After a quarter-century of antiracism work, either as an activist or educator, there are a few things I’ve learned about the reactionaries and right-wingers at whom my work has long been aimed. First, that they won’t go away just because we ignore them, or decide that their arguments are unworthy of intellectual consideration. Especially in an internet age, the ability of white supremacists and assorted fascists to spread their poison hardly requires me or other leftists to “dignify their arguments with a response.” Their arguments will find a way to be heard in any event. Acting as if their positions only gain strength when taken seriously enough to receive a rebuttal is naiveté of the highest order. Nor is it sufficient to simply call them racists and extremists, as if that were enough to convince people that their arguments were wrong. At some point, labels like this cease to have much power, especially in a society that frankly has never been all that hostile to white racism in the first place.
Responding to David Duke in the 1980s wasn’t what catapulted him to the Louisiana legislature; ignoring him was. It was responding to him, forcefully and without hesitation that finally ran him from the political system before he could gain a firmer foothold within it. Responding forcefully to the nonsense that is Holocaust denial isn’t what allowed it to grow to a point where as many as one-fourth to forty percent of persons in some European countries now doubt that the mass murder of European Jewry occurred. Indeed, in many of those countries it is illegal to deny the Shoah—an approach to revisionist absurdity that is not only incredibly fascistic in its own right, but clearly isn’t working. Likewise, dissecting the racist, xenophobic views of white nationalists in the U.S., point-for-point, isn’t what caused Stormfront to become a global internet behemoth. They did that shit on their own, while most liberals and supposed leftists sat back and struck a pose of intellectual smugness, content to “deny them a platform,” as if they needed our platform in the first place.
And the second lesson learned is this: Although many reactionaries and white supremacists are truly disturbed individuals, committed to violence and hatred of others, most are probably not all that different from the rest of us. They are, many if not most of them, just regular folks, trying to make their way in the world, scared and scarred by the same things that scare and scar us all—financial and professional instability, the unpredictability of social change, family drama and just plain old human weakness. That they have allowed these forces, material and psychological, to overtake them and twist them into distortions of their mostly better selves is tragic. But to the extent we are all vulnerable to irrationality, prejudice and even hatred if fed the right diet to effectuate them, it is difficult to accept that the rest of us are fundamentally better or more moral or decent than those against whom we find ourselves arrayed.
Don’t misunderstand, this is not meant as faint praise for white supremacists, let alone evidence of my desire to take it easy on their movement; far from it. I remain implacably committed to their marginalization and political defeat. I am simply suggesting that on the human level, the vituperative and hostile rhetoric of “good people” on our side and “bad people” on theirs is long past its logical and helpful expiration date. If we of the left insist—and I certainly do—that most people are good folks, but that flawed systems and institutions turn us into something else, then we of the left must operate as if we really believe that, and as if that belief really matters. In other words, the enemy is not (at least not usually) the individual racist or reactionary; the enemy is the system of racism and white supremacy that has served to injure and even destroy people of color, and which has indirectly compromised the hearts and souls of far too many white folks as well.
It is with all of this this in mind, and in keeping with the notion that hurt people hurt people (and cared-for people care for people), that I want to take a few minutes to reply to a recent “open letter” addressed to me by one such individual on the website of the Traditionalist Youth Network, or TradYouth for short. TradYouth, and let there be no doubt about it, is a white nationalist and Orthodox Christian supremacist organization, whose leaders have a long history of overtly racist activism. I have tangled with them before (and apparently will again next week at Indiana University, where they have promised to protest my upcoming speeches), especially with Matt Heimbach, one of the group’s principals and co-founders. Heimbach, who came to TYN after founding a “White Student Union” at Towson State University, openly consorts with Nazis, and advocates a separate white “ethno-state” in the U.S., as well as sending those who advocate miscegenation (so-called race-mixing) to “re-education centers.” Most recently, he has advocated “an Inquisition to root out the Satanic forces of liberalism that seek to subvert and inevitably destroy the Church…(because) millions of Christian souls that were lost to the pernicious and foul heresies of modernity could have been saved if heretics had been silenced before they had been allowed to propagate their false beliefs…” Needless to say I’m looking forward to some good times in Bloomington with the Torquemada of Towson and his merry band of brothers on Wednesday.
Anyway, and fully aware of who TradYouth are, I nonetheless feel compelled to respond to the recent open letter, composed by someone who uses the pen name George Skanderbeg. Skanderbeg, it should be pointed out, is not himself a white nationalist, but rather a Shiite Muslim of European descent who says he supports the group’s “work to promote traditionalism,” while nonetheless rejecting the idea that race is the proper demarcator of one’s tribal loyalties. For this apostasy he has been attacked by others within the TYN network, as has Matt Parrott, the other co-founder of TYN, for allowing Skanderbeg to post on the site at all, which is an entirely different issue involving epistemic closure and wagon-circling within the far-right, which I will leave Parrott and Heimbach to sort out. Good luck with that fellas.
George Skanderbeg and the Open Letter on “Jewish Privilege”
In any event, the open letter, which challenges me to speak out against “Jewish privilege” as forcefully as I speak against white privilege—and suggests I am a hypocrite for not doing so—may seem to some unworthy of being taken seriously (see the first point above), or merely evidence of irrational anti-Jewish hatred. Yet, I think otherwise. Though I find the argument Skanderbeg makes to be incredibly flawed, I also concede that in the hands of persons untrained in the discourse over privilege and inequality, and lacking in certain critical thinking and analytical skills, it might prove persuasive. And since most people fall into the first group, and far too many the second—and since the letter was offered without hostility or personal vindictiveness—I feel that a reply is warranted. Not to mention, if it is important to address matters of institutional inequity and unjust privilege (and I believe it is), then those of us who make that argument should be clear about what the issue is, and what it is not. As misguided as Skanderbeg’s argument may be, to whatever extent it might allow the uninitiated to view privilege discourse as hypocritical, it requires a reply.
Skanderbeg’s thesis is simple enough, but rather than paraphrase it, I will let him speak for himself. To wit, and from the letter:
Why, if you are ideologically consistent, not renounce, or even discuss the notion of “Jewish Privilege?” When you and other academics argue against so-called “white privilege,” “cisnormativity,” “straight privilege” and the like, there is never a discussion of “Jewish privilege.” Jewish privilege, in it’s quantitative (in terms of raw statistics which demonstrate Jewish influence) and qualitative (in terms of the contradictory reactions to various actions when committed by Jews vs Non-Jews) form is never discussed. If it is discussed, it is always to be scoffed at and dismissed.
For readers who may be wondering what “Jewish privilege” is, especially in a Christian-dominated society like the U.S. (in which most policymakers are overwhelmingly Christian, in which Christian holidays are ubiquitously celebrated and given deference, and in which the vast majority of communities have only statistical handfuls of Jewish persons), never fear, Skanderbeg notes what he considers to be the evidence of such privilege, in both its quantitative and qualitative forms.
To set up his quantitative case that Jews are unjustly privileged and that we of the left should point this out—but don’t because we are hypocrites, or more to the point because some of us, myself included, are Jewish— he mentions a recent essay of mine, in which I discussed the evidence of white privilege in the justice system, and especially with regard to the so-called war on drugs. As I explained in the article, arrest rates for drug possession are so racially lopsided against blacks, relative to the actual rates of white and black drug use, that roughly 160,000 more blacks and 160,000 fewer whites each year are being arrested for drugs than would be arrested if law enforcement in this area were equitable. It’s a substantial privileging of whites, with significant social impact: over the course of a decade it means that more than 1.5 million white people won’t get criminal records who otherwise would have those records, and more than 1.5 million black people will have records who wouldn’t otherwise have them. This in turn will then impact who can get a job and who can’t, who can get financial aid for college and who can’t, who can access various public services, and even (in some states) who will be allowed to vote and who won’t.
To Skanderbeg, my use of statistical disparities in the justice system to prove white privilege, and the oft-heard argument that male overrepresentation in Congress proves male privilege, opens the door to his own position: namely, that Jewish overrepresentation among U.S. Congresspersons proves “Jewish privilege.” Since Jews are, according to Skanderbeg, 1.7 percent of the national population but currently represent (according to him) about thirteen percent of the U.S. Senate, this must prove Jewish privilege, at least if the use of statistics to prove white privilege is fair. Likewise, because Jews, “in comparison to the rest of the population, have a greater annual income,” this too suggests that there must be Jewish privilege at work, and especially since (again, according to Skanderbeg), the argument about white privilege relies on aggregate data showing that whites are better off than blacks or some such thing.
Let’s look at these arguments one at a time, shall we?
Does Jewish Legislative Over-Representation Prove Jewish Privilege?
First, and just for the sake of accuracy, the percentage of the American population that is Jewish is larger than Skanderbeg claims. Even if we only count those adults who claim to be Jewish because of religion or having had at least one Jewish parent, the numbers are more like 2.2 percent of American adults. If we take a more expansive definition, including persons who may not call themselves Jewish but who are in some sense ethnic Jews because they had a Jewish parent, or were raised Jewish but now practice a different faith or no faith at all—and this is surely what white nationalist groups typically mean when they think of Jews—then roughly 3.3 percent of American adults would qualify as Jews. This may seem like a trifle of an argument, but it matters, since Skanderbeg’s claim of Jewish “overrepresentation” in various areas is made stronger the smaller the Jewish population turns out to be. If the group is larger than believed, that presumed overrepresentation is not nearly as significant.
Second, and again for precision, as regards political representation, eleven percent of the U.S. Senate is Jewish rather than thirteen, and less than five percent of the House of Representatives is Jewish, meaning that overall about six percent of U.S. federal lawmakers are Jews. Is that a higher percentage than the Jewish share of the adult population? Yes. Does it prove or even rationally suggest Jewish privilege? Of course not.
1) Skanderbeg ignores the matter of sample size. When dealing with a population that is very small (as with Jews at roughly 3 percent of the adult population), virtually any representation is going to produce a disparity. Think about it: each state only has two U.S. Senators. If any Jew wins, in any state at all, that would mean that so far as that state was concerned, half of their Senators were Jews—a massive overrepresentation by a factor of nearly seventeen! My God! The Jews are taking over! Likewise, if even six Jews were to become U.S. Senators, we would be overrepresented by a factor of two. Basically, the only way for members of a very small group not to be overrepresented in most anything would be for them to be completely un-represented. Mathematically, drawing conclusions about under- or overrepresentation when dealing with very small sample sizes likely produces sampling error. It is quite different than when looking at the overrepresentation of blacks among drug arrestees. Blacks are a much more sizable thirteen percent of the population and about fourteen percent of drug users. Whites are sixty-four percent of the population and about sixty-seven percent of drug users. But blacks are roughly thirty percent of drug possession arrests while whites are only about half of these. Those disproportions are large not because of sample sizes, but because of disparity in the application of the law. Likewise with male versus female representation in the Senate and House: at roughly 50-50 of the national population, both samples of men and women are large enough to make meaningful comparisons, unlike with Jews in the House or Senate.
2) Skanderbeg’s example is not even remotely analogous to the drug claim I forwarded in my previous essay. I did not claim that the mere fact of a massive numerical disparity in drug arrest rates was the proof of white privilege. After all, if blacks actually used and possessed drugs at a much higher rate than whites, such disparity would not indicate unfairness or white privilege at all. What makes the disparity evidence of injustice (both white privilege and anti-black oppression) is that there is a specific mechanism that I am identifying, which constitutes the unfairness: in this case, the uneven application of drug laws against blacks who do not use or possess drugs far more often than whites. Indeed, the rates of use and possession are roughly equivalent, as the essay points out. In other words, there are three points along the trajectory of the argument I am making:
Point “A” is the statistical disparity itself;
Point “B” is the mechanism that produced the disparity (unequal application of drug laws); and,
Point “C” is the final ideological claim that this constitutes (in both its process and residual effect) a form of white privilege, where privilege in this case is the flipside of discrimination.
In the case of the Congressional representation example used by Skanderbeg, he jumps from point “A” (statistical overrepresentation of Jews) to point “C” (the claim that this constitutes Jewish privilege), without offering up any rational explanation as to the mechanism (Point “B”) that produced the disproportionate Jewish legislative clout. Though there might be one, he doesn’t even attempt to identify it. Are Jews given more votes than others at the polls? Of course not. Are Jews given institutional support to get their voters to the polls in ways that non-Jews are not? No. Is there something happening in the electoral process, which unjustly favors Jews and hurts Gentiles, such that we can logically claim legislative “overrepresentation” of Jews is evidence of Jewish privilege? Who knows? Skanderbeg doesn’t see fit to actually make an argument as to mechanism, so we’re left to wonder.
3) To the extent candidates for office have to win votes—and in the Senate have to win the majority of votes statewide, not just in certain districts where there might be a concentration of Jewish voters (as in certain House districts in New York and Florida)—how can their success be the result of unfair privilege? Are Gentiles being cajoled into voting for Jews when they’d rather not? Prevented from running by crafty Jews in the power structures of the major parties? Is there some pernicious prejudice against non-Jews operating that stigmatizes Christians who are running for office? By what mechanism are Gentile candidates being shut out of the process, thereby catapulting Jews to power?
I suppose Skanderbeg might think Jewish money and wealth (which is statistically higher than for most other groups—more on this below) could be the mechanism by which this occurs. But if so, he doesn’t quantify how that has happened in these electoral contests, especially since there is nothing to suggest that the Jews who won in those Senate or House races substantially outspent non-Jews, or that if they did, it was because of some “Jewish financial avalanche.” Think about it: in nearly all of those races the Jewish winners were Democrats, running in strongly Democratic districts or states, where the Democrat was always likely to win. Jews are far more likely to be Democrats than other sub-groups of whites, so they will likely be statistically over-represented in the pool of Democratic candidates. But this hardly suggests that ideologically similar Gentiles (who otherwise might have stood a chance in those races) were pushed aside due to anti-Christian bias or the unfair privileging of Jewishness. And if Jewish Democrats beat Gentile Republicans in the general elections because the states were blue states, this is among those outcomes that should properly be placed in the “no shit” file. Such outcomes cannot be rationally viewed as evidence of some pernicious systemic discrimination against non-Jews, and the concomitant privileging of The Tribe. That said, if liberal Jews start beating conservative Christians in Utah or Yazoo, Mississippi, I’ll be the first to concede Skanderbeg’s point: if anything like that happens it probably suggests that the Judeo-conspiracy is in full effect and all y’all Gentiles had better watch your step.
Finally, the claim that Jewish overrepresentation in Congress suggests Jewish privilege is very different from the claim that overrepresentation of men in the House and Senate suggests patriarchy and male privilege. After all, it is not merely the fact of male numerical dominance in those bodies that suggests such systemic truths, but the mechanism by which those outcomes have obtained. Those mechanisms would include well-known biases against women (still commonly held when it comes to views of who makes a better leader), and systemic “old boy’s networks” within the world of politics that tend to favor men over women as candidates (not to mention a long history during which women were kept from voting, let alone obtaining high office). In other words, the claim here contains points A, B and C, unlike the claim of Jewish privilege in terms of legislative representation, for which point B is missing altogether. Please note, the issue is not whether you believe that sexist and misogynistic bias against women is dispositive or not on this score. I think it is, while I suspect no one at TYN would agree (ironic since they endorse patriarchal convention quite clearly, but never mind such small details). The issue is that Skanderbeg’s analogy itself, on a purely rhetorical and argumentative level fails because it does not follow the same argumentative structure as the white or male privilege claims.
Moving on now.
Does Jewish Economic Status Prove Jewish Privilege?
As for income differences between religious groups, Skanderbeg insists that Jews are better off than others when it comes to financial status, and thus, Jewish privilege must be operating. This he claims is the logical conclusion to be reached, since those of us who claim there is white privilege often use data on white economic status (relative to blacks, for instance) in order to make our claim. There are multiple problems with Skanderbeg’s argument, both factually and analytically. And once again, the analogy he seems to find so compelling is anything but.
Here are the reasons why:
1) In truth, Jews are not the wealthiest or highest-income religious group in the United States. That distinction belongs to Hindu Americans. Though the survey data isn’t always consistent as to the exact numbers, between 53-58 percent of Jewish households have annual incomes above $75,000 per year, while 65-70 percent of Hindu families have incomes this high. Conversely, only nine percent of Hindu American households bring in less than $30,000 annually, compared to fourteen percent of Jewish households, which is to say that there are more low-income Jews than commonly believed as well. But as with Jewish well-being, surely there are reasons for relative Hindu prosperity other than the notion that Hindu folk have favored-person status in America! In fact, the reason is quite simple: those Hindu folk who migrate to the U.S. are a self-selected group (as with most voluntary migrants today who come from lands far away) and have disproportionately high levels of education (eighty-five percent have at least a college degree and fifty-seven percent have post-graduate degrees), so neither Hindu privilege nor Hindu superiority would explain their status. There are plenty of Hindus in India for instance who are destitute, but they aren’t the ones who come to America, typically.
2) As with Hindus, selective migration and pre-existing class advantage—rather than systemic privilege or any form of internal cultural superiority—largely explains Jewish success in America. Though Skanderbeg and others within the white nationalist/reactionary universe often claim that Jewish economic status owes either to unfair privilege or some perfidious Jewish conspiracy, and although Judeophiles often claim an equally wrongheaded thing—that Jews are culturally superior and more committed to education and success than others—in truth, both sides are wrong. Fact is (and all the heart-warming narratives of Jewish migrants coming to Ellis Island with fifteen cents and a ball of lint in their pockets aside), Jewish migration was far more selective than most realize, compared to the migration of other Europeans.
As Stephen Steinberg documents in his book, The Ethnic Myth: Race, Ethnicity and Class in America, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s, unlike many of their non-Jewish European counterparts, were likely to have been skilled labor in their home countries. Between 1899 and 1910, two-thirds of Jewish immigrants were skilled workers in manufacturing or commerce, or artisans of some sort, compared to only forty-nine percent of English immigrants, thirty percent of Germans, fifteen percent of Southern Italians, thirteen percent of Irish immigrants and six percent of Poles. But not only did they possess that pre-existing class advantage, relative to other immigrants, their professional experience was especially pronounced in the garment-making industry, which was an industry that was growing two to three times faster than the larger industrial average. Because fine clothing was a luxury for which affluent WASPs were willing to pay a premium, Jewish tailors, haberdashers, furriers and dressmakers were able to make an excellent living and move up the ladder in their newly adopted country. Yes they had skills and talent, and yes they worked hard. But they also happened to be in the right country at the right time, with precisely the right skills and experience needed to benefit from an economic boom in a particular sector.
In other words, Jews today are in a better position than most others not because they have been unfairly advantaged and not because they have worked harder, but in large measure because they had some head starts relative to other European immigrants once they got here. That has certainly worked to their/our advantage. But it did not stem from any preferential treatment Jews received in America as Jews, unlike the head starts that whites as whites received vis-a-vis people of color. In the case of Jews, it was largely a matter of timing and luck. This is quite different from the way in which whites as whites have been preferenced (including Jewish white folks) over persons of color, both by law and custom for generations: an institutional truth that requires systemic correction.
3) Jews are actually not that much better off than several Christian sub-groups. Yes, Jewish Americans have the highest median incomes among various (mostly) white religious groups, so perhaps Skanderbeg would insist that his point still stands: as a sub-set of whites, Jews are far better off than others, so if white privilege is a thing broadly, why isn’t Jewish privilege a “thing within a thing” so to speak? Well it could be, but then if so, there must also be, by this logic, Episcopalian and Anglican privilege and even a slightly less impressive but still extant form of mainline Presbyterian privilege, because these groups are not far behind Jews when it comes to income. Depending on how they are counted (either as members of ECUSA or Anglicans more generally), 53-54 percent of Episcopalian households bring in $75,000 or more in annual income, which is not that different from the fifty-eight percent rate for Jews (and equal to the Jewish numbers if the lower-end estimate for Jews mentioned above is to be believed), and forty-six percent of Presbyterians in the PCUSA earn this much too. So too, these mostly white Christian groups have relatively lower rates of poverty: sixteen and seventeen percent for the Gentiles, compared to fourteen percent for Team Hebrew. Pretty much the same, in other words.
4) Skanderbeg presents no evidence that lower-income “white” religious subgroups (or ethnic subgroups if he prefers, and I suspect he would) are discriminated against in jobs or education today, such that Jews are conversely being privileged over them. Although such discrimination could be operating (and surely in the past discrimination against Irish and Italian Catholics was common), Skanderbeg does not make this argument, let alone present evidence to prove it. As for Protestants, and especially conservative evangelical Protestants who are particularly low on the economic scale relative to Jews, Anglicans and mainline Presbyterians, there are many explanations other than discrimination (and Jewish/Anglican/Presbyterian privilege) to explain their status. Conservative evangelical Protestants place a high emphasis on larger families (which makes the accumulation of wealth more challenging than in smaller families with fewer mouths to feed), and are also less likely to support women working outside the home once they are wives and mothers. With one income, household finance tends to lag behind those whose religious beliefs do not place similar limits on female wage earning. Notice, in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, where large families are the norm and women also often don’t earn income, poverty is quite common, and great wealth far more rare than for the larger Jewish community, most of whose members are fairly secular. Likewise, only six percent of evangelical Protestants have post-graduate degrees, compared to thirty-four percent of Jews and fifty-seven percent of Hindus who do.
5) Once again as with the Congressional representation example previously, Skanderbeg presents no evidence of a mechanism whereby Jews are privileged in the job market or in terms of access to wealth due to discrimination against non-Jews. When we who rail against white privilege do so, we present evidence (and again, whether you accept the evidence or not is not relevant here, but only that the argument is made clearly), to the effect that people of color face discrimination when seeking jobs, even when their educations are equal to those of whites (Jewish or non-Jewish). We point to studies on discrimination in housing access, education and elsewhere, which we then posit as the mechanisms whereby those black and brown folks are disadvantaged, and thus, on the flipside, whites are advantaged or privileged by comparison. It is a closed circle, involving points A, B and C, as argued previously. In Skanderbeg’s case, he again skips point B altogether. Where is the evidence for anti-Gentile discrimination in the labor market, such that could explain disproportionate Jewish household income and wealth status? I’m not saying that there couldn’t be such a thing, just that Skanderbeg never even tries to make this point.
And logically, it’s pretty hard to figure out how such a thing would work in practice. In the case of discrimination against black folks, the reason such a thing can be so impactful is because most of the people in a position to offer jobs are not themselves black, so if any significant portion of them may have internalized various anti-black prejudices, this can affect the opportunity structure. So too, that structure can be impacted by the old boy’s networks that are so critical to accessing most of the best jobs, and which tend to be disproportionately white-dominated, such that many people of color simply won’t be in the running for certain gigs, even if the whites in question aren’t themselves particularly biased. What parallel can we envision in the case of Jews, which might advantage them relative to Christians in the larger job market? Even if we note that Jews are “overrepresented” in various settings, be it in lawmaking or among economically powerful positions (more on this next), they would rarely if ever constitute anywhere near a majority or controlling percentage of those positions. So to believe that non-Jews are shut out of job opportunities in favor of Jews would require, by necessity, believing that Gentiles discriminate against themselves, so as to favor Jews. Though perhaps internalized anti-Christian bias could operate in certain cases (and indeed Skanderbeg later suggests such a thing, to which I will respond shortly), there is certainly no evidence presented to indicate how this plays out in terms of jobs or education—the things that might impact income and wealth accumulation. Though I am willing to concede that there may well be networks in certain industries where Jews are prominent that could work to the disproportionate benefit of Jews, as with movie-making in Hollywood, for instance (so yes, in this case a form of Jewish privilege might well be operating) this can hardly explain larger aggregate differences between Jewish and non-Jewish income. Why not? Simple—because very few Jews, statistically, make their money in film production.
6) Jewish “overrepresentation” in certain high-paying sectors like finance and media (which Skanderbeg mostly hints at, but which others in his orbit regularly mention), though somewhat statistically accurate is not nearly as meaningful as he (and others) would like to believe; and it surely does not demonstrate systemic privilege for Jews or exclusion of non-Jews (except insofar as it is part of white privilege, which excludes people of color of course). Back in 2004 I wrote about this, but it’s worth repeating the point here. Though the specific numbers may have changed, it is doubtful they have changed enough to alter the underlying point I made at that time.
So back then, the founders of a website called Hoozajew.org (who claimed their goal was to confront “Jewish power and destructive influences”), said they had developed a database program that could determine how many Jews were in a given organization by analyzing the names of people in the group. Putting aside the absurdity of trying to determine religious or ethnic heritage solely from a list of names, when this “program” was used to analyze key figures at three of the top media companies in the U.S., the number of Jews among top executives, directors and management totaled eight out of eighty-eight, or about nine percent. Though this was higher than the 2-3 percent of Americans who were Jewish at the time (depending on how Jews were counted), it was certainly not such a disproportion as to indicate Jewish “control” of the media, as is often claimed. Nor can such numbers suggest widespread Jewish privilege within the media sector, “disproportions” notwithstanding.
What’s more, and as with an earlier example, the apparent disproportion was rooted more in statistical sampling error than anything else. For example, at AOL/TimeWarner there were twenty-four key executives, so even though only five were Jewish, five as a share of twenty-four was twenty-one percent of the total, giving the impression of a huge disproportion of Jews; likewise with Gannett, where only three of thirty-four board members or top management were Jewish according to Hoozajew.org, but where this represented a seemingly disproportionate nine percent of the total. Because of low sample sizes, virtually any Jewish representation will appear disproportionate in a statistical sense. Imagine a company with fifteen executives. If even one of those were Jewish, the Jewish “representation” would be nearly seven percent—2-3 times more than the share of Jews in the population at large. But to think that one out of fifteen individuals could somehow indicate Jewish domination of that company, or systemic Jewish privilege, would be the very definition of lunacy.
Perhaps even more importantly, there are logical reasons for the significant Jewish media presence besides Jewish privilege or favoritism. Most importantly, media companies (as with financial institutions, more on which below) are largely headquartered in New York City, where a far larger share of the population is Jewish than in the nation as a whole. As such, the proper way to evaluate the extent of Jewish “overrepresentation” in media and finance is not to compare the percentage of Jews in those industries with the overall Jewish population, but rather, to compare the Jewish level of representation with the Jewish share of the population in New York. In social science terms, one must control for geographic concentration of certain industries, in order to determine what the expected level of Jewish representation in finance or media would otherwise be, owing nothing to in-group favoritism.
According to estimates from 2013—and even if we only count as Jewish those persons who identify as Jews by religion (which would leave out many who, like myself had a Jewish parent, do not claim Judaism as a religion now, but would surely be seen as Jews by white nationalists)—Jews comprise about fourteen percent of adults in Manhattan, eleven percent of adults in Brooklyn and thirteen percent of adults in suburban Nassau County, on Long Island. In other words, and even with this limited definition of who counts as Jewish, the pool of potential key players in media companies (and finance) who are Jews will far exceed the national average. Thus, the “overrepresentation” of Jews in various companies or industries is no overrepresentation at all, and occasionally an underrepresentation.
As for banking and finance, even based on the analysis of “Jewish names” by Hoozajew.org in 2004, fewer than six percent of directors and officers of seven of the largest banks or brokerage firms in the country were Jewish. Even this number was deceptive and largely the result of sampling size. With only 255 directors and officers at these seven institutions combined, even a small number of Jews—in this case fifteen—added up to almost six percent, which might have seemed disproportionate to the share of Jews in the U.S., but which can hardly be seen as meaningful given the small number of persons involved. And of course, since the share of the population that is Jewish in New York, where these entities are located, is much larger, this percentage is actually an underrepresentation compared to the numbers of Jews in the area.
At Morgan Stanley, nine percent of directors and officers were identified by Hoozajew.org as Jewish. But nine percent of directors and officers at Morgan Stanley represents a whopping two people, because there were only twenty-three officers at the firm. Likewise, at Citibank, the presence of five Jews among the company’s directors and officers ended up totaling nine percent of such officers, because there are only fifty-nine such persons in all. But it is laughable to suggest that these five controlled the institution against the wishes of the other fifty-four, or that such “disproportionate” presence of Jews amounts to evidence of Jewish privilege as a result of some kind of exclusion of non-Jews—the very same non-Jews who comprised fifty-four out of fifty-nine officers at Citibank. If that’s what Christian exclusion and Jewish privilege look like, it’s pretty thin gruel.
In the section of the Hoozajew website entitled, “Jews on Wall Street,” the site director noted that for the New York Stock Exchange there were thirty-two members of the Board of Directors. Hoozajew.org seemed to think it was important that thirteen percent of these were Jewish. But thirteen percent of thirty-two people was only four people: hardly enough to indicate Jewish domination of the NYSE or Jewish privilege stemming from the institutional mistreatment of non-Jews—the very same non-Jews who, at the time, were twenty-eight of the thirty-two NYSE Board members. Indeed, with such anti-Christian oppression as that, can the lions be far behind?
Moving on once again.
Does the U.S.-Israeli relationship indicate Jewish privilege?
Skanderbeg then pivots away from domestic finance and politics to the global arena, suggesting that the “unbreakable pact” between Israel and the U.S., along with massive U.S. foreign aid to Israel demonstrates Jewish privilege. On the one hand, I certainly agree that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is disturbing, and as an anti-Zionist Jew, I oppose the very notion of a specifically Jewish state, just as I reject the notion of officially Muslim states or Christian ones. I also have no doubt that America’s relationship with Israel is influenced by the power of professional lobbyists (mostly Jews but also often Zionist Christians), who wield outsized influence on the nation’s lawmakers when it comes to Israel policy. If Skanderbeg wishes to call that “Jewish privilege” within the machinations of American foreign policy, so be it. But if so, he cannot reasonably accuse me of not speaking out against that or condemning it, which was the very point of his letter. I have long opposed the U.S.-Israeli relationship and critiqued Zionism publicly for at least twenty-five years going back to when I was in college. Indeed, for my views on the subject I was targeted for professional destruction by particularly craven members of the New Orleans and Tulane University Jewish communities, including a particularly ironic attempt to remove me from the anti-David Duke organization for which I worked.
That said, I’m not really sure that “Jewish privilege” is the proper term to attach here anyway. U.S.-Israel policy might suggest the influence and power of a particular (mostly) Jewish lobbying group, but that does not necessarily translate into the Jewish equivalent of white privilege, as I use that latter term. When I use the term white privilege, or male privilege, or whatever, I am referring to the unjust advantaging of whites, men, etc., as the necessary flipside of the marginalization of others. I am not merely using that term to denote that white folks have a lot of power, but rather, that that power stems from unjust arrangements set up for the purpose of aggrandizing whites as whites and disadvantaging others. With regard to Jews, the argument is not, seemingly, parallel. Yes, one could argue that Jews have privilege in the U.S. relative to, say, Muslims, and so that explains our more favorable treatment of Israel compared to Muslim nations. You could also argue that Jews have more privilege than Arabs, ethnically, and so once again, that explains more favorable treatment of Israel compared to Arab states. But I gather that this is not all that Skanderbeg intends when he uses the term “Jewish privilege.” It seems as though (and I could be wrong of course), that he and the TYN crew believe Jews are privileged relative to non-Jews generally, including Christians. And yet he makes no argument and offers no analysis as to how the relationship with Israel demonstrates that. To the extent Christians are often even less critical of Israel than Jews are (because they are convinced the Jews need to be gathered into Palestine in order for Jesus to return), support for Israel takes on dimensions that are not easily defined by pro-Jewish/anti-everyone else notions.
Additionally, to suggest that support for Israel amounts to Judeophilic privilege of some sort—especially as the flipside of non-Jewish marginalization—is to ignore a much more probable explanation for it, and one that will give white nationalists fits but must be reckoned with all the same: namely, and for a long time, Israel has been viewed as a European (read, white) outpost in the midst of a brown, North African and Asiatic region. The bulk of Jews who forged the Zionist enterprise, both ideologically and on the ground, were decidedly European, assimilated and often not very religious. They were fully modern creatures of the so-called Enlightenment, and they played up this fact from the beginning so as to gain the support of Great Britain and the U.S., during and after the period of the British Mandate. Zionism’s ideological father, Theodore Herzl, openly crowed that Zionism was “something colonial,” appealing to other European colonialists for support. In his 1896 pamphlet “The Jewish State,” Herzl wrote that such a state would constitute “…a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.” He also insisted that Zionist settlers would be “representatives of Western civilization,” bringing “cleanliness, order and the well-established customs of the Occident to this plague-ridden, blighted corner of the Orient.”
In other words, U.S. love for Israel may be rooted less in love of Jews (let alone favoritism towards them as members of a particular ethno-religious group), and more in the identification of Israel with the European roots of most of its leaders over the years, and the larger “whitening” of Jews in the West, especially relative to Arabs who are defined as white by the Census perhaps, but rarely viewed as such by most people. Ironically then, America’s global love affair with Israel may just be another form of operational white supremacy—a strange but true case of white privilege in a brown part of the world, rather than Jewish privilege in a Gentile world.
Moving on once again, this time to the more “qualitative” evidence (at least to Skanderbeg’s thinking) of Jewish privilege.
Does Christian Self-Hatred Suggest Jewish Privilege?
In one of the more bizarre and hard-to-follow sections of the letter, Skanderbeg suggests that Jewish privilege can be discerned in the way Christians are so easily manipulated by Jews, thanks to potentially internalized self-hatred. Skanderbeg claims that when a group learns to hate itself or doubt itself, this results in the privileging of those they come to view as their superiors, and he mentions the way that people of color sometimes bend to white beauty norms (because those are favored in the society) as an example. He then analogizes the white privilege inherent to dominant beauty norms—at least according to white privilege theorists—to the Jewish privilege that he believes emanates from Christian pliability in the hands of Jews. What pliability, you ask? Never fear, as Skanderbeg at least tries to explain it.
To make his point, Skanderbeg refers to an essay by a Jewish neo-conservative, in which the author argues against large-scale immigration from Latin America and/or the Muslim world. According to this particular Jewish guy (who Skanderbeg apparently believes speaks for all Jews and is tapped into the larger Jewish id), the reason such immigration should be opposed by Jews is because Muslims and Latino Christians are not likely to be as tolerant of Jews as their European-descended Christian counterparts. According to this view, white American Catholics are more likely to have been influenced by the reformist mentality of Vatican II than their Latin American counterparts, for whom their interactions with Jews have been less extensive (and thus, presumably they will be more likely to hold on to old Christian prejudices, like the one about Jews being Christ-killers, etc). Aside from the fact that this argument could be exactly backwards—Latin American Catholics, for instance, have also been influenced by progressive and radical liberation theology—to suggest that the author’s comments somehow prove Christian self-hatred, let alone Jewish privilege, simply doesn’t follow.
Essentially, Skanderbeg is arguing that Christian ecumenism and tolerance of Jews in present-day America is evidence of weakness and self-doubt; that if Christians didn’t hate themselves, they’d be less Judeophilic. The mere fact that a Jewish guy feels safer with current white Christians rather than brown ones (or Muslims) isn’t read by Skanderbeg as evidence of this Jewish individual’s own prejudices and biases; rather, he takes it as proof positive that Christians must have gone soft. Ergo, these Christians whom the Jewish guy feels comfortable around have obviously internalized anti-Christian bias, which then privileges Jews by basically allowing them to feel safe in America. And apparently they shouldn’t feel safe. And if they do, it’s proof of Jewish privilege. Seriously, this is what he is saying. He asks:
If it is “white privilege” for African-Americans and Latin-Americans to feel that their body types, skin-colors, and natural hair is “unhealthy” or “unnatural” and that they have to be appease white people to fit in, then what do you call it when Christians are supposed to hold an inferiority complex to Jews?
I don’t know. I guess I would call it, “where the hell is your evidence that Christians hold an inferiority complex to Jews?”
Answering the few remaining arguments by Skanderbeg about “Jewish Privilege”
What remains of the Open Letter is a strange exegesis on the way that films are allowed to be made that traffic in grotesque stereotypes of non-Jewish minorities, but never Jews. Indeed, Skanderbeg insists, this fact “suggests it is Jewish privilege that prevents such a film from being made with anti-Jewish stereotypes.”
As I noted previously, it may well be that Hollywood is the one place in America where some form of Jewish privilege exists, given the preponderance of Jewish studio executives and producers. And so yes, it is possible that in such an environment as this, films that traffic in anti-Jewish stereotypes would quite likely face a harder time getting green lighted than others (such as the one Skanderbeg mentions, a horror film called “Drag Me to Hell,” which deploys some especially one-dimensional stereotypes of Gypsies, or Roma). To the extent this may well be the case, it is surely unfortunate. Better not to traffic in such stereotypes at all, and although I haven’t seen “Drag Me to Hell,” if the portrayal of Roma is as Skanderbeg suggests, I would find that troubling to be sure.
That said, to suggest that films never traffic in troubling Jewish stereotypes, or run the risk of reinforcing those, is patently absurd. I can only deduce from such a claim that Mr. Skanderbeg has never seen a Woody Allen film. Allen’s schtick for his entire career has been the non-stop perpetuation of the Jewish nebbish: neurotic, self-absorbed and beset by an almost debilitating persecution complex. Although the nebbish is hardly as vicious a stereotype as, say, the terrorist stereotype is for Muslims, or as the criminal stereotype is for blacks, the fact is, the maladjusted nebbish is one of the most prominent anti-Jewish stereotypes out there. Sure, the stereotypes of certain groups are far more impactful than others in terms of their effect on the stigmatized group (so there is no doubt, Muslims are hurt more by the stereotype of being terrorists and blacks more harmed by the stereotype of being criminals than Jews are by stereotypes of being social climbers, money-hungry or neurotic), but that is not the fault of Jews. We didn’t invent the stereotypes ourselves. We didn’t purposely choose weaker stigmas as if to ensure our privilege relative to Roma, for instance.
Skanderbeg then claims it is Jewish privilege that leads European countries to prohibit questioning the Holocaust of European Jewry, while allowing regular insults of the Prophet Muhammad. First, I agree with Skanderbeg that prohibiting Holocaust denial is an absurd abrogation of free speech, and I also believe that although insulting the Prophet should not be illegal, people who do it are assholes, just like the people who deny the crimes of Hitler. As for whether the double standard extant in many nations constitutes “Jewish privilege,” I don’t know. I suppose it could. It also could suggest a certain residual European guilt about the historic mistreatment of Jews throughout the continent, including, particularly in the mid-20th century. Not saying that such a thing would make censorship acceptable (it wouldn’t); I’m just making the point that it doesn’t necessarily indicate unjust Jewish privilege.
Likewise, that Jews in Europe are privileged relative to Muslims is inarguably true. Institutional anti-Muslim bias and oppression is far, far more common than anti-Jewish bias in those nations. If that’s all Skanderbeg needs me to say, I’ll say it without hesitation. Jews are also privileged relative to blacks and indigenous North Americans, and other groups that are the targets of invidious discrimination. But if Skanderbeg were only arguing for that admission—that Jews have it better than Muslims—I can’t imagine he would have bothered with the letter (and I know that in that case, TradYouth wouldn’t have published it). His premise is that Jews are privileged, period, including relative to white Christians. Yet the treatment of the Holocaust relative to the Prophet Muhammad certainly doesn’t speak to that matter at all, by definition.
Oh, and finally, to the extent my work on white privilege focuses on the dynamics in the United States, the issue of Jewish privilege in Europe is a bit outside my wheelhouse anyway. Even if it exists there, and I don’t talk about it, this has far less to do with selective critique on my part, and far more to do with the fact that I am not in Europe. In the one place where Jewish privilege most certainly exists, and is woven into the very fabric of everything in the society, Israel, I do talk about it (because as a Jew I feel obligated to), I do criticize it, and I call for that privilege to end.
Not sure how one can be much more consistent than that. In places where the system of privilege is white, I call it that. In the place where it is Jewish, I call it that. In Japan, native Japanese are privileged relative to ethnic Koreans there who were historically used as virtual slave-labor. In other words, I am well aware that white privilege is not the only form. But in the United States it is sure as hell the dominant form. And nothing Mr. Skanderbeg offers in his letter alters that fundamental truth by one iota.
It was a nice try though.