It was once said that every generation must learn anti-communism for itself, and much the same is true of antisemitism. B’kol dor v’dor, as the Haggadah says, they rise up against us, and it is remarkable how little it has changed over time. Indeed, while antisemitism appears capable, like any viral disease, of infinite mutation, constantly adapting itself to the historical moment, this is, in fact, rarely the case. Antisemitism almost always regurgitates themes, ideas, and beliefs that are centuries old. If there is one thing antisemitism lacks, it is originality.
This was demonstrated yet again in recent days, when a storm of controversy erupted over statements made by the president of the American Federation of Teachers that were widely seen as antisemitic. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Randi Weingarten, who is Jewish, was asked about the refusal of teachers to return to in-person instruction despite substantial funds being provided for reopening in cities like Los Angeles.
Weingarten, unprompted, replied, “I have a very pointed response here for Jews making this argument. American Jews are now part of the ownership class. Jews were immigrants from somewhere else. And they needed the right to have public education. And they needed power to have enough income and wealth for their families that they could put their kids through college and their kids could do better than they have done. Both economic opportunity through the labor movement and an educational opportunity through public education were key for Jews to go from the working class to the ownership class.”
“What I hear when I hear that question is that those who are in the ownership class now want to take that ladder of opportunity away from those who do not have it,” she continued, adding, “Oh my God, it’s a totally privileged argument.”
As many have pointed out, Weingarten was essentially describing the Jews as an elite, privileged class who are now oppressing the underclass as a conscious or unconscious expression of their privilege. Given the left’s current obsession with “privilege” and the Manichean worldview it embraces, Weingarten was essentially claiming that the Jewish community is a force for evil. And the belief that the Jews are evil is the essence of antisemitism.
Weingarten’s argument, while shocking, was not at all new. The claim that the Jews are an oppressive “ownership class” is something like ground zero for left-wing antisemitism, and was most famously espoused almost 200 years ago by the modern left’s founding father: Karl Marx.
In an 1843 essay later dubbed “On the Jewish Question,” Marx addressed the issue of the Jews in European society by asking, “What is the secular cult of the Jew?”
“Huckstering,” he replied. “What is his secular God? Money.”
The Jews and Judaism, charged Marx, were the architects of modern capitalism and bourgeois society — that is, the ownership class.
“The Jew has emancipated himself in Jewish fashion, not only by taking to himself financial power, but by virtue of the fact that with and without his cooperation, money has become a world power, and the practical Jewish spirit has become the practical spirit of Christian nations,” he said. “The Jews have emancipated themselves in so far as Christians have become Jews.”
In fact, Marx asserted, Judaism was the essence of the ownership class and the ownership class the essence of the Jews. “The Jew who exists as a peculiar member of bourgeois society, is only the particular expression of the Judaism of bourgeois society,” he claimed.
“We therefore perceive in Judaism a general pervading anti-social element,” Marx said, and posited that this “element” had to be, in effect, eliminated in order to achieve genuine human freedom.
“The emancipation of the Jews in its last significance is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism,” he stated.
And as a result of this, Marx did not shy away from the quintessential expression of antisemitism itself: total dehumanization. “Out of its own entrails,” he said, “bourgeois society continually creates Jews.”
This was a stunning statement, because unlike even the worst antisemites of his time, Marx did not confine himself to the claim that the Jews were subhuman animals. He went much further than that. To Marx, the Jews were quite literally the excrement of capitalist society.
Marx was by no means the only leftist hero who engaged in dehumanizing antisemitism. Anarchist philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, for example, wrote in 1847, “The Jew is the enemy of humankind. They must be sent back to Asia or be exterminated.” Hatred of the Jews, Proudhon added, “should be our first article of political faith.”
All of this is to say that, despite the fantasies of many, the left has a venerable and highly influential tradition of antisemitism. Like all other forms of antisemitism, it identifies the Jews with the things it hates the most — in this case, bourgeois society, or the “ownership class.” This antisemitism was formulated by the founders of the modern left itself, and it is the same as any other form of antisemitism: dehumanizing, violent, and hateful. And like its predecessors and successors, it has caused brutal violence and oppression — from the persecution of Jews by the Soviet Union to the left-wing terrorists who collaborated with Palestinian terrorism to the current anti-Israel racism that pervades the left. It is not new, it is not benign, and it is not acceptable.
Weingarten may or may not be an expert on Marx, and she is reported to be heavily involved in some form of Judaism, as her spouse is a rabbi. But she has nonetheless internalized the antisemitic tradition Marx founded, with everything that implies. She has work to do.