Does Jewishness matter?

A while ago, there was a minor media firestorm about a situation at UCLA that erupted when a Jewish student was being confirmed for a position on the student council’s Judicial Board. The student was asked a series of questions about whether her Jewish commitments would affect her performance on the Board. This, of course, violates a major taboo. From the NYTimes account:

“Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community,” Fabienne Roth, a member of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, began, looking at Ms. Beyda at the other end of the room, “how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”

For the next 40 minutes, after Ms. [Rachel] Beyda was dispatched from the room, the council tangled in a debate about whether her faith and affiliation with Jewish organizations, including her sorority and Hillel, a popular student group, meant she would be biased in dealing with sensitive governance questions that come before the board, which is the campus equivalent of the Supreme Court.

The discussion, recorded in written minutes and captured on video, seemed to echo the kind of questions, prejudices and tropes — particularly about divided loyalties — that have plagued Jews across the globe for centuries, students and Jewish leaders said.

The council, in a meeting that took place on Feb. 10, voted first to reject Ms. Beyda’s nomination, with four members against her. Then, at the prodding of a faculty adviser there who pointed out that belonging to Jewish organizations was not a conflict of interest, the students revisited the question and unanimously put her on the board. …

“We don’t like to wave the flag of anti-Semitism, but this is different,” Rabbi Aaron Lerner, the incoming executive director of the Hillel chapter at U.C.L.A., said of the vote against Ms. Beyda. “This is bigotry. This is discriminating against someone because of their identity.”

The university’s chancellor, Gene D. Block, issued a statement denouncing the attacks on Ms. Beyda. “To assume that every member of a group can’t be impartial or is motivated by hatred is intellectually and morally unacceptable,” he said. “When hurtful stereotypes — of any group — are wielded to delegitimize others, we are all debased.”

The esteemed Dr. Block, whose Jewish identity is doubtless completely irrelevant to his statement, is going way beyond the evidence by saying that the proceedings assumed that “every member of a group can’t be impartial.”  The obvious reason for the questions was because there was doubt, not assumption. Anyone in his or her right mind would realize that it would not exactly be surprising if Ms. Beyda’s Jewish identity influenced how she voted on a lot of issues, most particularly Israel and the now common controversies over the BDS movement on campus.

So it’s no surprise that the BDS movement aimed at getting UCLA to cut ties with Israel was indeed lurking in the background.

The boycott resolution, and the battle it set off here, was not explicitly mentioned but was described by her and others as setting the subtext for the episode.

“The overall culture of targeting Israel led to targeting Jewish students,” said Natalie Charney, student president of the U.C.L.A. chapter of Hillel. “People say that being anti-Israel is not the same as being anti-Semitic. The problem is the anti-Israel culture in which we are singling out only the Jewish state creates an environment where it’s O.K. to single out Jewish students.”

So if BDS is a current controversial topic on campus, and if Jewish students are predictably more likely to oppose BDS because of their Jewish identity and commitment to Israel, wouldn’t it make sense to ask questions about her affiliations, such as Hillel? Although there has been some breaking with ranks of late, Hillel has generally been a strong opponent of BDS and has often sought to ban speakers who are favorable to BDS.

The issue of being questioned about the implications of a Jewish identity is a bedrock issue for Jews. The basic fiction is that we must presume that each individual’s decisions are solely the result of honest weighing of evidence, uninfluenced by ethnic, religious, or other identities. This is an obvious fiction for pretty much everyone, although White people seem more prone than others to consider the other person’s point of view) (Because of their individualistic tendencies that promote scientific [i.e., unbiased, objective] views of reality in which group interests are irrelevant, White people are arguably less prone to such tendencies.)

Jews are certainly no exception. Jews often have viewpoints that derive from their identity as Jews. Nevertheless, the absurdity that they do not is a bedrock principle of contemporary political correctness.

This was the point, after all of the discussion of Jewish intellectual movements in The Culture of Critique: The Jewish commitments and motivations of the main players were never a subject of discussion, and the movements themselves were presented as scientifically sound and morally superior to the traditional culture of the West. As a result, non-Jews are invited to see these Jewish activists as disinterested social scientists, or, in the case of the neocons, as patriotic fellow Americans — as “just like themselves.” We are invited to view these Jewish activists as part of our ingroup, with all that that entails psychologically.

But of course, the intellectual movements discussed in CofC are only a small part of this issue. One example that has come up often on TOO is whether it makes any difference that Jews run Hollywood. The ADL, of course, insists that the fact that Jews run Hollywood makes no difference, just as it makes no difference that Rachel Beyda belongs to Hillel or a Jewish sorority. The views of such people can be expected to be no different than a random cross-section of the population. They are simply individuals acting apart from any group identity —  the idea, as Abe Foxman phrased it, “that Jewish directors, producers and financiers are there in Hollywood as Jews. They’re not.” (See “Gary Oldman becomes a pariah.“) The evidence against Foxman’s point of view, summarized in the article on the unfortunate Mr. Oldman, is overwhelming.

As Steve Sailer says in his recent piece on Mad Men producer Matthew Weiner, “racial resentment can be a great goad for your career. Here’s Matthew Weiner, son of a leading neurologist and a lawyer who stopped practicing to keep house, yet it still drives him nuts that Jews were a minority at Harvard School for Boys. He gets up in the morning and goes to work to get revenge for that.”

And of course, it’s more than that. It’s hostility to the mainstream culture of the 1950s and early 1960s depicted in Mad Men, the last period in American history before the rise of our new hostile elites and the last period in American history when Hollywood elites kept their racial resentment under wraps. There are a lot of movies with themes like Mad Men—e.g., anything on  Joe McCarthy; my personal favorite is Pleasantville.

Sorry Abe. It matters a lot that Jews run Hollywood.

Examples where Jewish identity ought to be a legitimate subject of discussion are legion. Just imagine the horror that would ensue if, for example, Elena Kagan had been questioned about her Jewish identity in the hearings for her nomination to the Supreme Court.

Atty. Kagan, could you comment on your ties to ethnic Jews during your career and on how these ties have helped you ascend to a position where you are a candidate for Supreme Court Justice?  For example, what about your friends in the journalism professions?

Can you enlighten us on the role of Larry Summers in your appointment as dean of the Harvard Law School without the usual academic qualifications? What role did your Jewish connections have in getting your clerkship with Judge Abner Mikva and in your career at the University of Chicago?  (See previous link.) (And if I was doing the questioning, I confess I have to exert a lot of self-control not to ask this: “I must admit that it really angers me as an academic that the average untenured faculty member at a second-tier university has published more than you did in your entire career at the University of Chicago and Harvard; yet you were considered qualified to be Dean of the Harvard Law School and a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Can you explain that?”)

Can you comment on the influence of growing up in the radical Jewish subculture of New York that you described so positively in your senior thesis at Princeton? How do you see the link between Jewish identity and politics of the left among Jews in the diaspora in the West?
Do you think your Jewish identity will influence your opinion in cases having to do with the  typical concerns of the mainstream Jewish community where Jewish attitudes are far more in step with the radical Jewish subculture of your youth than they are with White America—immigration and multiculturalism, free speech, the power of the central government, and gun control?

But of course, questions like that of Jews in public life are completely out of bounds. One final example:

[We all have our unconscious biases.]  Movements such as the Israel Lobby have typically presented themselves not as furthering Jewish interests but as furthering the interests of the society as a whole. Neocons such as Richard Perle typically phrase their policy recommendations as aimed at benefiting the US. He does this despite evidence that he has a strong Jewish identity and despite the fact that he has typical Jewish concerns, such as anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and the welfare of Israel. Perle poses as an American patriot despite credible charges of spying for Israel, writing reports for Israeli think tanks and op-eds for the Jerusalem Post, and all the while having close personal relationships with Israeli leaders….

In my ideal world, Jonah Goldberg’s op-eds and Paul Wolfowitz’s advice to presidents and defense secretaries should be accompanied by a disclaimer: “You should be cautious in following my advice or even believing what I say about Israel. Deception and manipulation are very common tactics in ethnic conflict, so that my pose as an American patriot should be taken with a grain of salt. And even if I am entirely sincere in what I say, the fact is that I have a deep psychological and ethnic commitment to Israel and Judaism. Psychologists have shown that this sort of deep commitment is likely to bias my perceptions of any policy that could possibly affect Israel even though I am not aware of it.”

As I noted in The Culture of Critique, “many of the Jews involved in the movements reviewed here may sincerely believe that these movements are really divorced from specifically Jewish interests or are in the best interests of other groups as well as Jews. … But, as [evolutionary theorist Robert] Trivers (1985) notes, the best deceivers are those who are self-deceived.” (“The Israel Lobby and the Psychology of Influence“)

It really wouldn’t matter if Jews were an elite with attitudes and interests similar to those of the traditional American nation. The problem is that this is quite clearly not the case.

48 replies

Comments are closed.