Why is anyone surprised by the sudden eruption of leftist antisemitism? The writing was on the wall. Unfortunately, Jewish leaders were blinded by their own egos, ignorance and a determination to avoid conflict with a politically correct mainstream ideology.
Yes, right-wing antisemitism is and always has been around, but it’s the poison of left-wing antisemitism that is coursing through the streets and the ivory towers of academia. This should have been our focus for years. Instead, it was ignored, with disastrous results.
The day after this war is over, Israel will certainly launch an inquiry into the failures that led to it. But the Jewish establishment in the United States also requires a reckoning.
The establishment’s failures are manifest. For years, millions upon millions of dollars were raised by organizations whose aim was to “fight antisemitism.” So pathetic was this “fight” that most people did not even know who was doing the “fighting.”
Almost two years ago, I conducted a study that asked participants, “Can you cite any specific, formal programs or efforts on the part of any organization, including Jewish organizations, to combat antisemitism?” Nearly 90% of the respondents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, said “no.”
There was a reason for the establishment’s atrophy. Antisemites with Nazi armbands and white hoods are easy to identify. But when they are among those who demonstrate for climate awareness, women’s rights, gender equality, and diversity and inclusion, it requires courage to call them out. The Jewish establishment lacked this courage.
Now, we see the results: An explosion of antisemitism in the streets and academia. This is an antisemitism of the elite, of the privileged upper-middle class. The more “elite” the university, the more progressive the environment, the more extreme the antisemitism.
The establishment and its organizations have not only failed to stem the tide but did not prepare the Jewish community for the assault. Like Israel, it neglected its defenses and the result was catastrophic.
My own research has revealed two fundamental reasons for this failure: First, a failure of nerve, which left few establishment organizations willing to fight what David Bernstein calls “woke antisemitism.” Second, these top-heavy organizations avoided any attempt to ascertain whether what they claimed was “effective messaging” actually worked.
Underlying all this was the ideological source of the problem: The progressive left and its support for the most radical and violent forms of Palestinian nationalism.
Having adopted the progressives’ ideology of “victim worship,” the Jewish establishment accepted that “strong is wrong.” As a result, they surrendered to the idea that Israel’s strength, by definition, made it an evil “oppressor” and the Jews in general benefit from “white privilege.” This took place even as those who supposedly oppose “white privilege” viciously oppressed the Jews.
The Jewish establishment was simply unwilling to admit to itself that the progressive causes that they often supported saw them as privileged enablers of Israeli “colonialism” and therefore a force for evil.
Moreover, the establishment consented to the brainwashing of Jewish youth, who were left defenseless against a brutal psychological attack they could not be expected to resist alone. The establishment’s response was to teach pithy “talking points” and hold falafel parties. Needless to say, this was insufficient ammunition against people energized by the zero-sum racist game of Palestinian antisemitic nationalism.
The establishment organizations also failed to employ the most basic methods of social science research. As a result, advocacy efforts often took place on campuses where there was no significant anti-Israel activity. On hostile campuses, the organizations used tactics that might have appealed to Israel-friendly students but were not effective in persuading the ignorant or the unaffiliated. In the end, having employed no standard research methods, no useful knowledge was gained.
Most of all, there was never any accountability. No one, including the donors who were paying for all this, ever asked for proof that anything the organizations were doing actually worked. No one really cared so long as their names were praised at gala awards dinners and in “urgent” press releases. Millions of unknown and unvetted users registered “views” and “clicks” on establishment material, but they never asked if the content viewed meant anything to anyone.
All these failures require us to ask hard questions because if a doctor is treating a patient who only gets sicker, it is probably time to get another doctor. We must ask what the Jewish establishment is worth if it cannot fulfill its most basic responsibility of protecting the Jewish community from antisemitism.
Over 10 years ago, I wrote, “Advocacy organizations (should) stop the ritualistic and often juvenile cheerleading and incorporate serious and impartial objective research into their activities. … Donors should instead insist upon … data to demonstrate if there is a problem; (and) if so, where the problem is; and if their contributions are doing anything other than making themselves feel good.”
Clearly, Jewish and Israel advocacy needs a serious rethink. And there must be accountability before another generation of young people is lost. Since it is very unlikely that the people responsible for this failure will own up to it, it is up to donors to wise up, challenge the failed establishment and look for new ways to deal with this ancient problem.