It was just one result among a blizzard of other poll results in a single survey. But one data point in the Harvard/Harris monthly survey of public opinion not only jumped out at observers like a five-alarm fire but also called into question the future security of American Jewry. Amid many other questions, the pollster asked a random sample of 2,034 registered voters the following question: “Do you think that Jews as a class are oppressors and should be treated as oppressors, or is that a false ideology?”
The question may have been loaded, and its results are, at least to some extent, contradicted by the answers to some of the other questions in the survey. But the fact that 67% of participants ages 18 to 24 responded that Jews are “oppressors” is deeply shocking though hardly surprising. If that proves an accurate assessment of opinion among generations that will lead the nation in the future, then it also means that the assumption on the part of many Jews that “it can’t happen here”—based on the idea of American exceptionalism setting it apart from other Western nations—will be proven wrong.
A belief that Jews are ‘oppressors’
The numbers in the poll contrast the markedly different results from other age groups. The older one gets, the more likely the respondent was to correctly label talk of Jewish oppressors as a “false ideology.” Those aged 25 to 34 answered 56% to 44% that it was false. Those aged 35 to 44 gave a 64% to 35% majority to the “false ideology” answer with those aged 45 to 54, 55 to 64, and 65 and older opposing this smear by 76%, 85% and 91%, respectively.
We know that those in the 18-24 age bracket have been subjected to indoctrination in intersectional and critical race theory myths so prevalent in the American educational system. These toxic ideas don’t merely heighten racial divisions, but identify Jews and Israel as possessing “white privilege” and “oppressors” of Palestinian “people of color.” That’s in spite of the fact that the conflict between Israelis and Arabs isn’t racial and the majority of Israeli Jews are themselves considered “people of color since they trace their origins to the Middle East or North Africa.
Those of college- and graduate-school age are particularly likely to have been exposed to these false ideas. They also have most likely been in classes where these ideas were treated not as controversial theories but as current orthodoxy that cannot be questioned, let alone disputed, without exposing oneself to the danger of being falsely labeled as a “racist.”
So, it figures that a question pushing those specific buttons would elicit an answer from this group that affirms the big lie about Jews being “oppressors.” The same factor explains other responses to the survey.
An equally shocking 60% of 18- to 24-year-olds also said that the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7 were “justified by the grievances of the Palestinians.” Large majorities of every other age group said they were not justified. Fully 60% of the 18- to 24-year-olds also supported the smear that Israel is committing “genocide” in Gaza, and 76% of them bought into the fairy tale that Hamas “can be negotiated with to create peace rather than merely being committed to Israel’s destruction,” though sadly, larger numbers of older Americans were also willing to accept those false claims. And 53% of 18- to 24-year-olds think that college students should be free to advocate for the genocide of Jews.
It’s possible to exaggerate the significance of these results. Other answers from the 18-24 age category contradict them. Astonishingly, 70% think that Israel is trying to avoid killing civilians in Gaza and 58% of them think that Hamas would like to commit genocide in Israel. Another 62% also agree that Hamas is using civilians as human shields.
It should also be noted that the 18- to 24-year-olds are the only group in the poll that believes, by a 64%-36% majority, that Hamas is supported by the majority of Palestinians. In this case, it is the 18- to 24-year-olds who are right, and older Americans, who hold onto the myth that most of them oppose the terrorists, who are wrong, as polls of Palestinians affirm.
To put it in a broader context, the 18- to 24-year-olds also said they support the idea that “white people are oppressors” and non-whites “should be favored at universities and employment,” a stance opposed by other age groups.
Taken as a whole, the Harvard/Harris poll shows that young people are confused about most of the facts of the current war between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip. But even if you regard many of the questions as phrased in a manner to produce the answers the pollsters got, these numbers are in line with many other polls that show widespread support for woke ideology and hostility to Israel among the young.
Post-October 7 antisemitic surge
There was already an abundance of evidence showing that leftist ideologies divide humanity into two groups—oppressors and victims—and labeling Jews and Israel among the former was influencing American society. Antipathy for Israel and Zionism in most academic venues—rooted in neo-Marxist ideas about imperialism that go back to Soviet propaganda and the American New Left of the 1960s—was already a given in the second decade of the 21st century. But it became more obvious once the Black Lives Matter movement embraced anti-Israel smears and legitimized the intersectional myth that the Palestinian war to destroy Israel was analogous to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Still, this link, which was politically problematic for those who wished to stay in sync with fashionable liberal causes, was dismissed by most mainstream Jewish groups as either untrue or insignificant.
But in the aftermath of the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7, the surge in hatred for Israel and Jews that manifested itself in mass demonstrations on the streets of American cities and at college campuses made the reasons for this impossible to ignore any longer.
To the shock of many Jews and mainstream liberals of all faiths, including those who had always been critical of Israeli governments and sympathetic to the Palestinians, the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust provoked a massive wave of sympathy for the killers and hostility to the victims.
The only way to explain that is a recognition that a generation of Americans has been educated to believe that Israel is a colonial implant in the Middle East where “whites” oppress people of color much in the same way they believe that America and the West is also institutionally racist. This ignores the fact that the Jews are the indigenous people of Israel not foreign colonizers.
The notion that America is an irremediably racist nation is itself a slander aimed at tearing down U.S. institutions that are themselves dedicated to advancing the cause of liberty and equality. In their place, the newly ascendant leftist establishment offers a woke catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). That new faith opposes diversity of opinion, demands equity or equal outcomes determined by race as opposed to equal opportunity, and includes only certain approved minorities—but not Jews.
Foolishly, for some in the Jewish community, including the Anti-Defamation League, the answer to this problem is to get the Jews included in DEI. More of this racial division is bad for America in general. But it also won’t work because the intersectional mindset is based on Marxist ideas that demonize Israel and the Jews. Advocates for this ideology have already conquered academia, and are now doing the same in the corporate world and even the government due to the Biden administration’s embrace of DEI.
This is why so many people who consider themselves “progressives” and claim to oppose hate are chanting for Israel’s destruction (“from the river to the sea”) and the genocide of the Jews (“globalize the intifada”). It also explains why feminists refuse to condemn the rapes of Israeli women and girls (and in some instances, men) by Palestinians, and others tear down posters of Israeli kidnapping victims. They consider any attention diverted from the plight of Palestinians to be pro-Israel “propaganda,” dismissing or denying the atrocities that took place on Oct. 7.
This is outrageous in and of itself, as well as deeply troubling for American Jews, including those who weren’t previously particularly concerned about defending the security of Israel. But what even many who have focused on particular elements of this problem—whether feminist hypocrisy or the willingness of university administrators to either justify or refuse to oppose actions that endanger Jewish students—are missing is that it points to an even bigger problem.
Exceptionalism in peril
American Jews have prospered specifically because this country was not like any other place on earth, including the democracies of Western Europe. That was based not just on a constitutional system that prohibited discrimination on the basis of religion but on a value system that prioritized the rights of the individual and equal opportunity. And it is those specific values that are considered obsolete by the true believers in DEI and the intersectional left. If they succeed—and their long march through U.S. institutions has already been largely successful—then American exceptionalism is finished.
It’s not just that a generation of Americans is being exposed to these toxic concepts in schools that have been taken over by adherents of these ideologies, and therefore naturally more inclined to think ill of Israel and the Jews. It’s that their influence over U.S. culture and discourse will make the country a less friendly place for Jewish life. An America that is no longer different from the rest of the world simply cannot continue to be the freest and best place for Jews in the history of the Diaspora.
If DEI is not rolled back in the universities, the secondary schools and everywhere it has been implanted—a daunting but not impossible task—then it isn’t going too far to say that Jewish life in the United States will never be the same. The Harvard/Harris poll results about young Americans believing in antisemitic tropes about Jewish oppressors are just a hint at what’s to come if the task of defeating the intersectional left isn’t prioritized. It is a reminder that the litmus test indicating whether someone is willing to stand up against antisemitism is now their attitude towards woke ideology.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.