General Antisemitism

On “Jewish Privilege”, and the unlikely midwife to such a hideous idea


“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.” – George Orwell

Before I  moved to Israel and began working for CiF Watch, I worked for the Anti-Defamation League – an organziation which fights anti-Semitism, but also promotes diversity education and multiculturalism – largely through a program called A World of Difference Institute (AWOD). Though I have a lot of respect for my former colleagues and naturally support AWODs stated goal of “recognizing bias and the harm it inflicts on individuals and society,” some of the rhetorical discourse, and ideological currents, which lay at the foundation of AWOD often caused me concern.  An especially egregious example was one of ADL’s recommended readings for AWOD educators: Peggy McIntosh’s “White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.” (The recommended reading list isn’t available on their website, but this ADL sponsored conference demonstrates the group’s endorsement of McIntosh’s views). McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley Center for Women, in the essay, says:

In my [white] class and place, I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth.

Disapproving of the systems won’t be enough to change them. I was taught to think that racism could end if white individuals changed their attitudes. [But] a “white” skin in the United States opens many doors for whites whether or not we approve of the way dominance has been conferred on us. Individual acts can palliate, but cannot end, these problems.

To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects. Most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to me now to be about equal opportunity to try and get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist.

It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage, like obliviousness about male advantage, is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all. Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power, and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already.

To McIntosh, the term “white privilege” isn’t just a way to explain and to combat racism, it’s an ideological paradigm which mocks the notion of merit and democratic choice in America. For her, it’s not sufficient to merely change attitudes.  Rather, since racial inequalities were so entrenched, and so institutional, nothing short of a radical redesign of the entire American political system would do.

While McIntosh’s theories on racism in America are insidious in of themselves, my broader concern was the effect this construct could have on attitudes towards Jews. It isn’t difficult to understand where such an ideology can lead.  Jews are erroneously, but typically, viewed as “white” in Western society.  (The fact that that Mizrahi/Sephardic Jews consist of about half of all Israeli Jews, for instance, is typically unknown or ignored.)

It isn’t a long road from white privilege to Jewish privilege – especially in the context of the increasing acceptance, within certain progressive circles, that Jews (in the U.S., and the West) are too powerful and have a corrosive effect on the body politic.  Such anti-Semitic invectives are peddled by mainstream progressive bloggers with extremely large audiences such as Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan.  The recent CST Report on anti-Semitic discourse noted (as CiF Watch has been consistently exposing) that the Guardian, in particular, continues to portray American foreign policy and the media as being dominated by the Jewish lobby.

So, it is in this context that Jenny Peto’s Master’s thesis, at the University of Toronto, entitled, “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education needs to be seen. (Peto, it should be noted, is one of the “brave dissidents” who champions BDS against Israel – even going so far as defending the breathtakingly hypocritical group, “Queers against Israeli apartheid“)

Her abstract notes:

I argue that today, Jewish people of European descent enjoy white privilege and are among the most socio-economically advantaged groups in the West. Despite this privilege, the organized Jewish community makes claims about Jewish victimhood that are widely accepted within that community and within popular discourse in the West. I propose that these claims to victimhood are no longer based in a reality of oppression, but continue to be propagated because a victimized Jewish identity can produce certain effects that are beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state. I focus on two related Holocaust education projects – the March of the Living and the March of Remembrance and Hope – to show how Jewish victimhood is instrumentalized in ways that obscure Jewish privilege, deny Jewish racism and promote the interests of the Israeli nation-state.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, while commenting on anti-Semitism at the Guardian, that ideas don’t occur in a moral vacuum.

The post-colonial paradigm – peddled (consciously or unconsciously) by many among the Western left (which pre-assigns immutable labels of victim and oppressor upon certain groups, nations, or ethnicities) – has developed into an all-encompassing rhetorical bludgeon which can be wielded against even those who insist (by their words or actions) that they are indeed on the correct side of this political (or, in this case, racial) divide.

As this blog continues to analyze and combat anti-Semitism at the Guardian, we must be committed to the understanding that words and ideas matter. And, if history has taught us anything its that even those ideological dispositions which may seem marginal today can become the accepted wisdom of tomorrow.  ADL – a 97 year old organization with such a proud history of fighting anti-Semitic discourse – should understand this more than anyone.

22 replies »

  1. Well, the leap from institutionalized white privilege in America, where till recently white outnumbered any other minority by an order of magnitude, to the Israeli situation is quite a jump, specially considering the time spans involved (300- 400 years of massive White settlement in North America) vs. less than 100 in Israel, even counting the period before the founding of the State of Israel and the massive immigration of Mizrahi Jews, who till then had become a tiny minority.

    The situation in Israel is like the friction between immigrants from various European countries – e.g., Irish vs. Italians vs. Poles etc. – than the real racism and separation between White and Black Americans.

    McIntosh’s thesis applies to the USA , where the institution of slavery, the banishment of the Native Americans (also in Canada) have no parallels in Israel. It would be absurd to dispute the idea that there is no bias towards white people in America.

  2. AKUS,

    “It would be absurd to dispute the idea that there is no bias towards white people in America.”

    There is? Make that, there was. Two years ago a non-white was elected president of the United States. Before that, the face of the previous presidency to the outside world was a black woman (Rice).

    There was bias towards white people in America. There was. In the past. Behind the people of the United States. Historically.

    Unless you’re a Marxist. Then there’s no such thing as bygones. Then you demand revenge. Then you say today’s white people “gotta sit in the back.” Then you don’t use your historical election, or the fact that you’re mixed-race, to declare the wounds healed; instead, you implement the hateful teachings you’d heard preached at you in the pews for 20 years.

    America wanted racial healing. It could have gotten that with a Thomas Sowell or Allen West as president. But not, alas, with an America-hating radical bred in the ideological cesspools of the 1960s.

    The same type of people view Israel exactly as they do America: Evil no matter what it does, reformable only by destruction and subsequent reconstruction according to their ideals. Such is the harsh truth.

  3. Well it seems that you were on holiday. We had some good posts without your drivel. I now know that you are employed by CifWtach and that may be their leniency towards your off topic and self serving posts.
    If you were in my employ and posted this item – it would be your last post for me! If this is the way you treat your employers – I wonder what you think about CifWatches real purpose.
    Perhaps you should join the staff of Haaretz – they like CiF are more aligned to your drivel.
    AKUS made the point much more poitely than I am – but I prefer the no frills plain talk.

  4. Jews are erroneously, but typically, viewed as “white” in Western society. (The fact that that Mizrahi/Sephardic Jews consist of about half of all Israeli Jews, for instance, is typically unknown or ignored.)

    Most Jews in western society (esp. in the US) are Ashkenazi. Is it erroneous to call them “white”?

    Automatically labelling all Jews as such, however, is at best ignorant and at worst … (pick your term)

  5. Either way: Peto’s references to “the organized Jewish community” and “victimhood” are quite horrible.

  6. What’s so striking is the way that this dissertation validates the open political anti-semitism of Ahmadinejad and his proxy bought asset in Gaza, Mahmoud Al Zahar, by wrapping up the same underlying assumptions about supposed Jewish exploitation of the Holocaust as a cover for colonialist and racist oppression in this cool and dispassionate sounding academic discourse.

    Compare Ahmadinejad speaking at Sharif University in 2009:


    A brief review of the events after World War II shows that the Holocaust issue – with the dimensions they define for it – is an excuse to continue dominance and expansion of influence of the victors, especially America and Britain in the international arena.”

    “The illegal Zionist regime… has demanded blood money of some victims…and have used some of this money to establish a Zionist regime in the land of Palestine, and have used this excuse to attack Palestine and by killing and displacing the people from their motherland they have occupied their mother land and established a Zionist regime, which is tasked with the job of denying an Islamic power emerging to counter the West.

    “The Holocaust is knitted together with liberal democracy. It is the claimants of liberal democracy who support the Holocaust logic and have sanctified it to the degree that no one dares questioning its sanctity.

    “Today the Zionists command many centers of power, wealth and the world media and unfortunately they have enthralled many politicians and political parties….

    “Also, do not forget that the Zionist network which has created the Holocaust discourse must be made known to the nations…”

    with this extract from Peto’s abstract:

    I propose that these claims to victimhood are no longer based in a reality of oppression, but continue to be propagated because a victimized Jewish identity can produce certain effects that are beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state. I focus on two related Holocaust education projects – the March of the Living and the March of Remembrance and Hope – to show how Jewish victimhood is instrumentalized in ways that obscure Jewish privilege, deny Jewish racism and promote the interests of the Israeli nation-state.

    Kevin Macdonald tried to do a similar job of sanitizing and providing academic legitimacy for David Irving’s particular brand of Holocaust denial. However, Macdonald’s research, conducted in the much-discredited empiricist paradigm of sociobiology, never acquired any credibility beyond the circle of far right Holocaust deniers.

    However, the enthusiastic adoption by left wing and marxist anti-zionists of discourse theory centred around the goal of substituting for historical analysis relativist theories of “narrative” discourse, particularly as developed by Edward Said, has created the widely taken for granted ground rules in mainstream media in which tendentious anti-semitic propaganda can be served up as disinterested unbiased research.

  7. @ Judy

    … the same underlying assumptions about supposed Jewish exploitation of the Holocaust as a cover for colonialist and racist oppression …

    In general I agree.

    But why e.g. the use of the term “judenrein” by the likes of Netenyahu during a press conference in English with the German foreign minister?

    The Palestinians aren’t Nazis, after all.

  8. “The Palestinians [Arab imperialists. -Ed. ziontruth] aren’t Nazis, after all.”

    Only in the sense that they haven’t managed yet to do what the Nazis did. Not in the sense that they have no intention of doing it.

  9. @ ziontruth

    i.e. guilty until proven innocent?

    Polls show that a majority of Palestinians would be happy with their own state distinct from Israel.

  10. Dumb Dog, would you like to expand on why precisely this is “drivel” and self-serving. Or, is simply the fact that you say it’s so enough? The masters thesis I spoke of is Jew-hatred pure and simple. Do you deny this? Further, reasonable people can disagree with the connection I make with Peggy McIntosh, white privilege, and “Jewish privilege”, but the fact that you didn’t bother attempting to refute my argument is quite interesting.

  11. “The Palestinians aren’t Nazis, after all.”

    That’s debatable, considering
    – the oft-repeated commitment of Palestinians and their supporters to cleansing Jews from the Mideast
    – the history of Palestinians in pogroms and collaboration with Nazism
    – Azam’s Pasha’s words concerning a “war of extermination,” which ring to this day
    – the virulent, racist incitement to murder which passes for Palestinian “entertainment”
    – the insistence by both Hamas and Fatah that Palestine must be judenrein.

  12. Adam: On this site I consider drivel to be anything which is off the stated topic or is not directly related thereto. As a reminder I quote the opening paragraph on this sites ‘About Us’ page: “Welcome to CiF Watch, dedicated to monitoring and exposing antisemitism on the Guardian newspaper’s ‘Comment is Free’ blog.” This is very clearly expanded upon on that page.
    Whilst your association of Peggy McKintosh’s white privilege to “Jewish Privilege” moves your contributors to take time on issues that are better discussed elsewhere, rather than concentrating on this Blog’s stated aim of pulling apart the anti-Israel/anti-semitic statements that are being spread around the web, via CiF and in a similar fashion by Haaretz and others. Exposure and presentation of the ‘other side’, on anti semitic, even if not based on CiF postings, would be more topical and more inline with the stated objectives of CiF Watch and would keep and, in my humble opinion, extend the influence and readership of CiF Watch. If you, and the others at CiF Watch want to convert this to a general pro Jewish/Israel forum, of which there are many, then change you goals statement apprpriately so we know what to expect – especially from employees of CiF Watch.
    Now that you have advised that you are employed by CiF Watch, perhaps we should start seeking the source of your funding, it may be influencing you and the others to change your direction. The researcher may even find a Soros like connection as being the funder of this Blog. I hope that if someone does investigate this that I am proved wrong and that it is simply your need to involve yourself personally in everything that you post – particularly when if it is off topic.
    Personally I think that I may join the masses who appear to have voted with their feet since your arrival at CiF Watch. It is only some of the excellent and well documented posts, directly related to or linked to CiF Watch’s objectives, by some of the more vetran contributors that keep me coming back for their gems.
    Learn from them and you will start becoming a worthwhile contributor to the cause. I also hope that the ‘powers that be’ at CiF Watch take some heed of what I have to say and help bring back the level of the content of the posting to what it was before your arrival – maybe even replacing you with someone more dedicated to the stated objective.

  13. Dumb Dog,

    Even the most cursory look around the pro-Israel blogosphere (Elder of Ziyon, for instance) and pro-Israel media watchdogs (CAMERA and Honest Reporting) will clearly demonstrate that fighting anti-Semitism and defending Israel in the media often involves more than merely refuting specific anti-Israel messages. Rather, its a holistic enterprise which should rightly involve:

    1. Countering demonization and delegitimization of Israel by showing the very human, and extremely progressive, face of Israel.

    2. Refuting claims that are anti-Semitic by demonstrating, and educating our readers on, the odious history and nature of such ideas.

    3. Arming our readers with facts, ideas, and arguments they can use themselves to fight the Guardian.

    4. The willingness to provoke, think outside the box, and not be afraid to tackle the most controversial issues relating to anti-Semitism at the Guardian.

    Further, I’d suggest you read the Reut report on delegitimization for a greater understanding of what effective advocacy really means:

    http://www.reut-institute.org/Publication.aspx?PublicationId=3769

    As far as my employment at CW, as I’ve said before, while I welcome constructive criticism of my work, I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to defend Israel (from the Guardian specifically, and from its many other enemies). If I wasn’t defending Israel for CW, I’d be doing it elsewhere. My job is a mission driven enterprise – and, just to be clear, I’m relatively immune to “career concerns.”

    But, just to be clear, CW is a amazing organization with a very talented crew of writers, its a great match for my abilities, and I’m extremely proud to be associated with it.

    As far as:

    “Personally I think that I may join the masses who appear to have voted with their feet since your arrival at CiF Watch.”

    Actually, our web traffic is very strong – especially for an org which has only been around for a little over a year – and, just like the editor at a newspaper lives or dies by their sales/circulation numbers, blog editors are judged the same way.

    As far as: “Now that you have advised that you are employed by CiF Watch, perhaps we should start seeking the source of your funding, it may be influencing you and the others to change your direction.”

    Again, just to be clear, i don’t scare easily. So, please, by all means, do what you need to do, and I’ll keep on doing what I need to do.

    As far as your charge that “you need to involve yourself personally in everything that you post.”

    Well, damn straight! It is very personal for me. And, if you are concerned about Israel’s long term survival, it should be personal to you, too. CW isn’t some sort of academic exercise which merely deconstructs biased reporting. At the end of the day (and, I think I can speak for the rest of our writers) what we’re involved in is nothing short of war – a war of ideas, perhaps, but a “war”, in every sense of that word, for Israel’s survival.

  14. Kol hakavod Adam,

    Maybe you are not working for CW to make friends but you already made many – I’m one of them.

  15. Bias in favor of white people in the US? No bias against Jewish people in the US? As with everything else, depends on what, where and when.

    Try getting into Harvard, Yale, Princeton,….. or any other IVY league school, where students are selected by color, geography, and grades.(not sure which order, either) Lotsa luck getting in if you are white, carry a jewish surname and from the Northeast, even with perfect scores! Over represented it seems. The new discrimination, Diversity?

  16. “Try getting into Harvard, Yale, Princeton,….. or any other IVY league school, where students are selected by color, geography, and grades.”

    At one early admissions office meeting concerning positive discrimination, a Harvard admissions officer commented that their aim was to exclude the “doughnuts” around major cities. A Jewish professor in attendance correctly pointed out, “Those aren’t doughnuts; they’re bagels.”

    More seriously, consultation of the historical records of any major American newspaper would show that, up through the 1950’s, job adverts often specified, “Candidate must be white and Christian.”

  17. Gentile Zionist: Positive discrimination is an oxymoron.

    When it comes to the Ivy Leagues– it seems— first Jews were discriminated against because they were Jews & “bad”; now, Jews are discriminated against because they are Jews and “good”(over represented). I don’t know if this is a step up or down?(facetious)

  18. Jane, agreed — I should have put “positive discrimination” in quotation marks.

    That said, it is widely practised, with the approval of the left: for non-white-males in the USA; for the scheduled castes in India; for the Beduin in Israel; for Muslims in Malaysia; and, soon, for Muslims in much of Europe.

    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article676274.ece
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-391255/Legalise-positive-discrimination-sake-national-security.html
    http://www.jihadwatch.org/2005/12/france-sarkozy-calls-for-discrimination-in-favor-of-muslims.html

    Meanwhile, the world ignores the “positive discrimination” which Christian and Muslim societies owe the Jews and the Jewish state, in recompense for 1,400 years of brutality, subjugation, and murder.

  19. Actually,Pretzelberg, the Tea Party is discouraging Republicans from becoming involved in social issues, and encouraging them to focus on strictly economic issues in the upcoming Congress, out of concern that focusing on social issues will cause a loss of support from independant voters.

    “Positive Discrimination” is easy to support from a distance, a little different when it’s up close and personal. Try explaining to a talented renaisance student from the northeast with a Jewish surname(the bagel) that it would be a waste of time to apply to an IVY league school because your are over represented as a demographic and will be passed over just on general principles?