I am 21 years old and Jewish. Apparently, 48 percent of my peers want people like me dead.
As of October 23, 64 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds think what happened on October 7 was a terrorist attack. Seventy-seven percent of us think “it’s true that Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 Israeli civilians by shooting them, raping and beheading people including whole families, kids and babies.” But when asked, “in this conflict do you side more with Israel or Hamas?”
Forty-eight percent said Hamas.
I am not surprised.
In high school, my homeroom had an exercise where we made a T-chart dividing various ethnicities, religions, and other identities into the categories of “oppressor” and “oppressed.” Women: oppressed. Straight people: oppressor. Black people: oppressed. Then we reached the “Jew” category. And we paused. This being a high school in Los Angeles, many of my classmates were Jewish. I recall we skipped it altogether. But the T-chart stayed on the whiteboard.
If there were fewer Jews in that room, I’m confident that “Jews” would’ve gone squarely in the “oppressor” column.
Social justice theory became part of everything. My senior English class was not about great literature, but about readings in critical theory, mostly about race and gender. I had a nonacademic weekly homeroom class in which we learned that every white person is racist, and all men are evil. It took me a long time to shake off a hatred of men. It wasn’t socially acceptable to disagree, and no one really tried.
My high school got a dean of gender studies and feminism. At the time, one of her roles was to help seniors write their college applications. In answer to the question “What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?” I wrote it was identity politics. She gave me a note saying that meant I was rejecting the advances of the civil rights movement. I changed it.
I see the biggest part of growing up to be the acceptance of gray areas. But Gen Z worships these identity categories and the distinction of oppressor/oppressed. I know that’s true—I am submerged in it every day. The oppressor is always wrong, and the oppressed are always right. Since high school, we’ve been trained to identify and slot people based on their identities alone.
That’s intersectionality for you.
The cheering of Hamas among people my age on college campuses in the U.S. might seem shocking to older people. But it doesn’t shock me. For most of my peers, social issues are unanimous. At my college campus, the tiny group of people who publicly celebrated the overturning of Roe v. Wade were mocked mercilessly.
And so, even a terrorist group’s mass murder of innocent Jews—babies, grandmothers, entire families—cannot defeat my generation’s Manichean belief system. Jews are the worst, and October 7 is about justifiable revenge.
I am a college junior at Stanford. For my freshman and sophomore years, I lived in a dorm with the only dining hall that serves kosher food. Last winter, a Jewish student in my dorm found that a portrait of Hitler had been drawn on his door. My friend was the RA who had to report it. They never found the perpetrator.
Soon after, swastikas were carved into bathrooms in the main quad.
In my freshman year, I took part in a Great Books program: Structured Liberal Education (SLE). Weeks were labeled by students like Shark Week: Plato week, Marx week, Holocaust week. (I’m not kidding.)
In SLE’s third quarter, my classmates and I were lucky enough to dive deeply into the ideologies that have shaped where we are now, a tour of the great books of the past 200 years. That quarter, I recall a conversation where I was shot down during “Fanon week” (which celebrates “anti-colonial” hero Frantz Fanon) for suggesting that approving violence under the guise of “decolonization” could have nasty consequences. I was the only person to vehemently disagree with Marx in my discussion section. In a moment of weakness, I pretended to be a communist during my oral exam to save my grade.
In another section during spring quarter’s “Holocaust week” where we read Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, a student gave a presentation on how Zionism is the new Nazism and how Israelis were the new Nazis. He chose this specific week to present. A Chinese student argued with the presenter, but that was that. The class went on as usual.
This is only my small corner of Gen Z. Gen Z, comprised of people born in 1997 to 2013, makes up a fifth of America’s population. Not all of us—thank God—go to elite universities, where the obsession with the so-called “oppressed” is our intellectual north star. But the vast majority of us were raised on Instagram and Twitter—our ideas are tweet-length and infographic-sized. And the oppressor/oppressed framework was made for us.
After seeing a thread on X about how TikTok—the preferred search engine for just over half of Gen Z—is an echo chamber for virulently anti-Israel posts and how its algorithm promotes pro-Palestine content, I re-downloaded the app for the first time since Covid to see how bad it really was.
In my foray back into TikTok, I was reminded of how my friends and I would doomscroll on the app. By osmosis, we mindlessly bleated the same talking points served up to us in thirty-second videos. The same critical theory books we read championing “decolonization” and “resistance” had been distilled into the perfect format: the explainer video.
Dipping my toes back in was a wake-up call as to how sinister this information flow has become. (It’s worth noting that TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.)
Within the first minute of scrolling under a search for “Zionism” on TikTok, I saw a “Zionism Explained” video with over 125,000 views. It said that Jews are forbidden by God to have their own state, completely ignoring the fact that the State of Israel is secular. “How did this start? Let’s go back to 1897,” the video instructs. But Jewish history in Israel started thousands of years ago, not in 1897.
When I searched “history” on TikTok, a woman with the “cute freckles and lashes” filter told me and over 80,000 viewers that, in “the biggest plot twist of the century,” Jews are using their ancestors’ “tragedy to justify and inflict another Holocaust.”
That explainer video is why, when I went to a pro-Palestine rally at Stanford on Wednesday and asked a fellow student what she meant when she chanted “from the river to the sea,” she said that, after admitting she wasn’t knowledgeable about the issue, Palestine must be free from the Tigris River (in Iraq) to the Black Sea (north of Turkey). This student, though she has no sense of geography, is actually chanting for the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea to no longer contain the state of Israel. It is an eliminationist slogan.
I saw a similar message at an off-campus café recently when I walked by a girl whose laptop bore a newly applied sticker with the words “By Any Means Necessary” stamped over an outline of Israel. It’s been less than three weeks since October 7 and already these glib stickers plugging genocide, aimed at my generation, are proliferating.
A new axis of evil—Big Tech, social media companies, and China—has taken the once-fringe position that Jews are undeserving of a homeland, and is now pushing the idea of their mass slaughter via shoddy animation and beautiful women hosting “explainer” videos. And it’s trickling down onto t-shirts and “cute” laptop stickers.
It’s cool to promote hate.
My Jewish parents, whose hearts break to hear about what I go through at college, did everything they could so that my brother and I would reject this simplistic, horrible way of thinking. But they can’t change that my little brother’s high school also teaches ideology with T-charts. I doubt his teachers or classmates care to understand that no T-chart can account for why he and his Jewish friends feel sick when they see slogans calling for their deaths.
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