Are Jews a “privileged” class?


A few months ago Louise Mensch was attacked at ‘Comment is Free’ for dismissing the idea of “privilege checking”.  Mensch had argued the following:

“Check your privilege”, for example, is a profoundly stupid trope that states that only those with personal experience of something should comment, or that if a person is making an argument, they should immediately give way if their view is contradicted by somebody with a different life story.

Laurie Penny is an absolutely prime example; she does it all the time. The other day on Twitter she told people not to rise to what she felt was a race-baiting article by Rod Liddle in the Spectator. She was quite right. Everybody with a blog knows what “don’t feed the trolls” means. However, she was angrily contradicted by the black comedian @AvaVidal who told her that people of colour were striking back and they should rise to it. Instead of defending her position, Penny caved, recanted, and commented mournfully that “having your privilege checked” was painful.

Here are the relevant passages from an essay by Laurie Penny, contributing editor at The New Statesman. 

Louise Mensch is confused. The erstwhile MP and professional gadfly has published a blogpost decrying “privilege checking”, and longing to return to a species of “reality-based” feminism where everyone would stop bothering her about class, race and money.

Actually, “privilege” isn’t at all hard to understand. It just means any structural social advantage that you have by virtue of birth, or position – such as being white, being wealthy, or being a man. “Check your privilege” means “consider how your privilege affects what you have just said or done.” That’s it.

Privilege is not the same as power. Nor is it a game whereby only the least privileged people will henceforth be allowed an opinion – the last time I checked, the political conversation was still dominated by rich white men and their wives. These are the people who go into spasms of outrage at the very notion that a black person, or a woman, or a working-class person might have as much right to an opinion as they do on matters that affect them.

Whilst the idea of ‘privilege’ is intellectually suspect for a host of reasons (many of which Mensch explored in her blog post), it’s quite interesting that Jews, of all people, are often considered among “the privileged” within this paradigm.  Not only has the post-Holocaust taboo against antisemitism been eroded, but Jews, who represent a fraction of 1% of the world’s population, are – in a manner evoking classic tropes about Jewish control - typically portrayed, by virtue of their relative success, as an elite, powerful, and privileged class. 

Whilst reasonable people can agree or disagree with attempts to explain disparities in economic, educational and social outcomes in terms of one’s ‘privilege’, it seems difficult to avoid including Jews among those who are “historically disadvantaged” when honestly exploring its political implications.

So, for those who fancy the specious argument that you can quantify privilege in terms of one’s race, ethnicity, gender, etc., here’s some food for thought – a list of the advantages (privileges) of waking up in the morning as a non-Jew – the daily effects of non-Jewish privilege.

1. You likely don’t have your people’s right to national self-determination questioned or characterized as racist.

2.  You are not characterized as racist for the alleged sin of caring more about your own people’s safety and welfare than that of other groups.

3.  You are not accused as a group – by virtue of by your current alleged “immoral behavior” – of having betrayed the memory of coreligionists who were victims of genocide.

4.  You are not accused of being more loyal to a foreign state than to the interests of your own nation.

5.  You are likely not held personally responsible for the actions of others who share your religion or ethnicity.

6.  You are not likely to be targeted for terrorist attacks by extremists simply because you happen to share the same religion as the majority population in one foreign state.  

7.  You likely don’t have to avoid expressing your religious identity when visiting Middle Eastern or even European countries for fear of violence.

8.  You are likely never accused of being part of an international conspiracy to control the world.

9.  You are not accused of exercising disproportionate control over the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

10. Your success and personal achievements – and other fruits of your hard work – aren’t turned upside down and characterized as evidence of your ‘privilege.

To be clear, none of this is meant to suggest that we subscribe to the facile theory that groups should be divided between the ‘privileged’ and the non-privileged.  However, for those who do give this paradigm credence, it does seem to represent an egregious moral double standard to impute ‘privilege’ to such a historically persecuted, disenfranchised and marginalized minority as Jews.   

17 comments on “Are Jews a “privileged” class?

  1. If I grasp your point, may I suggest that what is now termed “privilege” used to be in my day what the anti-Semites called “clannish Jews”.

    We are not smarter, richer or more creatively clever but we do have an ability to work together whether by family ties, cultural/religious or the consciousness of “areivim zeh la’zeh”. That’s what perhaps provides the advantage that those who are Judeaophobic.

    • yes, exactly. our success is inconvenient to modern theories of systemic root causes for inequality, so it must be explained in terms of an unfair advantage we have.

  2. I will say this for Ms. Mensch: She called out the blatantly lying Glenn Greenwald a short while back and positively ground him into the floor. Which is, of course, o/t, but it sure was an accurate piece.

    As to this post… another keeper that’s been bookmarked. Continually amazed to find myself wondering why the secret funds I’m entitled to haven’t been deposited into my bank account. As a member in good standing of the Red Sea Pedestrians, I’ll have to write a letter to the Elders.

    But on a serious note, I’ll never forget a day in the park when a baseball bat was hurled at some of my friends by the drunken neighborhood lout who screamed at them, “I hate you f*cking Jews.”

    If only I’d been wearing tzittzit, I would have felt just as Privileged.

  3. If you take the concept of “privilege” to the extreme, you end up with anarchy. No government would be able to pass any legislation, no enforcement of laws would be possible, the judiciary would lose all power (what right to judges, who are almost by definition “privileged” have to rule over the lives of the accused, who are generally very far from “privileged”?)

    And this model fails on a very basic level to deal with what happens when two people of equal privilege have opposing views. E.g. a change in employment law negatively affects both women AND gay people, but a woman and a gay person have diefferent viwews as to what should be done? Whose “privilege” is the greater?

    • On organization in the US (which will remain nameless) that I used to be affiliated with used to have an exercise for their “diversity facilitators” which attempted to quantify one’s privilege. It was an absurd idea, but the broad idea that workshop was endorsing influences the public debate about inequality, ‘haves v have nots’, etc. The net impact for Jews and Israel is that their success, both on the individual level and on the national level, not only won’t be celebrate or, gasp, even emulated, but held against us to demonstrate our villainy. The world would much prefer if we were the old, pre-Shoah shtetl Jews, or the kibbutz, under-developed poor Israelis of the 50s and 60s. You see, if we were able to overcome such incredible odds and egregious disadvantages and become successful (largely without the help of the UN or development agencies), then their whole political paradigm is undermined. And, as the Guardian demonstrates all the time, people hold on to even bad ideas with a death grip.

      • This is based on visibility, where the spot is on.
        Poor People of Jewish origin and/or faith are ignored as long as they cannot be blamed on Jews or Israel. Many Jewish charities and institutions spent a lot of their budgets on social affairs.
        I agree that part of the new anti-Semitism can be explained by refuting this paradigm, but f.e. in Austria or the USA People of Asiatic origin also have started disadvantaged, but are quite successful contradicting the paradigm which is completely ignored.
        Therefore the Thesis s not sufficient.

        • Speaking of which on the 17th it is Mitzvah Day!

          http://www.mitzvahday.org.uk/

          Our community in the UK help various charities whether Jewish or not.
          We have a charity collections in various Sainsbury’s and planting bulbs in some gardens, making cloths and collecting donations for Jewish communities in East europe etc.
          We also have a interfaith open kitchen on the day to support the homeless.
          This is something people who hate us refuse to look away from.

  4. Jews have the supreme privilege of being the members of a group whose religion two new religions attempted to supersede. These two rivals for the privilege of knowing who God is and what he wants attempted to do away with the worshippers off the old way whose presence testified to the past.

    Their stereotype has become a race memory and they have become the iconic ‘other’.

    Whatever they do this tattoo cannot be erased\.

  5. The “privileged” class are Muslims. They get special dress code exemptions at workplaces and schools, they get more attention from the media when there is graffiti or an alleged “hate crime,” than when Jews or Christians are subjected to it, they receive favorable historical revisionism in our textbooks from everything from the Crusades up to the establishment of modern Israel, etc.

    • There are other groups who can keep their dress code in place when joining schools, work, the police force or the armed forces.
      Jews being one of them.

      One thing I will admit, it seems the most Muslim leaders are far louder in general than Jews are, even when the Jews were under far worst circumstances.

      The UK society which we live in is turning into a society that the ones who shout louder wins.

      A bit like some Israeli post offices I visited.
      To clarify, I’m sure there are many other countries with similar post offices all around the ME and the world.

  6. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to stomach an entire article by Laurie Penny.

    So in this one she referred to Jews as a privileged class?

  7. “Actually, “privilege” isn’t at all hard to understand. It just means any structural social advantage that you have by virtue of birth, or position – such as being white, being wealthy, or being a man. ”
    Or a middle class white woman paid handsomely to write nonsense?

    ““Check your privilege” means “consider how your privilege affects what you have just said or done.” That’s it.”
    And yield to the opinion of an individual deemed “authentic” through skin color. That’s it. It’s called racism.

  8. In Sydney, back in the 1980s, I was surprised when Chilean acquaintances, political semi-exiles, spoke against Jewish influence in South America in a way in which their Australian counterparts of the Left would never have done at that time. Not being PC (I’m your typical enough Australian) I was more surprised than horrified.

    All of that has changed. While many conservative Australians like me have come by a steady admiration for Israel and Jewish achievement in Australia, the Left has gone the other way, not en bloc but in sufficient numbers to cause alarm. The recent picketing of the Brenner chocolate shops was a sure sign of the change. There is no way that the provision of chocolates to the Israeli miltary was actually in the minds of the picketers. Here was a sinister elite, about which they were willing to hear and believe anything bad. It’s blood libel and the Prioress Tale in modern dress.

    Odd that in a society like Australia where our most illustrious jurist and our greatest soldier were Jews that this should be taking hold. But when a new nation needs to be built, as we know from the history of Castile after the Muslim tide surged back and from many other examples, Jews form the commerce and the professions and form them quickly. After a nation has been built, a different attitude sets in. People start to see cleverness as sinister, and natural human networks are seen as conspiracies.

    I have hopes. While we may be notorious for our off-handedness about race, our racism runs pretty shallow here. Australians are not self-loathers. And anti-semitism is, precisely, a mentality of self-loathers.

  9. the pomo-poco term is “the epistemological priority of the subaltern ‘other’.” As for Jews, it’s not just clannishness (altho it is in part). it’s also a culture of dispute that permits/encourages dissent, criticism, contradiction. it’s not easy, and sometimes its painfully abrasive. most people don’t like to submit themselves to that kind of ego bruising. but then they get envious of the positive results and insist that it’s some kind of “privilege.”

    • the pomo-poco term is “the epistemological priority of the subaltern ‘other’.”

      I presume, a condensed version, it is not clear to whom it constitutes a priority – to the pomos/pocos or for the subaltern ‘other’? Is the privilege primarily constituted by epistemology, by priority, by the subaltern status or the otherness?
      Following the explanation for Jews the answer seems to be the ‘epistemology’ and the ‘otherness’. In Multiculturalism that would mean minorities have to be put in a similar position by apopriate measures of the majority/society/state/enterprises at which Jews arrived and achieved by their own (clannishness and culture of dispute, as you pointed out) . Some clarification would be fine.

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