David Bernstein
David Bernstein
Free speech proponent in the Jewish world

What California tells us about the New Wave of Antisemitism on the Left

What happens in California never stays in California. If you want to see what large swaths of the country, for better or worse, might look like in a year or two, look at what’s happening in California today. On the positive side of the ledger California was one of the first states that legalized same sex marriage, thereby legitimizing it for the rest of the nation. On the negative, it is among the first states to be drastically impacted by climate change with raging wildfires making large parts of the state unlivable. It is also one of the first states to fully embrace a far leftwing ideological curriculum for its K-12  public school system. 

A version of this radical educational curriculum may be coming to your state too. And if and when it does, expect an increase in antisemitic attitudes and incidents. 

The California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) was unanimously adopted in March of this year by the California Board of Education. The underlying ideology of the curriculum presents the world in binary terms of oppressed versus oppressor––largely along racial lines.

Now, with the ESMC ideological underpinnings in place, the very people who authored and promoted earlier versions of the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) that held Israel and Jewish Americans in contempt are now pushing a “Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum” that’s even more extreme than the original. The goal, they explain on their website, is for teachers “to be part of a larger movement.” Fourteen California school districts have already passed resolutions indicating their receptivity.

Similar Ethnic Studies curricula with a decided ideological bent are being introduced in state legislatures across the country. No doubt some local Jewish groups will embrace these bills with open arms, hoping to influence the content and ensure that they don’t turn antisemitic. And while I understand this line of thinking–I held it myself not too long ago–it will only enable more antisemitism and anti-Israelism. 

The reason why Jewish groups cannot ultimately control the antisemitic outputs of such a curriculum is that they are not discrete cases that emerge out of nowhere. They are products of a highly illiberal ideology pushed by ideologically-driven activists that characterizes America as systemically racist and oppressive. This ideology’s more extreme tenets virtually guarantee the generation of further anti-Jewish sentiment. 

My organization, the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values (JILV), cited seven ways that the imposition of this ideology–which is often referred to as Critical Social Justice (CSJ)–fuels antisemitism in a recently released White Paper

First, CSJ fuels the canard of Jewish privilege. Antisemites have always promoted the canard that Jews secretly control the levers of power. CSJ invites such antisemitic imagery by positing a fixed hierarchy of privilege, which legitimizes notions of “Jewish privilege.”  This portrayal of Jews represents Jews as a self-contained cabal or lobby and doesn’t take into account the innumerable differences within the Jewish community.  

Second, CSJ promotes the erasure of Jewish identity. Daphna Kaufman of Reut popularized the term erasive antisemitism for the designation of Ashkenazi Jews from Europe as “white.” This racialization of Jewish identity erases Jewish identity in favor of the CSJ binary of oppressed “person of color” versus “white” oppressor. In this ideological framework, Jews are not afforded the status of a distinct people worthy of self-determination. The erasure of Jewish identity also denies antisemitism its unique quality and historicity by falsely equating it with other forms of bigotry.

Third, CSJ, in the concept of intersectionality, can multiple antisemitic ideas.  Intersectionality is the theory that various forms of discrimination interact in ways that create specific and compound problems, constituting an intersecting system of oppression. In other words, groups with “critical consciousness” have a strong incentive to agree with each other on whom to designate oppressor and oppressed in every system. This ideological framework serves to multiply a false view of “Jewish power” in the US and popularizes a perverse, binary perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Fourth, CSJ propagates an anti-Israel binary. The binary nature of CSJ ideology seeks to neatly divide human beings into either the oppressor or the oppressed while permitting and even encouraging violence against perceived oppressors. This binary extends to Israel, treating Palestinians as the perennial victims and Israel the perennial victimizer. It props up the most simplistic and crude notions of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Fifth, CSJ may marginalize Jews in politics. While not explicitly antisemitic, CSJ has rendered and may further render many Jews politically homeless. Large majorities of Jews have historically voted for Democrats, yet the growing number of party officials, platforms, and policies supporting critical race ideologies stands to alienate a significant segment of American Jewry, especially as the connections between the ideology and antisemitism become more apparent. 

Sixth, CSJ’s revamped concept of “equity” marginalizes Jews. CSJ ideology insists that the only reason there is disparity among racial and ethnic groups is white supremacy. If white supremacy is responsible for some people being held down, then it is also responsible for others being propped up. In this framework, Jews and other economically successful minorities are deemed complicit in or adjacent to white supremacy. 

Seventh, CSJ undermines enlightenment principles. Jews have long thrived in societies undergirded by Enlightenment principles of rationalism, reason, logic and debate. CSJ is inherently anti-Enlightenment. It serves to delegitimize these principles as manifestations of “white supremacy,” stifle debate, and curtail academic freedom. Unmoored from its enlightenment values, society will become more totalitarian and hostile to Jews. 

The White Paper goes on to recommend a set of strategies for countering CSJ inspired antisemitism. Because countering antisemitism is difficult if not impossible in the current ideological environment, we believe we must change the environment itself.

About the Author
David Bernstein is the founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values and is a former CEO of Jewish advocacy organizations.
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