If, in the eyes of a generation, social justice is the highest good and racism the greatest evil, shouldn’t that generation fiercely oppose history’s oldest and deadliest bigotry, antisemitism? 

Apparently not, judging from the sentiments of Gen Z, because the same generation that professes to be the most intolerant of bigotry is also the most intolerant of bigotry’s most consistently hunted targets, the Jews. A December 2023 Economist/YouGov Poll found that exactly half of all Americans aged 18-29 either think “the Holocaust is a myth” or are agnostic about whether the worst genocide in modern times is factual or mythical. A Harvard-Harris poll that month found that 67 percent of 18-24-year-olds “think that Jews as a class are oppressors and should be treated as oppressors.” If the Oct 7 massacre was a case of Jews “being treated as oppressors,” it would explain why it was celebrated on so many campuses and why support for Hamas (not Palestinians) is alarmingly widespread among Gen Z. An Oct 18-19 Harvard-Harris poll, albeit one with a small sample of respondents, found that 48 percent of Gen Zers supported the jihadist death cult that endorsed the 9/11 attacks and eulogized Osama bin Laden.

Even correcting for the possibility that these numbers overstate the case, it remains that the generation that wears the label “anti-racist” most proudly is the most susceptible to the bigotry that the word “racism” originally and almost exclusively designated: antisemitism. Nor can bigotry laundering be used to explain this away as “anti-Zionism,” since two of the above polls (among many other surveys) are exclusively concerned with Jews and make no reference to Israel. These self-described anti-racists would do well to read up on the history of racism and, while they’re at it, to consult the Talmud, Judaism’s foremost text after the Bible, from which they would learn not to “ascribe to others your own blemish.”

Of course, hypocrisy is nothing new; it’s a human vice more ancient than antisemitism. The novelty here is to be found in the prevalence of anti-Semitism among Gen Zers and the zeal with which an American demographic harbors this hatred. By celebrating Hamas’s barbarisms, these Gen Zers made clear that they hate Jews more than they hate mass murder, rape, infanticide, decapitation, mutilation, and immolation. To the celebrants, such “excesses” are not universal evils not to be justified under any circumstances; rather, morality is identity-dependent, determined not by an act itself, but by who is doing it and whom it is done to. In their moral economy, if Jews–powerful, privileged oppressors, in their eyes–are on the receiving end, then sadism has its proper place.

While some of these Gen Zers must be aware of their anti-Semitism, most are probably unwitting carriers of this strain of racism. This adds another layer of hypocrisy to their anti-Semitism because, from Gen Z’s glass houses, a stone very often thrown is the charge that Americans fail to recognize their “implicit bias,” that they’re more racist than they realize. This recalls a half-century-old vignette involving another young Western anti-racist similarly deficient in self-awareness. In 1976, four terrorists (two German leftists and two Palestinians) hijacked an Air France plane and diverted it to Entebbe, Uganda, where they released all the passengers except the Israeli citizens and six non-Israeli Jews. Two of the hostages (both Holocaust survivors) pointed out to one of the German hijackers that by herding Jews into captivity he was following the example of the last German generation. “My goals are different,” the German protested indignantly

But antisemites are nothing if not imaginative, and every generation refreshes old justifications or invents new ones for its hatred.  Whether they are illiberal leftists, isolationist rightists, Islamic extremists, white nationalists, or black separatists, antisemites always think their reasons for hating Jews are “the right reasons.” As Einstein observed after Kristallnacht, “The crimes with which the Jews have been charged in the course of history—crimes which were used to justify the atrocities perpetrated against them—have changed in rapid succession.” 

While Gen Zers might be more anti-Semitic than any other generation, it was their elders who made the university campus–where the students have the numbers but the professoriate and administration have the influence–America’s most inhospitable place for Jews.

Last December, the three university presidents called before Congress to answer for the rampant antisemitism at their universities showed just how thoroughly the fish rots from the head in higher education today. At the three presidents’ universities (UPenn, Harvard, and MIT), students are devotedly protected from “uncomfortable speech” by way of safe spaces, trigger warnings, and draconian censorship. “Using the wrong pronouns,” warns a training video from one of the three universities represented, “may also violate Harvard’s policies.” Yet, when asked if calling for the genocide of the Jewish people–among the clearest expressions of hate speech–violated university policy, the three presidents dithered, citing free speech concerns. Who but Jews under attack could bring about this instant metamorphosis of the sheriffs of the PC police into free speech absolutists? 

As dismaying as the recent exposure of Gen Z’s anti-Semitism has been, it has also awakened the public to the gravity of pedagogical malpractice and maladministration at American universities. A backlash is already underway in the form of federal investigations, drop-offs in donations, civil litigation, petitions and open letters of condemnation, and pressure to overhaul or dismantle diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. It is dearly to be hoped that meaningful reform ensues, and the younger half of Gen Z that has yet to enter university will be spared the mind pollution that has made the older half anti-Semitic. Then it will fall to the other leading purveyor of misinformation to Gen Z, social media, to increase its market share in the “post-truth” industry.

Scott Abramson is a historian of the modern Middle East and the senior research officer for Israel and the Middle East at the Center for Israel Education. 

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own. This article first appeared in Newsweek on April 8, 2024.