Sunday, December 23, 2018

Do Jews uphold white supremacy or are we targeted by it?

In today's New York Times article on antisemitism in the Women's March, Tamika Mallory is quoted as saying: 
“Since that conversation, we’ve all learned a lot about how while white Jews, as white people, uphold white supremacy, ALL Jews are targeted by it,” Ms. Mallory said in a statement to The New York Times.
["That conversation" took place during the first meeting of the Women's March organizers, when Mallory and Perez confronted Vanessa Wruble about her Jewish identity and said that Jews have to confront "their role" in racism].

Mallory here is trying (as many others have) to squeeze the situation of Jews in the United States into the historical black/white binary that has existed since the beginning of British colonization in the area that became the United States. 

After the Civil War, and through the early early 20th century this meant that Jews were defined by some white Christians as being of African descent and thus deserved the same miserable treatment that other African people received in this country. 

Jews also tried to figure out what their racial status was - were Jews Caucasians? Or did Jews belong to their own race? Perhaps one that was part of the Caucasian race? (I'm using the term Caucasian because it was then the regnant term). As Jews began to be negatively racialized by non-Jews (sometimes associating Jews with Africans, or seeing Jews as enemies of the Aryan race), some Jews wanted to abandon the idea that they were a separate race and insisted upon being regarded solely as a religion. 

By the end of the Second World War, when Jews, like Italians or eastern Europeans, were being accepted as belonging to the American white population, the notion that Jews were a separate race was losing its attraction (especially since Nazis had condemned Jews to genocide because of their supposed race). (This paragraph and the preceding two are largely based on The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity, published in 2006 by Eric Goldstein).

The widespread success that Jews have had in American society since WWII means that we are now generally considered to be white (see, for example, the success that Jews have had in being elected to the House and Senate, the acceptance of Jews into all areas of American industry, sometimes at the very top, the high median income of Jews, etc.).

But along with the acceptance of Jews into American society, there has been persistent antisemitism, some of it still motivated by religious motives (for example, the accusation that "the Jews" killed Jesus), some of it based in racial antisemitism (like that of the Nazis, and disseminated by David Duke and other antisemites of the radical right), some of it appearing on the left as antisemitism thinly veiled as anti-Zionism. The antisemitism that is part of white nationalism has been very much energized since 2015, first by Trump's presidential campaign and now by his presidency. 

Eric Ward argues in Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism that "American White nationalism, which emerged in the wake of the 1960s civil rights struggle and descends from White supremacism, is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a Whites-only nation, and antisemitism forms its theoretical core." For a graphic example of the close connection between racism and antisemitism in the white nationalist right, see the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, VA, on August 12-13 - at the the torch-lit procession on the campus of the University of Virginia, supposedly held to protect a statue of Robert E. Lee, the marchers chanted "Jews will not replace us."

Ward also writes, "Within social and economic justice movements committed to equality, we have not yet collectively come to terms with the centrality of antisemitism to White nationalist ideology, and until we do we will fail to understand this virulent form of racism rapidly growing in the U.S. today." 

The leaders of the Women's March have failed in just this way, not understanding the centrality of antisemitism to white nationalism. In their case, it means that they believe(d) that antisemitism really isn't that big a danger in the US, considering how economically successful Jews are (as a group - by no means are all individual Jews well-off). 

Do Mallory (and the other Women's March leaders?) now truly acknowledge that "all Jews" are targeted by white supremacy? Does they accept a definition of white supremacy that includes Jews as its victims, instead of believing that white supremacy only targeted Black people and/or other people of color?

If so, there's a logical fallacy in Mallory's statement - if all Jews, including white Jews, are targeted by white supremacy, then how can Jews be said to "uphold" it? Light-skinned Jews can and do benefit from white privilege - but certainly not from the ideology and murderous practice of white nationalism. 

The New York Times writes that, "Now Women’s March activists are grappling with how they treat Jews — and whether they should be counted as privileged white Americans or 'marginalized' minorities, especially in the aftermath of the October mass shooting in Pittsburgh, when 11 people were gunned down at their synagogue."

If this is an accurate statement of the corner the Women's March leaders have put themselves into, it shows that their thinking is both incredibly rigid (and lacking in the intersectionality that they boast of), and still very ignorant of the history of the discrimination against and persecution of Jews in the US and other countries. Jews can both be privileged (in the economic sense) and marginalized (as the targets of murderous antisemites). Antisemitic victimization and violent attacks upon relatively economically privileged Jews (in addition to those on poor Jews) have been a feature of European societies since the 11th century. 

Intersectionality theory should be able to grapple with this paradox, since it insists that oppression is not binary. If a poor white person can simultaneously benefit from being white and be oppressed as a poor person, then why couldn't white Jews simultaneously benefit from white privilege yet also be marginalized as Jews? And in this case, have their white privilege wiped away by antisemites who don't even consider Jews to be white and believe that all Jews should be killed?

The whole thing leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth.

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