-racism curricula, they complain, “On issues of racial justice, powerful groups in the Jewish world have foreclosed the usual deliberative process.”

The same group has even admonished a premier Jewish day school for implementing a “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice” framework. With no hint of irony, their letter slams “anti-racism”. Seriously: “While we do not have a problem with students reading an article calling for the ‘dismantling of whiteness,’ where is the counterpoint?” They’re not racist, they’re merely anti-anti-racist.

In the course of mainstreaming Christopher Rufo, the spark who lit the anti-CRT fire, Bari Weiss has defined critical race theory as “an ideology that segregates people by race; that insists on a racial hierarchy in which entire racial groups are monolithically good or bad…”

Indeed, there is a well-worn ideology that does just that – it’s called racism, and it still prevails in America today. It’s evidenced in our policing, in the new voting districts being set by state legislatures, in the housing and mortgage policies of banks and zoning boards across the country. And sadly, it pervades many corners of the Jewish community.

The viral anti-CRT movement dates to Rufo’s September 2020 appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, which then-President Trump himself was watching. Rufo has helped draft some of the draconian state bills that are becoming law… think Texas.

Jews who have jumped on Rufo’s bandwagon may not have realized that paving the way for racism would also pave the way for Holocaust denial. The real shame is that enabling racism wasn’t enough of a bright red line for them. Even if they honestly perceive the fight against racism as somehow opening the door to antisemitism, you can’t protect Jews or uphold our values by tearing down the anti-racism agenda, by banning books, or by legislating classroom discussion.

Contrary to their high-minded call for “liberal values”, the anti-CRT movement (also reformulated as anti-“critical social justice”) is not just about presenting both sides of systemic racism “in a spirit of intellectual honesty and integrity.” In Florida, the only side allowed is the ‘no racism to see here’ narrative, since the state Board of Education has banned schools from any teaching “that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.” Not even as an alternative viewpoint.

Many Jews just got hit over the head with the rock of state-sponsored Holocaust denial. Even as we cry out in pain and horror, we must not lose sight of the twisted logic that got us here — and which animates so much of our own communal debate.

About the Author
Shai Franklin, a consultant and lobbyist with U.S. and overseas clients, has served as an executive with American and international Jewish organizations and is a Senior Fellow with The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Foundation.
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