In his essay at Tablet titled ‘How Anti-Racism Erases Antisemitism’, John-Paul Pagano addresses the “discussion on the left about the experience of ‘privilege’ and the desire to reevaluate racism in light of the dynamics of power” and reaches the troubling conclusion that this narrative can “encourage the age-old and often murderous bigotry against [Jews]”.

The rhetoric of “privilege” can encourage antisemitism, Pagano writes, because “antisemitism doesn’t work like most forms of racism, which denigrate their victims as inferior”. Antisemitism is unique, he argues, “in that it often perceives its target—Jews—as having too much privilege and assails them for it”.

Antisemitism, he adds, “is a conspiracy theory which holds that “the Jews” (who enjoy a good measure of economic and social success, especially in relation to many Muslims) are an evil elite…”the ultimate bearers of privilege”.  

If you want to see how this moral calculus plays out, see the following tweet last year by an pro-Palestinian American academic named Moustafa Bayoumi, who’s latest attack on Israel was published by the Guardian today (Sept. 6).  Bayoumi’s tweet came a week after the deadly jihadist terror attacks in Paris last year, including the assault on a kosher supermarket which killed four. 

There’s so much to unpack in these few words.

First, as we noted in our own tweet, the fact that French troops must protect Jewish schools (private or otherwise) “underscores” many things which are far more important than “class divisions”, such as the dangerous increase in antisemitism in France, where half of all racist attacks in the country take Jews as their target though Jews number less than 1% of the total population.  Indeed, the evidence suggests that Muslims represent a disproportionate percentage of the perpetrators of antisemitic violence in France.

Addressing the specific claim in his tweet, the putative ‘disparity’ in private schools can partly be explained by the fact that French Jews are increasingly the target of antisemitic attacks in public schools.  In a recent article at JTA (How Paris public schools became ‘no-go zones’ for Jews), the president of CRIF attributed the flight of Jewish students from public schools in part “to “a bad atmosphere of harassment, insults and assaults”.

Indeed, the rising levels of antisemitism in France has caused a record number of Jews to flee the country, which in part helps explain why the narrative of privilege rests on such a specious premise.  

First, as Pagano argued, the complaint that Jews are privileged (or, as it’s sometimes framed, beneficiaries of “white privilege”) actually incites classic antisemitism by framing Jews as the controlling elite.

Second, the exodus of relatively prosperous (“privileged”) French Jews due to antisemitic attacks disproportionately carried out by poorer (“not privileged”) Muslims demonstrates that “privilege” (loosely defined as social, educational and economic success) does not necessarily protect you from the dangers of racism – whether it’s the racism from the ruling majority or from a ‘marginalized’ minority. 

Characterizing Jews as a privileged group both incites and obfuscates anti-Jewish racism, and in fact “underscores” the broader danger of buying into the kind of pseudo-intellectual political jargon which often serves as an alibi for modern antisemitism.