Ever since the rise of multiculturalism in the 1970s I have been wondering how come Jews never got included in the authorized list of oppressed multi-cultural entities. To be sure, Jews as individuals can play a role in multi-cultural life, but only as members of some other category, such as feminists or homosexuals. So far as I am aware, Jews who present themselves simply as Jews have never been considered oppressed enough to form a part of the multi-cultural universe. To the contrary, we are lucky if we are not lumped together with the oppressors.
How did this state of affairs come about? To some extent it must be attributed to the reluctance of Jewish Americans to adopt a stance of militant protest against manifestations of anti-Semitism in American society. The original constituents of the multi-cultural alliance, feminists, homosexuals and Afro-American militants, all sought to advance their cause through protest demonstrations. Jews found other ways of getting ahead, and so anti-Semitism never came to be considered as serious a problem, at least in the United States, as other forms of discrimination. This was all the more true in that one of the ways in which Jews sought to get ahead was by promoting a movement against discrimination in general without focusing on anti-Semitism in particular.
The name of this movement was liberalism and the way in which it opposed discrimination in general was through the concept of rights. Liberalism gave birth to civil rights, gay rights and women’s rights, but oddly enough, even though Jews were among the mainstays of American liberalism, no one ever spoke of Jewish rights. The basic strategy of the mainstream American Jewish community was not to agitate for the right to be accepted as Jews but rather to become as American as possible. And since the United States was a country that prided itself on absorbing immigrants, this was not an unrealistic goal. At the same time that multiculturalism took hold in the 1970s in academia, Jews were already becoming a part of the academic establishment without any special need to draw attention to themselves as Jews. Jews achieved this position by rigorous scholarship devoted, in the main, to non-Jewish topics.
However, as time went on, there also emerged departments of Jewish studies in many colleges and universities. These departments were a reflection, on the one hand, of the growing acceptance of Jewishness in American culture, and on the other hand, of the example set by the proliferation of specialized departments catering to the concerns of the multiculturalists. But although there was no obvious difference between Jewish studies and black studies or women’s studies, Jews were still not welcome as Jews at multi-cultural events. Moreover, certain stereotypes regarding Jewish culture gradually became established among the multiculturalists. The Jewish religion was a bastion of “patriarchy” and therefore bad, and the Jewish state, namely Israel, was founded on “racism”, and therefore even worse. These stereotypes served to rationalize and legitimize the exclusion of Jews as Jews from the multi-cultural club. So at the same time as Jews were becoming increasingly accepted by ordinary Americans, Jews in academia were increasingly ghettoized by the multiculturalists.
The next step in the degeneration of multiculturalism into an instrument of anti-Semitism was the inclusion of the Muslims in the multi-cultural club. Islam came to be seen as the victim of unjustified prejudice, a prejudice which was stigmatized as “Islamophobia”, a term obviously derived from “homophobia”. Given the attitude of most Muslims towards homosexuals there was a certain irony here, but the term came to be accepted as the official name for dislike of Islam all the same. Departments of Middle Eastern studies took upon themselves the task of making known the achievements of Islamic culture and denouncing the false image of Islam which had previously been spread by non-Muslim “Orientalists”. To anyone familiar with its history, Islam would not seem an obvious candidate for membership in a movement dedicated to tolerance and the celebration of “diversity”, but it was included nonetheless, in large part because its advocates were able to successfully present themselves as the victims of prejudice. Unfortunately, in the real world the Muslims were themselves prone to prejudices of all kinds, and in particular, to the prejudice of anti-Semitism.
Muslim anti-Semitism has a long history dating back to Mohammed himself, who was directly responsible for the murder of many hundreds of Jews both in Medina and Khaybar. He sought to justify his actions with nasty remarks about the Jews which are scattered throughout the Koran. It follows that anyone who venerates Mohammed and regards the Koran as the word of Allah will be predisposed to a negative attitude towards the Jewish people. In the past this attitude generally took the form of contempt, but with the rise of the modern Zionist movement, the contempt gradually metamorphosed into violent rage. For the benefit of Western audiences this rage was packaged as righteous indignation over the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis. In this way an anti-Zionist component gradually became a major element in the multi-cultural concept of “political correctness”. And basically because the Arabs and Muslims felt so strongly about the matter, this conponent took on an increasingly activist tone.
Thus arose the movement to boycott, divest and sanction anything Israeli. From the start this movement was centered in the academic world and those professions which were closely aligned with it. It was rooted in a multiculturalism that had somehow turned into its dialectical opposite. Starting as a way of championing the cause of “the other”, multiculturalism has evolved into a violent assault on the original “other”, the Jewish people. The term, “the other”, used to designate someone who is “not one of us”, was popularized by Simone de Beauvoir as a way of describing how men looked at women. But the term was previously used by her friend, Jean-Paul Sartre, in order to refer to the way that anti-Semites looked at Jews. Multiculturalists now look at Israel in this same way and despite their protestations to the contrary, it is self evident that denigration of the Jewish state is also a form of denigration of the Jewish people.
But of course we Jews have no one but ourselves to blame for striving to advance in American society without making a big issue of anti-Semitism. Is not the Christian religion profoundly anti-Semitic, not only because it blames the Jews for the death of Jesus, but also because it teaches that if you pretend to drink the blood and eat the flesh of Jesus once a week you will go to a pleasant place in the sky after you die? Yet we never said one word blaming the Christians for these teachings. We did not want to draw attention to just how pervasive anti-Semitism really is, because that would reinforce our status as “the other”, which is the last thing that American Jews wanted to be. But in downplaying the issue of anti-Semitism, we made it possible for the multiculturalists to adopt all sorts of anti-Semitic attitudes without fear of criticism. Themselves ready to denounce the slightest deviation from “political correctness” as “racism” or “sexism”, the multiculturalists do not hesitate to sit in judgment on the Jewish people without any real knowledge of who it is they are condemning.
Exclusion of the Jewish narrative from the multi-cultural canon has effectively concealed the fact that there is no people in human history that has been so subjected to persecution and abuse for so long as the Jewish people. The Arab and Muslim assault on the state of Israel is only the latest in a long series of anti-Jewish campaigns waged by Christians, Muslims and Communists alike, to say nothing of the pagans who preceded them and the Nazis who came after. For 3000 years the Jewish people has upheld the ideal of national self-determination in the land of Israel in order to implement there a more rational, egalitarian and peaceful way of life than was prevalent in the large kingdoms and empires that persecuted us. It was the Jewish way of life that was the ultimate source of all the progressive ideas associated with the influence of individual Jews in world history. And it is the Jewish way of life as reflected in Israeli liberal democracy, that is the real target of the authoritarian Arab and Muslim regimes arrayed against us.
In the final analysis, it is also rejection of the Jewish way of life which is the underlying motive for the anti-Zionist campaign of the multiculturalists. Multiculturalism is many things, but one thing it is not is a path to a more harmonious social order. It thrives in an academic environment where social criticism is an established norm but has little relevance for the day to day concerns of working people. There was a time when the left in the United States sought to address those concerns, but once the socialist left was defeated, the path was opened for the advent of a strictly liberal left dedicated to the personal and professional advancement of its multi-cultural constituents within the framework of the capitalist system. In the eyes of this liberal left, the traditional Jewish concern with the life of society as a whole appeared as a threat, and anti-Zionism was the method which it eventually evolved to deal with this threat.
So where do we go from here? The best way to discredit the anti-Semitic ideology of the multi-cultural left is to situate it in the context of the long history of anti-Semitism. It was always the practice of the anti-Semites to conceal their hostility to Jewish social values behind a mask of righteous indignation at the alleged crimes of the Jewish people. Demonization of Israeli self defense against Arab and Muslim terrorism is only the latest in a long series of such tactics. Now that we have departments of Jewish studies, they should be used to disseminate awareness of the contours of Jewish history to a wide audience. The better Jewish history is understood, the weaker will become the position of the multiculturalists. The Jewish people has played a progressive role in world history and will continue to play this role whether the multiculturalists like it or not..