Our natural allies are not intersectional activists and their flak, but hard-working people of any skin color.
Earlier this month, #MyFirstAntisemiticExperience was trending on U.S. Twitter.
I don’t remember my first anti-Semitic experience; I have no idea who pushed me and called me a traitor first.
My first encounter with Jew-hatred had probably taken place before I knew I was Jewish. It’s likely that I couldn’t process it as such because I didn’t have much language at the time. All I know is that the schoolyard-bully form of anti-Semitism was a constant feature of my childhood. I do remember my worst anti-Semitic experience, but I’d rather not share.
Judging by the hashtag above, the American suburban Ashkenazim tend to be sheltered from Jew-hate until college, or even grad school. It doesn’t mean that I rank above them on the grievance poll, and that they have to shut up and sit down. However, I think I know a certain kind of anti-Semite.
I can tell you about my wildest experience with anti-Semitism in the United States. It was in the late 1990’s, when I lived in downtown Oakland. There was a lonely second-hand dress store in my neighborhood, and one day I decided to check it out. The owner, a black man with a thick accent and dilated blood-shot eyes, had a row of vintage coats hanging on a rack, but none of them were my size. I was on my way out when he engaged me in a conversation. He said he was from Africa, and asked me where I was from. I don’t know how it came up, but it transpired that I am Jewish—I don’t exactly make a secret of it these days. At that point he said that he’s not an anti-Semite because when he was living on the streets of New York, addicted to crack, a Jewish man saved him. Next, he added that the Jews and Illuminati rule the world.
Admittedly, that was nuttier than any charge ever thrown at me in the Soviet Union. And a few blocks away, at the entrance of the 14th Street BART station, Nation of Islam brothers were selling The Final Call.
So there we stood, facing each other. Me—white, young, educated, foreign-born (a plus in my case), and him— black, foreign-born (likely a minus, for him), downtrodden. And I was about to embark on the mission to oppress him, already plotting how I’m going to go to a party and tell every living soul about that little adventure of mine. Which is not going to do much for his business. Granted, I’m not sure how much of a business it was to begin with: he never seemed to have any customers but managed to stay open. And what has that fellow done to me? He didn’t punch me, he didn’t even threaten extermination of the entire Jewish race.
I was thinking of that incident when I read an opinion piece by Ariel Sobel at The Forward. After admitting that she’d been “gaslit” by her comrades in college, Sobel, who ended up attending the Women’s March last weekend, said:
Many white-skinned Jews insist on being recognized as people of color because when you say you’re under attack for being a Jew, it’s often not enough to warrant protection. All across the spectrum, non-Jewish people feel they have the right to tell us what is anti-Semitic. They tell us we have no license to complain. They claim to be more qualified on the subject of what is anti-Semitic and what isn’t than the people who are harmed by it. This tactic revictimizes us regularly.
We need to directly combat that. What we don’t need to do it [sic] conflate our oppression with that of people of color in the hopes that then we will be perceived as the marginalized group we are, rather than just whining white people.
That article is titled “Can We Finally Admit That Jews Can Be Both White and Oppressed?”. Scotch-Irish may have a different opinion on that whole white and oppressed topic, but I find the word oppressed too cringingly Marxist. The language of post-Marxism is too blunt of an instrument to apply to Jewish history—or to most of human history.
Like everyone else, Jews in this country are not oppressed, but we have a well-founded existential anxiety because our ancient, flourishing communities in places as remote as Babylon and Iberia have been destroyed. And it’s not always easy to predict where the menace would come from, either. Who, in the late 19th century, would have anticipated that it’s the Russian Jews, not as Jews, but as soldiers in the Red Army, who came to the rescue of German Jews in 1945, and not vice versa?
Intersectional Jews imagine that they will hug their sisters and brothers in solidarity of the marginalized, show good allyship, define their own oppressions, and rightfully earn a place on the grievance totem, which will somehow guarantee them, American Jews, protection. I find it hopelessly naive.
Anti-Semitism is often the ideology of the downtrodden who seek to explain their misfortunes by an intervention of a malicious conspiracy, and need a scapegoat to avenge their inadequacy. Any Russian can quote you the opening lines of a song about anti-Semitism by Vladimir Vysotsky, the half Jewish vox populi of late socialism:
Why should I count myself among the punks and bandits
When I can be one of anti-Semites?
That holds true of anti-Semitism in the Arab World today where corrupt, backwards elites draw attention from their own failings to Zionist-bashing.
Sobel thinks that we shouldn’t be overstepping our boundaries and demand being considered people of color, a hot topic now. Sure, dear. I mark white in official documents; I use C2 MAC compact powder foundation, the second lightest makeup hue, so if I were to rob a bank, and witnesses describe me as white to policemen, they won’t be wrong. And while my culture is more European than that of my friends and neighbors, neither that nor the color of my skin tells much about my history.
It doesn’t matter that when the Second Wave of feminism was formed Jewish women at its helm were considered ethnic. They are now retroactively white, and we need women of color in feminism. Jews are more than white. When The Forward‘s reporter went to a Black Movement Center to talk about the recent wave of attacks on Jews by blacks in greater New York, he was told that Jews are now seen as hyperwhite.
Never mind that the victims of the Jew-haters are often Bukharan, and likely haven’t set their foot on the European continent. As Abe Greenwald explained, Jew is what you don’t like, only more so—in this case whitey.
When comrades informed Sobel that she doesn’t get to be a person of color, instead of trying to employ the language of intersectionality, talk of being revicitimizied, or harmed, oppressed, and dismantling power structures, she should be mindful of the power structure within which she works: the power structure that gave us Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Ilhan Omar. She should remind those around her that race is a social construct of limited usefulness. That, for instance, affirmative action privileges middle class blacks and nearly dooms working class Asians.
According to all available data, anti-Semitism in the United Sates is more pervasive among minorities. This is not surprising. Instead of encouraging these groups to think of themselves as victims, Jewish leftists should blow up the paradigm of intersectionality.
Many American non-whites bring their pre-existent Jew-hate into intersectional organizations. Look no further than the Women’s March co-chairs. Affirming their grievance-centered worldview runs the risk of affirming anti-Semitism along with it. Why expect radical black nationalist groups to jump to our defense when their views ally more with those of neo-Nazis? Progressive Jews might just be digging our grave.
Besides, our own experience teaches that the way to get ahead in a republic like ours is not by nursing grievances, but by boring things, like honest hard work. Our natural allies are not intersectional activists and their flak, but hard-working people of any skin color.
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