Professor Marc Lamont Hill (of “from the river to the sea” fame) is currently feuding with Mizrahi Israeli activist Hen Mazzig. Following Mazzig’s Los Angeles Times op-ed about why Israel isn’t a country of rich, white Europeans — rather a diverse country of mostly Mizrahi Jewish refugees, Hill decided to attack Mizrahi identity and again force us to discuss the whiteness (or lack thereof) of Jewish people.
I recall a dinner one night where I found myself having to explain the complexities “white Jews” like myself face politically and in the social justice world. One apt metaphor came to mind: we’re basically Schrodinger’s White Person. We’re both white and nonwhite at the same time. You know, like Schrodinger’s cat: the thought experiment that says a cat in a sealed box with poison can be both alive and dead at the same time until the box is unsealed.
A couple months back, I was alerted to the fact a white supremacist Twitter account was making collages of Jewish people on Twitter (mainly focusing on women and LGBTQ+ people) about how we’re all “posing” as white people to talk shit about the White Race™ when we’re actually just Jews.
I was included in their campaign, as well as fellow writer and activist Ariel Sobel.
A white supremacist account (@TheEuropeanMan1) with 5k followers created a profile marking me a Jew who spoke out against racism.
Many others have been profiled. They’re building an archive of us.
— Ariel Sobel (@arielsobelle) March 13, 2019
To @TheEuropeanMan1, we clearly aren’t white, despite our fair skin.
A couple days after that ordeal, a leftist Tunisian-German guy took to Twitter to call me a “Zio” (a term coined by David Duke, I should note) and insisted that I’m actually a white supremacist myself because I’m too white to be considered oppressed and I support Israel’s existence.
Let’s be clear: I am an American Jewish woman. I’m a feminist. I am bisexual. I’m progressive. I grew up low-income in a single mother household. My paternal grandparents fled Poland during World War II. If it wasn’t for their bravery, I quite literally would not be here.
In terms of Israel, a country I am not a citizen nor resident of, I am pro two-state solution. I’m against the nationalistic Netanyahu government and believe Israel should withdraw their West Bank settlements. While I believe that Israel should have a Jewish national identity, this does not mean I think non-Jews should be considered lesser. I think all citizens of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnicity, should have the same rights, protections, and opportunities. So this is why I am also opposed to Netanyahu’s racist Nation-State bill.
I think my beliefs are pretty moderate, pretty reasonable. But in leftist social justice spaces, to be accepted as a “good Jew” and to have your experiences of antisemitism taken seriously, you must be flat-out against Israel. There’s no room for nuance here, which I found out the hard way after Students for Justice in Palestine defaced the article I wrote for my school paper about the experience of being gay and Jewish. An article I was really proud of, focusing mainly on American rabbis and queer American Jews, was scrawled with “STOP PINKWASHING APARTHEID.” As one of the paper’s editors, I invited the SJP branch to submit their own op-ed. They declined. That was the first and last time I ever spoke of my Jewishness on campus.
In another instance, I attended the Decolonize This Place tour of the Natural History Museum on Columbus Day in 2016. I enjoyed learning about the history of the museum from an alternative perspective and agreed with a lot of what was being said about the exploitation of certain cultures and theft of artifacts on display. The majority of the tour focused on the plight of Native Americans in the United States, and how Columbus Day should be Indigenous Peoples Day instead (a sentiment I completely agree with). But after the tour, when we all gathered outside as the leaders put a giant plastic bag over the monument of Teddy Roosevelt, a chant of “Free, Free, Free Palestine!” broke out. Not relevant to the immediate topic at hand, I instantly felt unwelcome and like I didn’t belong. I was confused as to why a movement about indigenous rights and decolonization would have such a narrow understanding of the history of the land that is now Israel.
While many leftists in the West view the world in a very simplistic fashion of oppressed vs. oppressor (with white skinned people being the oppressor), this way of thinking doesn’t apply to all the nuances and complexities of the Middle East. This is why I cringe when I hear anyone refer to Israel as “settler-colonial.” They’re under the impression that all Jews are white European settlers displacing the Palestinians. This is inaccurate on multiple levels.
For one, Jewish people — all Jewish people — are indigenous to the Levant (the region that is now Israel). We do not have any real ties to Europe, and in fact, about 90% of European Jews don’t feel safe or welcome in their respective countries anymore.
It also ignores the fact that most Jews in Israel are actually Mizrahi, from the Arab world. They were expelled from countries like Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen and found refuge in the newly-established state of Israel. To assume they are “white” but Palestinians are not poses many problems when trying to fit Jewish identity into this limited construction of whiteness. This nuance comes into play yet again with Hill’s recent comments directed at Mazzig.
Too Jewish to be accepted by the far right and too white to be accepted by the far left, white American Jews are basically living in a political no man’s land. While a whopping 75% of American Jews regularly vote Democrat, the new brand of leftism that’s gaining political prominence makes Jewish people and our allies feel like we’re on shaky ground. For one, there’s Ilhan Omar’s repeated use of anti-Semitic dog whistles, which led to a couple of pro-Palestinian NYU students to accost Chelsea Clinton at a vigil for those who were slain at a New Zealand mosque. Clinton, who was invited to the vigil, was cornered as she was single handedly blamed for the shooting across the globe. Their reasoning? Chelsea Tweeted about how using antisemitic tropes when Omar was discussing Israel is harmful. This, it seems, is akin to Islamophobia and somehow played a role in the incident involving white Christian supremacist’s violence in New Zealand that targeted Muslims.
“I want you to know that, and I want you to feel that deep down inside,” the student, wearing a Bernie Sanders shirt, told Clinton. “Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there.”
These two students who filmed their harassment of Clinton and posted it to Twitter weren’t the only ones trying to scapegoat Jews for this atrocious act of white supremacist terrorism. After the Christchurch massacre, Bob Bland of the National Women’s March shared a post that blamed the “Jewish Establishment.”
Nevermind the fact that the shooter’s manifesto listed Donald Trump as an inspiration for the attack. Nevermind that the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
On Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib’s first day in office, a friend of hers wrote “PALESTINE” on a Post-It and stuck it over Israel on the map. People like Tlaib, who believe in only a one-state solution called Palestine and are vehemently pro-BDS, give me pause. They truly make me fear for the direction the Democratic party is taking. While it’s great that the freshman Congress members are overwhelmingly diverse, I can’t help but worry about far-left ideologies seeping into the more moderate mainstream.
On the right, I know people like myself will never, ever belong. While some Jews are one-issue voters, with that issue being Israel, I don’t think any of the Republicans honestly and legitimately care about the Jewish people. There are the Philosemites and Christian Zionists who act pro-Israel, but for their own creepy religious end of bringing on Armageddon once all the Jews return to Israel. In light of Ilhan Omar’s unfortunate comments, Republicans like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were quick to come to Israel’s defense. But, like I said, I don’t believe their opportunistic defense of America’s Jewish community was sincere.
So, where do “White Jews” in America belong politically? Where do we belong in social justice communities? Antisemitism is definitely the hammer that forges the horseshoe theory, so where do we go from here?
I am not registered as a Democrat nor a Republican, and I do not see that changing anytime soon. I’d personally rather be politically homeless than have to censor my Jewish identity in one way or another to appease the American goyim running the show.
While right-wing antisemitism is definitely more directly frightening, left-wing antisemitism is more existentially terrifying… these are people who are meant to be my allies, so why am I being held to a different standard because I’m ethnically and culturally Jewish?
Being opposed to antisemitism and being opposed to Islamophobia are not mutually exclusive, though some people clearly believe otherwise. Jews and Muslims are by no means natural enemies. In fact, throughout history, Jews and Muslims have been allies. For example, during the Crusades in the Middle Ages, both faiths worked together to fend off the Christian invaders. I really wish we could band together again to tackle the true threat facing both our communities: the rise in white supremacist Christian terrorism.
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