This article was originally published in Space Coast Daily on July 24th, 2023, written by Space Coast Daily.
The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) movement is ostensibly intended to promote a deeper understanding and fairer treatment of those from historically marginalized communities.
However, in practice, DEI threatens to undermine core American values and the right of Jewish Americans to live securely within their Jewish identities.
That’s the argument made by Israel-American philanthropist and community leader Adam Milstein, an immigrant to the United States who built a successful business and now acts as a venture philanthropist. His focus, including his work with the Milstein Family Foundation, which he runs with his wife, Gila Milstein, is to strengthen American democracy, support the U.S.-Israel alliance, and combat antisemitism, hatred and bigotry in all forms.
Adam Milstein fears the current approach to DEI is harmful to Jewish Americans, including university students.
In an opinion piece written for the Jerusalem Post, he writes that DEI “has been deployed to advance a radical agenda that undermines fundamental American values by promoting equality of outcome over equality of opportunity, collective identity (race, gender, etc.) over individual character, censorship of opposing viewpoints over freedom of speech, and a victim culture that crudely bifurcates society into oppressors and oppressed.”
Who Is Adam Milstein?
Adam Milstein was born in Israel and moved to the U.S. in 1981 to pursue an MBA degree at USC. He served in the Israeli Defense Force during the Yom Kippur War. Once he arrived in the U.S., he built a successful career in commercial real estate in California, where he still lives.
Through the Milstein Family Foundation, Adam and Gila support tens of nonprofit organizations that strengthen U.S.-Israel ties and fights antisemitism. Some of the programs of these nonprofits support the Jewish community and the wider community, including people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
For example, the foundation supports organizations that combat antisemitism on college campuses and support numerous organizations that work to strengthen American democratic values
The Prevalence of DEI in the United States
In a relatively short amount of time, American universities, as well as the government and many corporations, have embraced DEI. For example, one study that looked at the staff for 65 universities in the five major collegiate athletic conferences found that, on average, staff hired to focus on DEI outnumbered history professors.
The study also found that, on average, the DEI staff at these universities outnumbered, by a factor of 4.2, the number of people on staff focused on helping disabled students. The average number of people each university employs to focus on DEI has reached 45.
However, rather than bring people together, many DEI programs seem to have divided people into different social identity groups that constantly remain at odds with each other, Adam Milstein wrote in the JPost, especially the groups identified as “oppressed” vs. those identified as “oppressors.”
As the number of people dedicated to DEI has grown, so have troubling instances of antisemitic beliefs. In perhaps the most well-known case, Google had to remove the leader of its diversity team after a social media post surfaced in which he wrote that the Jewish people “have an insatiable appetite for war.” He also wrote that Jews have an “insensitivity” toward the suffering of others.
Unfortunately, the Google case is far from the only one. A Heritage Foundation study of the social media accounts of 741 DEI personnel from 65 American universities found that “the overwhelming pattern” is that they pay great attention to Israel and nearly always attack Israel.
At the same time, antisemitic incidents have reached an all-time high, according to the Anti-Defamation League, including a 50% increase in these incidents on college campuses and in schools in 2022 alone.
“Rather than promoting diversity and inclusion, universities may be contributing to an increase in anti-Jewish hatred by expanding DEI staff and power,” the Heritage Foundation study stated.
The Destructive Power of “Erasive Antisemitism”
Adam Milstein argues that the rise of DEI, its ties to critical race theory, and the increase in antisemitic acts all signal a trend that threatens to harm the Jewish people but also undermines American values.
“Erasive antisemitism is destructive because it denies the ability of Jews – a people from geographic Asia, some of whom were forcibly exiled to Europe by the Roman forerunners of Western Civilization, who against all odds persistently maintained our own unique Jewish Civilization through two thousand years of statelessness – to claim and celebrate our own identity,” he wrote in the Jerusalem Post.
He notes that some have incorrectly compared the DEI movement to the cultural change that happened in the U.S. in the 1960s. Adam Milstein noted that in the 1960s, “There were still strong feelings of sympathy for the Jewish people who had survived the Holocaust and other terrible acts of persecution, such as the expulsion of nearly one million Jews from Muslim countries after the independence of Israel.”
He continued, “These led Jews to be early and prominent leaders in the Civil Rights movement, like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel was a close confidant of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and marched alongside him in Selma in solidarity.”
That same sense of solidarity does not seem present in the modern DEI movement. Milstein noted that college students who work in DEI call for killing “Zionists” but are not reprimanded by their university. In another case, a college professor reportedly harangued Jewish students in a DEI class about their supposed power and privilege during DEI classes and also brought in antisemitic speakers.
Weaponizing DEI Against Jewish Students
Adam Milstein particularly voiced concern about the impact DEI is having on students. Noting what DEI staffers at universities say about Israel on social media, he voiced concerns about the harm caused to Jews on campus.
“The average university now employs is close to 50 45 DEI staffers. These small armies rarely celebrate Jewish identity or work towards our inclusion; far more often, they exclude and marginalize Jews on campus and label them as white privilege, whether or not this matches their self-identity,” he wrote.
University staff have also started raising warning flags about what is happening on campus. Two Stanford University employees filed state and federal complaints, alleging that the university’s DEI program created a hostile environment for Jewish employees. Their attorney noted that while the program’s stated intent was to support diversity and inclusion, “What happened, in reality, is that those goals were undermined and perverted because what they did instead promoted prejudice and bigotry against one group.”
Adam Milstein noted that some of those involved in DEI programs voice ideas that fall under the working definition of antisemitism from the widely-adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That definition includes: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”; “Applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”; “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”; and “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”
“College DEI staffers have demonstrated all of these – establishing college campuses as unfriendly and unwelcoming spaces for young Jews,” Adam Milstein wrote. He added, “A generation of college students is being governed by an ideology hostile to Jews that are inculcating ideas about our community that are very different from the principles that our faith embodies, and the United States purports to champion.”
A Call to Reevaluate DEI
Teaching cultural diversity and inclusion through a method that excludes an entire sector of the population is harming both Jewish students and the American people as a whole, Adam Milstein wrote. He called for people at the highest levels of government, education, and the corporate world to reevaluate the current approach to DEI.
“As I have repeatedly warned… antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem – it is an American problem,” he wrote. “DEI policies may disproportionately target and harm Jewish students, but the DEI agenda ultimately seeks to undermine and replace fundamental American values and replace it with its own radical vision. As we’ve seen before, what starts with elites quickly spreads to society as a whole.”
He called for changes that allowed people from all cultures to live safely within their identity, including the Jewish people. He also called for an end to the public comments by DEI leaders that disparage support for Israel. He listed the establishment of the Jewish state as “one of the integral aspects of Jewish Civilization.”
He said the alternative to reevaluating DEI means continuing down a troubling path that leads to harmful actions and, at the extreme, a continued rise in antisemitism.
“If American institutions continue to adopt and reflect extreme DEI ideologies, Jews will suffer,” Adam Milstein wrote. “For as George Orwell presciently wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”