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Why aren’t Jewish groups fighting DEI-based antisemitism?

The stand of the former ADL and AJC heads against woke ideology is encouraging. But major Jewish organizations still back ideas that breed hate.

From left: Claudine Gay (Harvard University president), Elizabeth Magill (University of Pennsylvania president), American University professor Pamela Nadell and Sally Kornbluth (Massachusetts Institute of Technology president) testify during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
From left: Claudine Gay (Harvard University president), Elizabeth Magill (University of Pennsylvania president), American University professor Pamela Nadell and Sally Kornbluth (Massachusetts Institute of Technology president) testify during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

They’re a little late to the party, but nevertheless still very welcome. The separate statements of Abe Foxman, the former head of the Anti-Defamation League, and David Harris, the former head of the American Jewish Committee, calling for the elimination of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs is welcome. They were dominant figures in the organized Jewish world for a generation and are still regarded as among the most influential voices in the community. So for both of them to come out as opponents of an ideology that has largely taken over the education system, as well as making serious inroads into the corporate world and government, is no small thing.

They join figures like journalist Bari Weiss and a host of other centrist and conservative voices who have been speaking out against the way the woke DEI catechism is both bad for America and fueling a rising tide of antisemitism. It’s been apparent for years that these so-called progressive ideologies like intersectionality and critical race theory have helped create an atmosphere in which Jew-hatred has become acceptable behavior on the left. But in the last three months, it became impossible to ignore the cost that Jews, in particular, are paying for the left’s capture of leading cultural and educational institutions.

In the wake of the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7, the sight of left-wing mobs chanting for the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet (“from the river to the sea”) and in support of genocidal Islamist terrorism (“globalize the intifada”) has shocked American Jewry. Jews are being harassed on the streets of American cities and on the campuses of elite universities. Institutions that were quick to silence, shun and punish those who made comments that “triggered” left-wingers suddenly rediscovered their support for free speech once it was the progressives who were engaging in controversial conduct. It seems that the Jews are the only minority not only not entitled to “safe spaces” but even to be spared genocidal threats.

Mainstreaming Jew-hatred

As the appalling show put on by the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology at a congressional hearing made clear earlier this month, the main priority of these academic institutions was to avoid giving the impression that they were taking sides against those threatening Jewish students, even if meant refusing to say that “genocidal threats against Jews” violated their codes of conduct.

But the main conclusion to be drawn from that absurd spectacle was not what happened to those three administrators but why those targeting Jews have been given a free pass by the people in charge, as well as much of the corporate liberal media and pop-culture outlets.

Advocacy for Israel’s destruction has been mainstreamed on the opinion pages of liberal newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. And it was not without significance that the weekend after the congressional hearing on antisemitism that “Saturday Night Live”—which stopped being funny a long time ago but has instead become, like the networks’ late-night comedy shows, a reliable indicator of liberal political opinion—performed a skit about the event. Rather than poke fun at the three college presidents, the show lamely attempted to lampoon Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) for having the temerity to interrogate the trio about their complacency and even encouragement of antisemitism since Oct. 7.

The reason for this has nothing to do with any coherent argument about recent events or the history of the Middle East. It’s axiomatic that few of those screaming about creating a “free” Palestine “from the river to the sea” can identify either body of water. Nor is it likely that they or the adherents of orthodox liberal views that write and perform for “SNL” understand that in contrast to Israel, such a “Palestine” wouldn’t be a safe space for gays, transgender or any other non-Islamist behavior, let alone for women. All they know is that their DEI mindset—a direct descendant of Marxist dialectic—has deemed the Jews to be the villains. And that’s enough for them.

The political left in this country has become a lockstep cheering section for the Palestinians and even for the barbaric Hamas terrorists whose atrocities are deemed a form of “resistance.” The reason for this is due to the progressives’ adherence to the woke DEI and intersectional playbook that divides humanity into two distinct and immutable groups that are perpetually in conflict: white oppressors and people of color, who are automatically victims. They believe in diversity only with respect to certain racial groups and not opinion. They have replaced “equal opportunity” with its polar opposite “equity,” which demands equal outcomes based on race and background rather than individual ability. And they seek to include only those approved minorities from which Jews are conspicuously absent.

This is a recipe for permanent racial conflict for America as the left now takes it as an article of faith that all of the remarkable progress towards racial equality made in this country since the 1960s is insignificant when compared to the “structural” and “institutional” racism that they believe is everywhere in society. Such views remained marginal until the last decade since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing in 2014 of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The acceptance of the myth that African-Americans are being hunted down and killed by the police in great numbers grew, but it took off in the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd created a moral panic about racism that led to “mostly peaceful” riots throughout the country.

Though DEI and intersectionality had been gaining ground throughout society before then, especially in the education system, the Black Lives Matter summer of 2020 made it a dominant force, with only a few brave conservative voices raised in dissent.

Joining a moral panic

That was bad enough for America, as it worsened race relations after decades of improvement. But as some of us pointed out at the time, this was particularly dangerous for Jews. That’s because the BLM movement was, like the rest of the progressive intersectional mindset, hopelessly antisemitic. Their categorization of Jews as “white” and oppressors was a permission slip for Jew-hatred. As a 2021 survey of DEI college administrators showed, the woke commissars enforcing the new rules were disproportionately anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.

Yet even as it became clear how destructive a force this ideology was, it became impossible for liberals to oppose it. Even U.S. President Joe Biden, who was chosen by Democrats as the “moderate” alternative to more left-wing options, adopted the DEI catechism. He issued an executive order on his first day in office that mandated the creation of DEI plans for every government agency and department, in addition to woke commissars to ensure their enforcement.

So it is hardly surprising that the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust on Oct. 7 would generate a spike in antisemitism in places like academia where DEI culture reigns supreme.

But one of the most discouraging aspects of this crisis is not merely the failure of legacy Jewish organizations to lead the fight against DEI but their active support for it.

Groups like the ADL and the AJC, which were both considered by many in the liberal-leaning Jewish community as representing mainstream centrism rather than the left wing, were quick to sign on in support of BLM and DEI. And they haven’t wavered in their stands, in spite of the mounting evidence that they were aiding and abetting forces that were weaponizing antisemitism, which is the polar opposite of the traditional understanding of their organizational missions.

The reason for this is twofold.

The leadership of these and other mainstream groups were primarily interested in staying in sync with their left-wing allies, especially in the African-American community, with whom they shared other positions on domestic issues. The thought of being caught opposing what liberals viewed as not merely the fashion of the moment but the new orthodoxy was intolerable since it meant running the risk of being accused of racism, no matter how bogus most such charges have become.

It’s equally true that just as politics has replaced the role that religion once played in the lives of most Americans, Jewish groups have also become more partisan in their orientations. That’s particularly true for the Anti-Defamation League, which replaced Foxman in 2015 with former Obama administration staffer Jonathan Greenblatt. While Foxman was certainly a political liberal, his priority was always the defense of the Jews. I had my share of arguments with him over the years, but I was also quick to defend him when he was lambasted in the media for being too pro-Israel.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League in 2009. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

By contrast, Greenblatt has, at least until the last few months, been more interested in backing Democratic Party talking points than in carrying out the ADL’s core mission. That has been very bad news for the Jewish community. But it has enabled him to outstrip Foxman as a champion fundraiser as he’s reaped donations from individuals and groups that were not interested in backing a traditional Jewish defense organization.

On a fool’s errand

Harris was no partisan but his stewardship of the American Jewish Committee kept it reliably liberal. In 2022, he was replaced by former Democratic congressman Ted Deutsch, who was a strong supporter of Israel but also someone who never strayed far from most liberal orthodoxies.

While ADL and AJC have been outspoken in denouncing the spike in post-Oct. 7 antisemitism, they have not withdrawn their support for the DEI ideology that is its foundation. Instead, they claim they wish to “engage” with DEI administrators in order to convince them to include Jews among those who benefit from this polarizing racial and ideological movement.

That is a fool’s errand.

The DEI crowd is already convinced that Jews and Israelis are white oppressors, and Palestinians are their victims who are “people of color.” That’s nonsense since Jews are the indigenous people of Israel, the Middle East conflict isn’t racial, and the majority of Israeli Jews are themselves “people of color,” because they trace their origins to the Middle East and North Africa.

Yet what these efforts to “engage” with DEI also fail to comprehend is that any system of thought that categorizes people racially in this manner is profoundly antithetical to the best interests of a Jewish community. The security and success of the Jews in America is based on the very values of equal opportunity and individual rights that DEI is seeking to destroy. As destructive as this is for American society as a whole, DEI poses a direct threat to Jews.

As with their alliances with BLM and other progressives who are committed to opposing Israel, the mainstream Jewish world’s refusal to oppose DEI is not just a mistake; it’s a betrayal of their obligations to their constituents

Foxman and Harris are to be commended for not just drawing the right conclusions. It is to be hoped that many of their fellow liberal Jews who foolishly believed that opposition to DEI, critical race theory and intersectionality was nothing more than a conservative “culture war” issue will now also see the error of their ways and join the growing body of American opinion that realizes just how dangerous these toxic ideas have become.

But those who refuse to join them should not be in any doubt as to what they are doing. Those on the left who claim that opposition to DEI is antisemitic, as a recent Vox article claimed, aren’t just trying to divert attention from the truth about woke ideology. They are trying to gaslight liberal Jews into continuing to aid those who seek their slaughter.

Those who refuse to recant their support for DEI—whether it is Biden, or the ADL and AJC—may claim they care about stopping antisemitism. But their rhetorical condemnations of Jew-hatred are meaningless so long as they continue to support the empowerment of a movement that intrinsically targets Jews for discrimination.

It would have been better had Foxman and Harris joined this fight years ago rather than waiting until after the danger had metastasized. They should be welcomed nonetheless to a fight that is, whether most of the Jewish community understands it or not, the one on which their future most depends.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.

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