‘Jews of color’ push back at identity politics

The myth that all Jews are white is  gaining ground on US campuses and in politics – and nowhere more than in that crucible of liberalism on American’s West Coast, where identity politics are the new orthodoxy. This week’s Jewish Journal (of Los Angeles)  has as its cover storyThe Forgotten Jews of Color. The magazine aims to tackle two main myths: that all Israelis are from Europe; that all Ashkenazi Jews are white. The third article tells how Jews who are neither Ashkenazi nor Mizrahi can still be accepted as part of the Jewish people.

 Defining Israel in Black and White by Shahar Azani:

The narrative of Mizrahi Jews does not and should not exist only as a
counterreaction to that of Palestinian refugees. It is much more than a
bargaining chip on the table. It is a story very much worth telling. As
mentioned above, Zionism drove many members of the ancient Yemenite
Jewish community to arrive in Israel in 1881. Those early pioneers, who
were lucky enough to survive the journey, faced difficulties upon
arrival in the Land of Israel. They were rejected by some of their
Ashkenazi brothers and sisters, who doubted their Judaism.

The ignorance did not end there. While Mizrahi Jews were many and
present in Israel’s culture and everyday life, the country’s educational
system for too long taught Western Jewish history to the letter while
only slightly touching on the history of Mizrahi Jews, if at all. This
lack of knowledge contributed to the marginalization of this important
community in the overall Israeli narrative.

In response, the Israeli government has taken important steps in
recent years to narrow the gap. Israel’s Ministry for Social Equality in
2016 allocated about $2.5 million in U.S. dollars for a special project
to document the stories, heritage and history of Jews who immigrated to
Israel from Arab lands. The goal is to collect personal testimonials
from Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews — their lives before they made aliyah,
their situation when they left or were expelled from their homes, and
the story of their absorption into modern Israel. Upon announcing this
national project, Minister Gila Gamliel stated: “This is not a uniquely
Mizrahi interest but a national, Jewish and Zionist interest. From now
on, the Jewish story will be more complete, and Israeli citizens young
and old will get to hear, study and become familiar with both the
Eastern and Western sides of the glorious heritage of the Jewish

Read article in full 

 We’re Jews, we’re not white, we define ourselves by Karen Lehrman Bloch:

I wrote a column about that fact this past summer, titled, “We, the
Israelites.” The response was mostly positive, but I was intrigued by
the negative reactions. Some Jews, no matter how religious or Zionist,
didn’t want their whiteness taken away from them. They essentially told
me to back off.

I no longer discuss these types of things with my dad, who just
turned 89. But if he were younger and I said to him that I no longer
identify as white, he would flip out. He would be angry, but more than
anything he would be scared. I realized the same fear was underlying the
responses of some of my friends.

This conversation probably would have continued in the backwaters of
the web if it weren’t for the current practitioners of identity
politics. In the past six months, Jews have been told:

  • We are inexorably white and thus responsible for colonialism, the slave trade and mass incarceration.
  • We are white supremacists, and thus responsible for all racism and oppression.
  • We are white and thus incapable of being persecuted — past and present. 
  • The Holocaust was a white-on-white crime and thus of little import. We should stop “centering” ourselves!
  • As part of the white European ruling caste, we are the primary beneficiaries of white privilege.
  • We are responsible for tragedies like New Zealand, especially if we
    dare to call out anti-Semitism (which doesn’t really exist because we
    are white).

We are once again being defined by others, and not just by any
others, but by others who have an agenda that includes, at the very
least, the destruction of Israel.

Read article in full

One Nation, Many faces by Michael Freund

One Comment

  • I found the following quote in an academic article. It bears on the issue of skin color which in my mind is a red herring in the Jewish-Arab conflict:

    Arguments based on alleged Jewish skin color also emerged to support the notion of Jews as alien to the Middle East. In the 1960s, some extreme “left” and other publications claimed that the Jews (or “Zionists”) had built their homeland in a country of “non-white people.” This insinuated that Jews were “white” in contrast to “non-white” Arabs, and hence did not “belong” in the Middle East. This argument overlooked the traditional Arab self-image as “white” vis-à-vis Black people.[xx] Further, the Nazi dogma of “non-white” inferiority had not stopped most Arab nationalists from allying or sympathizing with the Nazis. [Nor did it stop hitler from accepting Arab help and adulation]

    It is interesting in this context, that George DuMaurier’s novel Trilby, a best-seller in Britain in the 1890s, featured a Jewish villain who was both swarthy and personified evil. The villain takes advantage of a pure white, innocent maiden, thus combining the themes of the Jew as dark alien and the Jew as evildoer. Note that DuMaurier identified the swarthy evildoer as a Polish Jew.[xxi]

    In fact, a wide range of skin colors characterizes both Jews –including European Jews, Ashkenazim– and Arabs. Perhaps for this reason, the charge of “white” Jews despoiling “non-white” Arabs is nowadays seldom to be found. But reasoning based on empirical facts is in any case in short supply nowadays, indeed it is out of fashion when speaking of Israel where often unreason rules.


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