Greenfield: Antisemitism is a Conspiracy Theory Against Meritocracy
Last week, the Gross Family Center for the Study of Antisemitism and the Holocaust kindly invited me to address their audience. I spoke to them about Socialist antisemitism and the war on meritocracy, why the enemies of meritocracy are also the enemies of the Jews and why when Jews oppose meritocracy, we’re enabling antisemitism.
Here’s the speech along with a few key points.
To understand where the new antisemitism came from, it’s important to look at how the origins of modern antisemitism redefined the Jews from the oppressed to the oppressors.
And that didn’t happen in 1948. It didn’t happen in the Six Day War.
The new antisemitism redefines Jews as the oppressors. But redefining Jews as the oppressors dates back to a time before the rebirth of the State of Israel, a time when Jews hardly had any rights, and the few rights they had were coming under attack.
“Every government having regard to good morals ought to repress the Jews,” Pierre Leroux, credited with coining the term ‘Socialism’ wrote. “When we speak of Jews, we mean the Jewish spirit, the spirit of profit, of lucre, of gain, the spirit of commerce.”
American socialism traces its ideological ancestry to Charles Fourier, a French socialist bigot who fumed that Jews were the embodiment of capitalism, “parasites, merchants, usurers”, and the “incarnation of commerce: parasitical, deceitful, traitorous and unproductive”.
“What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. Money is the jealous god of Israel, in the face of which no other god may exist,” Karl Marx ranted. “The god of the Jews has become secularized and has become the god of the world.”
The emancipation of the Jews meant that they were free to pursue careers, go into business, and do their best to succeed.
And that was exactly the problem. The Jews were making their way into the middle class. And the people who opposed a middle class saw the Jews as their wedge issue.
To use a term that’s under attack today, the issue was meritocracy.
The success of the Jews was the best evidence that meritocracy worked. The Jews were a great argument for equality. But if you were, say, Karl Marx, you didn’t want a good argument for equality. You wanted a good argument against an open society creating equality. And that was antisemitism.
When Jews were allowed to compete, they succeeded, even in hostile countries and societies.
The apologists for the new antisemitism argue that there’s a dividing line between the past when Jews were oppressed, powerless victims.
They draw that line in the few years between the end of the Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel.
In 1945, the Jews were still powerless victims, but three years later, in 1948, we suddenly became the oppressors.
In 3 years, according to the anti-Zionists, Jews went from being good victims to bad oppressors.
In 3 years, we somehow went from being undeserving of antisemitism to deserving of antisemitism.
There’s no point at which the Jews went from being good victims to bad oppressors.
What happened in Israel is that Jewish agriculture and businesses outperformed Muslim agriculture and businesses triggering pogroms and massacres.
When the Jews rose up and created their own country, Muslim nations sent in armies to throw them into the sea. The Jews had a shortage of basic military equipment and they still held out in small settlements against attacks by artillery and armored vehicles.
The Jews won their War of Independence against superior numbers and firepower.
The small number of Jews in that outmatched country, some Holocaust survivors just off the boat with numbers on their arms and rusty rifles that barely worked, held out. In a short time, they built a military that became the envy of the world. And they won war after war.
And just like their grandparents in Europe and Russia, who went from starving peasants to doctors and small businessmen, they became the oppressors.
Some people call this the new antisemitism. But it’s not new. It’s the same exact antisemitism.
August Bebel said that, “Antisemitism is the socialism of fools”. It’s more accurately the socialism of losers.
Antisemitism has always been an ideology of losers, of movements and groups that are afraid of competition and of a free society, who use Jews as their argument against a free society.
Jewish underdog success in America, in Europe, or in Israel was based on being able to compete and win. Yet Jews are drawn to politics that would change society to make it impossible for Jews to compete.
Jews are both the best evidence for meritocracy and its biggest opponents.
If meritocracy is real, then Jewish success is earned. If it’s not, if meritocracy is a myth, a lie, a way to hide the wizard behind the curtain, then the Jews are bad people.
And the Jews are also probably the wizards behind the curtain.
If you believe that meritocracy is unjust, then there’s no real defense against antisemitism.
The Jews are just the easiest target if you’re going to attack a free society. Antisemitic conspiracy theories are a great way to argue that society is unfair, that it’s rigged, because if it’s not rigged, then how do you explain Jewish success?
Too many American Jews focus on the Holocaust because they want to claim to be victims.
But that’s the wrong reason for commemorating the Holocaust. The Holocaust isn’t a memorial to Jewish weakness, but to Jewish strength.
When Jews base our moral authority on victimhood, then we have to keep depositing fresh victims in the bank to survive.
If we only have the right to defend ourselves when we lose, if our rights only matter when we’re being beaten up, then we’re stuck in this state of sadomasochism where we have to take a beating to justify our survival.
Rockets have to fall on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv before Israel is allowed to do anything about Hamas.
Jews have to be beaten and shot a given number of times before we can discuss antisemitism.
If Jewish moral authority depends on losing, then we have to lose to have rights. But that’s what happens when you believe that the only people whose rights matter are victims.
As long as Jews believe that our moral authority comes from losing, we will feel guilty for winning, and only feel good when we lose. When our moral authority comes from victimhood, then we have to be model victims or accept that we deserve antisemitism, that we deserve to be hated.
And when we can only lose by winning and only win by losing, then we have rigged the game against ourselves.
Antisemitism is a response to Jews thriving and succeeding, whether it was in the medieval ghetto or Israel.
The unique persistence of antisemitism is a response to the unique persistence of the Jews.
Israel’s story is not a new phenomenon, it’s the story of antisemitism throughout history.
The new antisemitism was built on the idea that Jews are evil because we succeed. But when being good people means believing that society is unjust, that our success is undeserved, and that we should feel bad about it, we’re incubating excuses for antisemitism inside our own psyches.
That’s why the greatest battle against antisemitism isn’t out there, it’s in here.
If we want to defeat antisemitism, we have to stop apologizing.