According to social justice theory, our identity is the most important thing about us. But it is incumbent upon all of us to align our identities from a curated menu of possibilities, based on the colour of our skins, our gender and our race. If you are white, you are of the privileged class and inherently racist to boot. If you are a black conservative who believes that people should be judged by the content of their character, not the colour of their skins, or if you voted for Donald Trump, then – in Joe Biden’s immortal words to a cheeky black interviewer during his election campaign – “you ain’t black.”
Jews of good conscience are having a tough time with the Woke rules. Our own history of systemic antisemitism and persecution has made us disproportionately sympathetic to all victims of bigotry. At the same time, Jews have continually emerged from oppression to achieve success in whatever domains were open to us. In those nations where legal constraints were lifted – even in the face of social antisemitism – Jews flourished exponentially.
So if we hew to the line that all failure to thrive in some racialized communities is entirely due to systemic racism, then we are denying the reality of our own multiple historical experiences. In explaining Jewish success, there are really only two ways to go. Either Jews have inherent privilege like other white people, only more so, or the answer lies in Jewish culture. To non-ideological Jews, the correct answer – culture, family values, work ethic – is a no-brainer. Because it also explains why other allegedly racialized” groups, such as South and East Asians, are also successful disproportionately to white Americans.
But progressive Jews find it impossible to make that leap. It would be a kind of blasphemy against their religion of social justice, which does not allow for any explanations of success or failure other than those prescribed in the menu. Some influential progressives choose to double down on the Woke thesis, and when they do, they betray their own Jewish history and lend support to the idea that it is okay to blame Jews for their allegedly ill-gotten achievements.
A case in point, Randi Weingarten, 63, president of the American Federation of Teachers since 2008, and the wife of Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a Manhattan synagogue catering to the LGBT community. She claims to ground her advocacy for the oppressed in society in Jewish values. Weingarten has been much in the public eye for her intransigence regarding public school reopenings. Half of America’s schools are still functioning remotely, and Weingarten has been subjected to harsh criticism for her hyper-protectiveness of teachers. Why should teachers’ unions overrule family wishes? Amongst her critics posing the question were Jews in numbers sufficient for her to have singled them out with this comment, delivered in an interview with the Jewish Telegraph:
“I have a very pointed response here for Jews making this argument. American Jews are now part of the ownership class. Jews were immigrants from somewhere else. And they needed the right to have public education. And they needed power to have enough income and wealth for their families that they could put their kids through college and their kids could do better than they have done. Both economic opportunity through the labor movement and an educational opportunity through public education were key for Jews to go from the working class to the ownership class. What I hear when I hear that question is that those who are in the ownership class now want to take that ladder of opportunity away from those who do not have it.” She added, “Oh my God, it’s a totally privileged argument.”
Jews want to “take the ladder away from those that do not have it”? That progressivist principles are rooted in Marxism is no secret. But I must say the words “ownership class” and the accusation that Jews want to pull the ladder up behind them had a horripilating effect on me. Weingarten was accusing Jews of joining the oppressor class and willfully suppressing America’s most intractably oppressed class of citizens.
In an article on Weingarten for the Algemeiner, Benjamin Kerstein notes the implications of Weingarten’s observation by quoting Karl Marx: “The Jew who exists as a peculiar member of bourgeois society, is only the particular expression of the Judaism of bourgeois society. We therefore perceive in Judaism a general pervading anti-social element.” Marx theorized that this “element” must be eliminated in order to achieve genuine human freedom. “The emancipation of the Jews in its last significance is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism,” Marx stated.
Marx’s loathing for Judaism – and for Jews –has apparently seeped into progressive discourse as an article of faith. For Weingarten did not come to her convictions on this subject spontaneously or without careful consideration before voicing them. The fact that this public figure of enormous prominence and influence quite freely and enthusiastically chose to float such a deeply antisemitic pronouncement into the common political air we all breathe with confidence and pride should set alarm bells ringing amongst mainstream liberal Jews.
We know what has happened to all people designated as the “ownership class” in all communist regimes. The feckless Randi Weingarten has blown a dog whistle that may awaken sleeping monsters. Her statement is a dreadful calumny, and should not go unchallenged – not just by individuals, but by Jewish institutions.
(Barbara Kay is a renowned writer and journalist whose articles appear in the National Post and Post Millennial. She is also a CIJR Academic Fellow).