Race & politics: From the classroom to the UN

Why is anti-Israel sentiment so pervasive on campuses? That has been a question that has perplexed the pro-Israel community for quite some time. In my observations as a student of international studies, I have found that anti-Israel sentiment in the classroom comes from the promotion of a particular paradigmatic view of the world; an analytical ideology whose proponents give individual, state, and global interpretations of the inner workings of society. As you will see, the connection between this seemingly unrelated ideology and the prevalence of anti-Israel bias in the classroom is clear and axiomatic.

The ideology begins with an inherently intolerant premise: The White Man is inherently prejudiced. It draws upon all sorts of historical data and episodes of racism in the history of the world to illustrate this main point. It further extrapolates from this point to contend that because the White Man is inherently prejudiced, he is inherently privileged, and in contradistinction, his nonwhite counterpart is inherently a victim of that privilege.

To prove privilege, this ideology draws upon examples that, at face value, seem to prove its point. For example, two men of the same educational background, the same economic standing, and the same general upbringing may apply for the same entry level job. One man’s name is Tyler, and he is white. The other man’s name is Darnell, and he is black. The employer looks over the application of both of these individuals, and choses Tyler over Darnell, simply because “Tyler” sounds more appealing in the workplace environment then the name “Darnell.” This is proof positive of white privilege, says the instructor, to his pupils.

The professor continues. He begins his analysis at an individual level and works his way up into larger scopes, greater socio-political contexts that concern nation states and the world at large. He continues naturally from extrapolation, asserting the following: White Western European nations are inherently imperialistic, colonialists, and by definition, evil. Nonwhite non-European typically third-world countries are colonized victims of their European counterparts, and are axiomatically perpetually devoid of any and all wrong doing. Thus a paradigmatic view of the world is formed and pushed upon an impressionable group of students.

The world is seen through the lens of imperialism and the earth is ostensibly divided between the West and the rest; the former being the epitome of evil, the latter being the irreproachable innocent. Just as Lenin took Das Kapital and sought to apply it to Russia in its post-czar period, professors today take Marx’s creed of “the haves vs the have nots,” translate it into a phenotypical delineation, and attempt to use that delineation to explain the socio-economic stratification of the peoples of the world.

The professor’s lesson plans include scholarly documents written by academics who purport to show that every form of inequality is unjust and proof positive of the racial hierarchy plaguing society today. Historical figures like Che Guevara and Lenin are praised; their crimes against humanity obfuscated because they allegedly represent the great fight against “the system”–which is always dominated by the white colonialist capitalist. Terrorists who lob bombs at buses full of children are depicted as freedom fighters who simply wanted to get a break from the white /capitalist man. And that tired line that nonwhites can never be called racists since they are perpetual victims of the system  persists in the professor’s textbooks and syllabi.

Of all the great disputes that plague the world, the Arab-Israeli conflict is perhaps the one that proponents of this ideology obsess over the most. Incessant fixation on the peoples involved, the politics at play, and the absolute necessity of the destruction of Israel as the only pragmatic solution to the conflict are the factors that are discussed by the academics that promote this ideology. Why? Well, taking the original premise and applying it to the Arab-Israeli conflict, ideologues come up with two main postulates to inform their analysis:

  1. Israel is a white Western European colonialist settler country.
  2. “Palestine” is a) a country that has existed at some point in history, and b) contains an indigenous Palestinian population, consisting mostly of Arabs.

What logically follows is that “brown” Palestinians must be engaged in a perpetual war of “resistance” against the “white” state of Israel until it crumbles and falls. Any designation of the term “resistance” as “terrorist” is a deliberate racist act against Arabs, since Arabs cannot by definition be terrorists, since they are brown– in contrast to Israelis (who are not.) Proponents of this ideology have a dogmatic, almost religious-like devotion to their viewpoint, substituting facts for fabrications and half-truths that support their world view.

The problems with this ideology are of course complex and multifaceted. I will try to work backwards, explaining what they are first on the level of the Arab-Israeli conflict and lastly,the microlevel of the individual.

The Jewish people are a Semitic Middle-Eastern people. They are not “white”, in the European sense of the word. Historically, they are a people with a shared language, religion, and culture that originated in the area known as the Levant. More importantly, they are the indigenous inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael. Conversely, many Arab inhabitants of the land are largely the progeny of an imperialistic Arab empire which spread out from Arabia all across what is known today as the Middle East.

Now this notion is heretical to the ideologues mentioned above. A people largely of brown skin color has had a history of engaging in imperialism? This cannot be, because it doesn’t fit into the paradigm. It is therefore dismissed as nonsense or not even addressed at all.

Moreover, in terms of biological phenotype, there are white Arabs and black Jews. The world is an incredibly diverse place; It’s not so black- and-white–no pun intended. Yet this too does not fit into the paradigm our ideologues believe in. They view the conflict in question as being a struggle between whites and blacks, so to speak.

But what are the implications of these facts for people like you and I? Are we to hate our Arab brothers and sisters because of these historical truths, because of their imperialistic history and colonialist endeavors? No, not at all. Rather we must acknowledge the truth for what it is, and work to establish solutions reflective of these truths, and other facts on the ground.  This serves as a good segue into explaining why the second notion: that white Western European countries have been historically exclusively imperialistic–is incorrect.

As just discussed, they simply have not been. Even a cursory look at the history of the peoples of the world will show that almost all nations have engaged in some form of imperialistic conquest  in their past. White people. Black people. Brown people. And every shade in between. The urge to conquer is a part of the fabric of human nature and is not exclusively a sentiment held by those with a lighter skin tone. To assert such a fatuous proposition shows not only a lack of historical knowledge, but it is ironically racist in that it contends that darker-skinned peoples are incapable of having certain traits that white people have. Moreover, the assertion that darker skinned peoples have a perpetual innocence complex is doubly insulting because it turns us into helpless children and renders us incapable of making decisions for ourselves; we become defined by this incompetence and are made to depend upon the assistance of these ideologues who claim to advocate on our behalf.

But believe it or not, we are quite capable of the same things as our white brothers and sisters. We are capable of loving, we are capable of hating. We are capable of peace, we are capable of war. We are capable of committing gross injustices and we are capable of indescribable human achievements. And we are even capable of possessing prejudices.

To this point, at the individual level of analysis, I do concede that at any given time a person with white skin color can be shown favoritism and this can indeed be translated as “white privilege.” But this is not exclusive nor is it of ultimate relevance in terms of adversely affecting us, at least not in America. Consider the time period from the 1940s to the 1960s. This was an era plagued with discrimination, sanctioned racism, and heinous acts of violence against my people in the American South. Yet, during this time period, when white privilege was greater in American society, statistics show that more blacks rose out of poverty than after civil rights legislation was passed in the 1960s. Thus, when white privilege was greater, we saw greater growth out of poverty than when white privilege was of a lesser degree. This shows that white privilege–while it exists–has no bearing on our ability as a people to ultimately persevere in whatever endeavor we choose to pursue. Thus it is a moot point, and on the whole completely extraneous.

Moreover, there are all forms of privilege and this is not exclusively held by white people. There is a higher proportion of blacks than others in certain fields as well a higher proportion of Asians than others in certain fields. Just as there have been white employers who have passed over blacks in the application process because of their names, there have also been black employers who have passed over white applicants because of their skin color. I do not say this to trivialize the matter. These things are of course wrong and should not occur. But to assert that the only people who engage in these unjust activities are white is absurd. And as we have seen, following this ideology leads to the perpetuation of all manner of falsehoods throughout academia, and ultimately, on the international stage.

This ideology claims to be anti-racist, but it is de facto racism. It contends that people of darker skin tones are in effect children capable of only exuding a limited amount of feelings, and who must be coddled and indulged so as to insure that they remain on the earth. Rudyard Kipling put it best:

Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed, Go send your sons to exile, To serve your captives’ need. To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild, Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half devil and half child”

You need only replace the word devil with “innocent angel” and presto! You have the prevailing ideology infesting the college classroom today. But we know that the world is not so simplistic. Rather humanity is quite complex, and cannot be explained away so easily in such dualistic notions of black and white. So let us elect to take up Dr. King’s great exhortation to judge the individual, the inhabitants of nation-states, and the peoples of Israel, by the the content of their characters, regardless of if they are black or white, Jew or Arab.

About the Author
Chloé Simone Valdary is an expert in Israel-Engagement in the millennial space. As a Tikvah Fellow at the Wall Street Journal, she developed a blueprint on the topic of Israel advocacy on campus -- namely what works, what doesn't, and how to make it better.