Identity Politics and Anti-Semitism
From time to time in our nation’s history, base human impulses rise up.
“We don’t need a frat boy on the Supreme Court.” That is what my friend told me during the controversial Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
The US Senate was in the midst of hearings prior to a vote on Kavanaugh’s appointment to the highest court of the land. The hearings took place in the midst of a political firestorm, after a childhood acquaintance of Judge Kavanaugh—-Christine Blasey Ford—- accused him of attempted rape.
The accusation was shrouded in mystery. Blasey Ford alleged that the attack had occurred at a high school party over 30 years previously. There were no witnesses, other than another boy who allegedly participated in the attack. Both he and Kavanaugh denied the charge. Blasey Ford could not remember where the alleged attack took place, the date, or who else attended the party. She never reported the attack to authorities, although years later she discussed it with a therapist.
There is no way of knowing if the accusation against Kavanaugh is true. But there can be no doubt that evidence to support the accusation was inadequate by any standard of jurisprudence—-or of ethical journalism. But in the fevered political environment of the time—-with a public aroused by news stories of male sexual abuse against women—-Blasey Ford’s charge took hold in the public mind.
Journalists eagerly proclaimed Blasey Ford’s testimony to be credible. Feminists popularized the term, “Believe Her.” They supported Blasey Ford’s accusation as a cry against all the men who, over the years, had assaulted women and got away with it. It was an affirmation that women would no longer tolerate male abuse and privilege.
Widespread belief in Kavanaugh’s guilt was a triumph of identity politics.
The facts of the case became less important than the need for retribution against a hypothetical collection of “privileged white males”—-especially the prototypical white male associated in the popular mind with the worst elements of male behavior: the “frat boy” cited by my friend.
The founding fathers of our nation knew that fairness and democracy are not inherent in human nature. That is why they put into writing, in our constitution, a palette of protections for the accused: the right to be informed of the nature and cause of all accusations; the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury; the right to confront witnesses; and the right to legal counsel. In addition, the American legal system guarantees that every individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
These safeguards had to be written down and repeatedly reinforced by our judicial system. That is because these safeguards go against the human grain that wants to rush to judgment, favor our friends and those we like, and punish those we dislike.
From time to time in our nation’s history these base human impulses rise up. They did so in the Salem witch trials of the seventeenth century. They did so again in the McCarthy anti-communist hearings of the 1940s and 1950s. And they have done so again in the form of identity politics as a replacement for truth.
Injustice has littered the human landscape from our beginnings. People of color, immigrants, religious minorities, women and others have been victims.
Progressives have offered up identity politics as remedy for all of this. But it has been a poor remedy.
The shortcomings of identity politics are seen in the white male job candidate passed over for a less qualified minority candidate; the police officer fired or imprisoned because juries believe that all police shootings of minorities are unjustified; the male college student whose life is ruined by an unsubstantiated charge of rape leveled by a co-ed who had second thoughts after a night of sex and booze; and the ruined reputation of a decent young man from the Covington School, unjustly accused by the press of racism and provocation, when he himself was the victim of both.
Anti-Semitism is Identity Politics
What does any of this have to do with anti-Semitism?
Identity politics is the essence of anti-Semitism. That is because anti-Semites are identity politics warriors. Their accusations against Jews have everything to do with identity group and nothing to do with the behavior or culpability of Jews.
Yossi Klein Halevi defined the nature of anti-Semitism. In every society and period of time, the personal characteristics most hated by society are ascribed to the Jews. So for example, in communist countries anti-Semites say that Jews are rapacious capitalists; right-wing anti-Semites, on the other hand, say that Jews are subversive communists. Among today’s progressives, the worst human traits are racism and nationalism. It is no accident then, that progressives have labeled Israel as racist and nationalistic, and along with it, all Jews who support Israel.
Progressive identity warriors and anti-Semites have a common trait. They judge the targets of their wrath by identity group, rather than by the reality of what targeted individuals have done. This is why both identity politics and anti-Semitism are pernicious. In both cases, the recipient of blame can do nothing to disabuse his accusers of their false characterizations.
The white male frat boy is as helpless as the Jew, in defending himself against those who “know” he is guilty—-not because of what he has done, but because of who he is.