It is no secret that since Israel declared war on Hamas, young progressives, particularly on college campuses, have gone in big for such rhetoric as “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free,” “Stop Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza” and “End Israeli Apartheid.” Harvard University is a prime example. So much so that its president, Claudine Gay, failed to answer “yes” when asked if calls for slaughtering Jews constitutes harassment or breaches Harvard’s own code of conduct. Other college presidents, have been similarly wishy-washy on the matter.
Forget for a moment that many young people, swept up in the seeming righteousness of their cause, don’t know what they’re actually calling for. Forget that there are all kinds of legitimate reasons to criticize Israel’s policies towards its Palestinian neighbors. Or even that supporting Hamas is tantamount to cheering for a death cult. While you’re at it, forget too that if the Hamas fantasy of a Palestinian nation in what is now the State of Israel came to fruition, the result would be a right-wing Islamic Caliphate where homosexuality is punishable by death, as is the case in Iran, Hamas’s most fervent backer.
Instead, let’s talk about intersectionality.
Intersectionality is an analytical framework which, simply stated, posits that all forms of oppression are linked. Picture a Venn diagram with overlapping circles comprising race, nationality, gender, sexuality, physical ability, and age. Then go a step further to determine how an individual or group’s oppression or discrimination by another, more privileged individual or group, comprises a single system. Like all analytical frameworks—a set of principles that help quantify and interpret data—intersectionality may well have its uses. I don’t know. Art history students use analytical frameworks to better understand art. Historians use them to unearth coherent narratives. Psychotherapists use them the way carpenters use tools, picking one out of the box, and then the next, depending on the challenge of the job.
The problem with intersectionality isn’t, as I see it, that it’s about as ambiguous as ambiguity gets, but that it focuses on subjective experience. Whose victimization merits study? Whose lived experience has been most grossly informed by trauma? And most significantly, whose trauma counts? I don’t have a clue as to how intersectionality was used, as a scholarly tool, in its earlier days. But I am pretty sure that in recent years it’s morphed into a framework that does little other than encourage volunteer victimhood, the conviction that because I, as an individual, am from a certain (fill in the blank) marginalized minority I am ipso facto a victim of nefarious powers. What we’re seeing now on campuses across America is the belief that all “victims” of racial or other societal oppression are linked by suffering: my suffering is your suffering; injustice against any on-white group (no matter what the complexity) on the other side of the world is an injustice to all non-whites.
This isn’t merely an unhealthy place to stand, but a dangerous one as well. By depriving its claimant of agency, it simultaneously encourages its claimant to blame others for his own limitations and lash out at others who are perceived to have the better hand. It means that a student who hasn’t studied sufficiently can claim that her teacher had it out for her because, for example, she uses a wheelchair. Likewise, it allows the LGBTQ employee who keeps getting fired can claim that his bosses are homophobic. (Some bosses are of course homophobic, but that’s not the point.) In short, intersectionality allows for the weaponization of social justice, and that’s bad for everyone.
And these days, the intersectionality framework has morphed into something even worse: a cover for old-fashioned antisemitism. It’s the place where the far so-called “woke” left meets the wackadoodle right, that shared space where someone else is to blame, and these days, that someone else is Jews. If on the right platforms like X (formerly Twitter) are rife with “Hitler was right” posts, on the left what you hear are pronouncements accusing Israel not of deicide (the killing of Christ) but its secularized form, genocide.
Fine, be woke—if wokeness means, as it did originally, the awareness of social and political issues, including systemic racism—but when wokeness slides into its opposite, unconsciousness, it’s a dangerous beast indeed, and it makes an old-fashioned liberal like me want to light my hair on fire.
Such anti-Israel sloganeering by the unconscious has resulted in countless Jewish students and faculty on campuses across America feeling vulnerable, and worse, facing threats, harassment, accusations of colluding with murder, and physical assault. The anti-Zionist claim, in its essence, is a declaration that Israel, alone among other nations, has no right to exist, and that those who support it are, by extension, racist oppressors. But make no mistake: the embrace of intersectionality as a cover for antisemitism on campus has been brewing for some time. It brewed when, in 1995, the Columbia (University) Daily Spectator ran a piece written by the president of the college Black Student Organization, claiming that Jews are “leeches sucking the blood from the Black community” and conceal “the blood of billions of Africans,” under their ritual garments. You know how Columbia handled that student? It did nothing. Two years ago, at SUNY Brooklyn, signs went up declaring, counter-rationally “Zionism is NOT welcome on campus! Everyone is welcome to join us!”
Those incidents, alas, were merely the tip of the iceberg.
The rest of the iceberg has now revealed itself, and it’s as massive as it is dangerous. Encouraged by fashionable academic calls to look at any situation from the point of view of a web of oppression, “woke” students have lost sight of the entire purpose of an education—i.e., to educate—and replaced it with a seething rage based on their own self-chosen role as victims. Donning their victimhood like a shroud, young people deluded by the intoxication of wackadoodle-left rage make common cause with each other’s victimhood, conveniently ignoring history, geography, economics, the four times that the Palestinian authorities turned down the opportunity to create their own state, the fact that the Israeli population is composed not just of the descendants of European Jews but those of Sephardi Jews who were forced to flee from Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq and pretty much every other Islamic State—not to mention the nearly 25 percent of Israeli citizens who are Arab Muslims– while denying that Jews too might have, once upon a merry time, been victimized.
How easy it is to point fingers, to cast blame, to whimper about how badly the world has treated you, especially when earning good grades, getting a good job, and most of all, making a real difference in other people’s lives takes so much hard work and discipline.