Activism, Identity, Politics, Top Stories

Antiracism, Anti-Semitism, and the False Problem of Jewish Success

On October 17th, the New York Times published an op-ed celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Million Man March that neglected to mention the anti-Semitic history of its organizer, Louis Farrakhan. In response, former Times editorial board member Bari Weiss tweeted that the institution had adopted “a worldview in which Jew hate does not count.” The author of the Times op-ed, Howard University professor Natalie Hopkinson, replied that “ppl who have become white”—that is, Jews like Weiss—“should not be lecturing Black ppl about oppression.”

Exposing and objecting to racial disparities became the purpose of the New York Times around August 2019, when executive editor Dean Baquet called a town hall meeting attended by the paper’s staff. He announced that, with the Mueller probe winding down, the paper needed to “regroup, and shift resources and emphasis” from Russiagate to the story of “race and class” and “what it means to be an American.” A few months later, the Times published “The 1619 Project” which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, and the paper’s editorial and ideological focus has been consistent ever since.

When Weiss left the Times in July 2020, she published a resignation letter on her blog in which she claimed that management indifference to harassment from progressive staffers had created an intolerable work environment. She has since argued that progressive ideology is increasingly hostile to Jews and other successful minorities because they undermine the narrative of systemic racism pushed by antiracist activists.

Jews came to America, often as refugees fleeing persecution, and were able to flourish here precisely because opportunities weren’t closed off to them on the basis of identity. The story of minority immigrant success is inconsistent with the progressive narrative of the United States as a country founded upon and organized around racism. If it is true that oppressed groups have had historically unprecedented access to opportunity in modern, liberal societies then it cannot also be true that pervasive oppression explains lingering disparities. So progressives have become hostile to successful minorities, and have begun speaking about them in ways that echo the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the far-Right.

(((Faces of power)))

In September, the Times published an interactive feature exploring the “Faces of Power” in the United States. The idea, the creators announced, was to look into the demographics of the people who “pass our laws, control Hollywood’s studios and head the most prestigious universities… [who] own pro sports teams and determine who goes to jail and who goes to war.” These powerful individuals were divided up by the institutions they control: who sits in Congress, who holds cabinet seats in the Trump administration, who runs giant companies, prestigious universities, movie studios, glossy magazines, fashion houses, and police departments. A photo of each person is included, and if the person is black, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian, their portrait is superimposed on a yellow background. Move the mouse pointer over a photograph, and the subject’s name appears. For each category, the Times included a count of members of underrepresented groups. Of 922 total individuals identified, 180 are people of color. The population of the United States is about 60 percent white, which means that whites are about 33 percent more common among the “faces of power” than they are among Americans overall.

The progressives at the New York Times aren’t the only ideological faction interested in the demographics of America’s “Faces of Power.” Although it was more slickly designed and presented, the Times’s package looked similar to the kind of anti-Semitic memes that routinely circulate on far-Right Twitter:

Vaulting a very low hurdle, the New York Times is not as shamelessly dishonest in its propaganda as the online far-Right; white nationalist memes tend to only depict Jews while excluding everyone else, which tends to strip their numbers of context within the scope of larger organizations. The Times, on the other hand, included everyone who holds positions of power in the categories it identified, and acknowledged, for example, that people of color are well-represented among top law-enforcement officials in large cities. Nevertheless, reactionaries and progressives use similar forms to express similar concerns and make a similar point—they perceive the demographics of those who hold power in the United States to be objectionable on ideological grounds.

The far-Right believes that the mechanisms of power have been seized by a sinister Jewish cabal, while the far-Left believes that institutions are jealously guarded by white heterosexual males. Both the Times package and the far-Right’s memes hope to communicate the same message to their respective audiences—they believe that depicting the institutions they hope to disrupt as rows of similar-looking faces will convince others that the system is unfair and needs to be corrected. Overall, the Times‘s project indicates that whites are overrepresented by about 30 percent among the figures pictured compared to their share of the general population.

The Times doesn’t identify Jews in their images, but these faces are disproportionately the faces of successful Jewish Americans. Nor does the Times explicitly argue that Jews wield an unfair degree of American power, or that they have acquired that power through illegitimate means. However, its graphics certainly imply that Jewish success must be dismantled to rebalance ethnic distribution. Jews only comprise about two percent of the US population. However, of the nine US Supreme Court Justices, three were Jewish prior to the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the Court in 2010, the paleoconservative writer and former politician Pat Buchanan complained that if Kagan were confirmed, Jews would hold “33 percent of the Supreme Court seats. Is this the Democrats’ idea of diversity?”

Jews are overrepresented in other categories of the Times‘s feature as well—of the presidents of the top 25 universities, nine are Jewish. Of the 15 people directing major news organizations, five are Jewish. Of the 100 US Senators and the 435 members of the House of Representatives, nine Senators and 27 representatives are Jewish. In other words, Jewish representation on the Supreme Court, in elite academia, and in media is about 15 times their demographic share of the general population. Proportionately, there are four times as many Jews in Congress as there are in the country as a whole.

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and the “Jewish Question”

Jews are overrepresented not by mere percentages but by multiples of their demographic representation in academia, media, law, finance, medicine, publishing, and entertainment. At dozens of the most selective and elite colleges, Jews are represented among undergraduates in proportions greater than five times their overall share of the population. The 15 million living Jews represent only two-tenths of one percent of the human population, but Jews have won nearly a third of all Nobel prizes awarded since the year 2000. Forty percent of American adults overall have completed postsecondary degrees, but three-quarters of Jews in North America are college graduates. As a result, Jews out-earn other groups on average, with more than four in 10 American Jews living in households that earn more than $100,000 per year.

So it is true that there are a lot of very successful Jews. What is false is the insidious implication that Jewish success is some kind of problem or grounds for suspicion. The racist Right has long been obsessed with this topic, and copious postings can be found on far-Right websites and forums discussing the perceived problem of disproportionate Jewish success and power—what white nationalists call the “Jewish Question” or “JQ.” That the Times is raising similar concerns indicates that this kind of thinking is now mainstream among progressives.

For much of the last century, the liberal position on race in America was that we should eliminate discrimination and prejudice, treat everyone as an individual, and award opportunities on the basis of merit. Some groups, like Jews, Asian Americans, and other minority immigrant groups have flourished under this system, but black Americans continue to be represented in fractions of their societal proportions in many elite settings. In response, the progressive view has evolved. Today it holds that treating everyone the same without regard to race is actually racist because it fails to consider the impact of historic and systemic discrimination. In this way, systemic racism is preserved by judging members of historically marginalized groups as less worthy according to ostensibly race-neutral criteria (for instance, test scores).

The writing of Ibram X. Kendi—professor, Atlantic columnist, and bestselling author of How To Be An Antiracistprovides the intellectual framework for the contemporary antiracist movement. Kendi argues that:

The most threatening racist movement is not the alt-right’s unlikely drive for a White ethnostate but the regular American’s drive for a “race-neutral” one… there are ideas that express hierarchy and inequality. There are policies that create equity and inequity. The other aspect of it that is troubling is that there’s no such thing as a “not racist.” There is only racist and antiracist.

Instead of “equality,” progressives like Kendi favor “equity,” a system under which jobs and opportunities are apportioned among different groups in shares mirroring their representation in larger society. In his book, Kendi is clear about how this must be achieved: “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”

Just as the alt-Right argues that Jewish control of media and finance is preserved through conspiracies and cabals, Kendi writes: “One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist.” If a group is less successful on average, then it is the result of victimization, and the group should be collectively promoted to rectify the inequity. If, on the other hand, a group is more successful than average, its members must be hoarding power and shaping policy to their benefit. Kendi’s proposals include amending the Constitution to ban inequity, criminalizing “racist ideas,” and creating a new police agency empowered with “disciplinary tools” of enforcement—it is hard to see these ideas as anything but extremely menacing to successful minority groups.

To Kendi’s right, intellectuals like Jordan Peterson have offered a simple explanation for the disproportionate number of Jews in the upper echelons of various fields: There are a disproportionate number of very smart Jews. However, when New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argued in 2019 that Jewish success was mostly attributable to Jewish culture, values, and norms, he was denounced as a eugenicist. Even the empirical claim that high intelligence is unusually common among Jews was blasted in American Scientist as racist pseudoscience. If it is racist pseudoscience to suggest that Jewish families and communities are unusually adept at cultivating talent, then what explanation remains for Jews’ disproportionate success?

On Twitter, Kendi has said that: “The only people who believe equality of outcome between racial GROUPS will never exist are the people who refuse to recognize that racist policy are behind the inequality of outcome between racial GROUPS.” In other words, if Jews are successful it is because they have shaped policy to benefit themselves at the expense of other groups. This is how Kendi and his antiracist disciples arrive—like the white nationalists before them—at the “JQ.” If we dismiss Jewish talent and culture as explanations for Jewish success then the only explanation left is that Jewish success is the result of Jewish mendacity.

How did this happen? It’s simple: The belief that racial or ethnic groups ought to pursue a shared set of interests in opposition to the interests of other groups will eventually conflict with minorities whose members are disproportionately successful but remain vulnerable to persecution. Whether you believe that power and wealth ought to be redistributed to create a white ethnostate or you want to reallocate power and wealth to facilitate equity by imposing antiracist policy, the road to your imagined utopia runs through or perhaps over the Jews.

Are Jews just white?

Kendi rarely discusses the implications of his “antiracist policies” on groups other than blacks and whites. The word “Jew” appears only three times in the text of How to be an Antiracist, and all three mentions describe Jews as the victims of white bigotry. Kendi usually discusses his ideas only in terms of black oppression and white supremacy, without mentioning groups who are neither black nor white or who are subsets of black and white populations and may succeed in proportions that differ from their representation in society overall.

If antiracist policy distributes power, wealth, and success in proportions that mirror group representation, then successful minorities must be brought into equity with everyone else. That will require purges where they are overrepresented in prestigious institutions and professions, and quotas limiting their future success are necessary to achieve the antiracist vision. In order to make space for everyone to be proportionally represented, about 80 percent of Jews have to be pushed out of the media, the professions, and elite academia. But many progressives seem to believe that white supremacy can be dismantled without examining minority success if we simply fold successful minorities into the overarching category of whiteness. You don’t have to deal with the Jewish Question if you don’t acknowledge that Jews exist. Natalie Hopkinson employed this reasoning to dismiss Weiss’s complaint about her elegy to Farrakhan in the Times; since Weiss has “become white,” she lacks the standing to complain to a black writer about oppression.

The New York Times’s “Faces of Power” package doesn’t mention Jews at all; for its ideological purposes, all the Jewish people named and pictured in its lists are merely members of the undifferentiated white collective that maintains a stranglehold on American power. Many progressives—and a lot of progressive Jews—who favor the redistribution of power, wealth, and success among groups imagine that perhaps Jews are not a group who need to be considered independently of the larger category of whiteness during the reckoning. In a 2016 Atlantic article, writer Emma Green asked: “On the extreme Right, Jews are seen as impure—a faux-white race that has tainted America. And on the extreme Left, Jews are seen as part of a white-majority establishment that seeks to dominate people of color. Taken together, these attacks raise an interesting question: Are Jews white?”

This question has been asked repeatedly in major media outlets since. When Donald Trump signed an executive order extending Title VI protections against discrimination on the basis of national origin to Jews, Boston Globe columnist Rachelle Cohen argued that the notion of Jewish nationhood had justified anti-Semitism and even genocide in the past and invoked the trope of dual loyalty. To Cohen, Jews are just white people who happen to follow a particular religious tradition. Those who think like her may consider the Jewishness of so many of the people pictured in the Times package to be incidental to their whiteness. In which case, since they rose to their positions of power aided by systemic forces that favor whites, they can be culled in the name of diversity without the fact that they are Jews ever needing to be remarked upon. According to this logic, there is no Jewish genius—despite what Bret Stephens thinks—and there is no Jewish power or success, because the Jews are simply not a people. If Jewishness is just a social construct that can be dismantled and dissolved into whiteness, and if everyone in the way of progress can be redefined as white, then the antiracist project can achieve its goal of displacing the hegemonic oppressor without persecuting any minorities!

The only problem with this reasoning is that it is obviously wrong. I can look at the “Faces of Power” and pick out the Jews—so can you and so can the neo-Nazis at Stormfront. Natalie Hopkinson may declare Jews to be white so she can dismiss our experience of oppression, but we remain non-white to the perpetrators of the massacres at the Tree of Life synagogue, in Jersey City, and in Monsey, or to the perpetrators of the thousands of anti-Jewish hate crimes that occur each year and that have been increasing in frequency.

If I send my DNA to 23andMe, they can identify me as a Jew by my Jewish saliva and my Jewish blood. University of Chicago law professor Daniel Hemel noted in a Times op-ed that Jews cannot escape anti-Semitism by not practicing the Jewish religion, and ought to be protected from discrimination regardless of how they may self-identify. Some Jews may consider themselves to be white people with white privilege who benefit from white supremacy, but that is unlikely to impress those on the radical Left and radical Right who dislike Jews for ideological reasons of their own. Progressives may try to define whiteness in a way that elides the existence of Jews, but theoretical jargon cannot alter reality. Jews still exist, and bigots still want to disappear us, and some of those bigots are pursuing their agendas under the guise of virtuous antiracism.

Furthermore, when you dismantle a system that apportions opportunities to individuals on the basis of merit alone and replace it with a system that distributes those opportunities proportionately to groups in order to create equity, people will reconstruct their identities in order to qualify for benefits under the new system. Even if Jews are arguably white in a setting where it doesn’t matter very much whether they’re white or not, the question becomes much more urgent and complicated in a system where group representation is limited by the kind of “antiracist discrimination” Kendi and his acolytes want to impose.

Consider a hypothetical antiracist system in which the number of seats at an elite college or the number of jobs at Goldman Sachs available to white people is capped by a quota. If a third of those positions are won by white-identified Jews, non-Jewish whites will complain that they are victims of an inequity. Even those who imagine that Jews are a part of an undifferentiated whiteness have to recognize that people will start differentiating when you create a strong incentive for them to do so. Such a system will atomize all racial categories, with everyone vying to construct an identity that allows them to claim oppression and therefore gain an advantage in their pursuit of opportunities. Whites will demand demographic balance among Northern, Eastern, and Southern Europeans. There may be quotas implemented to curb the disproportionate academic and economic success of Catholics and Mormons as well as Jews.

Meanwhile, a wildly disproportionate share of black students who gain admission to elite colleges are from immigrant backgrounds—Harvard professors Henry Louis Gates and Lani Guinier have estimated that as many as two-thirds of black Harvard students are immigrant-descended, compared to only about 10 percent of black Americans overall. Backlash against this trend among black Americans who are descendants of enslaved people is already occurring, most prominently at Cornell, where a student group demanded that the college disqualify African immigrants and their descendants from consideration under affirmative action policies.

And of course the success of Asian Americans remains a problem for the equity project. Asians are not overrepresented among the “Faces of Power,” because most people who run Fortune 500 companies and TV networks or own sports teams are over the age of 50, and most Asian Americans are not. White Americans are older on average than other groups—the median white American is 58 and the median Asian American is 29. But among younger cohorts, the disproportionate success of Asian Americans is undeniable. Asians are overrepresented several times among top performers on standardized tests. As a result, they are represented more than double their overall population rate in the classes at elite colleges like Harvard, despite extensive evidence that these colleges discriminate against Asian students to keep their numbers down. At elite employers like Google, which struggle to find and retain black talent, more than a third of employees are Asian. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio called it a “monumental injustice” that the highest academic performers as identified by standardized tests were mostly Asian. He vowed to dismantle the test-based admissions regime for the city’s elite specialized schools because their demographics did not mirror those of the larger population. Similar campaigns have recently abolished standards in order to reduce the number of Asians at Virginia’s top-ranked Thomas Jefferson High School and San Francisco’s Lowell High.

Bad for the Jews

The unintended similarities between the memes produced by the alt-Right and the graphics produced by the New York Times expose the unexplored similarities between the ideologies and political missions of these two ostensibly opposed movements. Both ends of the political horseshoe are suspicious of Jews, along with Asian Americans and other successful minority groups. Antiracism went off the rails when its intellectual leaders decided they could use racial discrimination for positive purposes. That has evolved into the view, articulated by Kendi, that opposing discrimination is actually the real racist position. To enforce equity across the land, Ibram Kendi and his enforcers at his Department of Antiracism must dismantle not just white supremacy, but also Jewish, East Asian, South Asian, Catholic, Mormon, African, and Caribbean success, cutting down any group that outperforms any other group until all outcomes are equal. These groups must be purged from power and influence, stripped of their wealth, and gated from obtaining too much power or success again. This will be achieved with the application of racial quotas and by prohibiting any performance metrics that might indicate that some people are more qualified or talented than others.

Equality under the law, and equal treatment of individuals without regard for identity are core values of a free society. Equal outcomes among groups cannot be enforced without dismantling freedom and shredding individual rights. The idea that success, wealth, and opportunities should be seized and redistributed to create “equity” is totalitarian and all totalitarian movements, whether they’re found on the Left or the Right, whether they’re antiracist or white-nationalist are, in the end, alike. That’s why their propaganda looks the same.

There’s no such thing as too many Jews among the “faces of power.” There’s no such thing as too many Asians at Harvard or Stuyvesant or Thomas Jefferson or Lowell. There’s no such thing as too many Nigerians at Cornell. Jewish success is good. Asian American success is good. Immigrant success is good. Using power to dismantle success, to bar people from success, or to confiscate and redistribute success is bad. Everyone should be treated as an individual, and all individuals should be able to succeed to the limits of their talent without anyone complaining that too many people who look like them are succeeding. There is no such thing as antiracist discrimination because all discrimination is racist. And anyone who keeps lists of Jews is probably doing it for bad reasons.


Daniel Friedman is the Edgar Award-nominated author of Running Out of Road. Follow him on Twitter @DanFriedman81.

Photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash