(May 8, 2022 / JNS) A multitude of pixels have already been expended on The Harvard Crimson’s recent editorial endorsing the BDS movement. Though the Crimson’s descent into support for an openly racist movement shocked many, it shouldn’t have. For decades, college campuses in America have increasingly become little more than manufacturing centers for bitter hatred of Israel, and with it, inevitably, anti-Semitism.
Others have done a fine job of deconstructing the Crimson’s editorial, which includes a remarkably frank anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about unseen powers suppressing and persecuting BDS supporters. What has not been dealt with, however, is the overall phenomenon at work, and above all, what it reveals about the nature of today’s anti-Semitism. What it reveals is simple: Anti-Semitism is a privileged ideology.
This is perfectly obvious when one considers the very nature of the Crimson and of Harvard, because Harvard is not just privileged, it is privilege. It is the manifestation, mechanism and perpetuator of the American upper class—yes, America has one—and its graduates inevitably spill out across that aristocracy. Harvard’s student newspaper is no different, having produced legions of elite journalists and others who exercise a profound influence over what Americans read, see and hear. Its current editorial board basks in that privilege, however vehemently they may claim otherwise.
Privilege also defines anti-Semitism outside of American elite academia, as one discovers through even a brief examination of the usual suspects. They are all scions of the American aristocracy, often with prestigious educations, considerable wealth, political power and a public platform that few others possess.
To name just a few examples: Arab-American activist James Zogby, who has libeled the entire Jewish population of Israel as racist, is a graduate of Princeton University. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who claimed that Jews use “the Benjamins” to bribe Congress into supporting Israel, is an immensely powerful national politician. So is her fellow “Squad” member, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who openly advocates for Israel’s elimination; and her more subtly racist colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
The equally eliminationist American activist Linda Sarsour is a presumably well-paid and certainly celebrated leader of the activism industry with a massive public platform. Richard Falk, who has been one of Israel’s chief persecutors at the United Nations and a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, is a Harvard graduate and well-remunerated member in good standing of the international establishment. Christiane Amanpour, who has claimed that a Jewish diamond industry secretly bankrolls settlement in Judea and Samaria, has a huge media presence on both CNN and PBS. Inveterate anti-Zionist and professional social climber Peter Beinart is a former Rhodes Scholar, a graduate of Yale and a favorite of The New York Times, America’s most prestigious newspaper.
These are only a few examples, and it is worth noting that the movement’s foot soldiers are only slightly less privileged: They include the middle-class Muslim Americans who attacked Jews last May across the United States while Hamas fired rockets at Israeli civilians; international bureaucrats at all levels; establishment media outlets and their lesser-known employees; academics both noted and obscure; and far-right suburban racists with privately-owned weapons of war.
This is the evidence, and it proves conclusively that anti-Semitism is not a “punching up” phenomenon. It is not a movement of the wretched of the earth, as it likes to portray itself. It is a movement of the privileged “punching down” at a tiny minority they feel entitled to defame and destroy. Even the very claim that the Jews are “up” is in itself an anti-Semitic stereotype stretching as far back as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
None of this, however, should surprise us, because anti-Semitism has always been an ideology of privilege: the privilege of being a non-Jew. Of being a member of a vast, billions-strong and above all secure majority.
It is also unsurprising that privileged anti-Semites concentrate so obsessively on Zionism and Israel. Zionism, from its origins, was always a movement of the unprivileged of the Jewish people. Anti-Zionism, from its earliest beginnings, was a reassertion of privilege. It was an attempt to force the Jews back into “their place,” which history had supposedly assigned them. As a result, Zionism—and with it, the Jews—could not and cannot be tolerated.
Privileged anti-Semites like those at The Harvard Crimson often assert that they are merely advocating justice for non-Jews. This is a lie. The principle they cite is not what is at stake. What is at stake is the Jewish people’s right to exist without harassment and hate, without the wanton destruction of our bodies and spirits, without the threat of annihilation and without being told we are horrible people for defending ourselves. But this, it appears, is asking too much.
What is perhaps humorous, however, is that privileged anti-Semites like the editors of the Crimson lack even the courage of their anti-Semitism. It is possible, indeed likely, that they believe the Jews, Zionism and Israel are so evil that we deserve to be hated, assaulted and killed with impunity, subject to psychological torture and hurled back into statelessness and exile. If so, they should at least have the guts to come out and say it, but this they will never do. Like all privileged people, they are used to impunity and, like all bullies, this inevitably makes them cowards. It is up to us, as it always is, to be courageous in our resistance to them and the privilege they have neither earned nor deserve.
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