July 8, 2021
This interview with Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, Managing Director of American Jewish Committee (AJC) Europe, was recently published by the French news site, Atlantico.
Recent studies have shown that highly educated people in the United States tend to feel stronger resentment toward Jews than those with less education. Antisemitism within the highly educated class is on the rise.
Atlantico: Education is often considered a way to encourage open-mindedness and limit the prejudices one may have toward minority groups. Is this the case for antisemitism?
Rodan-Benzaquen: Education is indeed often seen and conceived as encouraging open-mindedness and as a defense against ignorance and hatred.
Studies about those who believe in conspiracy theories, for example, show that there is a clear correlation between levels of education and the inclination to adhere to non-scientiﬁc and alternative views to explain social issues.
However, the fact that 23% of [French] people with a high school diploma believe in at least five conspiracy theories (according to a 2019 study by French socialist Jean Jaurès) shows that this fringe of the population, even if it is a minority, is nevertheless non-negligible.
As far as [contemporary] antisemitism is concerned, it is almost born out of an inferiority complex. The Jew represents the other, the one I am not…with the idea that the Jew takes a place that should have been mine.
If we look at history, we realize that education unfortunately does not always protect us from this antisemitic hatred. Among the historical personalities of European antisemitism, we find some very educated ﬁgures.
This was the case with Edouard Drumont, founder of the Libre Parole [antisemitic French newspaper], journalist, and member of parliament during the Third Republic. We find of course in the Dreyfus aﬀair that part of the army and a whole segment of the parliamentary-left harbored a very deep-rooted and virulent antisemitism. We can also look to the Wannsee Conference in 1942 where Nazi leaders decided upon the ﬁnal solution. Eight of the fifteen participants had PhDs.
During the war, it is also interesting to note that many Europeans who hid Jews were not the most educated. They were simple farmers, for example, who felt that this was the only right thing to do.
Since World War II, education has aimed to develop critical thinking and encourage the questioning of preconceived ideas. When we observe what is happening in European and American universities today, we realize that critical thinking has been replaced by a partisanship. Similarly, universalism has been replaced by identitarianism (a pan-European nationalist far-right political ideology).
Atlantico: According to the latest data, has antisemitism emerged within the highly educated classes?
Rodan-Benzaquen: I don't know if a general conclusion can be drawn, but there are indeed several recent studies, notably in the United States and England, that indicate education does not provide immunity against antisemitism.
In fact, according to a new U.S. survey conducted by professors Jay P. Greene, Albert Cheng, and Ian Kingsbury Greene, the most educated people in the United States tend to have greater antipathy toward Jews than less educated people.
The study's authors conclude that "education appears to provide no protection against antisemitism and may in fact serve to encourage it - in part by providing people with more sophisticated and socially acceptable ways to articulate it."
In England, Rakhib Ehsan conducted several studies that found, among other things, university-educated British Muslims and Blacks were more likely to be antisemitic than British Muslims and Blacks without a university degree. The highly educated were more likely to believe, for example, that Jews have too much control in the global spheres of banking, politics, media, entertainment, and weapons production.
Other older studies, like AJC's 2015 jointly-conducted [study] with [France’s Foundation for Political Innovation], established that the level of antisemitism among Muslims increases signiﬁcantly with the level of religiosity and practice while the level of education has no impact on antisemitic prejudice.
Atlantico: What could explain this increase? There has been a lot of talk in France about Islamism in universities and more broadly about Islamo-leftism. Is this one of the explanations?
Rodan-Benzaquen: Academics from the Observatory of Decolonialism and Identity-based Ideologies in France just published a report in which they concluded that the university has become “the place where ideological battles, led by the proponents of deconstructionism, against the institution itself, have taken place."
Further, more in-depth investigations are needed, particularly to understand the link with antisemitism.
Regarding the United States, in their recent study, Greene, Cheng & Greene suggest that antisemitism among those who have completed college or graduate school does not occur in spite of their education but precisely because of it. One must therefore ask whether the educational institutions charged with opening minds have instead become instruments of ideological confinement.
In fact, in France, but even more so in England or in the United States, the prominence taken by once-marginal ideologies, such as postmodernism, decolonialism, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, and intersectionality, has had devastating eﬀects for Jews and the university at large.
These theories, which divide the world into black and white, oppressed and oppressor, leave little room for Jews, who essentially have a "ﬂuid" identity and undermine this purist view. Jews, according to proponents, have been conveniently lumped into the category of "white.” Meanwhile, Zionism has been lumped into the category of "colonialism" and "racism."
Questioning these ideologies also leads to what is now known as "cancel culture," repressive behavior and a ban on free speech.
It is notably through the questioning of Israel and Zionism that certain European and American universities have become centers of contemporary antisemitism. In France, the faculties of Villetaneuse, Saint-Denis, Nanterre and those of Mirail in Toulouse, as well as Lyon II and III, have literally almost become "Judenfrei" (a Nazi term for an area that has been "cleansed" of Jews).
In the United States, particularly under the inﬂuence of the intersectional movement, we are witnessing rallies to wage anti-racist battles from which Jews are at a minimum excluded, or worse, attacked. Jewish students who wanted to participate in the Black Lives Matter movement were asked to sign a waiver in which they aﬃrmed that they were not Zionists.
Atlantico: Is the antisemitism of elites diﬀerent from the antisemitism that can be found in lower social classes?
Rodan-Benzaquen: I believe the diﬀerence lies essentially in the fact that highly educated people try to give theoretical and intellectual consistency to their antisemitism. It is then taken up at all levels until it becomes a spontaneous prejudice.
Today, antisemitism often takes the form of a radical anti-Zionism that becomes a justiﬁed antisemitism made available to all. Permission to be antisemitic is granted if it’s in the name of anti-racism and human rights.
There is nothing truly new here, but simply the conﬁrmation of the great diﬀusion of themes centered around the demonization of Jews.