Ran Bar Yoshafat

‘You People’ against Jew People

Netflix’s YOU PEOPLE left a lump in my throat, and it wasn’t because of the romantic cliché of a couple that succeeds despite it all. For hours I was trying to figure out why I felt this way again thanks to a Netflix production. After all, this is just a light romantic-comedy about a cultural clash between two lovers who come from very different backgrounds – one Jewish and the other Black – who manage to overcome these differences and unite their families through their love. Or rather, through soft antisemitism: the normalization of Jew hatred in society.

Let’s begin with the poor Jewish identity depicted in the film. The Jewish family is described as having almost no identity. Apart from a general reference to Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year for Jews – to which one of the main Jewish characters arrives without a kippa nor any desire to be there at all, there is a clear absence of Judaism, let alone any real connection to Jewish identity.

On the other hand, the Black and Muslim identity is covered in complex detail and is described as resisting mixing with any parts that are ‘different’, thereby maintaining its ethnic and religious ‘purity’. The father of Amira, the Black and Muslim romantic lead, is upset by the gentrification of his juice bar and that people are progressively having lighter skin.

If it was simply a case of using the stereotypical assimilated American Jewish family trope, I would not feel the need to write this. However, Netflix chose to dive straight into the well of antisemitic tropes that have caused our people to be beaten on the streets, shot in synagogues, and even killed in the US and across the world.

Stereotype One: Jews are sexual deviants.

Ezra’s orthodontist feels very comfortable asking to see his penis. This is not the first time he acts in such a way, according to Ezra’s mother, but she argues that every man is innocent until proven guilty, so this is not such a big deal. They are still in the Temple’s building when a couple of elderly congregants make sexual remarks towards Ezra.

Stereotype Two: Jews are cheap and use the Holocaust for their benefit.

Despite living in a large mansion and frivolously spending large amounts of money on clothes all day, Ezra chooses to buy a cheap engagement ring for Amira. When questioned about it, Ezra laughs and says he plans to say it was a ring smuggled out of Europe by his grandmother during the Holocaust, and then laughs about how he can ‘get away with it’ because, “they can’t say #$%# because once you drop the Holocaust”. To present Jews as cheap is a harmful stereotype. To say they exploit the Holocaust is repulsive. 

Stereotype Three: Jews were slave owners and oppressed Black Americans

At the introductory dinner, Amira’s parents discuss Akbar’s spiritual father – Louis Farrakhan, the American religious leader, black supremacist, anti-white and antisemitic conspiracy theorist, who accused “Satanic” Jews of controlling the world, along with being behind the Atlantic slave trade and black oppression, and, if that was not enough, has repeatedly praised Adolf Hitler.

Moreover, Ezra’s parents are told they are descendants of slave owners. True, there were Jews who owned slaves. There were Jews who engaged in prostitution. There were even Jews who were involved in the mafia. To claim that all Jews owned slaves, or supported slavery, or even to argue they did so more or even remotely close to anyone else in America is not only disrespectful to the Jews, it is also disrespectful to the history of black slavery in the United States and a complete fabrication of history. This fabrication of history comes from antisemitism, and was first brought from the ‘Nation of Islam’, when in reality About 150 out of 60,000 slaveholders were Jews. 

Stereotype Four: All Jews are rich.

Ezra’s family has apparently have been rich for three generations. While being wealthy is not a flaw in any way, shape, or form, the way it is being employed against the Jewish family certainly is. By implying that they are Jewish so they must be rich completely ignores the struggle of Jewish immigrants who came from Europe, escaping antisemitism, who were only able to climb the ladder to success 40-50 years ago. Jews were not allowed to enter universities freely, they were faced with quotas, they were fired from jobs for not working on Shabbat. It may be shocking to you, Netflix, but not all Jews are rich, and certainly haven’t been for generations.

Stereotype Five: The Holocaust was not that bad.

Later at the dinner table, Ezra’s mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is accused of comparing the Holocaust to slavery. I am not sure what is the need to compare one suffering to another, but clearly for Netflix the Holocaust in which Jews were enslaved and six million were murdered is nothing compared to slavery. The Hebrews who were slaved in Egypt is a story from 3,500 years ago, while slavery is something that happened just recently to Amira’s great-grandfather, apparently. Well Netflix, you may think the Holocaust happened five hundred years ago, but Ezra’s grandmother was probably in the Holocaust. Remember? That’s where he “got his ring”.

Stereotype Six: Jews are white.

In this world of intersectionality, the Jews are always the oppressors. Netflix is trying to make sure that no Jew would be in any way a part of the oppressed in the mindset of the people. It is rather strange considering how for years the notion that Jews were not whites came from the antisemites from the far-right. Has Netflix missed out on the fact that Jews come in all colors? There are Jews from Ethiopia, India, Morocco, Iran, Iraq, and yes – also many who have European backgrounds, and have never been accepted as whites. Why is this upsetting? It is not because being white is wrong, but rather because Netflix saw fit to lump all the wrongdoing that ever caused by white people and pinpoint it as ‘the Jews’. Instead of addressing the wrongdoing that white people have committed, they choose instead to wash their hands of it while spreading that same dirt on the Jews. This is the subtext that will eventually lead to even more physical attacks on Jews as we have seen recently in Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and many more.

Despite being a minute percent of America’s population, Jews are the most attacked group per capita in the United States. It is not just limited to Haredim. Even Reform and Conservative Jews have been attacked. Synagogues, schools, and college campuses have also seen Jews ranging from the most secular to religious being targeted simply for being Jewish. And despite some consistently trying to be a part of the progressive left in order to seem like the ‘good Jews, they will only realize when it’s too late is that they don’t want any Jew. The only way for them to fully accept you is if you reject your Jewish identity completely.

Netflix, I have one question. What do you get out of hating Jews? This is not the first case of soft antisemitism from Netflix, but it is the most recent and blatant. Painting all Jews as white, privileged, wealthy, and living off their ancestry’s slave trade is disgusting. Normalizing antisemites such as Farrakhan and making jokes that contribute to Holocaust denial should be unacceptable. Promoting the eradication of Jewish identity and the cancellation of Jewish culture in the name of ‘progress’ and as the solution to all white wrongdoing is not only shameful, but falls onto a path that we Jews are all too familiar with.

Netflix, take a hint from history. Antisemitism doesn’t pay.

About the Author
Attorney Ran Bar-Yoshafat is an author, international speak, PhD candidate in American Jewish History.
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