Privilege, Intersectionality, and Anti-Semitism

It took hours of patient, but quite vocal and sometimes heated discussion with my adored daughters to get the point of privilege across to me.  On the topic of “white privilege”, I misinterpreted the words to mean I needed to be apologetic for what white people had done to people of color in the past.  And, as a historian, I was certainly completely aware of the inhumanity visited by white colonialists upon the aboriginal Peoples in virtually every case of contact and the resulting legitimization of slavery, exploitation, and abuse but I did not feel responsible as a white person for those horrendous acts. Condemn them, yes. Abhor them, certainly. Actively campaign against the historical ravages that were caused, absolutely. Seek ways to mitigate the damage, the only humane response.

My daughters kept at it, doggedly pursuing me with stories of how institutionalized privilege works today.  The kid with no network of parental friends who can write recommendations.  The lack of that same network to find summer employment.  The stories that became routine about police shooting unarmed black men.  The fact that many (if not most) women have been victims of uninvited sexual advances or been made uncomfortable by men believing in some weird God-given right to do so.  And then, I watched a young black man about my eldest daughter’s age get carded in an airport bar by the same waitstaff that just served a table of similarly aged white women without such a demand.  And then, an acquaintance told me the story of how the guys at his company routinely rate the women employees on a “fuckability” scale (I did tell him never to talk like that ever again to a father of two daughters married to a woman he adores).  And then, more police and “stand-your-ground” killings of young black men and security guards handcuffing 11-year-old black girls in the classroom.

My daughters made the breakthrough happen and I understood their support for Black Lives Matter and The Women’s March. And I really did agree.  I got it and understood how privilege was being translated into oppression.  We began to support those causes with time and money.

A funny thing happened after attending a few events and writing a few checks.  Black Lives Matter came out clearly in support of the very anti-Semitic BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) Movement. The Women’s March leadership is evidencing anti-Semitic overtones as it includes Linda Sarsour (considered by many to be anti-Semitic and an anti-Israel terrorist supporter) and Tamika Mallory (who attended and has to-date refused to denounce a Louis Farrakhan speech in which he made his typical anti-Semitic remarks).  To be fair, both Sarsour and Mallory have made noises in the past denying anti-Semitism but continue their close association and support for individuals and causes that are blatantly and unequivocally anti-Semitic. Likewise, the Women’s March recently issued a statement strongly condemning anti-Semitism but until they part company with Sarsour and Mallory, I will find other ways to support equal rights and opportunities for women.

As a Jew, I am proud of the Jewish contribution to the causes of civil rights (see Jews and the Civil Rights Movement)and women’s rights (see Jews and Women’s Rights) and those community and cultural contributions are documented and unassailable.  And while I want to continue that tradition, I am concerned and afraid that “intersectionality” has become the new excuse for anti-Semitism, whether proactively or passively.

This is really a shame.  The problem is that movements like BLM and The Women’s March, while starting with needed, notable, and important objectives, have allowed themselves to be hijacked by others’ agendas.  BLM started for a damn good reason – it is open season on black people.  I want to support the effort to stop that brutality.  Why did BLM muddy their message and direction by adopting the BDS cause?  Why did they dilute their direction and spurn potential supporters?  Why did The Women’s March allow Linda Sarsour to use their cause to say that “You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none” as a justification for her belief that there is no role for support of Israel in feminism?  This from a woman who has actively supported Hamas, the elected leaders of the Palestinians in Gaza, and radical Islam – notable oppressors of women and women’s rights.  While advocating for the Palestinians, she shared the stage with Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian woman who was imprisoned in Israel for her participation in two terror attacks. Sarsour told the audience that she was “honored to be on this stage with Rasmea.” Why this face for The Women’s March?  It is a huge diminishment of the core objective.

Linda Sarsour has a right to her beliefs, no matter how repugnant I might find them.  I won’t support her and that is my right. And I cannot and will not support an organization that embraces her as a leader. I cannot and will not associate with that harbor anti-Semites and vocalize anti-Semitic memes. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement are entitled to personally support BDS, as wrong as I think that is.  I cannot support their organization when they operationalize their personal beliefs into the movement.  For the sake of “intersectionality” or because of it, those organizations have lost my support.

No one should be able to achieve their potential and their objectives by trampling on mine.  Find another way, pursue a different path and I will support you with time, energy, and resources.  Continue to support division and hatred and I will speak loudly and clearly and frequently in opposition.

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