The Percolating Evil of Intersectionality

What caught my eyes this week have been four seemingly unrelated events: a Belgian carnival float, Michael Cohen’s scripted opening remarks, the whitewash “non-binding resolution” passed by Congress, and the rallying defense of Ilhan Omar by House Majority Whip James Clyburn.

As the enormity of the implications of these news items, posted through social media with an international reading audience, seeped into our consciousness, it became painfully clear that the prism of interpretation depends upon the vantage point one has of age-old stereotypes as well as those currently in vogue.

It has been abundantly clear in the body politic that wars are not fought and won simply on the battlefield of armies. This is especially true when Israel is one of the world’s most powerful and formidable repositories of advanced technology and military might.  All too obvious have been the unsuccessful attempts to wipe Israel off the map in the conflicts of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982 and 2006. What our enemies have learned is that the wars that are won today, are rooted in centuries of propaganda, in the “War of Words.”  It is this realization that has emboldened and armed radical groups, who are historically pitted against each other, to wage defeating blows to the heart and soul of Israel.

In defending the vile and unequivocal statements made by Rep. Ilhan Omar, House Majority Whip Clyburn said:  “There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors. My parents did this. It’s more personal with her [Omar].”  It cannot be denied that Omar was the victim of oppression and suffered great injury while she was in Africa.  But, how does she emerge from that horror to vilifying and attacking Israel and its supporter, the United States?

 When Jews were exterminated by the Nazis, the victims condemned and blamed those who were responsible. When any group of people has been the object of violence and hate, they naturally and logically rallied against their oppressors.  But Omar emerges from the devastating throes of Somalian civil war, and becomes a virulent  spokesperson – not against those who actually harmed her – but against Israel!  It is Israel and America, who are the aggressors, the fascists, the imperialists, the Enemy!  What makes that possible?  What makes that OK?

After coming under fire, Clyburn backtracked and proclaimed his condemnation of what had happened to Jews in the Holocaust.  This would have been nice, but for the fact that he, along with Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, engineered a rewrite of a resolution that would have rebuked the overt anti-Semitism of Congresswoman Omar, transforming the targeted wording to a blanket resolution that condemned any form of bigotry or oppression with no mention of Rep. Omar.  Distorting entirely the “no” votes of 23 Republicans, who believed that the House should have expressly rebuked Omar and even removed her from the Foreign Relations Committee (actions which were taken against Rep. King for his racial remarks), the media have pronounced that the “no” voters are racists and bigots, the exact opposite of the explicit condemnation that they sought if the resolution rightly rebuked Omar for her anti-Jewish and anti-American statements, the latter including her accusation that the United States is “hypnotized” by a “foreign country” to which it allies: Israel.

Amid increasing signs of worldwide anti-Semitism — the most horrific being the targeted murder and injury to Jews — and more widely the lurid examples of which have involved desecration of Jewish cemeteries, defacing Jewish establishments with swastikas and hate graffiti, an unbelievable page from the stereotypical maligning of the Jew appeared on the streets of Aalst, suburb of Brussels. A carnival float bore the caricature paper-mache figures of two Jews amid an array of rats and money bags!  What made it even more despicable was that this public spectacle was defended by the mayor of the town – and the Belgian press.

And then there is Michael Cohen, a Jewish lawyer (what could be more stereotypical), convicted of lying, reading a scripted statement to Congress on a televised world stage, calling President Trump, among other things, a “racist” and “homophobic”. Interestingly, for a change, this time Trump was not labeled anti-Semitic. Why?  Any attempt to brand him with this ancient byword of hate could not be made rationally when his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Jewish, and Trump boldly moved the embassy, declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.  But, do the other labels stick, and if so, why?

In 1989, the term “intersectionality” was coined in an essay written by Kimberle’ Crenshaw, in which she asserted that anti-discrimination law, feminist theory, and anti-racist politics all fail to address the experiences of black women because of how they each focus on only a single factor.  Instead, she maintained, the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of each of these separately, “any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines what it means to add “-ity” to a word, i.e., it transforms a word into a noun expressing a quality or condition. Of a more sweeping and, perhaps more accurate, appellation would be to add an “-ism” to the word, “intersectional”.  Doing so, according to the Oxford Dictionary, denotes a system, or a political ideology.  In that fashion, capitalism, socialism, communism, and so many other political systems have identified a group approach to debating for or against conditions existing in our society. The latest such political ideology, “progressivism,” is the current label attached to liberal philosophy that pits Democrats against Republicans, who are derogatorily grouped as belonging to the privileged, racist and white supremacist system of “conservatism.”  All these polarizing    “-isms” are malignant re-definitions of earlier utopian ideals.

While the 1989 intersectionality identified by Crenshaw was insightful and revolutionary, it has been weaponized in the forum of Words. Thus, a president, or any of his supporters on his immigration policy, i.e., who opposes open borders that would necessarily keep out women and children of Hispanic descent makes him and them, “racists” and “misogynists.”.  Similarly, anyone who attacks the “oppressed” and “wrongly maligned” Islamic terrorists is branded “Islamophobic” and “racist.”  When Omar (and for that matter, Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib) were elected, the media touted them as “intersectional feminists”. Were they not utilizing their positions to foster their hatred of Israel, and of Jews, and were they not seeking to undermine and bring down the constitutional and national security safeguards that are so vital to the tenets of the United States, it would not be so dangerous. After all, we should celebrate the ascension of women, particularly of diverse backgrounds, to the very pinnacle of American government.  The vote of the populace to right the wrongs that are reflected in candidates who come from the ranks of intersectional feminists, should be applauded.

So then – what does this term, intersectionality, now signify that cannot and should not be embraced? What makes Omar bulletproof against her overt anti-Israel statements?  She is at once Black, a woman, a Moslem, a refugee, and African – intersectionality at its unbeatable best!  It is the same intersectionality that had the media jump on the bandwagon of conviction by the press of Trump supporters and law enforcement in the cases of Michael Brown and Jussie Smollett.  Each incident was immediately cloaked in credibility and social justice, because of the utilization of intersectionality as “evidence” of truth and justice.

It is important to emphasize that, when oppression, discrimination, curtailment of human rights, hate speech, and violence are directed against any individual or group on the basis of race, religion, gender or creed, it must be condemned and stamped out.  In that sense, the identification of intersectionality as a reality of that biased speech or action is a true reality.  But, this should apply to the Jew, as well!

Historically, the Jew has been the scapegoat and target of bias, hate and oppression, which is certainly a brand of intersectionality that is unique to the Jewish People.  It was only because of the Holocaust that the collective guilt of genocide (practiced by Nazis and collaborator nations, and made possible by silence and inaction by others, including the United States) that the world could not refrain from pouring out its sympathy and support for Jews. Nevertheless, the closing of borders to Jews did not only occur with the turning away of the St. Louis by Roosevelt, but manifested in the quota system that applied to Jews who survived the Holocaust, who had to await trickling entry into the United States and other nations, even though their refugee status and tragic plight could not be denied.

When Clyburn defends Omar by downplaying and relegating the Holocaust to the “past,” thereby elevating her more recent “pain” to a justification for her hatred of Israel, what becomes apparent is that Evil is percolating to the surface as the Holocaust fades into memory, legend, and maybe incredibly, fiction. Holocaust deniers have always reared their pernicious heads, not only from expected terrorists from their cesspool citadels, but from the halls of American universities.  Mark Levin, a syndicated commentator, has urged that we stop using the watered-down phrase, “anti-Semitism,” or even, “anti-Israel,” and simply and clearly call out those who attack Israel and its supporters as being a “Jew-Hater”- pure and simple!   To combat the rising percolation of Evil that hides behind the banner of intersectionality, it is crucial that we not mince words, that we not perpetuate mild euphemisms, and that we condemn Evil in the most straightforward and unequivocal terms.

The War of Words is the true battlefield. Cowardice, political correctness and tacit approval are our weakest armaments.  They cannot defeat the death blow of hatred wielded under the Shield of Intersectionality.  It is no longer effective or appropriate to cower under the labels thrown at us when we speak out or condemn our enemies. They do not cower.  They do not back off.  Rather, they are empowered day after day by our weakness.  And sadly, they increase their numbers with Jew-hating Jews, such as Bernie Sanders, who by their presence and stature, give legitimacy to the unfettered release of worldwide anti-Semitism.

While we need not, and should not, expect that throwing out the word, “Holocaust” will neutralize Hate, we must not permit Hate to be resurrected into a new breed of Jew Hatred as we sit by. Words turn into Action. The more we allow our fear of being falsely accused of being racist, fascist or any other absurd and destructive label, the more likely that the United States will be overrun with those who seek to destroy its constitutional and institutional foundations, and the more likely that Jews everywhere will no longer be safe from the horrors of the past.

About the Author
Naphtali Perlberger is a senior lecturer for AISH HaTorah and gives weekly shiurim at Chabad of Golden Beach and Aish Chaim of the Main Line. He is one of the founders and a past president of the Philadelphia Community Kollel. He is Founder & President of Philadelphia Chapter of Children of the Holocaust, and past FJA Chairman of Men's Organizations; past President of Kosloff Torah Academy; and, talk show host for a radio show, "G-d is Listening".