People constantly speak over Jews in a multitude of ways. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, for example, we are denied our history and identity. In the context of the Holocaust and World War II, our experience is often de-centered (e.g. (1) the United States depicts itself as the savior of the Jews, when in reality the United States showed zero interested in our plight during the war; (2) people on the left often claim people only care about the Holocaust because “Jews are white,” even though in reality Jews were targeted precisely because the Nazis considered us non-white). These, of course, are just some examples.
One of the most painful and frustrating ways that people speak over Jews is when it comes to defining antisemitism. There seems to be an obsession, particularly on the left, with accusing Jews of “crying antisemitism.” For example, recently BDS, while “disavowing” BDS Boston’s dangerously antisemitic “mapping project” (see my post BDS: A PATTERN OF ANTISEMITISM), stated that Jewish organizations “cynically” used the pretext of the project to “attack the Palestine solidarity movement,” as though Jews call out antisemitism only because we must have some ulterior motive. The JVP website (see my post WHO IS JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE?) quite literally accuses Jewish organizations of engaging in “Boy-Cries-Wolf overwrought hysteria.”
Just as other minorities should get to define what is oppressive to them, Jews — and no one else — should get to define our own bigotry. And yet, non-Jews — including those in the left — repeatedly refuse to grant Jews this basic courtesy.
WE ARE A TINY, TINY MINORITY
The Jewish People are a tiny, tiny minority.
There are about 15 million Jews in the world today, forming just 0.2% of the world population. By contrast, 31% of the world is Christian (~2.5 billion) and 26% of the world is Muslim (~1.9 billion). About 5% of the world is Arab (~436 million).
Jews come from a small region of the world roughly the size of New Jersey. Israel, the world’s only Jewish majority state, constitutes about 0.1% of the world population. Second to Israel, the country with the largest Jewish population is the United States. Even so, Jews form only 2% of the American population.
Most people in the world have never met a Jewish person.
Because we are such a small minority, our voices are already drowned out. Stripping a long-oppressed minority of its voice is dehumanizing and, of course, bigoted.
THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE
Only Jews have the experience of being Jewish, and as such, only Jews can understand the Jewish experience. A major part of the Jewish experience, unfortunately, has been antisemitism, both historically and today. Individually and as a collective, we carry the trauma and memory of 3000 years’ worth of conquest, colonialism, imperialism, massacres, genocide, forced displacement (i.e. ethnic cleansing), sexual violence, forced conversions, and more.
So many Jewish holidays commemorate events in our history, most of them tied to our oppression in one way or another. For example, Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of our sacred Temples. Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabean Revolt against a brutal regime. Purim celebrates how we were saved from a genocide. As such, the memory and awareness of our oppression is always with us; if you are not Jewish, you simply do not have this experience.
Sadly, the way antisemitism plays into the Jewish experience is hardly a thing of the past. Though only 2% of the American population, Jews are the victims of 60% of religiously motivated hate crimes and about 10% of *all* hate crimes, meaning we are the most disproportionately targeted minority in the United States. Half of Jewish American college students, for example, have felt the need to hide their identity on campus. If you are not Jewish, you can’t possibly understand what this feels like.
ANTISEMITISM IS SNEAKY
You have to understand antisemitism to be able to catch antisemitism, and the truth of the matter is that most people likely don’t understand how antisemitism works, because antisemitism presents differently than all other forms of bigotry. While other forms of bigotry (e.g. racism, homophobia, etc.) generally see their victims as “inferior” in some way, antisemitism positions Jews as both inferior *and* “superior,” powerful, conniving evil wrongdoers. In other words, antisemitism depicts Jews as the oppressor. In that way, targeting Jews is seen as “punching up,” rather than “punching down,” and as such, other oppressed or marginalized minorities are just as susceptible of engaging in antisemitism as anyone else.
Historically, Jews have almost always been the scapegoat.
Antisemitism is really sneaky and moves through conspiracy theories and euphemisms (e.g. Zionists, globalists, etc.). You need to be familiar with these conspiracies to be able to catch antisemitism, and the fact of the matter is that most non-Jewish people (and even many Jewish people) are painfully uneducated when it comes to Jewish identity, Jewish history, and antisemitism.
ANTISEMITISM IS EVERYWHERE
There is a reason antisemitism is known as “the world’s oldest hatred.” Almost every single country on the planet has a history of antisemitism. Almost every country in Europe, for example, has forcibly displaced (i.e. ethnically cleansed) its Jewish population at one point or another in history. Every single country in Southwest Asia (“the Middle East”) and North Africa has kicked out the majority of its Jewish population as recently as the 20th century; for example, some 850,000 Jews were expelled from their homes in the SWANA region between the early 1940s and 1970s, fully decimating ancient Jewish communities. The Americas also have a long legacy of antisemitism (e.g. the Spanish Inquisition), including the United States (e.g. declining Jewish refugees during WWII, General Grant’s expulsion order of Jews during the Civil War).
Palestinians, too, have a long history of antisemitism, one that predates the modern State of Israel by centuries. As recently as 1948, Palestinian Arab leadership allied with former Nazis; as recently as the 1970s, Palestinian militant (or terrorist) groups allied with neo-Nazis, one example being the Munich Massacre. For more on this, I recommend my posts A HISTORY OF POGROMS IN PALESTINE, NAZISM IN THE 1947-1948 ARAB-ISRAELI WAR, WHAT WAS BEING A JEWISH DHIMMI LIKE?, and THE STARVATION OF 100,000 JERUSALEM JEWS IN 1948. The fact that today Israel is clearly the more powerful party in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict doesn’t undo a millenium and a half of Arab antisemitism in Palestine.
To say that non-Jews should dictate what is or is not antisemitic is to give our historic oppressors the power to (1) rewrite history, and (2) silence us today.
(I want to clarify that I am not singling out Palestinians as historically more antisemitic than other people; rather, I am bringing this up because an article recently claimed Palestinians should get a say in defining what is or isn’t antisemitic, which I vehemently disagree with).
Over one *billion* people worldwide hold predominantly antisemitic attitudes. That’s about 26% of the world population. Over 41% of people worldwide believe at least some antisemitic conspiracies. As you will, recall, Jews form only 0.2% of the world population.
Antisemitic bias is historic, institutional, and it is everywhere. To give people who likely have antisemitic bias the power of defining what is or isn’t antisemitic is dangerous for Jews. That means that (potential) antisemites would have the power to rewrite, dismiss, and diminish the Jewish experience of oppression.
The fact of the matter is that the majority of the world thinks Jews are more numerous and more powerful than we actually are. Thirty percent of the world thinks Jews form 1-10% of the world population. Eighteen percent of the world thinks Jews form over 10% of the world population. The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is given disproportionate amount of coverage (to drive this point home: as of 2013, the State of Israel, the only Jewish majority state, where nearly 50% of the world’s Jews live, was condemned in 45 resolutions, accounting for 45% of *all* UN resolutions. In 2020, alone, Israel was condemned in 17 resolutions, compared to 6 resolutions for the rest of the world combined. Whatever one thinks of Israel’s policies, it’s impossible not to see the double standards. Israel is a country the size of New Jersey with just 9.2 million people — for comparison, the United States has 329.5 million people, France has 67.39 million people, Egypt has 102.3 million people, and there are about 9 million people in New York City alone. It’s ludicrous that such a small country with such a small population could account for nearly 50% of the world’s injustices).
How can people even begin to understand our oppression when they have antisemitic bias in the first place?
Yes, some Jews have weaponized accusations of antisemitism to be anti-Palestinian. But members of every marginalized minority or oppressed group are capable — and have — weaponized accusations of bigotry (e.g. the lynching of Emmett Till based on a false accusation of sexual harassment).
If you think Jews are “more likely” to weaponize accusations of antisemitism than other groups are to weaponize accusations of bigotry, that’s your antisemitism talking. The vast majority of accounts of antisemitic incidents are verifiably true.
Obviously, the context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict can complicate things. But that doesn’t mean that accusations of antisemitism shouldn’t be taken seriously or investigated properly, or that this should give non-Jews the power to define antisemitism. Nor does this mean that when Jews accuse Palestinians or pro-Palestinian groups of antisemitism that we *must* have an ulterior motive.
Additionally, the Jewish community, like all other communities, is not a monolith. But when the overwhelming majority of the community agrees that something is antisemitic, it’s time for non-Jews to listen.
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