God, the prophet Isaiah taught, established the Jewish people as a “light unto the nations.” The light of the people of Israel—of justice and mercy, sober intelligence and hopeful faith—has always been one of freedom, shining amid the gloom of tyranny.
When the light was first kindled, the nation in deepest darkness was Egypt. Reliefs at Karnak depict the man-god Pharaoh—immense, archetypically impersonal, and stiff—looming menacingly over herds of human beings. The Bible tells us that a Pharoah solidified control of the land during the famine of Joseph’s time. The Israelites were later forced to make bricks under the Egyptian lash, while organized squads of laborers quarried and hauled massive stones for obelisks and pyramids. The pharaonic machine spent enormous material and social capital on monumental constructions and lavish jewelry meant to bedeck the tombs of dead royalty.
Seeing that the Israelites multiplied abundantly and “filled the land,” the Egyptians imposed a death sentence on all their newborn males. But Moses liberated his brethren from physical and spiritual servitude and led them to life in a new land. It’s not just in theory that the people of Israel embrace life and freedom. They have refused history’s offer of enslavement and death more times than anyone can count.
Like the ancient Egyptians, Islamists cherish death, particularly that of the children of Israel. But the barbarity of Hamas on October 7 would have made the Pharaohs blush. The terrorists murdered the unborn, babies, and children by beheading, aborting, and baking them alive. A civilizational darkness not seen since the Holocaust once again threatens to extinguish the light unto the nations. Shamefully, some of that darkness emanates from the academy, which has embraced an ideology from which it follows, as night follows day, that the Jews must be assimilated—or eliminated.
After October 7, students rallied at universities around the United States to denounce Zionist “genocide,” hold vigils for the Palestinian “martyrs,” and applaud Hamas’s efforts at “decolonization.” (High school students, too, walked out of classes to protest the Israeli military response.) Students and faculty at several schools also ripped down posters of kidnapped Israelis. A Jewish student was beaten at Columbia, and Jewish students at Cooper Union had to take shelter in a library from a mob chanting “Free Palestine!” And a student at Cornell threatened to shoot, stab, rape, and slit the throats of his Jewish classmates.
Anti-Semitic incidents have spiked in the United States and globally since October 7. Last Saturday, on the Jewish Sabbath, the New York Police Department advised Jews to stay off the streets, while thousands of protesters calling for the elimination of Israel “by any means” blocked the Brooklyn Bridge and plastered businesses with signs saying “Zionism is terrorism.” A mob shut down an airport in Dagestan when it hunted Jews on a flight that had arrived from Tel Aviv.
Israelis, who adhere to strict ethical guidelines in combat (and who even embed lawyers in active army units to ensure compliance), are now regarded by many in the West as perpetrators of Nazi-like violence. This is a particularly obscene inversion of the truth, for the atrocities of Hamas in Israel evoked those of the Nazis against the Jews of Europe. The same is true of the charge that Hamas’s goal was “decolonization.” If anything, it is an imperialist faction within Islam—a Sunni and Shia coalition, united in hatred of Jews—that wishes to “colonize” Israel, wiping out an indigenous people and swallowing up their tiny ancestral homeland.
How did it happen that, less than 80 years after Auschwitz, Jews are widely seen as agents of tyrannical domination? Anti-Semitic hostility, fueled by lingering theological anti-Semitism—the ancient Christian charge of deicide against the Jews—as well as European guilt for the Holocaust and Arab envy, is a large part of the answer.
But another part of the answer is indoctrination that poses as education. For years, many professors of humanities and the social sciences have embraced crude theories of identity politics that divide the world into victims and victimizers, locked in a zero-sum competition for power. These theories include “intersectionality,” which asserts that “axes of privilege, domination, and oppression” combine to marginalize certain social groups, and “decolonial theory,” which teaches that European modes of knowledge and power victimize indigenous peoples. A generation of graduates, especially from elite universities, have applied these ideas in governmental policy, K–12 education (where anti-Semitic curricular modules are increasingly common), philanthropy, culture, and the media.
The recategorization of Jews as oppressors follows inevitably from the scapegoating logic of identity politics. According to that logic, oppressors achieve their “privilege” on the backs of the oppressed, who are passive, helpless, and miserable. This is how activist professors and students see the Palestinians. The Jews, by contrast, are manifestly dynamic and flourishing. After the Holocaust, the surviving remnant of European Jewry rose from the ashes. Together with hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab nations after 1948, they built the state of Israel and made the desert bloom. Others set down roots and found success in the United States. How could these people be victims, if they don’t act like it?
That is not all. A document distributed by the sociology department at my old university explained that oppressors include those who are “white,” “European,” “credentialed,” “upper and upper-middle class,” “anglophones,” and “light, pale.” The majority of Jews in the United States tick all these boxes. How could they not be victimizers, if they fit the profile?
The same logic, of course, applies to non-Jews who tick the boxes of privilege. As the Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller observed in his famous poetic confession “First They Came,” remaining silent in the face of murderous anti-Semitism is a highly fallible strategy of self-preservation. It’s not for nothing that the Jews are considered the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the detection of noxious ideological vapors. Perhaps LGBTQ supporters of Hamas, including the “Dyke Project” in the U.K., should take note. Many others should, too: on the train into London the other day, I saw in huge painted letters on a building the words “Eat The Rich!”
According to intersectional theory, another indicator of privilege is “fertility.” After World War II, the birthrate in European displaced-persons camps, which were filled with Jewish survivors, was the highest in the world. The Jews have always loved life and dreamed of peace. Hamas cleverly used that dream against the Israelis, who were too eager to believe that they were entering a new period of normalized relationships with the people of Gaza.
The light unto the nations has multiplied a thousandfold through the ages. The wisdom of the Hebrew Bible and the playful intellectual imagination of the Talmud have illuminated every field of moral, spiritual, intellectual, and creative endeavor in the West. And the Jews’ vitality and miraculous resilience have given hope to countless struggling and suffering individuals and peoples that righteousness will someday “roll down like waters, and justice like a mighty stream.” Are we really going to let that light be snuffed out with the help of an invidious ideology that poses as intellectual illumination while dimming minds, embittering hearts, and spreading rancor?
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