DEI and Anti-Semitism

How much do the diversity—equity—inclusion (DEI) movement and anti-Semitism feed on one another?

There was a time when DEI advocates thought it was part of their remit to fight anti-Semitism too. In fall 2017, the University of Washington’s Department of Epidemiology issued a glossary of DEI terms that along with “ableism,” “birth assigned sex,” and “intersectionality,” identified “Anti-Semitism” as a key term. It offered the definition, “Hatred, discrimination, hostility, or oppression of or against Jewish people as a group or individuals.” That same year the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a statement, “Dos and Don’ts in Responding to Antisemitism on Campus,” which included the advice that those who respond to a campus anti-Semitic incident should make sure the “DEI professionals” recognize it and know what to do.

Perhaps a deeper dive into historical sources would reveal some tensions between DEI advocates and guardians against anti-Semitism back in the day, but in 2021 observers began to call out the DEI movement as covertly anti-Semitic. The most prominent such statement was a report, “Inclusion Delusion: The Antisemitism of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Staff at Universities,” written by Jay Greene and James Paul, and published by the Heritage Foundation.  Greene and Paul “searched the Twitter feeds of 741 DEI personnel at 65 universities to find their public communications regarding Israel and, for comparison purposes, China.” And they found that 96 percent of the tweets about Israel were negative. Their study was limited in scope, but it had the strength of bringing forward empirical data to supplement a growing impression in the Jewish community that DEI was no longer an ally—indeed if had ever been.

Yes, DEI centers on campuses almost always listed anti-Semitism as among the forms of “hate” they sought to combat. But as the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses grew rapidly (181 in 2019-2020 academic year and 244 in the 2020-2021 academic year), DEI centers and personnel often seemed unresponsive. And in some cases, DEI personnel themselves expressed “anti-Semitic attitudes.”

Green and Paul were certainly not the first to notice that the DEI movement was infected with antisemitism. Earlier in 2021, David Baddiel, a British comedian (though American by birth), published Jews Don’t Count: How Identity Politics Failed One Particular Identity, a book that argued that progressives used a double standard when considering the victimization of Jews. Baddiel covered some of the relevant territory but took no special notice of DEI as the campus-based stalwart of this double standard.

Until the last several months, most of the attention to the links between DEI and anti-Semitism were to be found in the Jewish press. A group called “StopAntisemitism” founded in 2018 has been putting out annual reports, including a “2022 Report Card,” Antisemitism U.S. College & University Campuses. In fifteen pages, it refers to the DEI movement 38 times, consistently as a program that seldom provides any assistance in fighting anti-Semitism: “But all too often, Jews, who are grossly mislabeled as a ‘white, model-minority’ are excluded from the DEI discussion. The Stopantisemitism 2022 Report Card attracted the notice of Armin Rosen, who brought its research to greater public attention in the October 2022 Tabletb essay, “Campus Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Excludes and Targets Jews.” Rosen also picked up Greene and Paul’s research report of a year earlier and began to synthesize a clearer picture of how DEI had transformed from a putative opponent of anti-Semitism into a de facto promoter of Jew hatred. Writes Rosen, “Even when it comes to combatting prejudice and hate, the new academic DEI bureaucracies are quick to discard discernible social reality when it does not match up with their ideological aims and goals.”

What are those ideological goals? Rosen is clear that the DEI movement is not to be trusted to tell a straight story about itself. It exists to create “a false edifice of reassurance and moral rectitude,” and “to delay or deflect hard conversations about how universities operate.” He suggests the deep motive is to keep Jews out of the universities.

That’s not a wholly convincing answer. Why should anti-Semitism need to disguise itself?  If the motive were simply “to keep Jews out,” why go to the trouble of building giant bureaucracies around DEI?  Anti-Semitism is plainly part of the fabric of DEI but, contrary to Rosen, it is not the whole weave.

Since the October 7 massacre in southern Israel, the almost immediate celebratory cheers by pro-Hamas American college students, and the tepid demurs of college presidents, the nature of DEI has come into sharper focus. We now have dozens of thoughtful analyses published across the Internet and legacy media wherever moderate to conservative opinions are permitted. The writers of course vary in their acumen, but most offer some variation on the theme that DEI has become the vehicle for radical anti-Western posturing.

DEI is about altering the principles on which higher education is based and redistributing the power through which those principles are acted on. DEI replaces the pursuit of truth with the pursuit of “social justice,” itself a shape-shifting term. The university instead of being a place that curates and transmits a civilization to each generation of students becomes in the hands of DEI the instrument for de-constructing and dismantling civilization. DEI sparkles with the ideal of replacing an inherited culture in toto with a utopian dream in which all human inequality vanishes and a joyous multicultural innocence is born. Not every DEI office gives full voice to this fantasy, but it is always there. If only we could rid ourselves of hierarchy, oppression, fossil fuels, the sexual binary, white people, Jews…all will be well. There is deep streak of romantic primitivism in DEI: a false supposition that at some remote time in the past, “indigenous people” lived in an uncivilized paradise. Without thinking too much about it (because it cannot bear much thinking), the proponents of DEI build on these premises.

DEI itself, however, has its own hierarchy. It is a hierarchy of victimization, in which those who identify with the most victimized groups enjoy the highest status. Hierarchies, as we anthropologists know, are always contested, and since the currency of this hierarchy is relative victimization, a battle rages among those who say African Americans own the highest rank in the DEI pyramid, while other posit the suffering of sexual minorities, or women, or indigenous people, or the victims of climate change.

The formula for keeping relative peace among these claimants to the prize of precious victimhood is the doctrine of intersectionality. It awards extra points to those who can plausibly claim more than one kind of victimhood, or failing that, can present themselves as allies of all victimhoods conceptualized as brotherhood of sorts—though surely “brotherhood” is not the word they use. Intersectionality is a web, a network, or encompassing unity of resentment.

This kind of alliance cannot work without an enemy. In general terms the enemy is Western civilization, but it can be made concrete by attacking statues of historical figures, works of Western art, Western technology (especially anything based on fossil fuel, which is virtually everything), Western forms of government, Western religion, history itself, and at its far edges, even rational thought. But sometimes it is handy to have a more specific enemy, which is where DEI finds its way to anti-Semitism.

Jews do not make for the best allies in the hierarchy of victimhood. That is partly because they are too conspicuously successful in overcoming their own history of victimization in the West, and in showing their mastery of the hated instruments of Western power: self-government and modern technology.

Enter Hamas, which has excellent credentials to compete in the hierarchy of victimization and brings to the table a robust form of primitive fury against “settler colonialism.” This is 180 proof moonshine to the DEI movement. Anti-Semitism had been one strand among many in the dopey self-regard of the DEI movement. The anti-Israel Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) gestated in the DEI womb for many years without achieving its birth as a key faction. It made anti-Semitism respectable within the DEI community without making it essential.

October 7 changed all that. The DEI we have today is anti-Semitism unchained. And the older forms of anti-Semitism lurking in the shadows of modern society are leaping out exuberant that their time has come—again.

There is a good side to this story. DEI’s embrace of anti-Semitism may well end in the discrediting and destruction of DEI itself and an uprooting of the anti-Semitism rooted in America’s premier colleges and universities. The disgrace of the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn is a very large step in that direction.

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  • Peter Wood

    Peter Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars and author of “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project.”

3 thoughts on “DEI and Anti-Semitism

  1. I do not hold out any hope DEI will go away—now or at any time in the foreseeable future. It’s simply too entrenched in academia.

    Too many people employed and making money off of this. For example, the University of Michigan has nearly 150 DEI employees with $18 million spent annually on their salaries and benefits. At my public university the vice-provost for diversity and inclusion makes over $300,000 per year. There are diversity scholarships, webinars and workshops. There’s even a presidential advisory council. Does anyone seriously believe this is all just going to slowly fade away?

    No, DEI is like a government program; it never, ever goes away.

  2. Such a good piece, as are the others in this MTC series on DEI and antisemitism.

    “If only we could rid ourselves of hierarchy, oppression, fossil fuels, the sexual binary, white people, Jews…all will be well.” …

    Having skim-read “Mein Kampf”, this feels redolent of Hitler’s sentiment too. DEI and his work both envisage a state commandeered by a minority elite to smash, using authoritarian means, any obstacle to the ideologically and racially pure society of the future. As Hitler wrote, once the necessary business is done, peace will reign over the earth: which, in cool new packaging, is exactly what DEI believes too.

  3. Another comprehensive and sound analysis from Peter Wood. I certainly hope that “DEI’s embrace of anti-Semitism may well end in the discrediting and destruction of DEI itself….” A decisive step in that direction would be firing all DEI staff, rather than giving them new titles that allow them to carry on their destructive work.

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