The Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory Thatat Shall Not be Named

by Dec 7, 2022Antisemitism, Outside Publications

cover of magazineWhenever a Jewish person tells me they’ve never experienced antisemitism I’m always stunned. Not only have I experienced it, I’ve experienced just about every form of it. In high school, students drew swastikas in my books. Bullying/ schoolyard variant, check. In college, black “Afrocentric” student leaders told me I’m a fake Jew who stole the covenant from Black people. Black nationalist variant (think NBA star Kyrie Irving’s film recommendations), check. As a Jewish advocacy professional who supports Israel, I’ve been told more times than I can count that the Jewish state has no right to exist and that Zionism is evil. Leftwing/anti-Zionist variant, check. Recently, when I posted on several Facebook groups about my book Woke Antisemitism: How a Progressive Ideology Harms Jews, several people said “you Jews should quit whining. You created Wokeness in the first place!” White supremacist variant, check. Each of these forms of antisemitism manifests differently but is the same in one critical respect: they all grow out of conspiracy theories in which the Jew plays a role in harming society. And because in today’s hyper-polarized environment radical ideologies and their attendant conspiracy theories are on the rise, so too is antisemitism. The crazier society becomes the more antisemitism we experience. My book, Woke Antisemitism, attempts to explain how one set of conspiracy theories, Woke ideology, fuels progressive antisemitism. And for naming the underlying conspiracy theory that animates antisemitism on the left, I have become a heretic in the eyes of many Jewish progressives. For many on the left, wokeness is the ideology that shall not be named. Until, however, we name the ideology at the root of the growth of leftwing antisemitism, we will not be effective in combatting it. Woke or radical social justice ideology (or whatever other forbidden term one might call it) holds that bigotry is not just a matter of personal attitude but is embedded in the very systems of society and that only victims of such bigotry have the “lived experience” and insight to define it for the rest of society. In this binary worldview, your identity either is a source of privilege or oppression. If you’re black or a woman, oppression. If you’re white and male, privilege. This ideology conflates success with power and privilege. In this worldview, certain groups of people do better than others because they either actively oppress others or just derive their success from being part of the dominant class. There’s no other acceptable explanation for why certain people, groups, countries and even regions of the world might outperform other groups of people.

“I am concerned that many of my good friends in the American Jewish community who for all the right reasons want to be part of the human rights and social justice movements of their time, do not fully recognize the danger of this ideology, both in how it will impact the US and how it will influence attitudes towards Jews and Israel.”

Excerpt from the foreword by Natan Sharansky

book coverIt should surprise no one that an ideology that views success as oppression would foment antisemitism. Jews, on average, succeed above the mean in just about every category and in every profession.
In this ideological framework, white Jews (we are deemed white by deriving benefit from whiteness) are told that they’ve been “complicit in white supremacy,” in holding down marginalized communities. By
the same token, Israel, the state of the Jewish people, is automatically blamed for the conflict with Palestinians because it is the stronger party. The weaker party cannot be held culpable.

Because this ideology is becoming more popular, more widely embraced in progressive “justice” movements and more ingrained in American institutional life in the form of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) trainings and initiatives, we are seeing rapidly growing antisemitism on the left. That the ideological underpinnings of left-wing antisemitism are so hard to talk about should be considered very strange. When we speak of rightwing antisemitism, we talk about the growing popularity of “replacement theory” in rightwing politics, which holds that ordinary Americans are being replaced by immigrants (which Jews are orchestrating); when we speak of Muslim antisemitism, we talk about the role of the “infidel” Jew in the radical Muslim imagination oppressing Islam. Yet when we speak of progressive antisemitism, we are expected to talk about a symptom without a cause.

Wokeness has spread like wildfire precisely because it demands that we not challenge it. Anyone who even uses the term “woke”can be labeled a bigot. And because we cannot speak about it we cannot effectively counter it.
Indeed, woke antisemitism is too hot to handle for even many Jewish professionals whose job it is monitor and counter antisemitism in all its manifestations, too hot to be named by numerous Jewish leaders whose job it is to warn of the threats facing the Jewish people and to prepare our community to face them down.

Yet if we don’t name the problem — if we continue to pretend that unlike every other form of antisemitism the leftwing variant has no underlying ideology — how will we ever fight it?

David Bernstein is the founder of the Jewish Institute for Liberal
Values (


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