What the anti-discrimination fetish means for Jews

In a post below, Scott directs attention to Richard Samuelson’s Mosaic column “Who’s afraid of religious liberty?” I agree with Scott that Samuelson’s piece, which discusses the danger to freedom inherent in anti-discrimination law, should be required reading.

In conjunction with that column, I recommend David Bernstein’s response in Mosiac, “How Anti-Discrimination Became a Religion, and What It Means for Judaism.” Both parts of the column — the “how” (which contains a strong indictment of the ACLU) and the “what” — are well worth reading. I’ll focus on the second part — what the anti-discrimination fetish means for Judaism in America.

Currently, Bernstein says, Jews are quite popular here, the disproportionate number of hate crimes directed at Jews notwithstanding:

Indeed, the general fondness for Jews ranges across the political spectrum, from left-wing atheists who admire the Jewish contribution to social-justice movements to evangelical Christians who believe that the Bible commands them to protect the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

But is this popularity sustainable? Bernstein thinks not:

If present demographic trends continue, in the relatively near future most Americans of Jewish ancestry will no longer have any formal ties to the organized Jewish community. True, in common with Irish, Italian, and other ethnic groups, many will no doubt continue to display a vague nostalgic affection for their ethnic origins, but their specifically Jewish heritage will not otherwise significantly affect their lives.

As for those who remain active members of the Jewish community, they will be divided among a large but shrinking cohort of mostly Reform and other religiously liberal Jews; a smaller but vigorous group of modern and centrist Orthodox Jews joined by remnants of the rapidly declining Conservative movement; and a large and rapidly growing group of ḥaredi or “ultra-Orthodox” Jews.

What happens when this last-named group, whose current rate of per-year population growth stands at 5.5-percent, forms a significant element of the public “face” of American Jewry? “Alt right” anti-Semites will have a new target, for sure. More threateningly, the left will become hostile to this segment Judaism as its population stretches from six to seven figures and its adherents increasingly assert electoral and political power.

“Anti-discrimination” will be the pretext. As Samuelson says, Orthodox Judaism can’t exist without “discrimination.” Orthodox institutions (with a few exceptions) do not recognize women as rabbis, do not recognize Jewish-Gentile intermarriages as legitimate, and do not recognize same-sex marriages or, in most cases, the legitimacy of same-sex romantic/sexual relationships.

This much political incorrectness will be deemed beyond the pale.

Then there’s Israel. A Jewish state, whatever its policy towards Palestinians, is inherently “discriminatory” so the left will always have a pretext for hating it.

Bernstein writes:

If hostility to Israel becomes a truly defining attribute of the American political left, as current trends suggest it will, this will constitute another ground for anti-Jewish ire. We have already seen previews in attacks on pro-Israel “neocons” in the Bush administration during the Iraq war and more recently in anti-Semitic manifestations of the BDS movement on campus.

Bernstein concludes:

In short, the left is still mostly at peace with the American Jewish community because the latter is predominantly irreligious, socially liberal, and politically progressive. A few decades from now, the majority of affiliated Jews may well be predominantly religious, socially conservative, and a significant “reactionary” force in politics, especially in New York where Ḥaredim are concentrated.

This is unlikely to occur without a significant rise in anti-Jewish sentiment on the left, bringing with it potentially dire consequences for the community’s religious liberty. Nor, we can predict, is this anti-Jewish sentiment likely to be limited to Ḥaredim.