When Will Progressives #BelieveJews About Antisemitism?

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The United States is finally coming to grips with its long, dark history of racism. Or at least it seems that way. And the rest of the world appears to be following suit as well.

Coverage of the BLM protests has dominated the mainstream media over the past few weeks, prompting a nation-wide analysis of racism at the cultural and systemic level – at the root. This has never happened before. White privilege is in the process of being dismantled, and marginalized groups are finally being heard. Things are changing fast, and changing for the better.

Jews, a perennial victim of systemic and cultural white supremacy, should be overjoyed by this news. Right?

In theory, yes. But the currents of antisemitism are too strong. Too adaptable. And with every positive change that occurs in society, there’s always a new mutation of Judenhass to accommodate it – to ensure that Jews will never benefit from this progress, and that we remain on the bottom.

Until very recently, my working plan was to tackle antisemitism by emulating the black community’s approach to fighting racism, as that seems to be working out very well for them at the moment.

But then I was hit with the unfortunate, crushing realization that Jew-hatred is so much older, so much deeper, and so much more universally accepted than any other variant of racism. We will never have that kind of support.

We live in a time where a pancake syrup company (Aunt Jemima) is changing its name and removing its mascot to avoid offending the black community, but somehow Warner Bros can get away with retconning the Penguin (yes, that Penguin) as Jewish in a popular Harley Quinn series. That alone speaks volumes.

Anti-racists, by and large, simply do not care about Jews. Or they fail to see antisemitism as a real problem. Or they fail to see Jews as an oppressed people at all and agree with what is being said about us (hence the outpouring of support for Chelsea Handler, Louis Farrakhan, and Ice Cube), and believe that we “deserve” whatever happens to us. Likely it’s a combination of all three.

And why?

Because most people understand that blackness is just a skin color – a shorthand for someone of African origin. Why hate someone just because of their skin color, or where their ancestors came from? These are all accidents of birth. It makes no sense to any rational, progressive-minded person to hate someone for things they have no control over.

Lamentably, these same progressives often fail to see Jews in the same light. They don’t understand that Jewishness is an ethnic identity in itself – a signifier of ancestral roots in Judea (in the Middle East). Instead, they see Jewishness as a religion. A choice. A hat. A hat that we can take off and throw in the bin at any time, and never have to worry about oppression again. A black person cannot “take off” their skin color.

And the vast majority of Jews (99% of us, in fact) cannot “take off” their Jewishness either, but very few progressive gentiles seem to understand that, let alone respect it. That we are a Middle Eastern ethnic group indigenous to Judea is completely lost on them, as is the fact that we are – and have been for centuries – discriminated against on the basis of our racial and phenotypical differences from white-Europeans.

How could they possibly understand that when all they see on TV are A ) very old Jews like Chuck Schumer and Larry David who, like most non-Jewish Levantines, paled out considerably as they aged and B ) Jews of mixed parentage like Scarlett Johansson who obviously take after their non-Jewish side more. And what about visibly of color Ashkenazim like Oded Fehr, Idan Raichel, and Sacha Baron Cohen? “I don’t know, they must have Mizrahi or Sephardi descent or something” (they don’t).

And because of all the “Judeo-Christian” nonsense that has been bandied about over the past 30-40 years (overwhelmingly by white Christians), progressives have come to see Jews and Judaism as equally valid targets. And so antisemitism has been reduced, in their minds, to an “edgy” South Park-esque criticism of religion, not a toxic and murderous form of racism.

That’s not all.

After many centuries of European Orientalism and defamation of Jews (and Europeans successfully spreading these same ideas about us throughout the rest of the world), we’ve come to represent something far darker and more sinister in the public imagination, unlike other oppressed groups. This means Jew-hatred is more likely to be seen not as an attack on a beleaguered group of people for factors beyond their control, nor as the result of centuries of ingrained racism, xenophobia, and colonialism, but as a natural and justified response to Jewish behaviors and actions.

To put it another way: black people, and non-Jewish ethnic minorities in general, are seen as poor and largely defenseless populations that were/are unfairly treated for no other reason than the fact that they are not white-European. Jews, on the other hand, are seen as a dark, powerful, and malevolent force that deserves every horrible thing they’ve suffered.

There exists entire bodies of literature – entire mythologies – about us in almost every culture on Earth (i.e. every culture touched by white, Christian, or Islamic civilization), and the vast majority of it is not positive. Nearly all of it is couched in racist European Orientalism, describing us as a strange, dark, dishonest, conniving, irrational, savage, murderous, bloodthirsty, backwards, secretive, primordial evil. We are described as possessing an inordinate and almost supernatural degree of power, wielding a selfish and corrupting influence in every society we inhabit, and prone to committing heinous and senseless acts of brutality, sedition, and destruction out of nothing but the darkness in our hearts.

And to someone who’s been taken in by all of these claims (which is a lot of people), we’re not a Middle Eastern ethnic group that has been exiled, colonized, Orientalized, and lied about for hundreds of years – hated merely for the fact that we refused and survived the gentile’s every attempt at taking us apart piece by piece and snuffing out the flame of our ancient civilization (or stealing our mantle and taking it for themselves, see: supercessionism).

No, in their eyes, we’re a sinister and diabolical force that has caused incalculable harm to countless innocent people throughout the world, and so our persecution is more than justified.

After all, they are “taught” that we crucified Jesus. That we poisoned wells with deadly disease. That we kidnapped white babies and used them in our hideous demonic rites. That we back-stabbed Germany AND France in World War I. That we financed all of the world’s worst conflicts, including both World Wars. That we trafficked black slaves from Africa and sold them to Europeans. That we were the driving force behind the colonization of the Americas (“Columbus was a Jew, don’tcha know”) and the African slave trade. That we invented and imposed communism on unsuspecting populations while being ruthless, predatory capitalists ourselves. That we slaughtered our way into Palestine and cleansed the “true natives”/”true descendants of the ancient Israelites” from their land, just to fulfill our own stupid, outdated Bronze Age religious prophecies. That we harvested Palestinian organs and corralled them into open-air prisons, just like the Nazis used to do to us (“oh, they didn’t really, the Jews just made all that stuff up – but now they’re doing it to the Palestinians for real”). That we taught American police everything they know about beating on black people and Mexicans. That we control all of the banks and Hollywood. That we caused the Great Depression. That we created COVID. That we control the weather (yes, seriously). That our tentacles penetrate every organ of the US media, government, and even the UN itself. That we’ve more or less enslaved the entire world and bent them to our will. And, above all, that conflicts between Jews and gentiles are always our fault, and that we love to play the victim. That we have no morals. And that we are capable of anything.

And for them, the proof is in the pudding. We’ve been expelled from almost every country we’ve ever inhabited, and more than a quarter of the world’s adult population hates us. There has to be a reason for that, right?

For someone who believes all or most of the claims that have been made about us over the centuries, why would they trust us? Why would they believe a single thing we say? To them, anything we can possibly say in our defense is just more “Jewish lies” and propaganda.

In a twist of bitter irony, this holds just as true (if not more so) on the progressive left end of the spectrum as it does on the right.

For instance, one of the most important and longstanding progressive axioms is that whenever a (non-Jewish) person of color purports to have experienced racism, it is incumbent on others – especially white people – to listen in good faith. It is never OK to talk over, gaslight, or reject their claims out of hand, especially if it’s being done from a position of privilege (i.e. not belonging to the affected outgroup in question).

But that is a check we, as Jews, are not entitled to cash. Whenever we claim there is antisemitism, or we talk about our own experiences and our own disadvantages, we are not given the same “name your own oppression” deference other marginalized outgroups get. Instead, our claims are met with an eyeroll and a “there they go again”.

And what is “there they go again” supposed to mean in this context? It means they don’t believe we are acting in good faith. It means whenever Jews claim there is antisemitism, the default assumption is that it’s nothing more than Jewish (or “Zionist”) chicanery. Especially when said claims implicate progressives. There is no racism at work. There never was. It’s just “the Jews”/”the Zionists” up to their usual, no-good lousy tricks again – fleecing the masses and silencing criticism of their own actions.

The gut-wrenching irony here is that the same “race card” card that is rightfully decried in every other instance is gleefully trotted out – often by these very same progressives – whenever the claimant is a Jew.

Because for someone raised within an antisemitic culture (i.e. all white-majority, Christian, and Islamic countries), it’s a very simple matter: most Jews cannot be trusted. They are innately dishonest and have no qualms lying and exaggerating their own pain to get what they want. Therefore, any Jewish claims of antisemitism are viewed as automatically and inherently suspect.

The white nationalist adage that “the Jew cries out in pain as he strikes you” has long been a staple of the far-right, but it would seem the anti-racist left has (unwittingly or otherwise) internalized this motif as well. Even if they never admit it.

They may not think their attitudes are couched in traditional Orientalist European ways of thinking about Jews, but they undeniably are. The concept of innate Jewish malice, selfishness, chicanery, and evil is so ingrained in most parts of the world that Jewish guilt is accepted as a given and assumed to be a simple, uncontroversial matter of fact, no different from the sky being blue.

It is impossible for Jews to win. In fact, it is considered immoral for Jews to win. Jews winning, which doesn’t happen too often, is a sign that the game has been rigged by some shadowy hook-nosed puppet-master behind the curtains. We’re not supposed to prevail. We’re supposed to lose, and lose badly. We’re supposed to accept our own inferiority to the rest of the world, and ultimately vanish.

Is it any wonder that the world is so obsessed with Israel? Because with Israel, we’re not losing. We’re actually winning. And that’s not supposed to happen. Powerful Jews, especially those dirty and untrustworthy Ashkenazi ones, are a threat to all of humanity, and a cause of concern for every righteous, upstanding gentile with a spine.

And so, we are screwed. White without the privilege, and non-white without the sympathy, solidarity, or protection. We get the worst of both worlds and benefits of neither.

Other marginalized groups are finally having their moment – their light at the end of the tunnel. When will we have ours? When will progressives start to #BelieveJews, just as they #BelieveWomen. When will Jewish Lives Matter, as well?

The answer, it seems, is never.

About the Author
Half-Irish/half-Jewish American activist, musician, and writer.
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