The revolutionary “social justice” movement that has captured American and Canadian educational systems, the mass media, industry, and governments defines Jews as oppressors of suffering victims, as evil villains. How did this happen?
How we understand ourselves and our social and political environment is based on a vision or model of the way society works. During the mid-20th century, the generally agreed-upon model was of free citizens associating voluntarily to form families, businesses, charities, and political parties. It was also recognized that, interfering to an extent with the free flow of individuals, there were vertical ethnic and racial blocks, and to a degree an ethnic and racial hierarchy. The Marxist class model of society, with capitalists and bourgeois exploiting and oppressing the working proletariat, was not widely accepted in North America, mainly because most people thought of themselves as middle class.
However, during the second half of the 20th century, various interest groups formulated a new vision of society, drawing on Marxist class analysis that had seeped into academic social science. But rather than emphasize economic standing, the new model emphasized classes based on identity categories, particularly about gender, race, sexuality, and ethnicity. The most important movement was feminism, which gained a strong foothold in universities as “women’s studies,” but was widely adopted throughout the social sciences and humanities.
Feminists developed a gender class model of society in which “the patriarchy” was the hierarchical oppressor and exploiter of its female victims. The objectives of feminism were to raise the class consciousness of women, mobilize women to confront the male oppressors, and overthrow “the patriarchy.” The entire class of men came to be condemned as evil: insensitive, inconsiderate, violent, brutal, and rapists. Men were no longer fathers, brothers, sons, fellow citizens, fellow students, fellow workers, but oppressors and exploiters of innocent females. Anyone who disagreed was condemned as a “sexist.” (See Feminism and Injustice, by Philip Carl Salzman.)
The feminist identity class model of society was adopted by homosexuals, who saw themselves as innocent victims of “heteronormativity” and heterosexual oppression. Once again, all people were divided into oppressors and victims. Anyone who disagreed was condemned as a “homophobe.” The same frame was taken up by transsexuals and non-binaries who demand that male and female categories be erased, and that claims of identity negate biological science. Anyone who disagrees is condemned as a “transphobe.”
Race, Ethnicity & Religion
Sociologists and race activists found that the neo-Marxist class model worked beautifully for race. Once again, all people were subsumed into two great racial blocks, the white supremacist oppressors, and the black underclass victims. Society was deemed to be contaminated with “structural racism,” and all whites were “racist” whatever they said their attitudes and beliefs were. “Racism” was defined as “prejudice plus power,” so only whites could be “racist.” Anyone who disagreed was condemned as “racist.”
Ethnicity and religion also provided identity classes that could be framed in a hierarchical model. In the West, the oppressors are deemed to be Christians and Jews, and the oppressed victims are the Muslims. Any criticism of Islam or Muslims is denounced as “Islamophobia,” and the critics as “racists.” Christians and Jews are characterized as “white supremacists,” and Muslims as “people of color,” even though many Muslims are visually white, and officially classified as white.
Now that being white is a bad thing, Jews have been designated white by identity theorists and activists. As one dormitory staffer at an East Coast university said, “Jews are not a minority, because they never suffered.” Now no longer regarded as a separate ethnic group, Jews have been assimilated into the newly despised white race. So, they are now regarded as villainous oppressors of “marginalized” minorities. This evil status of Jews has inspired an recent upsurge in anti-Semitic sentiments, statements, attacks, and atrocities by African Americans against Jews.
For feminist, race, sexuality, and ethno-religious theorists and activists, the central mechanism of oppression is category discrimination. This is determined, in their view, when members of a category are “underrepresented” or “overrepresented” in any business, professional, educational, governmental or other organization in relation to the percentage of members of that category in the general population. Thus, they believe, any fewer than 50 percent of females, 13 percent of African Americans, and at least some gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, and non-binary individuals is proof that men, whites, heterosexuals, and Christians and Jews are discriminating against them. The advocates of this theory do not feel compelled to demonstrate discrimination; in their minds, over- or under-representation is sufficient to prove their case.
It is, however, false, that over- or under-representation is entirely or even mostly the result of discrimination, however convenient that might be for grievance theorists and activists. The reality is different and more complicated. For example, some 70 percent of the professional athletes in the National Football League and National Basketball Association are African Americans, who make up 13 percent of the general population. Is this “overrepresentation” the result of NFL and NBA discrimination against whites and Asians? There is no evidence to support such a conclusion.
Similarly, among doctors, lawyers, and academics, Jews and East Asians are highly “overrepresented” in comparison to their percentage of the population. So too with Nobel Prizes awarded to Jews massively above their percentage of the population. Is this the result of discrimination in favor of Jews and East Asians against Christians, Euro-Americans, and African Americans? No such evidence exists.
Identity theorists and activists are not interested in explanations other than discrimination for different degrees of representation of different categories of population. Alternative explanations undercut their claims of discrimination, and undermine the validity of their claims of righteous grievance.
One important alternative explanation is choice: people in some categories prefer some activities to others, and can end up overrepresented in those activities. If Jews are “underrepresented” statistically among lumberjacks and forest rangers, and “overrepresented” among dentists and psychotherapists, it is because they self-select for some occupations and not for others.
Female university students opt in droves for the social sciences, humanities, education, and social work, and typically choose not to go into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Their alleged “underrepresentation” in STEM has generated shrill accusations of discrimination against females in these disciplines, but the evidence indicates that female students follow their own interests, and they themselves discriminate against STEM fields.
Another important alternative explanation is capability: selection for admissions and posts is based on ability to do the tasks involved. It is not news, although it is now regarded as impolite, if not racist, to mention it, but members of some categories are better qualified for some work than members of other categories. In high school academic achievement, and in standardized tests, East Asian Americans do far better than members of any other category. Following are whites, and below are Hispanics, with African Americans lower.
In the 2019 College Board Examinations, the average score of Asians was 1223, whites 1114, Hispanics 978, and African Americans 933. Selection for any academic or intellectual post that weighs past achievement, merit, and potential will draw more heavily on members of the category strongest in these characteristics. Statistically, members of a category might be “overrepresented,” but in terms of apparent or demonstrated capability members of the category would be appropriately represented.
How can we account for performance differences between categories? A major factor is culture. Members of different categories share, to a degree, a common culture, which is different from the cultures of other categories. For example, the cultures of some categories, specifically East Asians and Jews, emphasize education, learning, and professional status. East Asian culture also emphasizes obedience and discipline. The cultures of other categories historically have not focused on the same values and goals to the same extent. Culture is therefore a major contributor to differential motives and habits, which result in different degrees of representation of different categories. (See Black Culture Matters: Why It’s Time to Stop Pretending that Racism is the Problem, by Nick Pilgrim.)
Culture can also have an impact in its effect on organization among members of a particular category. For example, members of racial and ethnic categories differ in their family relations. In the 21st century, there is great variation between categories in the percentage of single parent families. East Asians have the fewest (Asians and Pacific Islanders, 17 percent), non-Hispanic whites somewhat more (29 percent), Hispanics even more (53 percent), and African Americans families are overwhelmingly (73 percent) single parent families, usually mothers.
Single parent families are at a considerable disadvantage economically, and generate a much higher level of poor consequences for children, especially boys, including weak academic performances and high levels of incarceration. In contrast, African American children brought up in two-parent families perform at a much higher level, and do not suffer the same negative consequences as those brought up in single parent families. (See Taboo: 10 Facts You Can’t Talk About, by Professor Wilfred Reilly.)
“Social justice” is the next step in the discrimination narrative, and is offered as the antidote to the “unfair” differentials in representation. The “social justice” movement rejects the idea that differential representation reflects people’s choices, capabilities and cultures. “Social justice” advocates and activists insist that justification for differential representation, such as choice, merit, and culture, are “white supremacist” talking points, and are in themselves racist. The solution to “unjust” differential representation, according to the advocates and activists, is, under the cover of “diversity and inclusion,” to set quotas that reflect percentages of the general population, and then force universities, businesses, and government to impose those quotas in their admissions and hiring. (See Universities Today, by Philip Carl Salzman.)
One tool of “social justice” is “intersectionalism,” which weighs victimhood and urges solidarity among victims. A person’s victim credits increase if they are member of two or more victim categories. Thus, an African American female is thus more virtuous than an African American male; an African American lesbian is a greater victim and more virtuous than an African American heterosexual female. So too an African American Muslim is a greater victim and more virtuous than an African American Christian.
At the same time, all victims are regarded in intersectionalism to be in the same position in relation to oppressors, so solidarity is called for among members of all victim categories, as is victim opposition to members of oppressor categories. For example, it is claimed that feminists, African Americans, and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual or queer people) must support Palestinian Arabs, who “social justice” activists define as “people of color.” Linda Sarsour recently said, “I am a Palestinian, and if I want to say I am black, I am black.” Facts are irrelevant. That Sarsour is visually white, and Palestinians and all Arabs as well as Persians are officially classified by the U.S. government as white, counts for nothing in the victim grievance narrative.
Black Lives Matter officially sides with Palestinian Arabs against Israeli Jews, notwithstanding the centuries of Arab slaving in Africa, the selling and holding of black slaves in Arab countries today, and the fact that many Arabs are highly prejudiced against blacks, and refer to them in Arabic as abd (slave). Feminists have sided with the Palestinian Arabs, although Palestinian women are still treated to male supremacy, seclusion, and honor killings. LGBTQ groups also support Palestinians, although LGBT persons are commonly victimized in the Arab and Persian worlds, while only in Israel are LGBT persons accepted and safe. To mention this is called, by social justice activists, “pinkwashing” of Israeli “oppression.”
All of the intersectional solidarity with enemies of Israel leads, of course, to hate for Israel, and, by extension, hate for Jews generally. In the 21st century West, anti-Semitism is now celebrated in “social justice” circles. Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students’ Association dominate discourse on many university campuses, running “Israel Apartheid Week,” and, with the support of Hispanic, Asian, and other student associations, lead student governments and student newspapers. The boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel is widely supported by students and faculty in order to aid the “innocent” Palestinian “victims” of Israeli “oppression.” Hate for Israel frequently overflows into hatred of all Zionists, and all Jews, creating a poisonous environment for Jewish students. Various professional academic associations, such as Women’s Studies, Native American Studies, American Studies, and others have condemned Israel and adopted BDS, as have many once mainline church organizations.
Anti-Semitism entered the political field in a big way with the first Women’s March protesting the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. Feminist, race, and gay activists joined in “the resistance” against the duly-elected president. Feminists were upset that the female candidate had lost to Trump, and they were concerned that their “right” to abortion on demand might somehow be restricted. Race and gay activists claimed that the president was a white nationalist and a bigot. The march was a unified expression of identity victimhood.
Leaders of the Women’s March, Tamika Mallory, “Bob Bland” (Mari Lynn Foulger), Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour, had pushed out Jewish organizers with anti-Semitic blood libels, and some had made explicit their tolerance and even allegiance to Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, notorious for his vilification of Jews, calling him “The Greatest of All Time,” regardless of his statements that “satanic” Jews are “termites” who were responsible for the 9/11 Islamic attacks and for all the ills that befall people of color. In subsequent years, these anti-Semites were pushed out of march leadership, only to be replaced by other antisemites, who also had to be ejected. The damage had already been done to the march, but the idea that “social justice” was on one side, and Jews were on the other, remains.
Grievance politics has its heroes and its villains. Females, people of color, gays, and Muslims are regarded as heroes fighting for “social justice.” Males, whites, heterosexuals, and Christians and Jews are deemed to be reactionary oppressors: sexist, racist, homo- and trans-phobic, and Islamophobes. Once again, Jews are scapegoats of a revolutionary movement.
Philip Carl Salzman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of anthropology at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.