October 30, 2023 - 7:00am

Back in the early days of California’s ascendancy, the state was described as “the Jews’ early paradise”, a place where the lack of social norms, and enormous opportunities, were ideal for enterprising people unmoored from conventional business ties. In the years ahead, Jews spearheaded much of California’s banking, garment and later entertainment businesses.

In the ensuing years Jews have also become prominent in real estate and in Silicon Valley. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, is Jewish, as is Mark Zuckerberg. Both Russian refuseniks and venturesome Israelis have played key roles in the Valley. Yet in the Valley, outside of refusals to attend a conference organised by an entrepreneur who criticised Israel, very little has been said about the massacre. 

Overall there isn’t much identification with Jewish causes from people like Zuckerberg, whose tribal commitments are tiny compared to his massive efforts elsewhere, notably in influencing elections. Meanwhile gentile executives, like Apple’s Tim Cook, have been particularly reluctant to weigh in too heavily — perhaps not to offend his pro-Palestine Chinese backers — with anything like his passion on climate and other “social justice” causes.

Much of this passivity stems from the reflexively progressive politics that dominate the Bay Area. This makes many Jews wary of groups like AIPAC, the powerful Israel lobby with strong Republican ties. “A lot of them are more concerned with their social justice profile than their Judaism,” longtime Jewish activist and Palo Alto native Nickolas Targ tells me, in an area where “secular progressivism is part of the air.”

The very tech companies that prated most about issues like transgender rights, climate change and George Floyd seem to have become less loquacious when it comes to slaughtering Jews. “A number of leaders who were outspoken for #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo are amazingly quiet on this,” adds Rony Abovitz, a Florida-based tech entrepreneur who has worked closely with firms like Google and competed against Meta. “The PR people pressure CEOs to say nothing (or very vanilla things) so as not to offend global customers.”

This occurs in part to not upset customers who might be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, despite Hamas. It also reflects their fear, as the Bay Area Council’s Jim Wunderman suggests to me, of their own activist employees, who breathe the same progressive air. In addition, three-quarters of the Valley workforce is foreign, and includes many from Muslim-majority countries like Egypt and Pakistan as well as Palestine.

Ironically this is occurring, as Abovitz argues, as ties between Israel’s “startup nation” and big companies have been expanding. Yet ties to Israel and Jewish entrepreneurs have had little impact on the big shots not only in Silicon Valley, but even in Hollywood. Organisations like the Writers Guild, quick to embrace every fashionable Left-wing cause, have remained noticeably neutral in the current struggle. 

Some Hollywood elites — including Maha Dakhil, co-head of motion pictures at CAA — have accused Israel of “genocide”, leading at least one client, star writer Adam Sorkin, to break ties. But Hollywood remains in the grip of progressivism: two thousand actors signed a statement outlining  Israel’s “war crimes” with no mention of Hamas’s atrocities.

This weak California response contrasts with that in the more traditional realm of investment banks, notably hedge funds, law firms and Jewish-controlled companies on the East Coast. Jewish donors such as Limited founder Les Wexner, Idan Offer, Mark Rowan and Bill Ackman have pulled away their commitments to the Ivies. This may reflect in part that, unlike the tech oligarchs, these people actually own their companies and can avoid genuflecting for progressive approval.

What happens next to California’s 1.2 million Jews is hard to predict, but a lot of the indicators are less than friendly. The state’s adopted ethnic studies programme is openly anti-Zionist and largely dismisses Jews as yet another group of white oppressors. Like the tragic children of Gaza, Californian youth are being groomed to hate Israel, and along with it perhaps the people who live there.

Some think that groups like Democratic Majority for Israel, with considerable financial resources, can halt the pro-Palestine trend and keep their acolytes from gaining more power. One should hope they are right, but trends in California politics seem to be drifting further to the progressive Left, which is good news for Hamas and bad for the future of this most celebrated Jewish community.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter.