Jews must Reappropriate Intersectionality

Zionism was once championed by the political left in the West when Israel had a democratic socialist economy dominated by collectives, cooperatives and union-owned industries. Israel has since 1977 left socialism in eventually becoming the most high tech economy in the world with the Israeli high tech sector accounting for 40% of Israeli exports.

Yet Israel remains a welfare state and the Western left is not particularly hostile to other capitalist welfare states around the world. What then is the origin of leftwing hostility against Israel beyond the obvious influence of resurgent Anti-Semitism? Israel deliberately refraining from explaining the logic of its indigenous restoration project in Judea and Samaria is another factor and it could be argued that Israel is to blame due to preferring not to show its cards. To most people around the world, the project seems completely irrational and counterproductive and Israel refraining from explaining its strategy has caused severe damage to the perception of Israel in countries around the world. The general misperception is that demographic trends are not in Israel’s favor when in fact the opposite is true.

However, there is another factor behind the left’s hostility and that is the return of the Anti-Semitic notion of Jews as structural oppressors. While it is true that Arabs are discriminated against by Jewish employers in Israel, Arab companies in Israel completely refrain from hiring Jews. While there are difficulties for Arabs in the Jewish housing market are Jews completely barred from the Arab housing market and Jews wanting to live in Arab areas of Israel are stigmatized as “settlers” by the Arab public. The Arab discrimination against Jews in Israel is thus far more severe than the Jewish discrimination against Arabs in the same country.

The notion of Jews as oppressors was foundational for German Nazism and the Nazis seriously believed that ethnic Germans were oppressed by “the Jews”. There is similarly the accusation of apartheid which is based on the Anti-Semitic Nazi notion of the multiracial Jewish nation being “a race” despite the existence of multiple genetically distinctive Jewish ethnic groups and the historical and contemporary existence of converts to Judaism from all races. These two Nazi ideas lie at the root of intersectional hostility against Israel. While conservatives may reject intersectionality which should indeed be criticized for its Master-Slave morality, is it essential for Zionist progressive intellectuals to intervene in intersectionality which is based on critical theory and explain the Anti-Semitic underpinnings of intersectional hostility against Israel. Zionist progressives must explain that the Jews are indigenous to Israel and explain Israel’s wars as constituting an indigenous struggle against Arabist and Islamist imperialism. While there are critical theorists like Slavoj Žižek and Edward Said who are incurable Anti-Semites, most are well-intentioned and have simply become influenced by what they do not realize are Anti-Semitic ideas. Therefore it is essential for Zionists to reappropriate critical theory and intersectionality and hence the importance of Zionists establishing themselves in critical theory and thus also injecting the Zionist perspective into intersectionality.

The fact is that Jews are structurally oppressed throughout the Christian and Muslim worlds and remain discursively structurally oppressed even where there are no Jews such as in fericiously Anti-Semitic Malaysia. Jews were historically oppressed by Palestinians in the land of Israel and remain so to the degree that Jews cannot live in Arab areas of Israel without being armed to the teeth. Jews living in Arab residential areas of Israel are thus forced to carry weapons on an everyday basis due to justified fears of being murdered by Anti-Semites. The May 2021 burning of ten synagogues in the mixed city of Lod is certainly a case in point. 

Jews are the ones who are a structurally oppressed category and Zionists must therefore urgently reappropriate critical theory and ensure that Jews, including Israeli Jews, are recognized as a structurally oppressed group within intersectionality. In fact, Jews are also structurally discursively oppressed by intersectionality itself and since critical theory and intersectionality are acutely sensitive to experiences of oppressed groups is it essential for Zionists to make their case within critical theory and intersectionality and show the Anti-Semitic basis for current hostility against Israelis within critical theory and intersectionality.

What is necessary is nothing short of an indigenous space within critical theory as a counterweight to the third world perspectives of postcolonial theory which tend to be virulently Anti-Semitic. This indigenous space needs to embrace indigenous modes of discursivity, including rabbinical modes of thinking which are about ensuring indigenous survival and countering the effects of imperialist culture upon the indigenous Jewish nation. This is quite urgent indeed to prevent Anti-Semitism from completely dominating the left.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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