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Privileged Victimhood: Antisemitism in America

Over the past few weeks, Western media has been covering the growing discontent among American university students surrounding the war in Gaza which has led to tense standoffs with police and unprecedented political intervention on a scale last seen only during the war in Vietnam. While mostly non-violent, some campus demonstrations have drawn the ire of the political establishment for the discomfort that they cause to other students, in particular Zionist Jews, who are offended by the disconcerting language sometimes used by protesters, and by a general sense of being targeted on account of their Jewish identity. While I do share my sympathies with those who feel such anxiety, I am doubtful of the authenticity of many of those who have been speaking out against the demonstrations, owing to their strong association with political interests and the provocative nature of their actions. In order to understand the complexity of the issue, we must first investigate the underlying forces affecting the situation.

The Jews affected by the student movement can be considered privileged in the context of American society. Coming from middle-to-upper class homes and strong communities with powerful political connections, Jewish students on American college campuses, and even more so at ivy league schools, enjoy the bounty of American collegiate luxury. Life is good for Jews in America, and, in many ways, it’s better than it has ever been before for the Jews in any historical setting apart from maybe the Golden Age of Spain. In contrast, life in Israel is not good. Life in Israel is subject to harsh economic austerity, i.e. the “cost of living crisis,” institutional and societal instability and, of course, constant security threat. On a personal level, I find it hypocritical for Jews in America to complain about the verbal abuse purportedly suffered while traversing college campuses, while still blindly supporting the ineffective, immoral military offensives that not only destroy the lives of innocent civilians, but also disrupt Israeli families and put our soldiers in unnecessary danger. The inherent, unjustifiable and petty equivalence of the physical lives of the many with the emotional well-being of the few is, of course, not limited to the Jews, but an expression of a much larger problem in American society: the weakened mental resilience of individuals in the midst of greater moral decay.

In addition to damaging the legitimacy of support for Israel on campuses, the constant appeal to greater authorities, in this case Congress and the armed forces (police and national guard!), reinforces the unhealthy relationship that Jews in the West have with the corrupt liberal establishment. The uninspired, manipulative collaboration of local politicians with national, or international, actors aims not only to bolster the organizational clout of local activism in order to gain support for the cause, but to promote the activists themselves (especially in today’s age of endless narcisistic self-promotion on social media platforms). Additionally, establishment actors relish the direct, unfettered access that they receive in order to monitor the situation on the ground. The intense scrutiny that they exert over internal communal affairs then results in a closing of ranks, and the ostracizing of those deemed disloyal to the cause. In this way, Zionist Jews actually fall farther down the rabbit hole of antisemitism.

As of now, there doesn’t yet exist a parity between the two sides. Palestinian organizations, while in contact with other established interests (usually on the American left), do not possess the same scope of institutional support as do their Jewish counterparts. Jewish holdings in the Democratic party still outnumber the naysayers, as evidenced by the recent passing of a bill that released substantial financial support for Israel’s war efforts with near-unanimous, bilateral support. The American political consensus still firmly supports Israel and Zionism, and such support does not even appear to be waning significantly in the wake of the devastating effects of Israel’s ill-conceived and poorly implemented total war on Gaza. Some Democrats seem to want to take out their anger on Netanyahu, but no consensus politician calls for the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state and the end of Zionism. However, as the past few weeks have shown, there is a growing movement of Palestinian sympathizers who are calling for such an eventuality. Some of them, including many dissenting American Jews, sincerely believe that an alternative peaceful resolution is possible. Others may be coopting the movement as an excuse for diverting the discussion away from domestic issues, and some may also be truly antisemitic, but the general contours of the growing movement, those of a clear anti-establishment bent, cannot be ignored.

During the interwar period of the past century, Jews in Europe experienced a rapid destabilization of their relative positions in society. From lives of privilege, profession and affluence, they quickly found themselves down on their luck and in serious danger. The eruption of European fascism reversed the many decades, if not centuries, of progress that the Jews strove to safeguard and strengthen. Their swift banishment from positions of power in European society placed them at the mercy of the new illiberal establishment, resulting in disaster. European Jewry failed to anticipate the successes of the fascist revolutionaries. They ridiculed them at first, did not prepare for the real prospect of civil unrest, and when the threat became acute, they could not compensate in time. This overt, inflexible complacency set them up as convenient scapegoats for the enemies of the establishment and led to their subsequent alienation.

As many in the US begin to voice their discontent over the improprieties of Western politics, it is imperative that the Jews not fall into the same trap as before. We must not wed ourselves eternally to today’s corrupt leaders. Given our history, we should view their enthusiastic support for Zionism as inherently suspicious and explore developing relationships with anti-establishment movements in both the US and Europe in order to prepare ourselves for the possibility of an eventual disruption to the current political order. We should also engage with responsible anti-establishment actors out of a genuine desire to fight the corruption in the name of humanity. For too long, Jewish politicians have focused their attention on particular community interests and on the issue of support for political Zionism. Instead of relegating our resources to a single issue, we must see ourselves again as citizens of the world and strive for Tiqun Olam.

About the Author
Originally from Westchester, NY, Aryeh made Aliyah 7 years ago.
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