Jews feel less safe in America than they did a generation ago, and for good reason. As my colleagues have documented, we are living through a disturbing surge in anti-Semitic violence. The reason, I suspect, is a change in the ideological climate, one that represents a grave threat to the American experiment.

Other nations, throughout their histories, have scorned the Jewish people. But it was George Washington who asked that “the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.” Since then, America has welcomed the Jewish people. In return, it has reaped enormous rewards, as the extraordinary achievements of Jewish scientists, doctors, lawyers, artists, businesspeople, and statesmen have helped make America the most dynamic, productive, and creative nation in the world.

America’s relationship with Jews is special but not entirely unique. The U.S. welcomed them for the same reason it welcomed my immigrant parents and countless others: a sense of confidence that America’s founding values were so compelling that we need not fear difference. If newcomers embraced the nation’s commitment to hard work and self-reliance, the presence of thriving communities of different religious and ethnic stripes would enrich the American experiment, not endanger it. This balance between an expectation of assimilation to shared norms of personal responsibility and active citizenship, on the one hand, and warm tolerance for the preservation of inherited traditions, on the other—call it meritocratic pluralism—has worked exceedingly well for countless minority ethnic groups, American Jews included.

Today, a new form of adversarial identity politics threatens to throw this balance askew. This “racialism”—a belief that race-consciousness and group-based conflict are and will forever remain central to American public life—scorns meritocratic pluralism, offering in its place a noxious brand of leveling-down egalitarianism. If racial groups are always at odds and assimilation is impossible or undesirable, a given group’s prosperity is no longer worthy of celebration and emulation. Wealth instead becomes a zero-sum pie to divvy up. Groups like the Jews—who turn the blessings of liberty into economic and intellectual achievement through hard work and sacrifice—are regarded with envy.

Where this new racialism rears its head, anti-Semitism ineluctably follows. We see it among the right-wing rioters who marched in Charlottesville and in the writings of the shooters who attacked synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway. We see it in the violent campus protests that attack the Jewish state and Jewish people. Is not the left-wing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement fundamentally a form of resentment of Israeli—of Jewish—success?

The nexus between racialism and anti-Semitism is most apparent among the rising generation. Several polls have found that young people are the group most likely to express apathy toward Israel or active support for Hamas. They are also more likely to be explicitly anti-Semitic.

Political scientists have found that young black and Hispanic respondents to surveys are as likely to agree with anti-Semitic statements as white respondents labeling themselves “alt-right.” If you were to imagine a young, ideologically motivated anti-Semite, you would do equally well to imagine a basement-dwelling neo-Nazi or a hate-spewing disciple of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.

The problem exists, too, among America’s 3.5 million Muslims. Fordham University’s Jeffrey Cohen estimates that about 8 percent of Muslims are “highly negative” toward Jews, about four times the rate in the general population. When zeroing in on the Jewish state, the picture becomes even bleaker. A majority of Muslims said in a poll just a few weeks after October 7 that Hamas’s actions were “justified”—an alarming sign of widespread sympathy for terrorism.

Major universities are now beginning to acknowledge that they have a problem with Jewish hate on their campuses. But leaders remain divided about the solution, with some taking the view that Jews should simply receive greater priority in the hierarchy established by university diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices.

This would be a profound mistake, for that bureaucracy is a key propagator of campus racialism. Consider the language of DEI. If you speak of an “underrepresented group,” by definition, you establish the existence of “overrepresented groups,” whose members, it follows, are somehow suspect. Their achievements are to be diminished or discounted by virtue of their color or creed.

Any organization that divides the world into ineradicable, firmly divided racial groups, and breeds resentment among these groups, will eventually be hostile to the Jewish people. It is little surprise that DEI and BDS have grown in tandem. We should not let DEI’s attempts at conciliation distract us from its foundational role in the divisiveness of identity politics.

Policymakers can take a wiser approach to fighting campus anti-Semitism and stemming the tide of ascendant racialism: abolish DEI bureaucracies and restore color-blind equality in public universities. Officials in Florida, Texas, and several other states have already passed laws to reverse the illiberal takeover of higher education through DEI offices that stifle intellectual diversity, prevent equal opportunity, and prioritize commitment to a dehumanizing ideology over the pursuit of truth as the central mission of the university.

The American tradition of meritocratic pluralism has been central to this nation’s remarkable success. Publicly funded DEI bureaucracies are part and parcel of the racialist ideology that invites anti-Semitism and threatens that tradition.

The presence or absence of anti-Semitism is an indicator of societal health. Societies relatively free of anti-Semitism tend to be more open, dynamic, and conducive to achievement. Societies where anti-Semitism is pervasive, in contrast, tend to be more conspiratorial, pessimistic, and fixated on self-defeating narratives of victimhood.

A rise in anti-Semitism is thus a sign of sickness more generally—and all of us, Jewish or not, have an interest in defeating the racialist ideology that enables it to flourish.

Photo by DAVID SWANSON/AFP via Getty Images


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