Friday, December 1, 2023

Hatred of Israel and the new antisemitism through the lens of ideological transformations in American society and the education system

The massacre in Israel's South and the war against Hamas led to an extreme outbreak of hatred of Israel and antisemitism in many Western countries; the United States was no exception. Among the new and prominent characteristics of this phenomenon are the high level of hostility towards Israel, the number of violent incidents against Jews, and the high level of participation in the protests of the young generation (millennials and generation Z), large parts of which refuse to see Israel as a victim of atrocities and overtly justify the actions of Hamas. The source of these phenomena is found in ideological currents that have spread in American society in recent decades, based on radical ideological concepts on race, gender, and social inequality and influenced by a postmodernist anti-liberal approach. Despite their controversiality, these concepts were introduced into the public education and higher education systems; today, they shape the younger generation's mindset and influence their attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Jewish community in America.

The characteristics of the current anti-Israel protests

An outbreak of hostility and hatred towards Israel began immediately after the October 7 massacre. Similar to anti-Israel protests in the previous rounds of fighting, the current wave manifested itself in three main arenas: marches in city centers, demonstrations on university campuses, and a sharp increase in anti-Israeli and antisemitic publications on social media (particularly on TikTok and Twitter). However, the following characteristics distinguish the current wave of protests from the previous:

1. An unequivocal and unapologetic ideological identification of the protesters with Hamas terrorists, including with the organization's slogan "Free Palestine from the river to the sea" seen as a legitimate demand;

2. Determination of the protesters to act violently against Jews and supporters of Israel, which often led to violent antisemitic incidents in city centers and on campuses;

3. Lack of, or a delayed and vague response on the part of the university administrations concerning the massacre and the violence of the protesters against Jewish students;

4. A new form of protest, systematic removal of pictures with Israeli hostages' information. 

5. Alongside Palestinian and Muslim organizations, participation of other minority groups in protests, including the anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace (which initiated events with high public visibility at the Capitol in D.C., on the Manhattan Bridge in New York, etc.).

"The Critical Race Theory" - background

The worsening of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hostility in the U.S. originates from radical ideological concepts that have been spreading in American society and the education system for two decades. The pro-Palestinian bodies, such as SJP, knew how to take advantage of these trends to promote the interests of the Palestinian terrorist organizations, but they were not the ones who created them. The source of these ideological transformations is the adoption and practical application of concepts based on "Critical Race Theory" (CRT) and radical ideologies regarding gender and social justice by institutions responsible for shaping the views and beliefs of the younger generation, namely the higher education system and the public education system. These trends are also present in other domains of public life but are not part of the current analysis.

The Critical Race Theory has been developed since the 1970s by academics and human rights activists. At its center is the claim that race is not a phenomenon based on biological differences but a social construction rooted in the legal system and intended to preserve a state of inequality and power distribution in the USA. According to CRT, racism is not a set of individual prejudices but an integral part of a governmental system established by the white, dominant, and privileged majority to oppress the black minority and other minorities. In the late 1990s, several American researchers criticized this theory, exposing its scientific weakness, the lack of empirical evidence supporting it, as well as its potential dangers, including the possibility that it would encourage antisemitism. Despite this, the "theory" spread beyond human rights activists and academic circles and gained a foothold in the American progressive camp.

One of the offshoots of the CRT is the term "intersectionality," whose original meaning is a cumulative effect of different forms of inequality based on race, gender, social status, and physical disabilities. The current version of this term includes a claim that all expressions of injustice in the world are related. According to this view, the oppression of the Palestinian people and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories are equivalent to racism against blacks in the USA, the persecution of members of the LGBT community, violence against women, and other phenomena of oppression. Hence, the need to unify the struggles of all minority groups to create a united front against the majority's oppression. Paraphrasing the communist battle cry,  the slogan for intersectionality acolytes could be: "Oppressed of the whole world, unite."

The influence of radical theories on American society

Despite shaky scientific basis and internal contradictions, the concepts mentioned above have formed over the years into a powerful ideological current that impacts the public discourse and, in recent decades, has created a sharp ideological conflict, some call it a full-blown "culture war," which tears and divides the society. These ideological tensions rose as early as the 1990s around the term "political correctness," intended to protect minorities from criticism against them; it gradually moved from the academic world to a broader social discourse. At the same time, the critics of the political and social order in the USA focused on the term "identity politics" to undermine the legitimacy of the existing system, which they claimed, while pretending to be liberal and universal, preserves the interests of the white majority and those with political and economic power.

The next incarnation of the American culture war began with the appearance of the "cancel culture" as part of the actions of the MeToo movement. Soon, the "cancel culture" became a valuable tool for the bearers of the new ideology in their struggle against the "dominant and oppressive majority." Furthermore, the "cancel culture" marked a new phase in this struggle that turned from a theoretical battle into a real-life conflict, with boycotts and social ostracism campaigns, causing reputational and financial damage to those who became the targets of these "cancel" actions. In addition, the "cancel culture" harmed freedom of expression by drawing clear boundaries between what is allowed and what is not in public discourse. These phenomena dramatically increased the political and social polarization in the U.S. at the beginning of the previous decade. They were criticized not only by the political right but also by President Obama, who warned of the consequences of the "cancel culture."

Despite the growing criticism, the radical ideologies continued to strengthen against the background of a series of dramatic events, especially the killing of George Floyd by a police officer. In the following years, there was a sharp increase in the number of particularly violent incidents, including looting and severe clashes with the police. The violent antisemitic incidents that occurred after October 7 are consistent with the trend above and indicate a transition to a new phase of ideological struggle, the phase of physical violence. It should be noted that today, the name affixed to these radical ideologies is "woke" (woke, or wokeness, or wokism), which originated in the struggle of the black community that sought to increase awareness of inequality and social injustice (the use of the term "woke" is common among opponents of this ideology, but perceived as a derogatory by its supporters who prefer to define themselves as fighters for equality and social justice). At the same time, as the level of violence escalated during these years, the "woke" ideology succeeded in increasing its influence and institutionalization in the public education system and higher education institutions.

Impact on the higher education system

The academic community contributed to developing the radical theories of race, gender, and social justice. The influence of the CRT on the general academic discourse and the universities' administrations was growing significantly. It translated into an unprecedented expansion of frameworks for the advancement of students from all types of minority groups (except the Jews). Many universities have established new departments called DEI - "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" to increase the proportion of minority students and facilitate their integration. The new departments turned into excessive bureaucratic bodies gaining status and sizable budgets. However, the latest journalist investigations indicate modest results, if any, of the DEI offices achieving their stated goals.

Furthermore, there are growing concerns about DEI's negative impact on freedom of expression on campuses, the damage to academic excellence, and, most importantly, the deepening of social polarization in universities instead of inclusion, contrary to what was expected from them. After the October 7 massacre, the DEI offices did not lift a finger to prevent the antisemitic incidents on the campuses since they do not recognize antisemitism as an act of oppression or discrimination. There is a possibility that the scandalous way the university administrations reacted to the massacre in Israel was due to their excessive reliance on the DEI offices, which, as mentioned, did not recognize the possibility that Israel or the Jews could qualify as victims of oppression.

Impact on the public education system

The situation in the public education system is even more complex. Since the beginning of the decade, evidence has been accumulating about the teaching of the radical concepts of race, gender, and social justice based on CRT and other radical ideologies in U.S. public schools. The students' parents complained about the radical study content in the classes, such as blaming the white majority for racism in the U.S. or intrusive lectures on sexual identity. Later, parent groups began to self-organize to ban CRT teaching in schools, and the issue made headlines in many states. In one of the districts of Virginia, the conflict between parents and schools ended up in court and the imprisonment of one of the protesting parents. The issue became highly partisan and politicized. Governors of several conservative states tried to ban the study of CRT and other radical ideologies. At the end of his term, President Trump issued a presidential order on "Combating race and sex stereotyping" and prohibited federal agencies from promoting opinions based on CRT or funding actions that encourage them.

However, President Biden rescinded this order on the first day of his term and fully supported the teachers' unions in determining school curricula (it should be noted that the teachers' unions are a solid support base for the Democratic candidates; major teachers' unions were among the first to announce their support for the second term of Biden in April 2023). As a result, teaching CRT content in schools has permeated education systems in most U.S. states, except a few conservative states such as Florida and Arizona. In early 2023, the Manhattan Institute published research results indicating that the majority of young people aged 18-20 have learned concepts related to CRT and radical gender ideology in public schools. As expected, American parents are voting with their feet. In the last six years, there has been a 50% increase in the number of home-schooled children and a 4% drop in the number of students in the public education system. The process of abandoning a public education system that began during COVID-19 continues now due to the radical content and the danger of indoctrination that worries a large part of the public. As a result, Republican activists are already working on new legislative initiatives to make it easier for parents who wish to transfer their children from public schools controlled by the teachers' unions to private or independent schools.

Anti-Zionism and antisemitism of the new ideology

In recent years, reports have appeared about the introduction of anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli content in several public schools as part of the study of CRT and other radical theories. Moreover, after October 7, Jewish teachers reported hostile behavior from their students. In one case, high school students in New York even tried to physically attack a teacher of Jewish origin who posted a photo of her participation in a pro-Israel rally. Although the dimensions of anti-Semitic violence in schools are still relatively small compared to the scope of the phenomenon on campuses, the trend is clear. This hostility stems from the "woke" ideology, which sees Israel as an illegitimate state and identifies Jews with the privileged white majority. "Woke" ideology is not only aggressively anti-Zionist; it denies any possibility that Israel or Jews can be a victim of discrimination and persecution, and thus, in practice, dehumanizes them.

Book by David Bernstein, published in 2022

Senior officials in leading Jewish organizations, such as ADL, recognized the destructive potential of these distorted views as early as 2018, but their warnings did not receive due attention. Furthermore, progressive Jewish organizations, driven by idealism, wholeheartedly accepted "woke" ideology while ignoring its anti-Israel and antisemitic elements. These Jewish organizations discovered, to their astonishment, that after the October 7 massacre, none of their allies in these movements stood by their side and condemned the inhuman cruelty of Hamas. As Bret Stevens defined it, the ideology of "woke" has all the elements that should terrify any Jew: the belief that racial characteristics determine a person's moral worth, a habit of descending to antisemitism, and a quasi-totalitarian mindset. Thus, during the worst crisis for the Jewish people and the State of Israel since the Holocaust, the American Jewish community discovered that its efforts to build an alliance with the progressive camp had failed and that it was left alone in the face of an unprecedented wave of antisemitism. In recent weeks, the demand for a reckoning on the part of the progressive circles of the Jewish community has been growing more robust. However, it is still too early to determine its results, mainly because quite a few people have gone too far in their attempt to become part of the "woke" movement.


The above processes shape the face of American society and its future generations. Those are profound internal developments influenced by demographic, economic, cultural, and political trends. The U.S. is Israel's most important ally, and naturally, these developments are worrying, but Israel cannot influence them. However, it must be remembered that a strong and stable Israel is the primary source of strength for all Jewish communities worldwide. Israel can help Diaspora Jews face the challenges of the new antisemitism by a firm adherence to its fundamental commitments as the only state of the Jewish people: a persistent commitment to the security of its citizens, to the Law of Return and aliyah, and to maintaining its Jewish and democratic character.

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