‘Non-white’ US Jews are still an embattled minority

 Reading about the making of the film Aladdin, Dani Ishai Behan was astonished to discover that the actors playing the main Arab characters in the 1992 version were Ashkenazi Jews, yet they have been described as ‘white’. Read Behan’s excellent blog in the Times of Israel:

fact, it is part of a wider pattern of refusing to acknowledge the Levantine
origins/ethnic identity of Ashkenazi Jews — something no one had ever denied
before 1948. The reasons why this is bullshit – not to mention antisemitic — have been discussed at length in
previous articles. But just to recap…

If we are “white,” then we are not indigenous to the Middle East

21st century parlance, essentially anyone of non-European descent (bar one
obvious exception) is considered a person of color, even when their skin is the
same shade as talcum powder (see: Linda Sarsour). And because the Middle East
spans Western Asia and Northern Africa, Middle Easterners are by and large
excluded from the ambit of whiteness. The Jewish people are indigenous to Eretz
Yisra’el, which sits in the Asian part of the Middle East, so it’s natural that
they be considered non-white as well, right?
But our enemies on the left side of the spectrum aren’t having any of it, at
least not anymore. The reason being that if Jews in particular are white but
Middle Easterners writ large are not, then it logically follows that Jews are
not “really” Middle Eastern, therefore we cannot be considered indigenous to
land of Israel and ultimately have no moral claim to it.

such, calling us white airbrushes us out of the Middle East, out of our land,
out of our identity, and out of our rights. This is cultural erasure of the
most insidious order.
like to justify this by claiming that we’ve been in Europe for “too long”, but
this is nonsense. There is no sober intellectual or scholar who would argue
that prolonged displacement and colonization is just cause for depriving a
dispossessed indigenous people of their identity and rights.

2. If we are non-white, the anti-racist left can no longer justify ignoring us 

progressives pride themselves on how closely attuned they are to the
experiences of disadvantaged groups, especially ethnic minorities. In fact, so
attentive they are to how the white majority wields and exercises its privilege
to keep the rest of us at the bottom, that they should be natural allies for
the Jews. But that is not the world we live in.
they have grouped us with the white majority, with the privileged folks perched
at the top of the pecking order (more on that below). In their worldview, we
are not an embattled minority — despite reams of insurmountable evidence
proving that we are — but rather “white people crying about their privilege”.
By situating us inside the white majority, we are denied the critical
protections and solidarity accorded to all other vulnerable groups. And as
anti-Semitism on both sides of the political spectrum grows, Jews are placed in
an increasingly untenable position.
instead of standing with us in our hour of need, the anti-racist left have
abdicated their commitments and responsibilities to the Jews, and become part
of the problem itself.

3. It is an assertion of Jewish distinctiveness and vitality

we are (arguably) the world’s oldest extant victims of colonialism, having
continuously suffered from it for over 2000+ years, anti-Semitism has always
had a built-in totalizing nature. In other words, anti-Semitism’s main function
is to dilute Jewish identity, deny our peoplehood, and incorporate us (either
by coercion or force) into the identity of our oppressors – or, if that doesn’t
work, genocide us. That is how anti-Semitism has worked ever since its
inception, in every place it has ever existed.

ancient Israel, Greek (and later Roman) colonists sought to impose
Western/Hellenistic identity on us. Through their efforts to root out Jewish
religion, language, and culture, they hoped that we would abandon our
“barbaric” ways and become “civilized”. These efforts culminated in a series of
Jewish revolts. And although we successfully managed to repel the Greeks (see:
Hanukkah), the Romans defeated us and carried a large numbers of Jews off to
Europe as slaves, subsequently renaming our country Syria-Palaestina
(Syria-Palestine, after the Assyrians and Philistines respectively). But
despite all of that, their efforts to destroy the Jewish people were ultimately

yet, the Jewish exiles in Europe would soon face a new threat in the form of
Christianity — a Jewish religion appropriated by Europeans and infused with
European paganism. Over the next 15 centuries, Europe would try again and again
to wipe us out via conversion and assimilation to Western culture, with each
failure ending in yet another expulsion or massacre (usually both). But once
again, the Jewish people emerged intact.

the same time, Arabs began colonizing and occupying large swathes of Asia
(Israel included), all of North Africa, and various parts of Europe. Although
their treatment of the Jews was markedly less violent than that of their
European counterparts (at least insofar as we “knew our place”), they were no
less determined to see us disappear. Initially, they believed that we would
either mass convert to Islam, or languish in dhimmitude (second class status)
until we died off. The success of Zionism shattered this view, and from that
point forward their brand of antisemitism took on a decisively “European”
(read: genocidal) slant. But thus far, their (still ongoing) efforts to
annihilate us have ended in failure.

Enlightenment Europe, Jews living in the Western hemisphere continued to be
regarded as savages, as well as an uncultured Oriental (this was before
Zionism, so the revisionist theory that Jews are “European converts/not really
Semites” hadn’t been invented yet) menace who, by all rights, should be mass
deported back to the Middle East. Enter Napoleon, whose unprecedented offer of
full legal equality and citizenship to the Jews came at a cost that almost no
self-respecting minority today would accept: abandon their ethnic identity and
become “good Frenchmen”. As noble as this offer might have seemed at the time,
it didn’t change the fact that Jews were once again being called upon to erase
themselves. Moreover, as the Jews were the most conspicuous non-European
diaspora living in Europe at the time, racial differences often got in the way,
as the Dreyfus Affair (and later the Holocaust) would soon show.

This Ashkenazi actor playing in Aladdin is classified as ‘white’

brings us to North America. Although our experiences on this continent
initially bore many similarities to what we experienced in Europe, North
American anti-Semites (hardcore white nationalists notwithstanding) soon took
notice of the fact that overt expressions of racism – including antisemitism –
were going out of style, and embraced what appears to be an amended version of
the Napoleon strategy. In other words, their new hope is that North American
Jews (i.e. the largest Jewish population outside of Israel) will continue
divorcing themselves of their ethnic identity, assimilate, and fade away into
“whiteness”. Assimilation will inevitably bring about a decline in religious
observance as well, and once the Jewish state (that *infuriating* guarantor of
Jewish safety, vitality, and permanence) is abolished, the Jewish people will
(finally!) take their rightful place in the dustbin of history, as we should
have done centuries ago.

Jews collectively identifying as non-white, thereby re-asserting their
distinctiveness and demanding *real* solutions to anti-Semitism, throws a
wrench into this process. It reads as a declaration of Jewish defiance: “NO! We
will not abandon our Jewishness. We will not disappear. We will survive and we
will force you to account for your anti-Semitism, by any means necessary.”
Obviously, it’s just more torture for people whose fondest wish is that we
would just go away.

 4. It is a crippling blow against the hyperpower myth 

Notions of Jewish “whiteness” often interlock with classic anti-Semitic beliefs in very intriguing ways. For example, they dovetail rather nicely with the age-old Orientalist myth of Jewish hyperpower. The leap from “Jews are white” to “Jews are privileged” (which is itself packed with anti-Semitic connotations) is pretty damned small, and it’s not a far step from there to “Jews are powerful” to “Jews control the banks” to “Jews control the US government” to “Jews are conspiring against us all” to “Jews are malicious tentacle monsters bent on world domination” to “Jews already control the entire world and are a threat to mankind”. But this Jenga tower of anti-Semitism falls apart pretty quickly once you pull out the “Jews are white” block, unless you’re a neo-Nazi.

Read article in full 

More about ‘white’ Jews and ‘Jews of color’


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.