Strident anti-Zionist voices on the left of the US Democratic party are trying to distance Ashkenazi Jews from their ancestral homeland in Israel by calling them ‘white Jews’. Joshua Robbin Marks writes in The Times of Israel that Ashkenazi Jews who are conditioned also to describe themselves as ‘white’ need to de-colonise their minds: all Jews are Middle Eastern.
On a recent Friday night I learned about the Jews of Turkey at a
Shabbat sponsored by JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and
North Africa) which took place at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in
the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. When I told the woman sitting
across from me at the dinner following services that I am 100 percent
Ashkenazi Jewish she seemed surprised and replied “but you look Middle
Ashkenazi Jews: ‘non-white’
This response also occurred at a similar JIMENA Shabbat at the
same Sephardic synagogue last year when we learned about the Jews of
Libya. Same surprised look. Same response to me being Ashkenazi. That I
look Middle Eastern.
My response is always that we are Middle Eastern. Many Ashkenazi Jews are phenotypically Middle Eastern or Mediterranean reflecting modern genetic studies
that attribute at least half of our DNA ancestry to the East
Mediterranean/Levantine Middle East which Israel is right in the middle
of – where the ethnogenesis of the Jewish people took place thousands of
years ago and where Diaspora Jews originated.
The reality is that on a genetic level there is virtually no
difference between Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews except that
Ashkenazi Jews have slightly more European admixture reflecting our long
sojourn on the European continent dating back to Roman times and even
earlier in the Mediterranean Diaspora to Greek times.
Ashkenazim only came together as a distinct Jewish subgroup around
900 years ago in the Rhineland. Before that we were Italian Jews
(Italkim) and before that Roman Jews and before that we were Judeans and
before that Israelites – the same ancient source population that was
exiled or voluntarily left the Land of Israel as traders and merchants
across the Mediterranean, Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
This is where the Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews came from – the same
source population as Ashkenazi Jews with later admixture events in the
But if Ashkenazi Jews are at least half Middle Eastern and probably
more in nearly all cases, then why do anti-Israel activists such as
Linda Sarsour call us “white Jews” or the “white Jewish community” when
Sarsour as a self-described Person of Color is actually lighter-skinned
than many Ashkenazi Jews that she calls white? And why do so many
Ashkenazi Jews call themselves “white Jews” as a juxtaposition with
“Jews of Color” when many of them actually have darker features and look
more Middle Eastern than the JOC that they so badly want to be seen as
virtue signaling allies of?
What is going on with the likes of Sarsour, Rashida Tlaib and other
anti-Israel leaders is an attempt to distance Ashkenazi Jews from our
ancestral homeland by calling us white Jews as part of the effort to
portray Israel as a European colonial project that forcefully displaced
the native Palestinians rather than seeing the Zionist movement as the
return of an indigenous people to their ancestral homeland not to
displace anyone but to reinvigorate the Jewish people and our traditions
in our birthplace and to provide a safe haven from anti-Semitism that
has too often turned violent and even genocidal in the case of the
They call themselves POC as a way to deflect any criticism of their
positions even though Sarsour herself has stated that when she removes
the hijab she is seen as a white woman and again Sarsour is
lighter-skinned than many Jews she labels white.
The Ashkenazi Jews who call themselves white Jews have not
acknowledged our Middle Eastern ancestry or don’t want to. They only
look at our recent experience in Europe or that they might be
light-skinned and presume that Ashkenazi Jews are native to Europe
despite many genetic studies finding that we have substantial Middle
Eastern ancestry with later European admixture events.