Wearing Jewface: The Aftermath and Beyond

My recent blog post at Times of Israel, Wearing Jewface: The Far-Left’s New Tactic, has generated a lot of discussion on Facebook, Twitter, even a Reddit thread. It’s a much needed discussion. I’ve received a lot of very thoughtful and positive comments expressing gratitude for having the courage to expose this practice. And I’ve received the expected petulant reactions from the usual suspects. Interestingly, it took them four days to begin the onslaught.

So far, I have exactly zero respect for any of my detractors, some of whom I don’t even think read the post. I exposed a despicable sham that has been gaining steam in tearing down Jews and Israel, and I felt it was important to put out there. I’ve since learned I’m in good company. Esteemed British writer, Howard Jacobson, has also written about this phenomenon. Ever the trendsetter, the UK is a bit ahead of the US when it comes to the proliferation of antisemitism among the far-left and those using Jewish identity specifically to damage Jews, as Jenny Manson, Chair of Jewish Voice for Labor admitted in March of 2018.

This tactic has also shown up in Germany. Christopher Glanz, Irena Wachendorff, and Edith Lutz are three German gentiles who posed as Jews for the specific purpose of promoting antisemitism in deplorable schemes covered by The Jerusalem Post. It’s become so prevalent, Clare Quilty of London has coined the term, “Quilty’s Law,” which states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability that an antisemitic trope sharer will claim to be of Jewish descent approaches 1;” she then provides example after example. It’s become such a thing, even the UK’s favorite antisemite joined in.

The purpose of my “Jewface” post was to highlight this very concerning tactic now manifesting in the US, and to expose those I knew for a fact were doing it. There are more and they will be called out.

The histrionic reaction to my post among the far-left is because they can no longer get away with it. As I stated in my post, “I’m willing to be criticized for questioning someone’s Jewishness if it means I can expose those masquerading as Jews specifically to hurt us. I’m willing to take that risk. I’m even willing to get it wrong on occasion and admit my mistakes, but I’m not willing to allow this to continue a minute longer.” I stand by that.

I’ve been defamed as being right-wing and racist by my detractors because two of the five people I discuss happen to be black. It is the actions of those highlighted, not their race, that is at the complete core of my post, but they know this. My words have been mischaracterized in the laziest, most self-serving way possible. Race is irrelevant to my post and I don’t discuss it other than to point out that non-black Jews are being categorized as “white” when we’re not. My collection of blog posts at Times of Israel provides pretty good insight into my character, my passion, and my politics.

So far, not a single detractor has been able to challenge anything I wrote as being inaccurate other than the commonality of using the term Yamim Noraim within the Orthodox community. That’s it. That is the ONLY point that has been specifically and justifiably challenged. Nothing else has been challenged because it can’t be challenged. As I stated on Twitter, I provided receipts. Plenty of receipts.

The desperate claim that the Times of Israel is a “right wing Israeli publication” is laughable. Unlike the tunnel they dwell in, the appeal of the Times of Israel is that it delivers all voices: liberal, conservative, religious, non-religious, Jewish and non-Jewish. It’s also not responsible for any opinions posted by its bloggers, as it very clearly states in a prominent disclaimer on every blog post, even on its mobile version. My blog post is called a blog post because it’s on a blog. The content was neither sanctioned nor commissioned by Times of Israel. It was also factual, well-sourced, and within editorial guidelines. Screaming at Times of Israel is an exercise in hysterical theater and an attempt to censor the exposure of those engaging in Jewface tactics. You will not silence me. That’s a promise.

Here are some examples of my “right-wing” activities (don’t worry, I was living in California in 2016 and Hillary won the state).

My highlighting Rabbi Ellman and her daughter, Sophie Ellman-Golan, was mischaracterized as an “attempt to invalidate the Jewishness of Barat Ellman” by her daughter. As I wrote in the original post, my reason for including Rabbi Ellman was to question why someone would go through the painstaking task of conversion and smichut only to use those credentials to tear down the Jewish community and Israel by propping up antisemites. I clearly stated in my post, “She didn’t start out Jewish, but she went through a formal conversion and even became a rabbi. Like it or not, she is a member of my tribe. We are taught that converts to Judaism are as Jewish as if they were born Jewish and it’s a terrible sin to make any Jew who converted feel like they’re not a part of us. Despite not being religious, I still feel it’s my duty to honor the commitment a convert has made.”

So, no, Sophie, I don’t challenge your mother’s Jewishness, quite the contrary. Ellman-Golan even reached out to groups she’s worked against, such as Zioness, to come to her aid in the face of being challenged for her antisemitism and was summarily rebuked. She took to attacking WoMen4All, a group I used to be affiliated with (and the first group to call out the antisemitism in the Women’s March), as a backdoor to attack me. Apparently desperate times call for desperate measures.

Despite her own mother’s conversion, Ellman-Golan has now decided that the rules for being a Jew have changed and now anyone who identifies as such can be Jewish. She declares, “the world is changing, boxes expanding, political culture shifting” and “those in the Jewish community who would act as gatekeepers, who want to narrowly define what Jewishness is and looks like. They don’t get to.” If that’s the case, then why did her mother undergo a formal conversion? I guess that means I can call myself a rabbi if that’s how I identify, despite not going through the requisite proforma. If I want to follow the faith of the Ojibwa, because that’s what feels most natural to me, I can just call myself a member of the Ojibwa tribe?

Speaking of the Ojibwa tribe, I performed a little social experiment and those who defended the people appropriating Jewish identity, or using the Jewish identity they adopted to empower antisemitism, were predictably outraged when I briefly changed my Twitter handle to read “Rabbi Maayan of the Ojibwa,” with all due deference and respect to the Ojibwa tribe. It was my Twitter handle for maybe an hour. I wasn’t appropriating anyone’s culture nor was I pretending to be Ojibwa. When asked if I was a member of the Ojibwa tribe, I replied, “no.” Nonetheless, those who actively defend appropriators of Jewish identity were unbelievably outraged by the inclusion of Ojibwa in my Twitter handle.

Their hypocrisy knows no bounds, as Chloe Valdary so eloquently points out in this responsive tweet to Ungar-Sargon’s hilarious criticism of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for hanging out with Jewhaters.
I made the important distinction that Rebecca Pierce could qualify as patrilineally Jewish to some if her father is indeed a Jew, though her upbringing as an Episcopal is problematic. That potential reality doesn’t invalidate the fact that Pierce is a well-documented antisemite, as demonstrated by her own words featured in the profile at Canary Mission, and seemingly decided only to “identify as Jewish” when she joined Students for Justice in Palestine. There have been claims by my detractors that Pierce was raised as a Reform Jew. Really? When her own mother states otherwise? Prove it.

Just under the din of the banging drums, some of my critics quietly admitted that Nylah Burton isn’t Jewish, but twisted themselves into pretzels to come up with ways to defend her Jewface performance. Apparently, it’s okay that she classifies less melanated Jews as “white” to demonize us, or defends a vicious antisemite like Alice Walker while using the term “as a Jew” when she’s not — a Jew. Burton even has a history of attacking actual black Jews, as evidenced by this comment on my post from Cal Smith, a liberal, black, transgender Jew, with permission.

Anyone who engages in promoting any Jews as white when actual white supremacists are murdering us, or denying our self-determination as Jews in the realization of and support for Israel, I would consider antisemites — legitimately Jewish or not — as I would anyone attempting to shut down criticism of those appropriating our identity as Jews as they launch antisemitic attacks on us. Seth Frantzman provides important context in examining the antisemitism at the crux of this trend in calling paler-skinned Jews “white.”

Batya Ungar-Sargon, Tema Smith, Ariel Gold, and others in the fragile ultra-wokeworld have taken to Twitter to blatantly lie about me, my nationality, my political affiliations, and my words in an effort to discredit me because they can’t discredit my post. Smith even announced she and others will be embarking on a “direct action” against Times of Israel as a result of my post and falsely accused me of saying she was a Farrakhan supporter when I never did. Ironically, I’m the product of an interfaith marriage between a Jewish woman and an Irish Catholic man, which makes Smith’s tweet extra funny.

Ungar-Sargon and Gold have a history of supporting the antisemitic BDS movement and Gold, in particular, promotes lies about Israel and Zionism, so their reaction is no surprise. Since Ungar-Sargon has been affiliated with The Forward as its opinion editor, it has become a vehicle for some of the most disgusting antisemitic content ever seen in a Jewish publication.

There were some, including Ungar-Sargon, who had an issue with the term, “Jewface” claiming that it was an appropriation of the the term, “blackface,” and thus, racist. This term has existed for over 100 years. Even The Forward used it in their headline for this 2015 article to discuss an exhibit of the same name, and actually defended the term in the article.

These are all pathetic attempts to censor legitimate criticism of the cultural appropriation manifesting as people portraying themselves as Jews when they’re not, and to maintain control of the narrative on what it means to be a liberal Jew; control they’ve worked so hard to cultivate that is collapsing beneath their feet. They’re panicking in a collective Trumpesque temper tantrum for being exposed. The most succinct and powerful response to this element hails from Young Gravy‘s new song, “Diaspora,” which dropped the same day as my post.

The bottom-line is that my post struck a nerve and it was a nerve that needed to be struck. Groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, and Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, even J-Street, have gone largely unchallenged within the liberal sphere in their efforts to attack the very Jewish affiliation with Israel and Zionism, and as a result, this fringe element has grown. I intend to change that. We are liberals, we are halachic Jews, and we are Zionists who support not only self-determination for Palestinians, but also for Jews vis a vis a two-state solution. We will no longer allow the unfettered and reckless demonization of the only party in the Arab/Israeli conflict that is willing to make peace with the other. We will no longer let this extremely loud fringe be who defines liberalism or Judaism. Attempts to censor anyone calling people out for their “as a Jew” antisemitism are seen for what they are; last-ditch efforts to manipulate a narrative that denies Jews the right to support our indigenous homeland and follow the very basic tribal rules for being considered a member of the tribe. Contrary to Ellman-Golan’s remarks, there is literally a narrow way to be a Jew. Even the most liberal denominations have the basic requirement of having a Jewish mother, having a Jewish father and being raised JewishOR undergoing a formal conversion. There is no such thing as “Jews of Choice,” a new category of Jews according to Ungar-Sargon. Not without conversion and this is universally recognized by every Jewish denomination.

People who care about Jews have been supportive. People who don’t care about Jews haven’t. It’s that simple.

Buckle up, buttercup. More to come.

About the Author
Debbie Hall is a writer and activist living in the diaspora.
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