Do Jews identify as white?
What color are Jews?
Jews rarely fit into drawers. This becomes particularly clear when it comes to how discriminatory experiences are described and classified. Academic and supposedly well-intentioned debates often show a distance here from experiences that Jews have in their everyday lives.
In his column in the Jüdische Allgemeine on December 5, 2019, Michael Wuliger referred to an article that Ferda Ataman had written for Spiegel-Online. Ataman refers to Jews as PoC, People of Color. Wuliger follows on with his thoughts on the "color" of the Jewish community. In his polemic, however, Wuliger fails to have an interesting and important discussion. Because they actually exist, the Jews who identify as PoC.
Jews should consciously participate in the discourse on intersectionality and contribute their experiences.
This is of course not due to their skin color, but to the fact that they regularly experience how a white, Christian-dominated majority society excludes them. This can have very different causes. Before they identify themselves as Jews, they can experience that they are being discriminated against. For example, because they don't speak German fluently, or because they stand out because of their appearance, which is characterized as "different".
INTERSECTIONALITY This is how different experiences of discrimination come together. This concept is described as intersectionality. For Jews, this means that the anti-Semitism they experience is combined with other experiences of exclusion based on their origin, gender identity or sexual orientation, for example. This can happen in and outside of the Jewish community.
There is only one problem with the matter: the traditional theory of intersectionality is based on the triad "race", "class" and "gender". This does not explain the concept of anti-Semitism. Groups that actually want to offer protection from precisely this experience are sometimes unable to do so because they do not perceive anti-Semitism as an independent phenomenon. Hatred of Jews is seen as just another prejudice among many. However, this completely misjudges the structure and function of anti-Semitism.
Michael Wuliger repeatedly makes it clear in his column that the gaps in which so many Jewish people move in their realities of life go beyond his horizon.
Israel is declared a racist apartheid state, phenomena are mixed up and clear boundaries are created between good and evil. Jews are defined as "white", PoC or Muslim women are declared to be the "new Jews".
It is in these discussions that progressive Jewish persons remain helpless. Under the umbrella of a supposedly non-discriminatory space, it is impossible for them to express their experience of discrimination. Their voices go unheard. It is therefore important that we do not withdraw from these debates, but that we actively shape them. We need to bring in Jewish perspectives and convey a more nuanced understanding of anti-Semitism as part of intersectional thinking.
QUEERS In a large part of the secular Jewish community there is a desire to belong in the majority social environment. Those who do not attract attention, as long as they do not identify themselves as Jews, often cannot understand why there are people within the Jewish community who “label” themselves something else. They do not understand why it is important to other Jews that they are also perceived as women *, as queers, as a person with a migration biography, as, as, as ...
Behind the lack of understanding for these terms is often the disagreement about when the Jewish community as a community is strongest: should we participate in discourses that affect only a few of us? Are we aware of the different experiences members of our community have? Do we lose our common identification if we also make differences visible?
EXPERIENCE The discussion about whether Jews are PoCs should not be given away. Nor should it only be led by those who just google the term and then tear it up. Not because Jews urgently need another ›label‹, but because polemics shouldn't be the only entry point into such an important discourse.
Anyone who wants to portray the Jewish community in all its diversity needs empathy and not a short, superficial Wikipedia research.
Precisely because it is a discourse from which we as Jews are too often excluded anyway. In addition, this view excludes the diversity and diverse experiences of our communities. Because there are Jews who not only experience anti-Semitism. Where is space for the experiences of our Ethiopian and Yemeni, our Sephardic and Mizrachian, our Bucharian and our queer parishioners?
Michael Wuliger repeatedly makes it clear in his column that the gaps in which so many Jewish people move in their realities of life go beyond his horizon. He polemicises language-inclusive measures, such as the gender asterisk or misleading acronyms such as LGBTQI and PoC. It is so exhausting that everything has to be taken into account “all at once”. As if the variety of perspectives and experiences that have always characterized life in Israel, for example, had suddenly jumped out of the box.
As Jewish communities, we are colorful, diverse and open.
Sometimes, instead of practicing empty phrases, we should think: Who determines the discourse on very specific topics? Why are the judgments and evaluations of older men generally not questioned and on the contrary, ignorance applauded as an act of resistance? Where are the voices of less established people who have to justify themselves again and again when their attitude calls into question the normative order?
DIVERSITY Diverse perspectives can provide us with new means in the fight against anti-Semitism and make us members of a society that is vigilant and not only when it comes to ourselves. They can help paint a realistic picture of our community. This includes making diverse identities visible.
We don't need to go against other marginalized groups in society. Anyone who wants to present the Jewish community in all its diversity needs empathy and not a short, superficial Wikipedia research.
Laura Cazés is a consultant for association development at ZWST and Monty Ott is chairman of Keshet Deutschland e.V.
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