Wearing Jewface: The Far-Left’s New Tactic

I contributed much of the research for the Tablet article that exposed Julia Salazar as an imposter, and by imposter I mean pretending to be Jewish, pretending to be an immigrant, and pretending to have grown up poor.  My research was born from a theory I have — that anti-Semitic groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), IfNotNow (INN), and Jews for Economic and Racial Justice (JFERJ), and others in this parade of endless acronyms, are actively convincing some of their recruits to portray themselves as Jewish in order to demonize Israel and Jews with the pretext, “as a Jew.”  Using the “as a Jew” pretext when demonizing Israel lends more credibility to the distorted and incorrect claim that Israel has nothing to do with Jews and it attempts to separate Zionism from Judaism.  This is a clear and purposeful campaign to erase Jews from Israel, no different than UNESCO’s attempts to erase historical Jewish presence in the Levant.

Many of these “as a Jew” recruits seem to overcompensate.  For example, Julia Salazar once posted on Facebook, “Tablet, I love you guys. But could you have saved this completely NON-time-sensitive article for AFTER Yamim Noraim?!”  I was born Jewish, granted we belonged to a Reform shul, but I attended Ulpan, grew up in Young Judaea and I’m fairly well-educated on my ethnicity and the faith of my tribe. I’d never heard the term, Yamim Noraim.  I asked an Orthodox friend of mine and she’d never heard of it either. We thought it might be some obscure holiday. Ultimately, I learned the literal meaning of Yamim Noraim is “Terrible Days” in Hebrew, but Salazar was using this seldom-used term for the Days of Awe.  Trying too hard via this post was just one of many clues that led me down the rabbit hole of research that resulted in confirming Salazar is as Jewish as a ham sandwich, on Wonder Bread, with Miracle Whip and a slice of Velveeta.

Salazar’s charade seems to have coincided with her introduction to Palestinian student, Daniel Bannoura, who graduated with a masters degree in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago in 2013.  In 2012, she’d been to Israel as part of an organized group trip with Christians United for Israel (CUFI), as a Christian, and in 2013 she began masquerading as a Jew, while also going back to Israel and spending time in the West Bank village of Beit Sahour with Bannoura. In between all this, she helped bring a J-Street Chapter to Columbia University.  In January of 2014, Salazar returned to Israel with her mother, and in February of 2014, Salazar finally outed herself as an anti-Zionist via an article in the Columbia Spectator, but with the “as a Jew” pretext.  Her mutation from Christian Zionist to “Jewish” anti-Zionist occurred within less than a year.

Salazar, in her post-Christian Jewish anti-Zionist phase, became very active in anti-Semitic “Jewish” circles. She co-wrote a series of articles with the notorious Max Blumenthal in the anti-Semitic blog AlterNet, using her Jewish-sounding alias, Julia Carmel. In their first article, they ironically portray themselves as “human rights activists” while demonizing Jews they deem “McCarthyites” for calling out their hypocrisy and hate. Salazar has been affiliated with J-Street, IfNotNow, JFERJ-NY, and the JVP-affiliated Jews of Color and Sephardi/Mizrahi Caucus (JOCSM), participating in their blog, Unruly.

Next Up: Rebecca Pierce.  Rebecca Pierce’s mother, Margalynne Armstrong, “decided to raise her [Rebecca] as an Episcopalian,” according to a 2016 interview Armstrong did for the webzine, Journey with Jesus. Pierce’s mother grew up going to Catholic Mass and “thinking I was Catholic, but wasn’t officially,” due to not performing the required rituals (more irony). According to her mother, Pierce’s father, an agnostic, grew up in Highland Park, Illinois, attended Hebrew school and had a confirmation, which means he grew up Reform, but he was never a bar mitzvah because, “his rabbi found no scriptural support for the ceremony,” which is a bizarre statement in a post-Holocaust Reform movement. However, for the sake of anyone arguing that her father is legitimately Jewish, Pierce was never raised as a Jew.  She apparently only decided to “identify as Jewish,” as her mother puts it, when she went to college and joined Students for Justice in Palestine. So even if Pierce has patrilineal Jewish bona fides, why did she specifically decide to “identify as Jewish” with the apparent purpose of demonizing the Jewish state and those Jews who support its existence?

Pierce’s anti-Semitism is so egregious, she’s been highlighted by Canary Mission, which is the Jewish equivalent of Shaun King in his efforts to dox racists. But instead of publishing where racists work or live, like King does, Canary Mission simply posts links and images of anti-Semites’ own statements. Canary Mission recently made international headlines for highlighting a doctor in Ohio, Lara Kollab, who had posted that she’d “…purposely give all the yahood [Jews] the wrong meds” on social media. As with Kollab, Pierce’s own words are enough of an indictment. The Canary Mission profile provides evidence of Pierce promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, supporting the destruction of Israel via Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), and equating Zionism with white supremacy. The pinnacle of Pierce’s Jewhatred is her adulation of convicted terrorist, Rasmea Odeh, who confessed to being behind the bombing at a Jerusalem grocery store that killed two Jewish college students. Pierce tweeted, “We love you Rasmea!’ — JVP membership to Rasmea Odeh #JVP2017” with an image of Odeh on stage at the JVP Conference in March 2017.

Like Salazar, Pierce is considered a “core member” of the JVP-affiliated JOCSM and also wrote for their blog, Unruly.

Then there is Nylah Burton.  Burton is the least anti-Zionist of the group, but she has plenty of criticism for Jews she deems “white” and seems to be borrowing a few pages from the Rebecca Pierce playbook.  I first learned of Burton via her piece in The Forward, “White Jews: Stop Calling Yourself White-Passing.”  I sat down to read her piece with an open mind and with the belief that she was Jewish.  As I read the article, it became obvious to me that the article was written by someone who has had minimal exposure to Jews and was likely not Jewish.  She didn’t consult any “white Jews” for the piece and had no understanding of the Jewish experience, whether “white” or black.  The act of depicting Jews as “white” is woefully anti-Semitic.  Jews are indigenous to the Middle East, despite where we ended up.  Jews and Arabs come in the same array of colors, yet somehow we don’t hear Arabs being described as white or as “upholding white supremacy,” as both Rebecca Pierce and Women’s March leader, Tamika Mallory, have stated.  While some Jews may appear white and may benefit from white privilege on some level, ultimately, we are rarely considered white by actual white people.  To assume you know our experience as Jews with lighter shades is as bad as us assuming to know what it’s like to walk through life as a black person.  We are still banned from certain clubs, marrying into certain white families, working in certain places and Burton, with little to no exposure to the Jewish experience, incorrectly assumed that we don’t have those societal limitations placed on us in her article.

I dove deeper and came across an article she wrote for Hey Alma containing evidence of what I suspected.  She states, “In my 23 years, I have never felt more shame than I did when my mother lashed out at me — inspired by her ‘Christian values’…” and “…was homeschooled for most of my life, supposedly for religious reasons, though my mother hardly ever took us to church,” and “…my father had a Jewish background through his mother’s family…” and “I loved to hear about my great-grandfather and how he wore a kippah and the Jewish traditions he had” and “I remember she threw away the books I had on Judaism because they ‘undermined my faith in Jesus’” and “I was welcomed by the Hillel rabbi, who taught me so much about Judaism and made me feel at home on Shabbat. I completed a Jewish learning fellowship, I learned about Kabbalah…”

I have some compassion for Burton and how rejecting her “toxic mother” by adopting Judaism helped her heal from sexual assault.  Yet, my ethnicity, my faith, my tribe is not something you can just change into like a new outfit or use as weapon to wield at your Jesus-freak mother, yet that’s exactly what Burton has done.  If you look at the titles and substance of her articles in NY Magazine, Hey Alma, and The Forward, you can see a theme; those articles are written with the express purpose of lashing out at Jews, with the added insult of using the “as a Jew” pretext to do so when she’s not a Jew.  Learning about Judaism and getting drunk with the Hillel rabbi on Shabbat (as fun as that is) does not make you a Jew.

When asked about aliyah in another article for Hey Alma, Burton stated, “I don’t think I would be accepted for aliyah unless I had an Orthodox conversion, which is something I want eventually, but I don’t like feeling that I have to prove my Jewishness by doing it.”  Newsflash:  your Jewishness is non-existent unless you’ve converted.  You have absolutely no authority to speak “as a Jew.”  You also have no authority to assume the experiences of actual Jews, regardless of their melanin content.  When you’ve committed to becoming a member of my tribe by going through a formal conversion, which will include being taught about the historical and current struggles of walking through life “as a Jew,” then you will be welcomed “as a Jew.”

One of the worst offenders happens to be legitimately Jewish, which demonstrates that the tactic of wearing Jewface isn’t restricted to counterfeit Jews.  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.

I don’t know what prompted Rabbi Barat Ellman to become Jewish. I could speculate that it was probably related to her marriage to the former CEO of Birthright, Jay Golan, but I’ll never know for sure.  What I do know is that she has used her “as a Jew” credentials to prop up the infamous Women’s March anti-Semites, Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez. Ellman even held a fundraiser for Julia Salazar. Ellman isn’t alone in speaking “as a Jew” while embracing those who seek Israel’s demise and the genocide of Jews; there are a number of born Jews who are doing the same, but because she was dedicated enough to undergo a formal conversion and go through the process of becoming an ordained rabbi, which is quite arduous, it makes me wonder why she’d join a tribe of people that she’s actively harming.  As I’ve written before, demonizing Israel, Jews or Zionism always leads to physical acts of violence toward Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora.  The more amplified that hateful rhetoric becomes, the higher the incidents of anti-Semitic attacks.

Ellman has raised her daughter with the same twisted values. Despite the highly publicized anti-Semitism within the national Women’s March, Ellman’s daughter, Sophie Ellman-Golan, like her mother, has remained steadfastly loyal to the national Women’s March.  Ellman-Golan has continued serving the anti-Semitic leadership of the Women’s March in some capacity; she is Deputy Communications Director, Deputy Head of Socials and Outreach, or Head of Ally Education, depending on the day.  When a sukkah was vandalized by anti-Semites with the words, “Free Gaza” sprayed on it, Sophie Ellman-Golan encouraged the anti-Semitic vandals to make sure they were targeting Zionist Jews next time.

Questioning someone’s Jewishness is not something Jews tend to engage in. Traditionally, it’s considered uncouth and rather ugly.  It’s certainly not something I ever thought I’d be doing, but when I began to see this pattern of “as a Jew” preceding some of the vilest anti-Semitic statements and lies I’ve ever seen, I had to rethink my position. These imposters are counting on the fact that Jewish sensibilities lean toward never questioning another’s Jewishness. What’s worse? Questioning someone’s Jewishness or allowing their hateful lies that harm our community to go unchallenged while having the weight of “as a Jew” behind them? 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.

Matthew Finkelstein weighed in on this issue and stated, “Judaism is a tribal tradition. Tribes have to define the criteria for membership to their tribe and that comes down to hard line, actual criteria. Telling a tribe they do not have the right to define the criteria for membership is a total negation of their fundamental right to organize around a central tribal identity. Telling a tribe they do not have the right to iterate specific criteria is a death sentence on the right of tribes to exist and fundamentally censures the key mechanisms that define Jewish identity.”

Imagine someone telling the Cherokee or Sioux Nation that they don’t have a right to decide who is a tribal member and because you feel like you’re a Native American, you get to “identify” as one.  This is called cultural appropriation and it’s absurd.

In that vein, Finkelstein’s sentiments echo the response of the Cherokee Nation to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test deeming her between 1/64 and 1/1024 Native American.  The Cherokee Nation’s Secretary of State, Chuck Hoskin Jr., stated on behalf of the tribe, “A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America. Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation. Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”

I believe this tactic of wearing Jewface is a planned strategy to add a kosher certification to the demonization of Jews by the groups previously named and others like them on the far-left.  And media vehicles like The Forward, Haaretz, Mondoweiss, AlterNetTikkun Olam, and Hey Alma lend them credence by giving them a constant voice.  In this regard, if you speak “as a Jew” while engaging in speech that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance deems anti-Semitic, which includes demonizing Israel with distortions and lies, be prepared to prove that you’re actually Jewish.

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