‘Are Jews white?” is, no doubt, the strangest controversy spawned by “Wonder Woman,” the new hit movie starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot. It’s a debate that I, as a Russian-born American Jew, find both surreal (probably because it would have never occurred to me to regard myself as non-white) and disturbing.
Partly, that’s because the last time this issue came up, it had to do with white supremacists who want it known that Jews do not belong in their club; partly because there is something profoundly creepy about the focus on the biological classification of human beings.
Yet in fact, the current polemics about the whiteness of Jews are not about biology or skin color but about cultural status and privilege. And ultimately, this debate reveals less about Jews than about the flaws of current progressive discourse on “privilege” and “whiteness.”
The question of Jewishness and race has many aspects, including the complicated relationship between religion, culture and ethnic heritage in the definition of a Jew and racial diversity in the Jewish community. But ultimately, the debate is about whether Jews qualify as “privileged” or “marginalized.”
A year ago, freelance writer John-Paul Pagano published a powerful essay in Tablet about ways in which the current rhetoric of anti-racism erases anti-Semitism. It was inspired by a series of tweets from hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, who insisted that while Jews may have “had it bad,” they still “enjoy skin privilege” — not just in the United States and Europe but “worldwide.”
As Pagano noted, this assertion ignores not only a history of horrific brutality toward Jews (including the Holocaust) but the fact that anti-Jewish bigotry frequently takes the form of accusing Jews of being too wealthy or powerful. Pagano also discussed instances in which blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric on college campuses was excused because it was seen as coming from the oppressed—African-Americans or pro-Palestinian activists and targeting the privileged.
Many Jewish progressives believe that the answer is to fully include Jews under the umbrella of “intersectionality” — an approach that focuses on the interaction of different types of oppression and the overlap of marginalized identities. For some, the way to do this is to claim that Jews are “people of color.”
Others counter that, the discrimination and prejudice experienced by Jews simply cannot be equated with the burden of racism, which is correct in the American context but far more complicated in a global perspective.
But maybe the real answer is to drop rhetoric that treats “whiteness” as a stain of original sin and “color” as a mark of innocence — and rethink the often-simplistic framework of “privilege.”
I abridged the story – full article at link (r. a. note)