“Our German laws and our ethical outlook admit Jewish equality,” the German economist Werner Sombart advised a century ago, “but if you Jews want to preserve it, do not take it too seriously. Always stick to the second place.”

Sombart did not say this menacingly. It was more like a friendly reminder that equal rights in law and equal rights in practice are two very different animals.

The great Zionist thinker and minority-rights champion Vladimir Jabotinsky quotes this Sombart line in a disquisition on assimilation. Jabotinsky notes that in reality, you can’t ask humans to succeed less than they are capable of doing. And when the Jews are successful, “equality” begins to mean “proportionality,” which inevitably gives way to the quota system. Jabotinsky says he’d heard Westerners defend this from the standpoint of “social congeniality,” when in fact it should really be called what it is: “racial purity.” Writes Jabotinsky: “The harm of such phraseological disguises is in their insidious plausibility: they lend themselves gracefully to inclusion in a system in full accordance with liberal treaties and democratic constitutions.”

Sound familiar? It should, because when Jewish history doesn’t repeat, it at least rhymes.

The laws of civil rights and the rules and norms of educational institutions are well known and all-inclusive—as written. But the major problem for Jews is that, in our time as in Jabotinsky’s, it varies as to whether these laws and rules are worth the paper on which they are written.

But here’s an important test. A century ago, insisting on the rights Jews are nominally provided (in Europe primarily) would invite state-sanctioned violence and mass exodus. What would happen today if the Jews of America stand our ground on the legal claim that we are equal citizens?

That is the idea behind numerous private civil-rights lawsuits against universities, such as the one against Columbia that I mentioned yesterday. But there’s another angle to this: When it comes to the denial of equal rights, the federal government has a responsibility to act. And it might actually be doing so.

President Trump, building on the legal opinions of his two predecessor administrations, signed an executive order that required universities to apply civil-rights laws to Jews, specifically the prohibition on national-origin-based discrimination. President Biden reiterated those obligations, though before October 7, his administration was timid in applying them. That seems to have changed—and, interestingly, not just regarding universities. JTA reports:

“The Department of Education will investigate Chicago Public Schools and another K-12 district in Massachusetts, the latest in a flurry of federal probes into discrimination since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

“A spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency its investigation was related to allegations of antisemitic discrimination during the month of January. Students in Chicago staged a major pro-Palestinian walkout that month that received at least tacit support from the district. And at Natick Public Schools, the district in Massachusetts, rabbis and Jewish parents have complained about antisemitism to the school board.”

The Department of Education has opened around 70 such inquiries, but most of them relate to colleges, where anti-Semitic harassment has more or less become official campus policy.

Last month, I wrote about the trend of big cities creating atmospheres of intense pro-Hamas agitation, effectively running their Jewish students out of school districts. The federal government is investigating city governments’ overt role in encouraging such incitement in its grade schools.

For example, the story notes, “Chicago was the site of a student-led, pro-Palestinian walkout on Jan. 30. More than 250 students from at least 15 public schools left class and marched to City Hall in support of a city council resolution calling for a ceasefire. The ceasefire resolution passed the next day after Mayor Brandon Johnson cast the tie-breaking vote. Johnson said he was ‘incredibly proud’ of the student protests.”

That walkout featured students carrying signs that read “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a key plank of the Hamas charter and a slogan that has always referred to the speaker’s desire to destroy the state of Israel and remove its Jews from the region.

Of course, condemning anti-Semitism all by itself now seems virtually impossible for public officials, who have developed some great fear of being seen as taking sides between Jews being harassed and assaulted and those doing the assaulting. Although there are no cases of such walkouts or city council actions on behalf of Israel, and certainly no students encouraged by faculty to march around calling for anti-Arab genocide, the Department of Education is also looking into “Islamophobia.”

Since no group is experiencing what Jewish students are being put through, the federal government will come up empty in that particular search. That is likely to result in an attempt by bureaucrats to massage the facts and portray a false equivalence between the treatment of Jews and anyone else, rather than simply admit what their eyes can see. That is the closest Jewish students are likely to get to “equality,” but you never know: there’s a first time for everything.

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