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  • Writer's pictureKaren L


Woke Antisemitism is the title of a new book written by David L. Bernstein, a long time professional in Jewish public affairs. I have been aware of the concepts of woke and cancel culture. However, I could not fully comprehend these new ideas until reading Mr. Bernstein’s book. I heard him speak eloquently about the subject a few months ago.

Since my name is Karen, I have felt victimized by woke individuals and cancel culture. A few years back, the media featured Karen-stories in quick succession. Livid but scared to out myself--except in emails and letters--Karen had evolved into a catchword for a lower to middle class, bleached blonde, and overweight loudmouth who complained. Voicing a concern in a store, for example, signified white privilege. I discovered that Karen replaced other feminine names used as a shorthand for racist women. This would hardly be a reason for comment, but the name calling hints at the misunderstanding that festers in our society among progressives.

For example, a Caucasian person should not grumble about equity in employment and education or service in an office or retail establishment. People who have white skin are privileged, so grievance or objection to a set of rules is prohibited. Furthermore, if one is privileged, one is responsible for the oppression of people of color. Never mind if one lives below the poverty line or belongs to a minority group.

Lest I sound bigoted or conservative, I am a card caring member of the Democratic Party and Moms Against Gun Violence. I voted for Bernie Sanders. I marched for just about every cause on the left—abortion, LGBTQ, environment, women’s rights, gun violence, nuclear arms, and peace--not war. Therein lies the distortion. As a liberal, Caucasian, Baby Boomer, Jewish person, I risk name calling and criticism—from progressives-- if I challenge anti-racist theories and policies. I am white.

Over the years, I have felt ashamed of examining theories and policies regarding climate change, affirmative action, the government of the District of Columbia, and incompetent professionals among other subjects not approved by progressives. Intelligent people demonstrate curiosity and probe deeply; the behavior is not a symptom of hatred or bigotry. Division and polarity characterize the United States at the present. Choose a side and stay there; if one falters or wavers, one is doomed for criticism from one side or another. There is correct speech and behavior. For me, to be misunderstood by self-righteous progressive idealogues is frustrating. But a slip of the tongue-- a misused word-- and Bam a woke person slams down.

Another example, mentioning accomplishments of the Jewish state or rights of Israeli citizens results in catchwords, such as “apartheid,” “slavery,” and “colonialism” from factions on the left. Immediately, finger pointing, and loud voices emerge. The establishment of a definition of antisemitism elicits corrections from opponents. The end of meaningful discussion occurs and inflammatory jargon flies in the atmosphere. To stray from the progressive “party line” risks being called racist, including other epithets. I attended a local meeting after graffiti aimed at Israel and the Holocaust was discovered. When a county councilperson stated that he abhorred these antisemitic slogans, several people in audience yelled out, “Israel is an apartheid state!”

I am proud of my leftist ideas which I learned from my father and grandmothers in the liberal environment of San Francisco. I take pride in being altruistic and devoted to helping those less fortunate. So, to be canceled, told I am an oppressor, or an obnoxious white woman hurts deeply. Ostensibly, the cancellers are woke leftists; some are Jews. They have defined the qualifications for being progressive which is the main idea of the book, Woke Antisemitism.

Mr. Bernstein makes valid points in his criticism of the progressive ideology of the 2020’s. Extreme left wing thought has developed into strict dogma. According to Mr. Bernstein, appreciation for traditional liberal values is cancelled and forbidden by a number of left wing organizations. Minority groups of color (Black, Native American, and Latinx) have been oppressed by systemic racism since the post-Civil War period. This is the truth. All aspects of American life have been affected, including education, access to health care, and voting rights. However, addition or omission of aspects of this point of view are considered racist, end of discussion.

People from minority groups who look “white” or designated as such, as in Hispanics, Asians, Arabs, Persians, South Asians, and Jews have been subjected to various forms of hatred. Conveniently, this type of hatred has been cancelled. According to woke thought, if your skin is not dark, you possess white privilege and cannot know discrimination or hatred. Hence, Jews become targets and represent one of the touchpoints of the present scary milieu and a focus of this book. White equals privilege: Jews are white, therefore privileged. If one is privileged, one cannot be the focus of discrimination. The irony is that South Asians are dark-skinned, but somehow, they are considered white. The same calculus is applied to individuals who are Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese.

Sensible people know that millions of Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Leaders of the Third Reich developed a pseudo-science for racial differences, primarily those between Aryans and Jews. The fact that this horrendous turn of events occurred does not minimize the suffering of enslaved African American or displaced Native Americans. Suffering coexists in our world. But there have been progressives that have placed the Holocaust in a separate category from the plight of other ethnic groups. Whoopi Goldberg stated twice—not once—that the death of millions of Jews was “white on white violence” or “man’s inhumanity to man.” True but then so was slavery. Why differentiate or prioritize what is worse or not racism? Hate is hate.

Cancel culture and woke ideology has been blatant in the San Francisco Bay Area where progressives have fiercely argued for improved school curriculums, prohibition of Zionists to speak at U.C. Berkely Law School, and changes to enrollment qualifications based on merit to special high schools. Educated, left wing Democrats become visibly uncomfortable when the subject is introduced into polite conversation. I have witnessed and experienced the squirming, whispering, and lack of eye contact when a brave person dares to mention the current situation. Liberal Democrats find themselves in a quandary. Another example--we seriously care about Palestinian rights, but do we turn our backs on Israel completely? As parents, we want our children to grow up as open-minded thinkers, but do we approve of a social studies curriculum developed by a singularly minded and focused organization?

David Bernstein points out that this manner of thinking has permeated all levels of education, Jewish social service and community groups, synagogues, and other left-wing secular associations. According to the writer, liberal Jews have sold out to the leftist groups as a default. Liberals would never want to be classified as conservative or worse--racist.

Israel has become an axis upon which political discourse about foreign policy turns. Are you in or out? Are you against what the Israeli army perpetrates against innocent (and not so innocent) Palestinians. Yes or no. A typical American Jew is put into an untenable bind. Most of us are related to someone who was murdered, tortured, discriminated, or displaced by the Nazis in the 1930’s-1940’s Europe. Baby Boomers were taught that Israel was a haven for the downtrodden, traumatized displaced persons after World War II. Furthermore, we watched the weak, starved survivors enter Palestine and change into strong, healthy, and proud freedom fighters and farmers. We experienced the independence movement, the culmination of the State of Israel in 1948, and the 1967 war. Yes, my cohorts and I are biased too.

This is not to say that I agree with the present policies of the Israeli government. I do not. Terrible crimes have been committed against Palestinians and Israeli Arabs over the last 75 years. I saw evidence of this unfair treatment with my own eyes when visiting towns in the West Bank. I have read books and attended lectures by Palestinians. I am not blind to what has been perpetrated in the disguise of defense. I have gone so far as to apologize to Muslims for what Israel has done.

This may be where the author and I differ. He did not write about his specific views of Israeli policy towards Palestinians, but I suspect he may hold differing views from my own. Mr. Bernstein rails against progressive ideas about racism and equity which have become dogma. Strict ideology springs from extremism on the left and right. We know from recent history that the outcome of radical political movements has not been positive. Mainstream thought and law enforcement focus on limiting and observing right wing groups that espouse white supremacy and antisemitism. However, it is more difficult to point out the less blatant antisemitism from progressives. The latter is embarrassing and feels like a betrayal.

©Karen Levi 2023

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