The Special Privilege of The Jews

How exactly does the myth of Jewish privilege affect Jews?

Ariel Chesler,

According to a recent Tablet piece by John-Paul Pagano, “most people on the Left today prioritize the well-being of Arabs and Muslims over Jews” because in their “mental shorthand . . . Muslims are people of color and Jews are white.” They are also likely to believe (subconsciously or not) in the myth of Jewish privilege, which reflects their envy and resentment of the Jewish people’s ability to achieve excellence against all odds. And, it is often those anti-racists who have compassion for every kind of oppression and persecution who are silent when it is Jews who are being persecuted. They may be “Charlie,” but they are never Le Juif. For them, we are a special category. is not surprising that when Jews are killed in Europe by Islamists, the first concern is not the rise of Jew hatred, but Islamophobia.
Perhaps Jews are resented for having white skin in America. Jews (and other ethnic groups such as Irish and Italians) were once considered non-White in this country (my maternal great-grandfather’s immigration form lists his race as Hebrew). Jews were kept out of certain professions and were subject to quotas at top universities. Today in America, however, there is no question that assimilated Jews with white skin benefit from white privilege. Where this leaves Jews who wear religiously identifiable garments is less certain.

Still, white privilege does not shield one from anti-Semitism. Indeed, as much as we would like to think that anti-Semitism has been abolished in the U.S., the fact remains that, according to the latest FBI statistics, the number one target for religion based hate crimes in the United States were Jews, and Jews are the third-most common victim of hate crimes overall in America, behind African-Americans and gay men. There is also a unique economic disadvantage likely faced by those directly descended from Holocaust survivors.

It is also important to consider how race has been constructed in Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East, where the Jew served as the "other" for centuries and continues to serve this role today. For example, in Muslim societies which tolerated a Jewish presence, the Jew was forced to occupy a lower social caste - the Dhimmi - and even today such societies believe in Muslim supremacy in much the same way some believe in White supremacy. So, let us not take the unique inclusivity of America and the white privilege held by Jews here as the universal status of Jews.

Indeed, simplistic calculations about race and privilege fail to consider the construction of race outside of America (or the fact that Jews descend from Arab and African lands and comprise a wide array of skin tones) and perpetuate a hierarchy of oppression wherein the oppression of Muslims is made paramount. And, here I thought the Oppression Olympics had ended. Nevertheless, given this stance, it is not surprising that when Jews are killed in Europe by Islamists, the first concern is not the rise of Jew hatred, but Islamophobia.

Even in the U.S. and the West, incorrect assumptions of Jewish privilege may manifest in Jewish litigants losing their discrimination lawsuits because, as described by law professor David Schraub, “even where Jews are well-integrated . . . stereotypes about the Jewish position — Jews are dominant, Jews are hyper-powerful, Jews have infinite political sway and influence — remain active and distort our view of the world.” In fact, such discrimination charges are considered to be made in particularly bad faith by what many view as the most privileged people in the world.

It is perhaps a blindness to this mythological privilege that led Herzl and others to miscalculate how the world would react to the Jews returning to their homeland and establishing the modern nation of Israel. In this sense, asking for the return of our own country and receiving it was simply one privilege too many.

Crucially, anti-Semitism is different from other forms of bigotry because it allows its proponents to insist that Jews are superior - "evil, brilliant, controlling, connected, rich, and powerful beyond measure," i.e. those with the most privilege. Thus, as Pagano notes, anti-Semitism "punches up" at the “dominant oppressor,” making all claims of anti-Semitism by Jews suspect and ultimately invalid.

Progressives seem unable to accept the irrational nature of the anti-Semitism espoused most widely by Muslims, and thus justify violence against Jews by suggesting that it is a natural and instinctive reaction to oppression, purportedly caused by Israel and the West.

And, the myth of Jewish privilege explains how progressives and those with true power (and privilege), whose distorted myth-based opinions of Jews carry more weight, are easily able to ignore the calls for death, the violent acts committed, and the hateful words spewed against Jews around the world. Perhaps the relative absence of anti-Semitism in the U.S. also makes it difficult for younger generations to believe it exists or is employed against Israel.

So, it appears we do have a special privilege after all. It is to be deemed to have so much privilege that we end up receiving no consideration whatsoever.

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