Jordan Peterson isn’t Jewish. We know this because of his name, and because he looks like a tweedy version of Jeremy Irons. Yet in recent days, the celebrity University of Toronto psychology professor has been drawn, against his will, into a toxic conversation about Jewish identity.
Peterson rose to public prominence in 2016, when he triggered the country’s gender-studies cadres en masse by announcing his refusal to use made-up pronouns such as “zhe” and “zher” (not to mention his hopelessly old-fashioned opinion that humankind is generally made up of two discreet groups known as males and females). Laurier University Prof. Nathan Rambukkana – who gained his 15 minutes of fame when he was caught on tape berating teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd for showing a Peterson video to her class – casually compared Peterson to Hitler. Elsewhere in Canada, hysterical mobs demanded that Peterson’s speaking events be shut down. The claim that Peterson is transphobic, which is itself rather thin, now is larded up with evidence-free accusations that he is also “racist, colonialist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic.”
To some extent, this reflects the more general trend, which I wrote about in last month’s column, whereby we all have lost the ability to distinguish between gradations of evil. To be conservative is to be “alt-right.” To be “alt-right” is to be fascist. To be fascist is to be a Nazi. This is how the moral space between refusing to call someone “zhe” and, say, exterminating that person’s entire family with Zyklon B, vanishes to nothing.
The ludicrous nature of this rhetorical con recently was put on display by Forward writer Ari Feldman, who set out to investigate whether Peterson is “enabling Jew hatred.” Alas, the best he could do to support the thesis was point to a Peterson video in which the professor discusses Jewish professional overachievement and higher-than-average scores on intelligence tests. Feldman is perfectly correct that these same facts are exploited by anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. But that only leaves the reader asking: so what? Facts are facts. If a Jew-hater claims the Nobel committees are run by a Judeo-Masonic cabal, would it then become verboten for Peterson (or anyone else) to note in passing that more than 20 per cent of Nobel winners throughout history have been Jewish?
In April, Peterson and I spoke at the same event in Montreal. Other Jewish speakers that night included Peterson super-fan Barbara Kay and Suburban editor-in-chief Beryl Wajsman. The audience, too, featured Jews aplenty – which isn’t surprising given that Peterson has become Canada’s foremost foe of political correctness. For obvious historical reasons, many Jews tend to be suspicious of dogmas, inquisitions and witch hunts aimed at rooting out heretics and purifying the soul.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when students at Evergreen State College tried to segregate their campus last year as part of a misguided diversity initiative, it was a lone Jewish professor, Bret Weinstein, who stood up to the mob. And at the New York Times, one of the few columnists carrying the flag for the Peterson-led anti-political correctness brigades is Jewish Tablet alum Bari Weiss. Meanwhile, yet another member of the tribe – Bret Weinstein’s brother Eric – gave this growing, free-thinking, anti-tribal movement it’s catchy new name: the “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW).
For obvious historical reasons, many Jews tend to be suspicious of dogmas, inquisitions and witch hunts aimed at rooting out heretics and purifying the soul.
Even if Peterson himself isn’t Jewish, the sheer number of Jews in the IDW is enough to make hash of Ari Feldman’s scaremongering. Indeed, at least one prominent leftist recently made the opposite claim about the IDW’s relationship with Jews. “Can someone please tell me the views of the members of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ that make them ‘non-tribal’ dissidents?” asked the Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald. “They seem to be purely tribal to me: mostly white male Westerners, often Jewish, who defend the U.S. and Israel and rail against Islam.”
So which is it? Is Peterson an agent of anti-Semitism, or a neo-con enabler of the Zionist swarm? To any fair-minded judge of this righteous Canadian gentile, the obvious answer is: none of the above.