What to make of the left’s campaign to smear the United States as a fundamentally racist country? About the same as the poisonously successful Soviet-Arab League effort to smear Zionism as racism launched in the 1970s.
The racist America charge—recently highlighted by The New York Times with its “1619 Project”—is easy to refute. That slavery was entwined with America from the nation’s colonial beginnings is unarguable. That the United States was founded to advance white supremacy and continues to do so is false.
The Declaration of Independence asserts that the Founders held “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This revolutionary statement was not self-evident, as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has noted.
In a world in which slavery persisted far and wide, if those unalienable rights had been so obvious then peoples other than the American colonists, inspired in part by the biblical Hebrews, would have asserted them.
Equality in unalienable individual rights obviously was more aspirational than descriptive in 1776, a century-and a-half after the introduction of black slavery at Jamestown. But the revolutionary assertion ultimately would doom “the peculiar institution.” James Madison (father of the Constitution, fourth president and himself a slave owner) noted that the country’s fundamental law did not mention slavery because the drafters “thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.”
Cotton-growing Southern states demanded continuance of slavery if they were to join the new federal union. Even so, the Continental Congress outlawed slavery in the Northwest Territories, which would become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Congress under the Constitution made importation of slaves after 1820 a form of piracy, punishable by death; northern states already had begun to ban the practice; and leaders including president and congressman John Quincy Adams fought it persistently. The Civil War, America’s bloodiest, was won by northern states determined to prevent their southern counterparts from sundering the Union to be able to perpetuate slavery.
Jim Crow laws in the South and Jim Crow attitudes in much of the rest of the country would nullify black emancipation and equality as codified in the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution until the civil-rights victories of the 1950s and ’60s. But the United States had been set on the course of equal rights under law for all its citizens from the start.
Progressives, who are by no means open-minded, cannot admit this. To do so would contradict their ideological catechism in which “racist!” is the ultimate malediction.
The charge of racism against an individual, institution or nation—when made by members of privileged identity groups—is more than an indictment. It amounts to the secular left’s version of excommunication, sacred and enduring, as Israel and its supporters have found.
After Israel defeated Soviet clients Egypt and Syria in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Kremlin promoted an old Bolshevik slander that Zionism (Jewish nationalism) was racism. Communists despised sovereign Jewish peoplehood because it upheld a small religion and the small nation that practiced it, a double obstruction of their imagined universal, atheistic proletariat.
So in 1975, the U.N. General Assembly endorsed the Moscow-inspired, Arab League-adopted “Zionism is racism” resolution. Though rescinded in 1991 as a result of American efforts, “Zionism is racism”—therefore, Israel and its supporters are racists—continued to spread, reviving anti-Semitism as it went.
Never mind that in Israel, alone among Middle Eastern countries, all citizens regardless of race, religion or gender enjoy equal rights. Never mind that Palestinian Arabs of the disputed West Bank (and Gaza Strip until Israeli withdrawal in 2005), far from being suppressed by a “racist, apartheid regime,” have been freer than Arabs in Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Morocco or Yemen (as a 2005 U.N. report acknowledged).
In academia, communications media and more than a few political activists tarring Israel as racist serves as the equivalent of the medieval “Christ-killer!” charge. It works as holy writ to marginalize the Jews and destroy their state.
Likewise, slandering the United States as inherently and irredeemably racist operates with similar intent, the supplanting of classically liberal-capitalist America with a more statist-collectivist regime. In both cases, free Israelis and free Americans, U.S. Jews included, lose.