Leonard Grunstein

Intersectional rhapsody

One of the most majestic aspects of humanity is its diversity. We all share a common genetic ancestry, as the progeny of Adam and Eve, and yet each of us is unique.

As the Talmud[i] notes, no two faces, minds or personalities are exactly alike. Nevertheless, we all bear the same spiritual essence, known as the image of G-d or soul, which commends each of us to afford everyone the utmost of respect and dignity. Indeed, fulfilling the ultimate purpose of creation requires all people, with their manifold varieties of features, forms, tones, character traits, intellects, languages, skills and aspirations to fulfill their own individual life missions.

We are also obligated to aid those in need, which as the Talmud notes includes visiting the infirm. This means more than just stopping by for a social call[ii]. It requires personal engagement, cherishing human dignity and preserving self-respect, all while actually providing a tangible helping hand[iii]. Those who do it best are hailed as genuine leaders[iv].

The Midrash[v] and Avot D’Rabbi Natan[vi] offer a poignant perspective on the subject, explaining that suffering occurs when an individual experiences distress alone; not if it is shared with others. The import of the statement is about genuinely helping the person to heal and relieving the sense of loneliness that magnifies the pain.

This adage has been misconstrued to mean misery loves company. Unfortunately, in that guise it has been misused, Rather than joining with others to relive pain, unscrupulous and opportunistic pseudo-leaders have hijacked this powerful emotion in their pursuit of personal gain and power. Thus, instead of personally and virtuously acting to marshal relief to heal a victim, as a true leader would do, they pretend to call attention to his or her cause as a foil for attacking others. This does not directly help the victim; it’s all just a pretext.

The hard and quiet work of genuinely comforting and helping a person in need is not a public spectacle. Indeed, parading the plight of an individual before the news media is often just another form of victimization. However, the absence of a public display hampers the ability of activists to gain the notice and status they crave. Furthermore, publicly rallying the despair and negative energy of disparate groups of victims to form alliances, targeting another identifiable person or group, is a time-honored technique used by demagogues to rise to power.

The term intersectional may be newly coined, but the concept is not new. Throughout history there have been a variety of depraved arrangements made by leaders of questionable moral character, uniting disparate groups under the banner of claims of shared victimhood, which made cynical and expedient use of many otherwise innocent people. In connection with these disreputable pacts, morally repugnant programs of manufactured outrage and contrived common causes were usually adopted, calling for attacking others, to justify the alliances and role of the less than honorable leaders.

A striking example of this notoriously unethical behavior is described in this week’s Torah reading[vii]. It begins with what might have been the first intersectional gathering of self- proclaimed victims. They were otherwise antagonistic to each other’s interests. There was Korach, an extremely wealthy[viii] and well-connected individual, of the Tribe of Levites, who was aggrieved, because he did not receive the position he thought he was entitled to in the hierarchy of the priestly service in the Tabernacle[ix]. Then there were Dathan and Abiram. They were members of the Tribe of Reubenites[x], who nursed their own grievances, because their right, as first-born, to perform the sacrificial had been supplanted by G-d’s choice of the Levites, in their place. In addition, Dathan and Abiram had been wealthy government officials in Egypt, before the miraculous Exodus. Stripped of their wealth[xi] and position, they sought other outlets to satisfy their craving for power and prestige[xii].

They chose their target well; first challenge Aaron’s legitimacy and thus indirectly attack Moses’ moral standing and authority. After all, although unfounded, it did appear like Aaron’s selection was an act of nepotism and Moses was using his position to enrich his kin with the priestly gifts. Moses and Aaron were so taken aback by these scurrilous allegations. It took G-d’s miraculous intervention to stop the rebellion from succeeding. How could so many people be taken in by this charade?

It began with the general feeling of malaise, arising out of the Sin of the Spies and G-d’s rebuke to the people, sentencing them to forty years of wandering the desert[xiii]. Entering and inheriting the Land of Israel had to await a new young generation emerging, ready to face the challenge, after the adult members of the preceding generation, who participated in the incident of the Spies, had passed away. The prevailing feeling of despondency was ripe for unscrupulous opportunists to take advantage of the situation. Thus, Korach and Dathan and Abiram managed to gather many people in their web of deceit, stoking their feelings of victimhood and inciting wrath[xiv] against Moses and Aaron.

This intersectional model of pandering to victims and seemingly espousing their grievances, whether real or imagined, has been used time and again, throughout history to cause much suffering. The common thread is that it is typically about selecting another identifiable group and attacking them, not actually solving the underlying problems of the erstwhile members of the coalition.

One of the most notorious expressions of this nefarious program in recent history was the short-lived Non-Aggression pact of August 23, 1939, between Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union[xv]. It was stunning and virtually incomprehensible to most. These were otherwise two mortal enemies on the world stage. The secret clauses of the alliance were not known at the time. Among other things, they provided for attacking and dividing up Poland. It was the precipitating cause of the Second World War and the devastation that ensued, as well as, the unleashing of the unrestrained and full fury of the Holocaust?

Stalin and Hitler used pretense and artifice to clothe their unholy alliance. Both the Soviet Union and Stalin claimed the status of victimhood. For Germany it was the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty. For the Soviet Union, it was the isolation Stalin felt, because England and the West eschewed fully embracing his autocratic regime and resisted his aggressive attempts at infecting their countries with the scourge of Communism[xvi]. They were bound together by their self-proclaimed victimhood and hatred of others. It was intersectionality on steroids and a prime example of how consorting with morally repugnant leaders is hardly an appropriate means of achieving a positive end. It can and did cause untold suffering for myriads of innocent souls.

There were other such partnerships with Nazi Germany, including Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and his Muslem cohorts in Iraq and the Balkans[xvii]. What was it that bound these antagonists together?

It all began in the aftermath of the First World War. The former Russian Empire disintegrated after its loss to Germany. Germany and its ally, the Ottoman Empire, were in disarray after losing to the victorious Allies. The maps of Europe and the Middle East were redrawn. An economic depression gripped the world and there was little hope of a recovery in the short term. The turmoil that ensued was tailor made for charlatans and demagogues to attract followers with their simple and deceitful slogans targeting enemies, who were said to be the cause of all ills. No matter whom else they targeted, these nefarious activist wannabe leaders often also preached the enemy was the Jews. They stoked the popular imagination with lurid conspiracy tales about how Jews were behind communism and ironically also capitalists.

In Germany, Hitler used hatred of the Jews as the fulcrum of his movement to gain power in Germany. In the Middle East, Husseini fomented anti-Jewish violence in pre-state Israel including in 1921 and 1929[xviii], as well as, in the revolt of 1936-1939 he launched with financing from Nazi Germany[xix]. He also worked with the Nazis to initiate the failed Iraqi coup of 1941[xx], as well as, organize Moslem legions for the Waffen SS.

Is intersectionality, as practiced by Linda Sarsour and others, so different today? Like their hypocritical predecessors in history, these activists use the same old sordid techniques and poisonous rhetoric to stoke hatred and fear of another group. Imagine being told feminism must exclude Zionism[xxi]. Never mind that Israel is among one of the most progressive nations in the world. Moreover, why is Ms. Sarsour not calling out her brethren in Hamas controlled Gaza and the Palestinian Authority controlled areas, where it is reported[xxii] domestic physical and mental abuse against women in the home is rampant; honor killings regularly occur; there is systemic discrimination against women, both civilly and criminally; women are blatantly mistreated and exploited, including in matters of economic access and inheritance; and there is no equal protection for women under the law. How ironic and galling that identification as a Jewish woman, who supports Israel’s right to exist, is cynically considered disqualifying? Well, heads up; it’s the Jewish people who are actually the targeted enemy and being a Jewish woman is not a pass. Like their anti-Semitic predecessors, they urge if only there were no Israel (sic. Jewish people), then everything would be fine. Therefore, they preach all it takes to feel less pain is to be against Jewish Israel. Many intersectional followers appear to cheer the program. However, they might not so readily applaud if they were mindful of the true facts that there are no countries in the Middle East, other than Israel, who would actually welcome many of the members of the intersectional coalition of victims. Indeed, Louis Farrakhan[xxiii], a noted anti-Semite and mentor to some of these instersectional activists, as well as, Hamas, the PA and the founder of BDS espouse views and promote cultures that are antithetical to the aspirations of the members of the intersectional coalition.

Much like their Biblical predecessors, Dathan and Abiram[xxiv], the activists today also refuse to engage and debate. Truth is not their friend; they traffic in prevarication and so did Dathan and Abiram. Thus, they bemoaned the fact that Moses had led them out of Egypt, which in their false narrative was a land of milk and honey. They then falsely accused Moses of deliberately bringing them to the desert to die. They conveniently left out the interim events, including the Sin of the Spies and the people balking at entering the Land, which was the real cause of their current plight. Instead, they blame Moses for lording it over them just to flex power and failing to bring them to the land of milk and honey and provide them with fields and vineyards to inherit.

Indeed, if the modern day intersectional activist leaders presented their erstwhile flock with the truth, their assembly might rebel against their leadership too. The members of the intersectional coalition might realize their activist leaders are actually also their victimizers.

These activist leaders offer no real solutions. Their false narrative is only about blaming others, especially other identifiable minorities. Thus, they attack the One-Percenters (particularly those with Jewish sounding names), Jews in Israel, and, frankly speaking, Jews everywhere, even those with bona-fide progressive credentials. Many of these leaders at the helm of the intersectional movement are also self-proclaimed anti-Americans, actual anti-Semites[xxv] and just plain haters.

We must also educate our children not to be seduced[xxvi] by the siren’s song of victimhood embodied in the intersectional rhapsody. If they knew all the facts, then they would disdain the poisonous rhetoric[xxvii]. There’s so much to learn, but why not start with reading Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad and especially Chapter 46 (Palestine)? Then there’s the extraordinary research of Joan Peters in her monumental work, From Time Immemorial. Of course, there are all sorts of popular works of Jewish history like Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, by Daniel Gordis.

It is also critical to be vigilant and savvy about the dangers our children face, in college and even in high school and elementary school. After all, it is difficult to reject the intoxicating mixture of glamorous celebrities and comradery represented by the intersectional movement. The highly publicized events appear so inviting and the seeming righteousness of the proclaimed social justice causes is so seductive. We must help our children see through the charade. The discouraging display of banners and signs with awful messages calling for BDS, hatred against Jews or decrying the existence of Israel[xxviii] must be denounced. Similarly, the shrill speeches just attacking others, which are so toxic and disconcerting, must be questioned. None of this actually helps any victims. Indeed, is the notorious band of anti-Semitic intersectional leaders doing anything of substance to relieve suffering? This should serve as a wake-up call to those who really care.

It’s time to spread the message of truth, respect and dignity. Instead of wasting time and energy being against someone or something, why not volunteer to work with those who are suffering? It is a much better way of genuinely helping those in need.

[i] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot, at page 58a.

[ii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot, at page 5b.

[iii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nedarim, at page 39b. See also Maimonides, Laws of Mourning 14:4.

[iv] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, at page 98a.

[v] Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:22. See also Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 331, as well as, Rabbi Yosef Karo’s Maggid Meisharim 9:12 (which describes the impact as relieving half of the suffering).

[vi] Avot D’Rabbi Nathan 14:6.

[vii] Numbers, Chapter 16.

[viii] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Pesachim, at page 119a.

[ix] Number Rabbah 18.

[x] On ben Peleth, another Reubenite makes a cameo appearance, but is saved from this disastrous rebellion due the efforts of his wife. See A Tale of Two Households, by the author, in the Times of Israel Blogs, dated June 15, 2018.

[xi] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nedarim, at page 64b.

[xii] See Malbim commentary on Avot 5:17.

[xiii] Numbers, Chapter 14.

[xiv] Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, at page 109b.

[xv] See The Devil’s Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941-review, in the Guardian, dated August 6, 2014; and Stalin Boasts About Hitler Pact (June 1941), by Art Preis, at Marxists.org.

[xvi] The failed communists coups in Germany and Hungary, in the early 1920’s, were likely still fresh memories in the consciousness of leaders like Winston Churchill of England.

[xvii] See Never-before-seen document penned by Nazi leader Himmler uncovered in Israel, by Joy Bernhard, in the Jerusalem Post, dated May 12, 2019; Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, by Matthias Kunzel, Telos Press 2007; Haj Amin al Husseini, the Nazis and the Holocaust: The Origins, Nature and Aftereffects of Collaboration, by Jeffrey Herf, in Jewish Political Studies Review, dated January 5, 2016; and In the Beginning there was an Arab with a knife 180 years of excuses, by David Collier, in his blog, dated May 16, 2019..

[xviii] See Anti-Jewish Violence in Pre-State Palestine/1929 Massacres, by Ricki Hollander, on Camera.org, dated August 23, 2009.

[xix] See Office of U.S. Chief of Counsel For Prosecution Of Axis Criminality No. 792-PS, dated September 17, 1945.

[xx] See the Iraqi Coup of 1941, the Mufti and the Farhoud, by Ami Isseroff and Peter Fitzgerald-Morris, on Mideastweb.org.

[xxi] See Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No, by Collier Meyerson, in the Nation, dated March 13, 2017.

[xxii] See Facts and Figures UN Women-Palestine: Ending Violence Against Women and Jerusalem Institute of Justice, April 2016 Report on the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women under the PA and Hamas.

[xxiii] See The Nation of Islam and Women’s “Social Justice”, by Denis MacEoin, at the gatestoneinstitute.org, dated April 10, 2019.

[xxiv] Numbers 15:12.

[xxv] This is particularly disturbing given the rising tide of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish hate crimes that can’t be ignored. The NYPD reported more than half the hate crimes in 2018 and through April of 2019 were anti-Jewish. . It is horrifying to view videos of violent attacks against Jews, on the streets of Crown Heights. See In 2019, more than half of reported hate crimes were anti-Jewish, says NYPD, by JTA, dated May 2, 2019; A Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism, by the Editorial Board of the New York Times, dated April 30, 2019; Anti-Semitic scandal at the New York Times isn’t surprising, by Michael Goodwin, in the New York Post, dated April 30, 2019; ADL Global Anti-Semitism: Select Incidents in 2019; and ADL Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents: Year in Review 2018

[xxvi] Is it any wonder that Hitler focused on indoctrinating the young with his vile message of hate? See, for example, Children in Nazi Germany, at alphahistory.com; Hitler Youth: Prelude to War 1933-1939, at historyplace.com; and the Educational History of Adolf Hitler, at newfoundations.com.

[xxvii] For example, there’s the video about American school children being forced to praise anti-Semitic acts and the blood of martyrs, such as homicide bombers and other violent terrorists. See American School Children Forced to Praise ‘Blood of Martyrs’, May 1,2019, on unitedwithisrael.org

[xxviii] These hateful actions are every bit as unkind and horrendous as the early activities of the Nazis, who more than 85 years ago used similar techniques to stoke hatred of the Jews.

About the Author
Leonard Grunstein, a retired attorney and banker, founded and served as Chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and then Israel Discount Bank of NY. He also founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council. He has published articles in the Banking Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal and other fine publications.
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