I never paid much attention to the growing BDS movement because I’m not into bondage, domination, and submission. But it turns out that BDS is actually a decade-old Palestinian rights movement that targets Israel for boycott, divestment, and sanctions. These are the same tools that student protestors, such as Barack Obama, demanded be implemented against white rule in South Africa in the 1980s.
While fairly mainstream in other parts of the world (for example, physicist Stephen Hawking boycotted a conference in Israel to protest occupation of the West Bank), BDS hasn’t yet become respectable in the United States. The main exception has been in the playpen of student government on California college campuses, where the much-celebrated diversity has proven fertile ground for undergraduate demagogues. So far, BDS resolutions have been passed by eight student governments, Loyola of Chicago and seven California schools: private Stanford and a half dozen public University of California campuses, including Berkeley and UCLA, both of which are of symbolic importance. (Tellingly, a BDS resolution was defeated at UC Santa Barbara, which has the whitest UC student body at 36 percent.)
In California, the state with the largest number and greatest diversity of newcomers, immigration is destabilizing the American order in which Jews have thrived.
In recent months, Jewish centrists such as journalists Jonathan Chait and Jamie Kirchick have become increasingly alarmed over whether the Obama Coalition’s identity politics jihad against white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, and now even cisgender privilege will eventually turn against the privileges of the single richest and most influential ethnic group in America: Jews.
Until the last three years, California’s two most important industries, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, were largely immune to the diversity demands pervasive in the rest of the American economy. Since the 1990s Jesse Jackson had tried his usual shake down routine on Silicon Valley with little to pay for it. Entertainment and high tech were simply too Democratic and too important to America’s balance of trade to allow them to be undermined by quotas.
But the basic logic of Social Justice Warfare has brought both Hollywood and Silicon Valley under attack by SJWs, which likely won’t be good for the Jews. For example, Amy Pascal was fired as head of Sony Pictures Entertainment after an email hack revealed that she had exchanged mild banter with producer Scott Rudin about Obama’s presumed taste in movies.
A minor incident of UCLA student council politics epitomizes growing Jewish anxieties over whether the fringe leftist resentments cynically unleashed by the Obama campaign in 2012 against core Americans will remain manageable, or will eventually be bad for the Jews.
Passage of BDS resolutions at Berkeley and, especially, UCLA has proven disturbing to moderate Jews.
This is because Berkeley is where, more than anywhere else, the Sixties started with the Free Speech Movement of 1964. These days, Berkeley, which is now majority Asian among freshmen (whites make up 25 percent of the entering class), is less political and more careerist. But its defection to the BDS side remains an alarming emblem for Jewish Baby Boomer liberals because something is happening here, but they don’t know what it is, do they?
UCLA is located near Beverly Hills at the heart of what had long ranked behind only New York City as the largest and richest Jewish community in the world. In the early 1960s, UCLA student politics has been the launching pad for Democratic Congressmen Henry Waxman and Howard Berman, who were strong supporters of Israel over their aggregate of 70 years in the House.
But even with a major influx of Israeli, Persian, and Eastern European Jews (along with numerous Russians and Ukrainians of ambiguous ancestry) into the Hollywood Hills region, Jewish influence on the UCLA campus has waned since the Waxman-Berman glory days. After all, only 27 percent of UCLA entering freshmen officially identify as white, so that doesn’t leave Jewish students much room on a campus obsessed with identity politics, even one as long identified with Jewish success as UCLA.
UCLA student politics was already becoming like that when I earned an MBA at UCLA in 1980-82, and the almost random conflicts between California’s countless ethnic groups have only intensified since then. A friend who was at UCLA around 2000 says that in his day the big student government war was Mexicans v. Armenians. I know a current UCLA student politician, and the tribal passions elicited by these student elections are stunning.
You may be wondering if student government resolutions are of any real world importance. After all, UCLA chancellor Gene Block, a former Borscht Belt pianist, is hardly in a hurry to insult many of his biggest donors, such as entertainment mogul David Geffen, who has given over $300 million to UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. (I met Geffen in 1981 when he came to speak at UCLA. A junior college dropout, Geffen had been hired at the William Morris Agency in 1964 by claiming to be a UCLA graduate. He came in to work in the mailroom early for six months to make sure to intercept the letter from the UCLA registrar exposing his fraud, and forged a better one.)
But in 1981, the Boers probably scoffed at American campus blowhards, such as the young Obama, who delivered his first political speech at Los Angeles’s Occidental College in favor of using BDS against Pretoria.
Plus, it’s fun to fight your enemies, no matter how trivial the stakes. So Jewish organizations put up a terrific battle at UCLA last fall against the BDS resolution, collecting money from outside funders such as Israeli-American real estate tycoon Adam Milstein.
The previous spring, Sikh Sunny Singh had run for UCLA student government president on the issue of making the “campus climate” more comfortable. Now you may think the weather at UCLA is pretty pleasant already, but “campus climate” and “comfort” are code words for competitive complaining about the white male power structure. However, Devin Murphy narrowly won by arguing that Singh was biased because he had accepted a free trip to Israel from the Anti-Defamation League.
Just before the BDS vote last fall, however, Murphy unexpectedly resigned, announcing:
As an Afro-Cuban queer male, the toll that the stresses of this campus has had on my mental, physical and emotional health is nothing any student should ever have to go through – but this is unfortunately something with which many students of color deal.
Murphy was automatically succeeded by the vice president Avinoam Baral.
Still, the pro-BDS student council members had the votes to pass their anti-Israel resolution, much to the frustration of the new president, who declared:
I just want to reflect as the only person on this council who is actually invested in this conversation in the sense that I am an Israeli citizen and that I was born in Israel 21 years ago ... Do not ever, ever frame this conflict as an indigenous versus non-indigenous [issue], and I don’t care where you stand on this issue because when you frame this issue in that way you’re saying that I don’t actually matter, that I don’t have a place in my homeland, and I would never, ever take that from anybody. …
Baral was just getting warmed up:
I’ll say this: being president actually sucks and being not able to really voice your opinion when you’re up here. ... It’s so hard to be here and it’s so hard to be in this role and this is for the people that put me here and the people that I represent and the people that have done everything for me. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, and I’m sorry ...
Come on, Avinoam, tell us how you really feel.
Baral struck back this year by nominating for the student court Rachel Beyda, president of a Jewish sorority. Four pro-BDS student legislators, three of them students of color from South Asia or West Asia, spent 40 minutes questioning her about whether her ethnic activism would allow her to “maintain an unbiased view,” rather as Democratic senators interrogate Catholic Republican nominees to the Supreme Court (although, the Democrats usually have the luxury of delegating Catholic Senators to grill Catholic nominees over Roe v. Wade).
This 40-minute delay in Beyda’s confirmation became a cause celebre among Jewish groups and then among Republicans. Eventually, the New York Times front-paged an Adam Nagourney article, “In U.C.L.A. Debate Over Jewish Student, Echoes on Campus of Old Biases.” Nagourney misleadingly omitted the names of the three non-white students who had interrogated Beyda, focusing attention instead on the one coed with a German surname, thus implying that this was some kind of atavistic Nazi anti-Semitism rather than state of the art diversity politics.
It’s uncomfortable for liberal Jews to admit that the massive immigration they’ve backed so viscerally is destabilizing the America in which they’ve attained such a central role. They’d rather continue to portray themselves as unprivileged outsiders, a strategy that has worked well with American gentiles. But with about one-third of American billionaires and about one-sixth of global billionaires being Jewish, it’s not a marketing tactic that’s very convincing, perhaps especially to recent immigrants, who typically come from much less pro-Semitic cultures than America. (The ADL recently announced that over a billion foreigners were anti-Semites; but the organization still supports heavy immigration to America from anti-Semitic cultures for reasons of nostalgia, and perhaps to make work for itself in the future.)
There are several ways for American Jews to respond to this trend emerging out of California of the next generation of immigrant politicians viewing Jews as The Privileged:
- Buy off nonwhite politicians.
- Double down on victimism by using Jewish media power to insist that Jews are not privileged; in fact, they’re still the biggest victims of them all.
- Turn the heat down on the Social Justice War launched by the Obama Administration by satirizing SJWs and victimism in general.
The first option has worked well in the past, at least since the days when the Waxman-Berman Machine helped Tom Bradley, a black moderate Democrat, to five terms as mayor of Los Angeles. But it has become controversial among undergrads at UCLA, where accepting a free trip to Israel has been declared a conflict of interest.
The second alternative – to emphasize Jewish victimhood even harder in the media – is currently establishment protocol. The New York Times coverage of the UCLA incident, for instance, recalled comedienne Sarah Silverman’s anecdote of being publicly criticized by an Asian activist over her racial insensitivity: “As a Jew—as a member of the Jewish community—I was really concerned that we were losing control of the media.” Similarly, Nagourney wrote that the 40 minute delay in approving Ms. Beyda:
… has set off an anguished discussion of how Jews are treated, particularly in comparison with other groups that are more typically viewed as victims of discrimination, such as African-Americans and gays and lesbians.
The Atlantic quoted Trinity College professor Barry Kosmin explaining:
“It’s not animus, it’s ignorance,” Kosmin said, arguing that part of the problem is a blind spot in the complex of political correctness. “The message has gone out [on campuses] that certain types of victimization, or victims, are privileged. The young people have picked up that Jews aren’t on the list of protected species.” One reason for that is assimilation: “The Jewish community is regarded as part of the privileged white community,” just as other ethnic groups have become part of an undifferentiated white mass.
But in a state where the traditionally whitest UC school, surf-crazy Santa Barbara, is now only 36 percent white, this strategy of humorlessly emphasizing the now 70 year old Holocaust to guilt-trip whites may not have much of a future. And as goes California, so goes the country?
The third and least discussed option is to use the media to make social justice warriordom uncool: Laugh at it.
Since at least about 2010, it’s been evident that increasing numbers of comedians, comic actors, and comedy writers are tiring of the Obama coalition and its suffocating political correctness. For example, the de facto ban on joking about the fact that the reason Obama is President is because he’s black annoys people who make jokes for a living.
But it’s not clear if many naïve young people have noticed yet.
As diversity destabilizes America, perhaps the central political question will be: In which direction Jewish centrists will tip?
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