Jewish identity is complex and multifaceted, encompassing both religious and cultural elements that have evolved over millennia. Yet, when it comes to discussions about identity politics, the far-left has a tendency to ignore or outright reject the complexities of Jewish identity because it doesn’t fit neatly into the standard confinements dictated by anti-racist doctrine.
The far-left often views Jews as a privileged group, ignoring the fact that many Jews have experienced discrimination and persecution throughout history. Additionally, the far-left’s emphasis on intersectionality often ignores the unique challenges faced by Jewish individuals, who may face discrimination based on both their religion and ethnicity.
This oversimplification of Jewish identity can lead to harmful stereotypes and erasure of the experiences of Jewish individuals.
In order to understand more about this, I invited Yirmiyahu Danzig to speak with me on my podcast, Israel Unfiltered. Yirmiyahu (also known by his social media handle @that_Semite) is an Israeli Jewish rights and anti-racism activist, specializing in Jewish diversity, history and identity. I spoke with him about the perils of antisemitism, how anti-racism can feed into it, and why Jews always seem to be a scapegoat for the world’s problems.
Yirmiyahu began by explaining why he became involved in activism in the first place. “I come from a standard Jewish educational background where we learned the kind of cookie cutter definitions of Judaism and Jewishness, Israeli history and Zionism. And as much of the Jewish world is waking up to today, this type of simplified Judaism doesn’t really cut it with young people. Millennials and Gen Z realize that if something sounds too pretty, it’s probably too good to be true,” he explained. “My approach is to embrace the full complexity of the matter and say, ‘okay, yeah, Jewish identity is complicated, Israeli history and Israeli culture is complicated. Let’s break it down. Let’s see why it is that these things are being demonized by our enemies. And what’s the truth — what’s the full picture of the matter?’”
As the conversation began in earnest, I asked him why it seems as though Jews are left out of the narrative surrounding diversity and inclusion.
“Everybody else in the English speaking western context fits within this very clear binary of black and white. The Western world has been enamored with this kind of racialization of human identity for the past couple centuries. And the response to that, which has been anti-racism, has just basically continued along that legacy of dividing people along this kind of color coded racial identity lines. And Jewish people in general, certainly, in the western context, have always challenged the standard definitions of identity,” he said.
“We’re not just a people, we’re not just a religion, we’re not just a nation, we’re all of these things together. And in the western context, where we’re seeing anti-racism manifest itself most strongly, the existence of Jews, has always been kind of challenging. Here we have a people that are saying that they have a religion, but also that they’re a unique ethnic group. But sometimes that ethnic group might be able to pass with the dominant group.”
With this in mind, he presented two common motivations behind Jewish exclusion. “On the one hand, there’s this altruistic idea: the Jews are too complicated. We don’t want to mess with them, we’ll just leave them out, because they deserve their own kind of treatment when it comes to their unique challenges of marginalization that they face,” he said. “But then there’s the more insidious idea: no, we don’t accept the complex identity of Jews, because they want to try and say that, even though they might pass or appear as white, they’re not white — we’re not going to accept that identity.”
“That insidious rejection of Jewish identity and Jewish experience motivates a lot of what we’re seeing in terms of antisemitism on the far-left, that refuses to accept Jews and to listen to Jews and see what it is that about Jewish identity that makes it both at the same time a target for white supremacy, but also appear as oppressive to groups of color that are facing marginalization in Western contexts, like the United States.”
To hear more from our conversation, check out the latest episode of Israel Unfiltered.