Over the weekend, Anne Frank began trending on Twitter and for the worst reason imaginable:
“Anne Frank had white privilege,” began one tweet. “Bad things happen to people with white privilege also but don’t tell the whites that.”
“Yes, all white people are safe,” said another Twitter user. “No one is saying the Nazis didn’t target white people, just that white people can hide behind their whiteness, whereas in Nazi USA black people can’t. Go tell black people the whites got it hard.”
Apparently, this is not the first time that Anne Frank has trended on Twitter for having white privilege and this is not the first time this heinous idea of Jews being “white” has been used to minimize our suffering in the Holocaust and beyond. A few months ago Whoopi Goldberg called the Holocaust white on white violence on The View.
This past fall, progressive-activist Shaun King posted on social media, “The only reason why people celebrate ‘Christopher Columbus Day’ and never ‘Adolf Hitler Day’ is because Columbus massacred non-europeans [sic].”
And finally, in David Baddiel’s book “Jews Don’t Count,” he recalls a time during the Corbyn years when the Labour party handed out an educational pamphlet naming all the minority groups that had been targeted in the Holocaust. They mentioned black people, disabled, Roma, gay. There was just one group that oddly was left out – 6 million Jews! When asked about it they explained that Jews aren’t a minority, just white Europeans.
If you’re shocked (which I hope you are), know that the Talmud predicts that this would happen. We’d expect bigots to hate Jews, because they are, well, bigots, and looking down on minorities is what they do.
But what about the people who fight for diversity, inclusion and lifting up the oppressed? This is what they live for! Surely they’d all support Jews in this cause. But since antisemitism is a spiritual feature of exile (according to the Talmud) hatred of Jews must persist, even in illogical ways. Therefore, instead of seeing the Jewish community as one of the most persecuted minorities of all times, Jews are turned into a privileged white, European, colonizing group. Suddenly, Jews don’t need to be protected, but rather other minorities need to be protected from Jews.
While you may think this is all too absurd to even engage with, we live in an age where few people are learning history and foolish people are quickly and effortlessly sharing and imbibing lies on social media. So we must engage in an education campaign if we’re going to stem the tide. The problem is that the current way that race is being discussed in the US does not include Jews, and if we don’t push back, things could only, God forbid, get worse. So below are a bunch of common misconceptions about Jews vis a vis the conversation of race, privilege and persecution and how we can respond.
Antisemitic Myths To Combat
- “Jews are white” – Actually Jews fit into the BIPOC category of “Black/Indigenous/People of Color.” Jews originate in the Levant. That means that we are an indigenous, brown people from the Levant. (Though like some Arabs, some of us are white-passing, and there are converts who are actually white.) Due to migration patterns, intermarriage, conversion and sadly a lot of violence against Jewish women throughout the ages, a Jew can look like any race or ethnicity. But there is a difference between being white and being white-passing.
- “Ashkanazi Jews are European” – Actually, Ashkanazi Jews were expelled TO Europe and in most cases fled FROM Europe for safety. We lived behind ghetto walls, were treated as second class citizens for most of our stay, endured blood libels, Crusades, expulsions, pogroms and the Holocaust. White Christian Europeans never saw us as fellow Europeans. Even when Jews were emancipated during the Enlightenment and allowed to become citizens, it was on the condition that we erase some of our Jewishness. Later on, Nazis saw us as a sub-human race. It is revisionist history to pretend that we lived side by side with white Christian Europeans throughout the centuries. Being exiled to a new, colder land didn’t magically change our DNA. Ashkanazi Jews are genetically linked to all Jews and to the Levant.
- Jews Aren’t Degraded In Media The Way Other Minorities Have Been/Are – Actually, non-Jewish media has had a long propaganda war against us. “The hooked nose Jew” motif entered Western Christian art in the 12th century and became an antisemitic canard ever since. Jews were made to wear pointy hats in those days in Europe as well, so between big noses and pointy hats, Jews became fodder for witch and goblin mythology. Jewface or “stage Jews” was a practice where non-Jews would dress up as Jews in minstrels to act in foolish and exaggerated ways with big noses and Jewish garb. The most famous example of a stage Jew is Shylock from “Merchant of Venice.” These mocking depictions began as early as the 1600’s and continue to this day. According to David Baddiel, antisemitic characters and sentiments have been sprinkled throughout great literature like Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” (Fagin) and several T.S. Elliot poems. Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple” is a virulent antisemite. Yet just as Mel Gibson’s career wasn’t ended when it was discovered that he’s a raging Jew hater, so too, the people who fight for minorities to be respected have not disavowed any of these authors for their blatant Jew hatred.
- Systemic Racism in the US never affected Jews – Actually, while Jews are basically never included in these conversations, systemic racism affected Jews in the US for hundred of years, including redlining, to keep Jews out of certain neighborhoods, as well as an expulsion and a blood libel.
- Jews are only a religious group – Actually, we are an ethno-religious group. While conversion is allowed, the vast majority of Jews are Jewish because their parents (or at least their mothers) are Jewish. We are called “the nation of Israel” all over our holy books. We descend from the same great great great grandparents – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. And we have Jewish genes and Jewish genetic diseases if you still don’t believe us.
- Jews are the richest minority – Actually Indian Americans are the richest ethnic group in the United States, earning a median income of $100,547 in 2013, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, compared to the $51,939, your average American made. No one would argue that Indians are not a minority group. No one claims they’re taking over the world either…
- Jews are too privileged to be endangered – Tell that to the millions of Jews throughout history who rose up the ranks in their societies and then had their wealth, power, homes and lives destroyed because antisemites decided to. We may not be as well off as Indians, but Jews have been historically successful. And yet, it hasn’t been enough to guarantee our safety or security. Not only are many Jews walking around with intergenerational trauma from past atrocities, because we know we’re ultimately not safe anywhere, most Jewish parents give their kids “the talk.”
- Jews Can Just Wear a Baseball Cap or Cut off Their Peyos if they don’t want to be attacked – Actually we can’t. Racial features like being Black or Asian are more immutable than the stereotypical Jewish look, so if there was a Nazi check point, a Black or Asian person would be at a disadvantage compared to a white-passing Jew. But asking Jews to go into hiding is not an acceptable request. Our Jewish life is only able to continue when we are able to wear our religious clothing, go to our synagogues, kosher stores, mikvahs and Jewish schools. In a matter of life and death, we can hide in attacks or change our clothing and daily patterns. But doing this long term would be the death of our people. And that will never be an option. So don’t ask us to.
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Thank you for responding with this important message to combat the lies being propagated. I would add under “systemic racism” that Jews were historically also not admitted into colleges or certain professions. Not to mention the ancient history of the Jewish ghetto…
My understanding is that historians argue about the ethnic origins of Ashkenazi Jews. And to be honest we are considered Caucasian.
That does not, however, change the fact that we are an ethno-religious minority subject to horrific persecution.
There have been false theories about our origin. The latest data confirms that we have Levantine origin and are genetically connected to all Jews.
In Canada, Jews were also not permitted to join certain clubs and were frequently denied employment. Further, some public parks had posted signs that read “No Jews or dogs allowed” Caveats also ran with the titles to some land that forbid sale to Jews. Holding public office was also restricted because an oath on a Christian bible was required.
It really is a problem to view all prejudice through the lens of the African-American slavery experience. The Nazis didn’t categorise people racially on the basis of skin colour, but by the pseudo-scientific concept of “blood,” and Jews were held to have “negroid blood.” It just shows that these debates are more about the contemporary world than the Holocaust.
The other problem with the “Jews can hide” idea is that it would be deemed unacceptable to say, “LGBT people can hide from homophobia/transphobia by staying in the closet” so why is telling Jews to closet themselves somehow acceptable?
This is a great write-up, Allison! Anyway to put together this text into a visually appealing poster that can be hung for others to read? Would love a talking guide like this to hang on my cubicle wall. Some “Points to Ponder”…
Hmmmm…. While I haven’t been pulled over for driving while Jewish…I have repeatedly been asked throughout my life if I was Jewish…though I only inherited the “privilege” through my mother (Ashkenazi)…. 50% ethnically Jewish and not religious…though more times than not I’ve denied it…
Italian or Greek…and sometimes Spanish serves me well…less threatening identities…
I’ve also experienced on at least two occasions threatening looks and overt threats…”…we will push you Jews into the sea”…it was just assumed I was one…interesting…
So while racially I suppose I’m white…there is not a thread of doubt in my mind that if I’d been born 15 years earlier, and 4 thousand miles further east… I would’ve been profiled, and summarily shipped off…
And, yes, there’s also no doubt in my mind that it couldn’t happen again… some demographics are untouchable… Jews are ALWAYS touchable…
Why do you say racially white when Jews are indigenous to the Levant and you have been mistaken for someone “ethnic” many times? We’re not white and have never been white.
Allison, thank you for responding…
I cannot and would not argue your post…and agree with you on every point…
I get it…I don’t think the rest of the culture, and the world really, does though…they (it) thinks they get to define you…and they try very hard to do it.
Of all the injustice in the world; the blatant human rights violations going on. But it’s little Israel that gets blamed and gets held up to scrutiny no one else does. BDS is a great example…
So why is that!!? We both know why!!
And, no, I’m not saying Israel is perfect either.
The world would never let the facts get in the way of what they think or believe…
Thank you for reading; posting and responding.
Every minority gets to define their experience. But the Jews. Let’s stop letting others define us. Let’s stop using their language. Let’s use our language and our experiences.
I don’t remotely look like I’m from the Levant. Neither does my wife, neither do my children, and most Jews I know wouldn’t be mistaken for natives of the Middle East. We are indigenous to the Levant but only via our fathers, and the latest theory about Ashkenazi Jews’ origins is that Jews from what is now Israel who moved to or already were in Rome – and there already were many before the Temple was destroyed and the revolt circa 135 CE was put down – married Roman women who converted to Judaism.
But when I put on a yarmulke, I can look like the winner of the Mr. Aryan pageant and others, including anti-Semites, know exactly who I am. The Jews always most in danger of attack are Chassidim, because they are far more “visibly Jewish” than anyone else. Just ask around in Borough Park, Williamsburg, Paris, Brussels, Stanford Hills (London). Everyone will know someone who’s been harassed at best or beaten by Jew haters.
Not every Arab nor Sephardic Jew looks like he’s from the Levant either. One of our readers sent us this site http://ashkenazijews.net There’s a whole bunch of Ashkanazi Jews who have a Middle Eastern look. And all Jews are genetically connected to each other and to the Middle East. Yes, there is a theory that there were some women who converted at one point, but that doesn’t mean we don’t all still have genetic ties to the Levant. And yes, the more visibly dressed Jews and Jews who frequent Jewish institutions are the most at risk. But history has shown us that antisemites are motivated. And they find us.
Absolutely, there are plenty of Jews – and I mean Ashkenazim – who have that Levantine look. Just wanted to point out that our ancestry is complicated; it was fascinating to learn, at least according to the latest genetic study – not the one by the self-hating Israeli that puts us in Turkey, I believe – about the converted Italian women. Given that David was the grandchild of a convert, there’s kind of a nice symmetry there.
As to the motivation of anti-Semites, well, the proof is there for all to see. Except those who refuse to see…because they are anti-Smites.
No one is denying that we have had converts and intermarriage and plenty of rape. But we still have a distinct genetic makeup that connects us to other Jews and to the Levant.