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The Ideology Behind Today's Antisemitism
Intersectionality is a logical cul-de-sac.
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The war that began after Hamas perpetrated a brutal pogrom reminiscent of the Cossacks and the Nazis has reached American shores in the form of a massive, jarring wave of antisemitic hatred. You would think that any civilized person would find it easy to denounce the worst atrocities against Jews since the Holocaust, but the shock of the October 7 attack hadn’t even worn off yet before people across America were raging with anger not at Hamas but at the unbearable provocation of Israel’s existence and its refusal to consent to the slaughter of its people without reprisal.
The moral test was a simple one: Can you reject cruelty irrespective of its target? Can you condemn a mass-murder attack in which concertgoers were machine-gunned, executions were live-streamed, and babies were murdered? Can you denounce the immolation of whole families and the kidnapping of children?
The answer for a shocking number of academicians, students, activists, and politicians — the vast majority of whom make their political home on the left — has been a firm no. In addition to openly celebrating, sidestepping, or ignoring the atrocities, they’ve been engaging in rhetoric that, to many ears, casually deploys the language of annihilation, and have been attacking, and even killing, Jews. It is not an exaggeration to say that “pro-Palestine” rallies have been defined by a juvenile viciousness — a paradoxical mixture of childish exuberance and evident antisemitism — and an insidious impulse to defend the indefensible.
One of the remarkable things about watching “the discourse” around the Israel-Hamas war evolve in real time is observing how large swaths of broader elite culture have overcome whatever pangs of sympathy they might have felt for Hamas’s victims by framing the October 7th attack in a highly abstract, intellectualized way that absolves the perpetrators of all responsibility. It has underscored just how pervasive a once niche ideology that first started circulating academia a few decades ago has become. It’s known as “intersectionality,” and it is the foundation of wokeness.
Pioneered by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, intersectionality is strongly influenced by the academic disciplines of queer theory and critical race theory, and by the postcolonial idea of the “subaltern,” or marginalized class. This worldview asks its adherents to conceive of their fellow citizens based on demographic signifiers and accidents of birth, and it recategorizes every American not as an individual, but as an avatar of an identity group, with his or her behavior prejudged accordingly.
Intersectionality presupposes that everyone owns a variety of immutable characteristics, some of which are subject to more discrimination than others. Certain prejudices are unique to African Americans, while women endure others, and members of the LGBTQ community experience an entirely distinct level of prejudice. Some of these prejudices “intersect,” so a black lesbian, for example, has to deal with bigotries that someone who can only lay claim to one or two of these minority identities will not.
But as Helen Lewis points out, the meaning of intersectionality has changed through its invocation in pop culture—something that even Kimberlé Crenshaw admits. In escaping from the academy into the mainstream, this ideology has become little more than a crude tallying of oppression points and an assumption that social-justice struggles fit neatly together, with all of the “marginalized” people on one side, and the powerful on the other. The leftist belief in the righteousness of “punching up,” a derivation of standpoint theory, is also important here. Different rules apply to you depending on your social position. When an oppressed group uses violence against the oppressor, that is justified “resistance.”1
Adopting the intersectional framework requires you to marinate in crude stereotypes. Think of how Jews are perceived in the antisemitic imagination: comfortable, powerful, and well connected. Because only about 2% of Americans are Jews, they’re seen as enjoying influence and success disproportionate to their numbers. According to your standard intersectional adherents, all of whom advocate the Kendian antiracist conception of discrimination which holds that any difference in group outcomes is evidence of systemic racism, the over-representation of American Jews suggests not talent or hard work, but unearned privilege. “This conspiratorial conclusion,” says Bari Weiss, “is not that far removed from the hateful portrait of a small group of Jews divvying up the ill-gotten spoils of an exploited world.”
As Noah Rothman points out, this is a fundamentally bigoted conception, but that is the point of intersectionality—to think in bigoted terms in order to understand and navigate what intersectional theorists believe is the fundamentally bigoted American landscape. But subscribing to this philosophy means internalizing plain-old antisemitism.
I want to shift gears here and talk about a story that Josh Barro highlighted, which ties into the Palestinian liberationist vogue and goes a long way in showing how backwards intersectional moral calculus is.
A couple weeks ago, before the start of the football game between UC Berkeley and USC, protestors rushed the field and refused to leave until they were arrested. Many people mistakenly assumed that the protest was a demand for a ceasefire in Gaza, but it was about another matter entirely: The protestors were demanding the reinstatement of a suspended Berkeley professor.
Ivonne del Valle, an associate professor of “colonial studies” in the Spanish and Portuguese department, is currently on leave and faces potential termination after multiple investigations found that she stalked and harassed Professor Joshua Clover, a “communist poet” in the English department at UC Davis.
In addition to disrupting the football game, the students are threatening a hunger strike. “We reiterate, how far are you willing to go before you fix an injustice? Are you willing to risk students’ lives over this?” the students asked Berkeley administrators in a letter reviewed by Bay Area public radio station KQED.
Del Valle has become something of a celebrity despite admitting to key aspects of the charges that led to her suspension, including that she keyed Clover’s car; spray painted “here lives a pervert” in the hallway outside his apartment; sat outside his apartment and slid threatening notes under the door that said things like, “If you make me leave, it’ll be worse. I’ll keep doing this you can be sure of that”; and dumped chunks of fermented pineapple on his mother’s doorstep. According to an extensive report by the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is based on Berkeley’s Title IX investigation and interviews with del Valle herself, it’s clear she’s convinced that Clover, whom she barely even knew before she started doing all this, “hacked her phone and was electronically stalking her” while posting coded messages about her on Twitter.2 Upset that police and Berkeley administrators weren’t taking her delusions seriously, she decided to wage a harassment campaign against her colleague and continued to do so in violation of orders to stop contacting him—all of which del Valle admits.
If all of this is known, then why do del Valle and her supporters believe her suspension is unjust? It goes back to the progressive victim pyramid mandated by the intersectional coalition. You see, del Valle is a “first-generation Mexican woman,” while Clover is a white male.
In an open letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, nearly 300 of del Valle’s student supporters3 said it was “sexist” for the university to disregard her claim that she was the victim of cyberstalking from Clover.4 “Do women of color not enter into your version of feminism?” they ask. Del Valle is also playing up her position on the intersectional victimhood ladder. “I don’t want UC Berkeley to think that they can do this to a minority woman in order to protect a white, senior professor,” she told KQED. “It’s not acceptable.”
Anyone who reads the Chronicle of Higher Education report cannot reasonably conclude that del Valle is the victim of Clover’s harassment. But for her supporters, objective facts — like the contents of voicemails she left for Clover, the number of times she called his office phone line, or the tweets she posted encouraging the FBI to ask his romantic partner about him — are simply inconvenient details that are swept under the rug. What matters is her “subjective lived experience” as a Latina immigrant in a society dominated by white men. She is therefore entitled to a ridiculous identity-based defense, and her actions are excusable.
Del Valle’s supporters have justified standing with her by ignoring that which conflicts with their Manichean oppressor/oppressed worldview. It’s similar to how hordes of identity-obsessed, keffiyeh-wearing leftists have rationalized and minimized Hamas’s terrorist attack by subordinating their elementary sense of horror to a set of esoteric abstractions. The intersectional ideology they adhere to requires that they discard the idea that people are individual moral actors who bear responsibility for their actions; instead, what matters is a person’s position within a hierarchy of oppression, with culpability in any conflict awarded to whoever ranks as less oppressed, regardless of the evidence about who did what and why. Inconvenient truths are simply explained away; the uncooperative world is forced to comport with the worldview.
Just like in the case of Ivonne del Valle, leftists have shown they’re incapable of analyzing Hamas’s actions without applying an idiotic postmodernist lens. According to them, because Hamas is less powerful than Israel, it cannot be held morally culpable for the occasional, regrettable excesses—such as mass-murder attacks in which captive women are raped, their babies slaughtered, and their children taken hostage. The inability to accept that an “oppressed” person could be in the wrong is why so many leftists have been flat-out denying that the October 7 attack happened at all, and why they’re spending their free time tearing down posters of kidnapped Israelis. The cognitive dissonance is just too uncomfortable, and it’s just too easy to rationalize one’s moral destitution for the sake of a transitory sense of self-satisfaction.
The problem is that this inverted intersectional worldview is everywhere, and has been reified in sprawling DEI bureaucracies within all kinds of not-otherwise-especially-ideological organizations. It started with the universities, becoming particularly prevalent in laws schools and medical schools. But it has also swallowed up other key sense-making institutions in America, including every major museum, philanthropy, and media company, as well as nearly every major corporation. It’s even in elementary schools, and is of course dominant within the left-wing charitable foundations that fund and shape the work of left-wing NGOs which, in turn, seek to shape the work of governments run by left-of-center officeholders.
Once cast as irrelevant campus posturing, today we’re seeing that intersectionality leads to perverse moral places. We must take stock of the challenge presented by this pervasive framework that judges culpability based on identity rather than actions; replaces basic ideas of good and evil with a new rubric based on the powerless (good) and the powerful (bad); and obsesses over race. In the meantime, calling out anti-Jewish hate that manifests today in support for a barbarian horde that massacres women and children is an absolute imperative.
Remember: Leftists believe that Israel is a racist colonial state built on stolen land that must be radically “decolonized.”
Many of the tweets in question didn’t even come from Clover’s Twitter account. They’re from someone named David Porter, a New York-based writer who doesn’t know either del Valle or Clover.
Del Valle’s defenders include not just UC Berkeley students, but also faculty. In a letter, 12 of her fellow professors endorsed her claim that she’s the victim in this situation.
The Chronicle of Higher Education report breaks down some of del Valle’s evidence that Clover was illegally surveilling her phone and laptop: “She would message a friend, she said, and within hours, a post would pop up on Clover’s Twitter feed — or another she was convinced he had access to — that seemed to be indirectly referencing it. She wrote about planning to see a friend named Isis and he posted about a restaurant with the same name, she said. She was searching on the web for a good place for French lessons, and he tweeted, ‘Moving on to daily vous, daily ils elles.’ She had a cellphone conversation with her son about Kendrick Lamar’s song ‘Humble’ and over the next two days, the word ‘humble’ appeared on the two Twitter feeds where she accused Clover of stalking her. Where many would see coincidences, del Valle saw a pattern of harassment.”