Earlier this month, DeSean Jackson, a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, posted an anti-semitic conspiracy theory to his Instagram account.
The post quoted Hitler, yes that Hitler, saying that “white Jews” were “blackmailing” and “extorting” America as part of their plan for “world domination” and in order to hide the fact that the “real Children of Israel” are the “Negroes”.
The quote was fake of course, Hitler hated Blacks almost as much as he did Jews, but nonetheless Jackson landed in deservedly hot water. He has subsequently apologised, been fined and has entered into a dialogue with Edward Mosberg, an elderly Holocaust survivor. A good remedy.
But the incident raised an interesting question: what if Jackson had been white, and had made similarly racist comments about African-Americans? Would he have kept his job then?
The answer is quite obviously, no. In June, Serbian footballer Aleksandar Katai was fired from the LA Galaxy because of racist social media posts made about Black Lives Matter protests by his wife. Not him, his wife. Whereas Jackson has — so far — escaped with a slap on the wrist.
All of which leads us to a deeper question: amid the ferocious culture wars consuming America and beyond in 2020, where exactly do the Jews fit in?
As L’affaire Jackson illustrates, Jews are not afforded full victim status. On the left, we are perceived as too rich, too powerful, too white, too privileged, and too closely aligned with Israel. Yet neither do we exactly belong on the right, alongside white conservatives and traditionalists, with whom it’s fair to say we have a pretty chequered history.
Some Jews, particularly religious Zionists, have made common cause with the conservatives and indeed Donald Trump. Others are fiercely progressive and see themselves as allies to the social justice movement. Many more, however, are in the middle and more than a bit confused. It is a very Jewish pickle to be in.
It’s hard to know where to stand, because the kind of tribal politics amplified by the culture wars makes a lot of mainstream Jews instinctively uncomfortable. We prefer liberal, tolerant universalism, because when the world devolves into sectarian warfare, things don’t usually work out so well for us.
This idea of Jewish privilege is rather puzzling, too. It was trending on Twitter the other day, #JewishPrivilege. But what should we make of this privilege, I wonder? Is it a privilege to be able to walk through Malmo, Berlin or even London and be abused for wearing a kippah? Is it a privilege to stand outside shul on a Shabbat morning and volunteer yourself as a human barrier against murderous antisemites? How privileged was Rose Mallinger, the 97-year-old bubbe who was one of 11 worshippers savagely murdered by a white supremacist gunman at her synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018?
What’s particularly maddening is how ahistorical this debate is. Here’s what Anne Frank predicted would happen after the Holocaust: “If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example.”
Alas, not. After 2,000 years of racism, human rights abuse and general tsores, reaching its apogee with the worst crime in human history, we diaspora Jews were mostly given a few decades to flourish in peace. Now, though, we have flourished too much, so we have been deemed “white” and “privileged” and cast into the role of modern oppressors. If only my sense of English irony were more advanced, I might find this quite funny.
What’s equally infuriating is there is a real debate to be had here, one that we are heavily disincentivised from engaging in by all this critical theory nonsense. Because it is true that many Jews today are privileged. Many of us could and should do more to help those who suffer — as we so often have — from discrimination and segregation.
And sometimes we are too trapped by our glum history to acknowledge how good we have it now. DeSean Jackson’s career, after all, is in the hands of Philadelphia Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman, both members of the tribe. American Jews have done extraordinarily well, as have so many others.
So, yes, plenty of privileged Jews exist in the world, but history has taught us that, while this good fortune comes and goes, the spectre of Jewish victimisation is sadly eternal. As the culture wars continue to spiral angrily through our society, I hope it’s not just DeSean Jackson who learns this lesson.