Paul Mirbach

Why I don’t buy into intersectionality

Throughout my adult life I have been socially aware. I thank Habonim for that. Would I have gotten to be socially aware, even without Habonim and the important discussions, that we had? I don’t know. Perhaps. In the three years I was at the University of Cape Town I was exposed to more issues and causes than in any other time of my life. My perspectives were broadened immensely, and these two experiences molded me into who I am today.

I am a passionate Zionist, as committed as anyone I know can be, to Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for us Jews. Although I detest putting people into little boxes and labels, I would best describe myself as a Socialist-Democrat. I like to think of myself as an independent thinker – I never could be relied upon to be a member of the herd. I tend to grapple with the issues and then decide where I stand. More often than not, I find myself siding with those on the Left, but not always. “With your own conscience you sleep” was something I heard during my formative years in Cape Town, and it has become my motto, my compass.

So, to find myself supporting LGBT rights, for instance, was not something surprising. At the same time, I admit that I do not have enough knowledge and experience to understand the full ramifications of Black Lives Matter, but knowing the propensity for conservative thinking people to gravitate towards law enforcement, and knowing the inevitable social-racial profiling that police often have to do, something in my bones tells me that there is something there, with regard to what they are protesting about. I do not presume to know enough to go beyond that.

However, if there is something I do know a lot about, it is the BDS movement. I know that it portrays itself as a movement for human rights, but in essence it is far from it. I know that while there is much to protest and criticise with regard to the Israel’s policies in the West Bank, and more to protest about the deplorable behavior of the extremists in the settler movement, I also know that the situation is far more complex than that, and the other side to the story is not less deplorable. I know that the founder of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, is an Arche-hypocrite. I know that he advocates boycotting Israel, its products and institutions, including academic exchanges, yet he chose to study his PhD at Tel Aviv University, and refuses to return the doctorate he earned there. I know that although the movement highlights the injustices of what Palestinians experience in the West Bank (and there are injustices), that is not the whole story. In his own words, he has said “Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself…BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state”. Anyone who can display dispassionate indifference to what would happen to six million Jews, if he succeeded in “ending the Jewish state”, and knows that in reality we would be talking about a massacre, a genocide, cannot not be anti-Semitic. No, BDS is not a social justice movement. It has wheedled its way into being considered a liberal cause, among certain liberal circles, but if you look deeper and critically, you will see that it is not.

Yet, at the same time, I cannot remain indifferent to what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. That too, is racist, in my opinion. Regardless of the murderous intentions of the Hamas and other terrorists, I reject the survivalist mentality of “it’s either us, or them”, which is turning us into oppressors, which is used to justify unacceptable actions carried out in my name, all too often.

Here is where intersectionality comes in. I first came into contact with this phenomenon, with the report about how the organizers of the dyke March in Chicago did not allow Jewish marchers to march, carrying a gay pride flag with a Magen David on it. The idea that you can’t march for gay rights, because you are a Jew, or a Zionist, is ridiculous beyond the extreme. To take it further; according to the holy gospel of intersectionality, you cannot stand up against White Supremacists and neo-Nazis, alongside other anti-fascists, because you believe in Israel’s right to exist. That makes you also a fascist. How so?

This is an enslavement to rhetoric, completely disconnected from the issue at hand.

Some will say that because I am a Zionist and thus ostracized by them, I feel this way. That is not the case. I have enough self-confidence in my value system and moral compass to decide how I feel without being told what I should be feeling. I do not need their approval, and I do not seek their approval to protest against antisemitism and fascists, or any other injustice. I do not have to subjugate my Zionism, or change who I am, just so that I will be allowed to march alongside them.

At the same time, I certainly do not believe that because I am not accepted, I should abandon all other moral causes, just because they have also adopted them. It is not one or the other. There are many shades of grey between black and white (some say fifty!) and that is reality. I will not suddenly become less socially active, because I wasn’t allowed to march with a Magen David against the KKK and the neo-Nazis.

My reservations about intersectionality are because of what is at the very heart of the phenomenon:

1. The requirement, that if you believe in the justice of one social cause, then you also have to agree with them about all other social causes, is in my opinion an application of group pressure, conditional upon your being accepted. I don’t like being told what I should think. It stifles independent thought. This discourages people from grappling with the issues themselves, dictating to them how they should feel, not only about the issue at hand, but about all issues of what THEY consider is social justice (BDS included). I find that demeaning.

2. It is mercenary. You end up being used for your numbers to make a stand for a cause which is completely irrelevant to your core struggle. What has Black Lives Matter in America, got to do with BDS and Israel? There is no natural connection between the two causes, only a contrived form of what I would call “group-think”, an imposed herd mentality (ie. if you believe in this, then you also have to believe in that. Otherwise you are not “one of us”). This goes against everything I stand for. It is devoid of critical thought, an attribute that anyone championing a cause should always have and cherish.

3. It dilutes the focus of the struggle. Social struggles succeed, more often than not as a result of commitment and perseverance over a long period of time, not numbers. This commitment is derived from the passion and belief one feels for the cause. That passion comes from having a personal stake in the cause. Intersectionality undermines that commitment, for the sake of artificial and contrived alliances, around a dogmatic interpretation of what they determine it means to be “liberal”.

4. It is flawed with built in contradictions. Muslims fighting for BDS or to destroy Israel have no integrity advocating gay rights, where in Muslim countries and according to their religion, gays are persecuted. They have no credibility when advocating womens’ rights, when their own societies impose forced marriages (sometimes even pre-puberty), tolerate honor killings and condone genital mutilation. How can these people stand together with feminists? Yet, Israel, despite all its flaws, which openly struggles with its moral dilemmas concerning the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which embraces free speech and protest, which has done more for womens’ rights in the last two decades than any other country in the region, and which not only tolerates, but also embraces sexual diversity, doesn’t get a shoe-in. But, others, who in their societies, any demonstrations against the powers that be are cruelly broken up with live ammunition, who are committing genocide against Kurds, or Yazidis or whoever, are accepted unconditionally.

Groucho Marx once said “I don’t care to belong to a club that will have me as a member”.

I, on the other hand, would say, “I will gladly walk beside you in unity for our cause. If you will not walk beside me, I will walk alone.”

About the Author
Paul Mirbach (PEM), made Aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz, transforming rocks and mud into a green oasis in the Gallilee. Paul still lives on Tuval. He calls it his little corner of Paradise.