Antisemitism is Not a Form of Racism
Why is it so important for many Jews to feel included in the agenda of 'anti-racists?'
In a Venn diagram showing racists and antisemites, you would see a great deal of common ground. But to reduce antisemitism to just another form of racism would miss the larger picture entirely. Antisemitism is not racism because the focus of the hatred is a moving target that has little to do with race.
Do they hate us because they believe we control the secret levers of government, money, and power? Because of Israel? Because we dress and act differently? Because we can blend in with the majority population? Because we’re communist? Capitalist? Too white? Not white enough?
The answer is that it doesn’t matter. Antisemitism will show itself in all political, economic, social, and cultural contexts. They hate us not because they consider us a separate “race.” After all, there are Jews of all races around the globe. No, they hate us because they can project their own insecurities, fears, and even guilt onto us. The “Jew” in the mind of the antisemite, is more of an idea than an actual group of people. We saw an example of that in the synagogue hostage standoff in Texas last month, when the terrorist assumed that any random Jew in any random synagogue had the power or influence to free a prisoner with a phone call.
This is not race hatred at all. It is something deeper, more ancient, and so woven into many cultures, and even races, that some antisemites seem to have no idea that the views they hold are antisemitic. Racists, on the other hand, pretty much know they are racist.
Why is this up for debate at all? What are the advantages or disadvantages of defining antisemitism as a form of racism? The advantage is “inclusion.” We are tired of those who say they are anti-racist failing to classify hatred against Jews as a form of racism.
It is why some of us get upset when politicians fail to mention antisemitism when denouncing it and instead universalize it to all racism. This was on display during Holocaust Remembrance Day last week, when Jews pointed out when world leaders neglected to mention Jews or antisemitism in their statements.
But we can’t have it both ways. We cannot say that antisemitism is a form of racism and then get angry when our leaders condemn all racism instead of antisemitism specifically.
A couple of years ago, I wrote this on Twitter:
It was supposed to have been one of those “jokes” that also contains a hint of the bitterness many Jews feel at not being included on the agenda of self-avowed “anti-racists.”
Tema Smith scolded me at the time with this:
Smith went on to become Director of Jewish Outreach and Partnerships at the Anti-Defamation League, but not before she angered many Jews on Twitter by blocking them—some for unknown reasons and others for disagreeing with her on the nature of racism and antisemitism. My crime above did not earn me a block, but it did make me lose interest in engaging with her on anything. Many Jews are also people of color, but I believe Jewish advocacy should be based on our status as Jews.
Shortly after Smith’s appointment, somebody pointed out ADL’s definition of racism: “The marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.”
Jewish Twitter reacted with anger. Where were Jews in that definition? Many saw Smith’s hand in that statement, and those who had a problem with her in the first place then piled onto the ADL. I think that’s unfair because, in that instance, the ADL was defining racism and not antisemitism. That is because they are two separate things.
We are understandably upset when “anti-racists” fail to include antisemitism as part of their fight against racism. Me? I am OK with not being included. I don’t want to let “anti-racists” off the hook for antisemitism within their own ranks. Inclusion would not solve the problem. In fact, it would give them cover. By keeping antisemitism defined as a different kind of hatred than racism, we recognize it as something unique, as something that must be defeated with different tools.
As Jews, we are a people apart. Antisemitism is a hatred apart.