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Opinion

‘Wokeness undermines Jewish values and promotes antisemitism’

In his new book, David L. Bernstein calls on liberal-minded Jews to start speaking up when wokeness rears its head.

A rally in New York City against antisemitism on  Jan. 5, 2020. Credit: Christopher Penler/Shutterstock.
A rally in New York City against antisemitism on Jan. 5, 2020. Credit: Christopher Penler/Shutterstock.
Jason Shvili
Jason Shvili
Jason Shvili is a contributing editor at Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

While left-leaning Americans—so-called progressives, including progressive Jews—have embraced woke ideology, they ignore the fact that wokeness promotes antisemitism. 

A new book—“Woke Antisemitism: How Progressive Ideology Harms Jews”—by David L. Bernstein, makes this point forcefully, even painfully.

Indeed, American Jews who advocate woke values risk becoming what Vladimir Lenin would call “useful idiots”—those who in the service of “goodness” actually become enemies of their own people. 

Bernstein’s book also shows how wokeness creates divisions within the Jewish community—promoting separation between woke Jews and more traditional civil-libertarian Jews.

He describes how well-meaning people follow wokeness as rigid dogma, unable to see how the ideology employs an intellectually constricting view of a world, consisting of just two types of people: The oppressed and the oppressors. 

Unsurprisingly, wokeness considers Jews part of the privileged oppressor class. 

This rigid ideology is largely inspired by critical race theory, which dictates that one’s race determines one’s place in society. It even determines the validity and legitimacy of a person’s opinion, since viewpoints of the oppressor class are disqualified. 

Bernstein hints that woke ideology very much resembles the communist creed of the Soviet Union. In fact, former refusenik and Israeli politician Natan Sharansky, in the book’s forward, compares woke ideology to the rigid communist tyranny he suffered under. 

Like the communism of the old Soviet Union, woke ideology has made Jews a target. Worst of all, many Jewish organizations have overlooked woke antisemitism so they can be accepted by progressives in supporting liberal causes.

They often pay a high price—abandoning their Jewish identity in exchange for the curse of “whiteness,” and suffering condemnation for supporting the Jewish state.

Fortunately, Bernstein believes there is a fulfilling, liberal-minded Jewish life beyond woke ideology. He describes how Jews can follow their humanitarian instincts—and continue to support Zionism—without succumbing to totalitarian wokeness. 

Above all, wokeness contradicts many traditional Jewish social justice values. Among the highest of those values is open debate. Bernstein writes, “Debate is so central to Jewish life that it is enshrined in the Mishna, the foundational texts of the Jewish oral tradition, in the concept of Makhloket l’shem shamayim—‘arguments for the sake of heaven.’” But this value is under threat from woke ideology—an ideology in which there is no room for debate, let alone dissent, about many social justice issues. 

Wokeness has separated and alienated Jews from each other because American Jews have traditionally embraced classical liberalism, which supports equality based on merit, free speech, treatment of all races and ethnicities with equal respect, and valuing dissent and nonconformity. Wokeness has caused many left-leaning Jews to abandon liberalism, which has created dissension and division from those who hold fast to it.

While some Jews have rejected woke ideology, others have embraced it, despite the antisemitism it promulgates. It is possible, however, that Jews who have embraced wokeness have done so not because they genuinely believe in it, but because they are under immense pressure to belong, to appear enlightened.

Bernstein writes, “Jewish groups are damned if they do and damned if they don’t: They’ll lose their influence among progressives if they don’t back the ideology, but will validate an ideology that foments hostility towards Jews—again, even unintentionally—if they do support it.” 

When Jewish groups or individual Jews accept wokeness, they are basically endorsing an ideology according to which Jews are oppressors, because they are white—disregarding the fact that many Jews are people of color, and also disregarding the fact that six million Jews were killed by the Nazis because in fact they are not white. Likewise, the woke ignore the inconvenient truth that Jews are the number one victims of hate crimes in the United States.

In a feat of intellectual perversion, wokeness insists that Jews, like other “white people,” are oppressors and therefore guilty of injustice against all marginalized groups, especially people of color.

In woke ideology, a person is never an individual. Instead, each of us is the member of a group or groups as ascribed under the concept of intersectionality—a ranking system that predetermines how advantaged or disadvantaged a person is based on their racial or other oppressed status. 

For example, a black female is thought to face more discrimination as a member of two disadvantaged groups (blacks and females) than a black male, who is a member of only one disadvantaged group. Bernstein laments that wokeness judges a person not by the content of their character, as Martin Luther King Jr. advocated, but by their “positionality” in the intersectional hierarchy. 

Perhaps most troublesome to Jewish Americans is the rejection of the Jewish state by woke progressives. Indeed, a recent poll shows a dramatic decline in support from Democrats for Israel, with more party members now supporting the Palestinians. No wonder: By woke logic, Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, is an oppressor state. 

Indeed, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) chief Jonathan Greenblatt, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, remarked that the litmus test for inclusion in social justice movements requires Jews to reject the existence of Israel.

Question is, how can Jews advocate for social justice without validating an ideology that breeds antisemitism and threatens foundational values of the Jewish people? Bernstein concludes “Woke Antisemitism” by exhorting Jews to continue supporting liberal values and causes—which includes fighting against wokeness and the toxic antisemitism that accompanies it. 

Above all, he emphasizes that liberal-minded Jews need to stop being silent and start speaking up when wokeness rears its head—and they must do so together—because, he writes, “Only when a critical mass of resistance materializes will woke ideology be exposed as representing the views of a small percentage of the population, and only then will institutions rethink their ideological commitments.”

Jason Shvili is contributing editor at Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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