The subject of this essay is, as one might expect, White Jews. By that term, I mean to evoke two different conceptions that are clearly related but distinct in important ways. First, there is the matter of particular persons who, but for their Jewishness, would be (in the American context) unambiguously White. We might simply call those persons White, or we might say they are conditionally White, off-White, functionally White, or “White but not quite.” The intersection of Jewishness and race has a long and fraught history over several dimensions; there were and remain significant questions regarding whether Jews (at least those of proximate northern European descent) should be considered “White.”Footnote 1 Conditional Whiteness may be the most comprehensive describer: an American Jew whose grandparents immigrated from Austria might unambiguously benefit from White privilege when passing a highway patrol car, but not enjoy it in any way whatsoever when White supremacists are looking for a target to harass. Nonetheless, I do not wish to be hung up on the precise nomenclature.Footnote 2 Suffice to say, there are many Jews whose ancestry proximately traces to European countries, whose status as White in America would be relatively uncontroversial save for whatever complications are posed by their Jewishness. For simplicity's sake we can refer to these Jews as “White Jews.”
But, of course, not all Jews fit this description. There are Jews whose ancestry is not European: Sephardic Jews from Turkey or Latin America, Mizrahi Jews from Iraq or Tunisia, Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, African American Jews, and others. Yet, in most conversations or discourses that purport to be about “Jews,” the archetypical Jew that is imagined as the subject of discussion does not look like those Jews and does not include their history. What counts as a “Jewish problem” or a “Jewish experience” or a “Jewish history” is often in fact particular and partial to the specific problems and experiences of the Jews described in the first paragraph: the White Jews.Footnote 3 The merger of Jewishness into Whiteness places non-White Jews in a double bind—“split at the root,” to use Adrienne Rich's evocative phrase.Footnote 4 On the one hand, the discrete experiences, problems, or histories of non-White Jews will not be recognized as Jewish insofar as they are non-White (since Jewishness is understood as a White experience).Footnote 5 And on the other, insofar as these experiences, problems, or histories are recognized as Jewish, then they will cease to be acknowledged as non-White (since, again, Jewishness is understood as a White experience).Footnote 6
Hence, the second conception meant to be evoked by “White Jews” is the vision of the Jew as White in the public imaginary. Even granting all of the qualifications present in the preceding paragraphs, the figure of the Jew is currently imagined as White—certainly in the Anglo-American world, and perhaps globally as well. The prototypical Jew is someone whose ancestors lived in Europe; if they did not remain there it is because they moved at some point to America or Israel due to some type of European oppression—Russian pogroms, the Nazi Holocaust, the Dreyfus affair, and so on. Jews who do not fit this narrative are often not acknowledged. Even where they are, their image is not the one that is initially evoked when people (very much including those in the overwhelmingly Ashkenazic and generally pale-skinned American Jewish community) talk about Jews. Put another way, “White Jews” are just “Jews”; if one is to talk about non-White Jews, a specific modifier is needed.Footnote 7 So “White Jews” also refers to the figure of the Jew as it is currently conceptualized in the public imagination—a figure that is imposed upon the lives of all Jews, whether (individually) White or not.Footnote 8
The object of this essay, then, is to think about White Jews as individuals, and White Jews as a concept, and interrogate how the two constituent elements, “White” and “Jew,” interact with one another. The methodological approach is (to complete our march through the title) an intersectional one;Footnote 9 the idea is to think about how Whiteness and Jewishness in combination function in ways that are not necessarily grasped if one atomizes the identities and holds them apart. My claim is that when Jewishness—whether as a conceptual matter or as embodied in individual persons—is understood primarily as a subspecies of Whiteness, it obscures important features of Jewish experience for White and non-White Jews alike, while often accentuating or accelerating antisemitic tropes. In doing so, it perpetuates a form of antisemitic marginalization at the same time as it ratifies, even promotes, a racialized hierarchy within the Jewish community.
Placing Jews and Intersectionalists in Conversation
There could not be a more pressing time for a renewed and reinvigorated analysis of the contemporary operations of antisemitism. The growth of White nationalist and neo-Nazi sentiment has put the issue of antisemitism back on the American radar screen in an unprecedented way. Yet there is a consistent worry felt among many Jews—progressive Jews included—that left-wing critics deprioritize the fight against antisemitism, viewing it as a marginal issue, a distraction from more immediate concerns, or a fight that (but for a few stray cranks) has already been won.Footnote 10 This fear is exacerbated by a noticeable lacuna surrounding antisemitism in progressive scholarship about contemporary issues of discrimination, oppression, and identity-based marginalization. Vigorous theoretical accounts of how antisemitism currently manifests in Western societies lag behind the excellent work focused on other oppressions. And though in theory intersectionality has much to offer Jews as an analytical tool for untangling some of these questions, in practice intersectional theorists have largely ignored the Jewish case. While intersectional approaches to Jewish difference are not unheard of,Footnote 11 they are exceedingly rare. Reviewing the literature on intersectionality in 2016, Marla Brettschneider found virtually no mention of Jews as a subject of inquiry. What's worse, the main exceptions are reactionary—authors who make sure to include “Jewish fundamentalists” alongside Christian or Muslim peers, or who emphasize (Orthodox) Jewish opposition to same-sex marriage as part of broader discussion of antigay religious practices while eliding the fact that Jews are disproportionately proponents of marriage equality.Footnote 12
Meanwhile, “intersectionality” has also become a term of significant discussion within the popular Jewish press, much of it negative.Footnote 13 It has taken the blame for promoting the marginalization of Jewish—particularly Zionist or Zionist-identified Jewish—persons in progressive coalitions, and is held ideologically responsible for acts of antisemitic exclusion in left-wing spaces that are supposed to be the locus of resistance to emergent racism and antisemitism.
While I understand where this critique comes from, I do not share it. Intersectionality is a tremendously powerful analytical tool that, when deployed properly, does far more to undermine these exclusionary practices than it does to warrant them. Yet the theoretical gap in intersectionality analyses largely overlooking the Jews is not fully accidental. Specifically, the association of Jews with power as an antisemitic trope functions to classify Jews not just as “White,” but as exemplifying or embodying Whiteness. Insofar as Jewishness is not understood as existing as a materially distinct category from Whiteness, the failure to consider Jews as a case of a marginalized identity is not intuitively felt as an absence.
Discourses about power (control, dominance), as well as discourses about hegemony (omnipresence, invisibility), can center both an intersectional analysis of the Jewish case as well as a meta-argument as to why Jewishness is often left untheorized in intersectional work. At one level, both power and hegemony are critical elements in exploring what Whiteness does as a social category. More than just a phenotype, Whiteness is a facilitator of social power and status, yet it is typically rendered unmarked. Consequently, the privileges and opportunities afforded to persons racialized as White are often not recognized as such—they are woven into the basic operating assumptions of society, such that their beneficiaries do not even perceive their existence. An important goal of much antiracism discourse is thus to unsettle the presumption of Whiteness as a neutral, objective vantage point and instead reveal or uncover the ways in which it provides specific and substantive power to those racialized as White.
For Jews, however, these concepts have a different social valence. Antisemitism frequently manifests as a concern over putative Jewish hyperpower. Whereas White individuals are often seen as an unmarked category (“just” individuals), Jewishness is very much a marked identity—and the markers quite frequently center around beliefs about Jewish power, domination, or social control. The Whiteness frame by design is meant to draw attention to these attributes, revealing things that otherwise go unseen or unspoken. But when it operates on the Jewish case—where these attributes are not unmarked but instead are exceptionally visible and salient—its cultural impact can be quite different. Instead of unsettling and particularizing a hitherto “neutral” identity, it can promote, even accelerate, deeply antisemitic tropes.
An intersectional approach—showing how Whiteness and Jewishness change in valance when conjoined together—can illuminate facets of antisemitism and oppression that otherwise might remain obscure. It allows us to see how an understanding of “White Jews” cannot be grasped simply by placing “Whiteness” and “Jewishness” side by side. The union of “White” and “Jew” is more than the sum of its parts. And indeed, since the “White Jew” is in part an imagined identity projected on all Jews (regardless of how they racially identify or—were they not Jewish—would be identified), the interrelation of Jews and Whiteness has impacts that extend well beyond those who, assessed individually, would be considered “White Jews.”
Ultimately, the goal of this essay is in large part one of reconciliation. By demonstrating the utility of an intersectional lens in illuminating otherwise hard-to-articulate forms of antisemitic exclusion, I hope that I can model the inclusion of Jewish issues in the intersectional canon, encourage more Jewish writers to view intersectionality as an important tool, encourage more non-Jewish writers to view Jewish issues as significant components of intersectional work, and dissipate some of the Jewish skepticism and anxiety that is currently associated with intersectionality's importance in contemporary social activism.
Intersectional Methods and Intersectional Gaps: Relating Whiteness and Jewishness
Today, intersectionality is sometimes deployed whenever a scholar or activist wishes to evoke multiple axes of identity-based discrimination. In its initial formulation by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, however, “intersectionality” sought to tackle a much more specific problem.Footnote 14 The issue was not just that, for example, racial oppression and gender oppression were often held out as separate inquiries. It was that even an inquiry that incorporated both an analysis of racial and gender oppression might still fail to adequately encompass the experiences of (say) Black women, to the extent that “racial oppression” was viewed through the lens of Black men, and gender oppression through the vantage of White women. Where that is the case, Crenshaw observes, the exclusion of Black women is not solved “simply by including Black women within an already established analytical structure. Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”Footnote 15 The core of the intersectional insight is that the experience that lies at the intersection of race and sex is not simply the combination of what are taken to be the “simpliciter” cases of race and sex, precisely because the “simpliciter” case is in actuality a discretely White (for women) or male (for Blacks) experience.
Hence, intersectionality is not a matter of building coalitions between groups combatting various forms of identity-based oppression: antiracist groups should also oppose sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and so on. This practice, sometimes dubbed the “additive” approach, simply ladles different marginalized identities on top of one another in the hopes that their summation will sufficiently include all persons in the full panoply of their diverse identities.Footnote 16 The instinct behind such moves is typically noble and is not entirely unrelated to the problems intersectionality seeks to confront: a movement advocating on behalf of women that leaves aside matters of racism and homophobia would not be providing for the liberation of all women since, of course, many women are non-White and/or nonstraight. Yet such practice, while well meaning and often quite valuable, is not itself intersectional. It takes as given the status quo understandings of concepts like “racism” or “homophobia” that are culled from the experiences of the “otherwise-privileged members of the group.”Footnote 17 For example, a conception of sexism that focuses on the exclusion of women from the workforce stems from a particular White (and middle-class) experience—it does not necessarily resonate with the Black (or working-class) women who frequently worked outside the home well before the latter half of the twentieth century.Footnote 18 If this conception is what sexism is imagined to be, then “adding” it to the antiracism mix will do little to rectify the exclusion of Black women.
One of the key benefits of intersectional approaches is that they encourage us to look into how the function and operation of our identity categories change when placed, as they always are, in dynamic relation with one another. Crenshaw's observation that, for example, Black female oppression is “greater than the sum of race and sex” is applicable across a wide range of cases. Avtar Brah and Ann Phoenix provide a more general formulation of intersectionality, associating it with “the complex, irreducible, varied, and variable effects which ensue when multiple axis [sic] of differentiation—economic, political, cultural, psychic, subjective and experiential—intersect in historically specific contexts.”Footnote 19 This aspect of intersectionality explains why I draw on it in a case that is—in more ways than one—unorthodox.
Recently, Cynthia Levine-Rasky began applying intersectionality theory to Whiteness as a marked category.Footnote 20 The basic insight of intersectionality proceeds on the assumption that the “otherwise-privileged” member of a group—the woman who is White, for instance—sets a neutral baseline by which other members of the group are measured. This observation is frequently valid as a descriptor, but a deeper dive allows it to be unpacked, disassociating Whiteness from neutrality and instead recognizing it as a distinct “color” with particular properties, associations, and characteristics—albeit ones that emerge out of historically situated processes and forces.Footnote 21 By fleshing out Whiteness as a cohesive analytical category in its own right, Whiteness can be thought of in a textured and variegated way—an observation which, in turn, suggests that Whiteness can operate differently in conjunction with different social categories, “doing” different things to, say, a recent east European immigrant, a working-class Irishman, an upper-class WASP, or a Jewish college student. Through this lens, we can begin to answer Levine-Rasky's penetrating set of questions: “[W]hat does whiteness ‘do’ for Jews? How does it confer or deprive them of power or privilege? What does it ensure or endanger?”Footnote 22
White + Jew ≠ “White Jew”
An example can help further illuminate the problem I wish to explore. In 2016, as the Stanford Student Council debated a resolution condemning antisemitism, one senator objected to a particular clause identifying claims that “Jews [control] the media, economy, government and other societal institutions” as a form of antisemitism. The senator argued, “[The clause] says: ‘Jews controlling the media, economy, government and other societal institutions’ [is] a feature of anti-Semitism that we theoretically shouldn't challenge. I think that that's kind of irresponsible foraying into another politically contentious conversation. Questioning these potential power dynamics, I think, is not anti-Semitism. I think it's a very valid discussion.”Footnote 23
The senator's comments were widely condemned as antisemitic or an apologetic for antisemitism; he ultimately withdrew his bid for reelection.
I agree that the statement in question was antisemitic in nature. And perhaps its utterance can be explained simply by there being some people who possess antisemitic attitudes. Yet I think one can reconstruct the thinking behind the senator's statement in a way that explains how—at least not knowing the particular history of the trope of Jewish hyperpower—one might have not instinctively recognized the problem. The line of argument would go as follows:
It is standard practice in opposing White supremacy to note the power and significant control White people, as compared to people of color, have in institutions like the media, economy, government, and other social bodies. So how can it be that the same argument made all the time with respect to White people generally—and acknowledged to be valid and progressive in that case—suddenly becomes a form of bigotry when applied to a particular subset of White people (i.e., the Jews)? Indeed, we frequently see White people try to deny they possess this power and instead take on the role of the victim; how is this any different?
If we view the issue through the lens of Whiteness, the need to question distributions of power—who has it, how is it exercised—is unremarkable, even essential. Under this framework, the objectors’ claim of bigotry or bias looks worse than inapposite, it looks familiar. It echoes larger efforts to dismiss or deny the real power and privileges White people, as a class, possess in important societal institutions.Footnote 24
Contrast the framing that emerges if we looked at the matter from a Jewish lens:
It is a standard form of antisemitism and anti-Jewish bigotry to argue that Jews have power and control over institutions like the media, economy, government, and other social bodies—power they exercise to the exclusion of and detriment of non-Jews. So why should such claims suddenly cease to be antisemitic simply because they cloak themselves in the garb of “antiracism” or “progressivism”? Indeed, historically speaking, there is no oddity in such a connection; antisemitism of this form has not just occasionally but frequently manifested precisely in this way—leftist self-identification and all.
Adopting the Jewish perspective, we encounter a familiarity of a different kind. Antisemitic tropes focusing on Jewish domination and control are standard-issue, and there is nothing uncommon in them being clothed in progressive language. Nor is there anything unfamiliar in dismissing Jewish objections to such stereotypes by labeling them further proof of Jewish power and censorial instincts.Footnote 25
Hopefully, this illustrates the sense of talking past one another that seems to explain at least part of this affair. The senator is talking about Jews no differently, he thinks, from how he talks about other members of the White community. How can it be that the argument shifts from valid to illicit simply because the subject is Jews? Meanwhile, the Jewish objectors think that the senator is talking about them in a way no different from any other antisemite. How could the same argument gain legitimacy simply because the senator thought his approach was antiracist in nature?
More importantly, it is clear that one cannot fully understand what was happening in this case if one insists on holding “Jewish” and “White” apart from one another. The incompatible narratives emerge because they seek to analyze the “Jewish” and “White” dimensions of the issue separately. One cannot simply add the two analyses back together at the end; the result would be gibberish. It is evident, rather, that something specific happened at the point of intersection. Discourses of White power and privilege—valid as far as they go—acted as a sort of accelerant for prejudiced tropes of Jewish power and privilege. The Whiteness of the Jewish figure served to cleanse, even validate, arguments that otherwise would reek in their antisemitic familiarity.
Tropes of Jewishness; Tropes of Whiteness
The above example illustrates that Whiteness and Jewishness do not simply sit side by side as social categories. Rather, Whiteness seems to be doing something to Jewishness.Footnote 26 “White Jews” are not “White” and then also “Jews.” Jewish Whiteness seems to inflect, in serious and fundamental ways, the understanding of what it means to be Jewish—or what Jewish experience could possibly be. At the extreme, it subsumes Jewishness entirely—Jewishness cannot be understood but through the interpretive frames offered by Whiteness.
Why does this happen? What is it about Jewishness that appears to make it particularly vulnerable to this sort of elision? “Why,” as Jessica Greenebaum asked, “is this oppression different from all others (or not)?”Footnote 27 And what are the impacts of the “White Jew” concept on actual Jewish persons (of any racial background)? Part of the difficulty is that Jewishness crosses over and blurs categories that theorists—particularly nonintersectional ones—often wish to keep separate. It is simultaneously national, racial, ethnic, and religious in character, but not reducible to any of these. As Albert Memmi, the renowned Tunisian Jewish anticolonialist writer, wryly observed, it is the “sociologists’ lack of imagination” that renders them unable to latch on to the peculiarity of the Jewish case and instead sees them grasping about for a more familiar box in which to place Jews.Footnote 28
Yet there are answers to be had upon a close look at the relationship between tropes about Whiteness and tropes about Jewishness. Viewed apart from one another, we can talk about Whiteness in a particular way and Jewishness in another way, without ever coming to grips with how these respective discourses interact. By placing them in a dynamic relationship, it becomes evident how Whiteness and Jewishness operate upon each other in particular and often troublesome ways.
Start with Whiteness. Identified with control, privilege, dominance, and exclusivity, “Whiteness,” writes Abby Ferber, “is a privileged status. To be White is to have greater access to rewards and valued resources simply because of one's group membership.”Footnote 29 In Cheryl Harris's influential formulation, Whiteness is treated as a property right—giving value to a racialized elite and protecting that value from challenge as a form of legalized entitlement.Footnote 30 At the same time, Whiteness—at least in a contemporary “color-blind” sense—is invisible. It exists as a default category, simply the way things are. There's no “White” media because it's just media, there's no “White” history because it's just history. Whiteness is a hegemonic presence that is so pervasive it need not be spoken of. As a hegemonic identity, Whiteness is simultaneously unobserved and omnipresent.
Sara Ahmed's essay “A Phenomenology of Whiteness” identifies race as “a question of what is within reach, what is available to perceive and to do ‘things’ with.”Footnote 31 And, it turns out, those who are White (qualified, of course, by other relevant aspects of their social identity—class, sex, sexuality, and, of course, religion) can do quite a lot. Much is in their reach; spaces and practices and behaviors and opportunities are open to them that are closed to or beyond the grasp of others. Moreover, in a nominally color-blind system, such opportunities are not viewed as the product of any sort of special accommodation towards Whiteness, but rather proceed as an unnoticed default. “Spaces are orientated ‘around’ whiteness, insofar as whiteness is not seen.”Footnote 32
Turn now to Jewishness. While perceptions about Jews are varied and diverse, antisemitism frequently manifests particularly as a putative criticism of Jewish power. In her influential pamphlet The Past Didn't Go Anywhere, April Rosenblum identifies several themes common to antisemitic narratives, including:
• Jews are mysterious, or act secretly behind the scenes;
• Jews have abnormal or supernatural amounts of power;
• Jews are disloyal to, or seek the destruction of, the society they live in;
• Jews are disproportionately the cause of harm in the world;
• Jews are unlike the rest of humanity (at best); or inherently evil, or tied to the devil (at worst);
• Jews are wealthy or greedy;
• Jews are the “brains” behind the action.Footnote 33
What these themes all share is their presentation of the Jew as distinctively empowered compared to humanity in general.Footnote 34 In the antisemitic imagination, Jews are hated specifically because they are presumed to be dominant. “Anti-Semites,” writes Phoebe Maltz Bovy, “weren't —aren't—just people who think they're better than Jews. They're people who think they're being oppressed by Jews.”Footnote 35 As Moishe Postone thus observed, “Anti-Semitism, consequently, can appear to be antihegemonic…. the expression of a movement of the little people against an intangible, global form of domination.”Footnote 36
The antisemite views the Jew as an omnipresent, world-spanning character—distinguished by his or her unrivaled ability to act, control, dominate, or take over. As Frantz Fanon observed, “Jews are feared because of their potential to appropriate. ‘They’ are everywhere. The banks, the stock exchanges, and the government are infested with them. They control everything. Soon the country will belong to them.”Footnote 37 This power is distinguished by being both extraordinary (they control everything, nothing is outside the Jewish grasp) and illicit (they gained such control through trickery, deceit, or other underhanded or illegitimate means). Viewed through Ahmed's frame of what is “within reach,” the answer given by the antisemite regarding the Jews is “everything.” Jews are marked by their exceptional, even superhuman, capacities—there is nothing they can't do, no institution or community that is insulated from their tendrils.Footnote 38
Narratives of ill-gotten Jewish power convert basic Jewish political participation into a “Kosher conspiracy.”Footnote 39 It is presumed that Jews are persistent and perpetual winners in the political game, such that the proper orientation towards Jews in society is to rein in their exceptional influence and leverage.Footnote 40 To the extent Jews are even recognized as marginalized, they are taken as a model of legislative and social protection—the out-group that's in.Footnote 41 Other groups seek the bounty that Jews are assumed to already possess. So, for example, Didi Herman documents the use of the Jewish case as justification for expanding the Race Relations Act (the United Kingdom's major antidiscrimination law) to other out-groups such as Sikhs and Muslims. Shouldn't they enjoy the same protections as Jews?Footnote 42 And surely the answer is yes—but what was overlooked was that Jews had never actually won a reported case under the Race Relations Act against a non-Jewish defendant. The image of the Jew as modeling protection completely overwrote a reality of continued vulnerability.
The point here is not that Jews are somehow distinct from other minority groups in receiving often-inadequate protection from formal or informal legal sources. That, of course, is an experience quite common to political out-groups. What may well be distinctive is that, in seeking out these protections, Jews lose even as—or perhaps because—they are thought of as winners.
What Does Whiteness Do to Jewishness?
1. Jewish Power
We can finally zero in on Levine-Rasky's question: What does Whiteness do to Jewishness?Footnote 43 In its critical manifestation, Whiteness as a lens of analysis is designed to elevate or accentuate certain aspects of experience that might otherwise go unnoticed. A middle-class, Christian, suburban man thinks of himself, and is thought of as, “just a person.” He does not see himself, and society does not portray him, as particularly powerful, or privileged, or influential. He works for what he gets, sometimes struggles or faces hardships “like anyone else,” and otherwise is presented as simply “normal.” The goal of Whiteness studies is not necessarily to fully falsify these stories as much as it is to provide a counterweight. It emphasizes opportunities that the man as White receives, or treatment that he gets, or spaces he can move in that others do not or cannot. Peggy McIntosh's “Invisible Knapsack”Footnote 44 is an effort to draw out the privileges of Whiteness as a contrast to a deracinated, individualistic perspective that is blind to these particular sets of racialized advantages.
But in the Jewish case, something different happens. Jews are not seen as “normal,” everyday persons.Footnote 45 As discussed above, the prevailing view of Jews—the view that subordinates Jews—is precisely that they are “particularly powerful, or privileged, or influential.” And so, when the Whiteness frame—which by design draws attention to these attributes—is overlaid upon the White Jew (as a body or a concept), it serves not as a counterweight but as an accelerant. The hope in applying the Whiteness frame to a gentile White is to unsettle received understandings of the White experience—to make people see things they had not seen before. By contrast, the effect of applying Whiteness to Jewishness is confirmatory: “I always thought that Jews had all this power and privilege—and see how right I was!”Footnote 46
Bryan Cheyette, commenting on the absence of antisemitism in many academic works dealing with oppression, attributes the gap to Jewishness being folded into an untextured Whiteness that operates indiscriminately upon Jews and non-Jews alike. “Where,” he asks, “within this supposed ‘common culture’ does ‘the Jew’—other than as an aspect of dominant ‘white’ oppression—fit?”Footnote 47 And the problem is worse than he lets on: Jews are not just another flavor of White. They epitomize Whiteness, they exemplify its vices as “the iciest of the ice people.”Footnote 48 Jewishness is perceived as “a form of almost hyper-whiteness,” its ultimate avatar.Footnote 49 Pushed to its limit, “Jewish simply displaces white.”Footnote 50 Jews, as inherently avaricious, deceitful, domineering, and possessive, stand in for those Whites who are irredeemably supremacist in orientation; we end White supremacy at the point where Whites stop acting like Jews.
It is no accident, then, that the latest Far Right gambit to enlist people of color into antisemitic projects is to promote the idea of “Jewish privilege” as the true and ultimate manifestation of “White privilege.”Footnote 51 The phrase “Jewish privilege” itself occupies a peculiarly interstitial space between Far Left and Far Right.Footnote 52 It emerged from ultra-Right sources like the Occidental Observer and David Duke's website.Footnote 53 But it has also been enthusiastically endorsed by writers on the Far Left, such as Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz; journalist Rania Khalek went as far as to mock as “paranoid” any objections to “addressing Jewish privilege.”Footnote 54 This overlap signals a larger bridging function antisemitism can play between right- and left-wing ideology, where Jewishness stands in for a shared understanding of illicit and all-encompassing power. Eric Ward, a researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center and an African American man, relied on this presumed commonality as a means of staying incognito while conducting research at a Far Right convention. He recounts a White supremacist who affirmed his presence there and approved of “temporary alliances with ‘the Blacks, the Mexicans, the Orientals’ against the real enemy, the federal government controlled by an international conspiracy.” As Ward observes, “He didn't have to say who ran this conspiracy because it was obvious to all in attendance.”Footnote 55
The “bridging” function of the “Jewish privilege” concept, in turn, reveals an interesting overlay between “Jewish Whiteness” and more traditional White supremacist iterations of antisemitism. White supremacists, of course, deny Jews are White. But—despite the claims of “supremacy”—White supremacists also tend to portray Whiteness as a threatened, besieged category. White supremacists do not view themselves as having power or control in American society—to the contrary, they are concerned to the point of obsession with how they have (in their minds) “lost” these things. And the explanation, very often, comes in the form of the world-dominating, conspiratorial Jew—as exemplified by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.Footnote 56 Jews, in this view, have replaced or supplanted Whites—and, adding insult to injury, they can frequently pass as Whites. Ironically, even as White supremacists are the main deniers of the “White Jew” as a concept, they do much to reinforce and retrench that view insofar as they are particularly wedded to tropes of Jewish domination, power, and privilege.
2. Jewish Hegemony
Thus far the key trope linking Jewishness and Whiteness has been power, and power as a very visible thing—Jews are actively thought of and recognized as powerful. But Whiteness as a hegemonic concept also speaks of power as frequently cloaked or invisible, disguised as normal. It is so omnipresent, one absorbs it without effort. When provocateurs demand, “Why don't we have a White History Month?,” the answer is that every month is a White History Month. We learn of White history, and culture, and practices every day—without marking it, just by moving through a world in which Whiteness is default.
This aspect of Whiteness, too, intersects with Jewishness in ways that demand unpacking. It is not for nothing that Evelyn Beck's pathbreaking article on the exclusion of Jews in feminist movements was titled “The Politics of Jewish Invisibility.”Footnote 57 Writing in 1988, Beck observed that while there were many Jewish women writing as feminists, very few feminist works spoke specifically to or about Jewish themes—including those that held themselves out as multicultural in orientation.Footnote 58 Things have improved somewhat since then,Footnote 59 but by considerably less than one might hope—in part because the Jewish feminist and multicultural work that has been produced often remains isolated from larger conversations. On that note, there are a plethora of articles exploring why Jews seem not to be included in the “multicultural” pantheon, and nearly all suggest part of the reason is the perception of Jews as “White.”Footnote 60 Ward likewise identifies this discourse as key to the resistance he encounters in certain progressive communities when he tries to explain the centrality of antisemitism to White supremacist movements.Footnote 61
Why is it that “Whiteness” serves to obscure Jewishness in this way? Consider two possibilities for how we might account for an absence of distinctively “Jewish” contributions or discourses. The first account says they are excluded—they are not desired, or not recognized, or not valued. But the second account holds that they are already included—they exist as part of the implicit background of dominant, hegemonic conversation. Jewishness is seen as adding nothing to a multicultural conversation; it is already implicitly included as part of the hegemonic “White” conversation. As one Jewish feminist related being told (at a conference that featured presentations by Black, Latina, and Irish Catholic women), “Jewish women are just White middle-class women.” Consequently, her interlocutor went on, “There is nothing that differentiates them from the ruling majority. There is no reason to treat them as a specialized minority or to devote any of our time to their particular experience.”Footnote 62 To demand significant time and attention be devoted to the Jewish case is little different from demanding still more resources and consideration be accorded to White people—that is, an insistence from those who already have so much that they should be given yet more.Footnote 63 In turn, the belief that this will be the reaction when Jews attempt to put “Jewish issues” on a multicultural or intersectional agenda is a major reason why many Jews are deeply reticent to do so.Footnote 64
In short, the politics of Jewish invisibility is predicated on a presumption of Jewish omnipresence. Jews are not heard from because everyone assumes they have already heard from Jews—heard enough, perhaps heard too much, perhaps it is time to allow others to talk.Footnote 65 Because Jews are thought to be everywhere, the possibility that there is in fact a gap or quietude around Jews becomes almost inconceivable. After all, if there is one thing Jews are not, it's “quiet.”
In 1967, James Baldwin wrote that “Jewish history, whether or not one can say it is honored, is certainly known.”Footnote 66 Can we be so confident? It seems Jewish history is “known” only in a deeply distorted way, refracted through a “Judeo-Christian” frame that frequently serves more to obscure than to illuminate. (To exemplify how Jewishness is erased within the conceit of “Judeo-Christian,” first ask what is considered the “traditional Judeo-Christian view” on abortion or the death penalty; then ask which Jewish sources and texts are typically used to arrive at that answer.) Christian supersecessionism in particular denied that Jews had anything worth saying or hearing about Jews—it insisted that one could more reliably know Jewish experience based on what Christians said about Jews than from what Jews said or did.Footnote 67
Consider how one article articulates the concept of what the authors call “Judeo-Christian privilege.”Footnote 68 First of all, they attribute the concept to an earlier essay by Jewish author Lewis Z. Schlosser on Christian privilege; Schlosser never uses the term “Judeo-Christian privilege.”Footnote 69 They warrant the existence of “Judeo-Christian privilege” because “Christians and Jews share many beliefs because of the use of the Old Testament”—a tremendously thin and misrepresentative rendering of Jewish theological orientations even if it did not use an exclusively Christian label for the Hebrew Bible—“and both groups may experience White middle-class privilege.” They do allow that “Christians and Jews experience very different aspects of Judeo-Christian privilege” because “antisemitism remains a problem.” (They provide no further elaboration.) Finally, they conclude by asserting that “Christians unwittingly foster an environment that marginalizes different religions”—but presumably not Jews, as they have been transformed into the beneficiaries of this joint Judeo-Christian (but really just Christian) privileged status.Footnote 70
As a statement of the Jewish condition in America, this is incomprehensible. It only works because “Whiteness” and “Judeo-Christian” assimilate Jewishness into dominant categories—Jewishness contributes nothing but nonetheless is taken to be included. And we might justly ask what was motivating the authors here. Why was it so important to append “Judeo-” to “Christian” in this discussion—so much so that they retroactively managed to locate it inside an article by a Jew identifying Christian privilege? What did it add? The answer seems to be a perceived need to insist upon Jews as insiders—Jews as basically White, basically middle-class, basically Christian, and so basically already spoken for.
To be sure, the misplaced confidence that one knows about the Other is hardly limited to antisemitism—a common feature of racism is that it generates a sort of malformed epistemology where those with power simply assume they have requisite knowledge regarding subordinated others.Footnote 71 But Jews are hit with a double erasure. To put it crudely, there is an erasure from the Right (at least, the more mainstream Right that does not endorse overt antisemitism) that assimilates Jewishness into White and “Judeo-Christian,” thereby denying the existence of an independent Jewish perspective, and a parallel erasure from the Left that validates this assimilation and accepts that it adequately and accurately represents Jews.
In the former case, the faux inclusion always carries with it the undertone of threat—there is no mystery as to what the status of Jews would be for their right-wing “friends” if they did not acquiesce to being seen as a sort of “quirky Protestant sect.”Footnote 72 Jews offer up a patina of diversity to both hegemonic Christianity and hegemonic Whiteness—but only on the condition that they keep quiet and not disturb White and Christian narratives about Jews. The latter case, by contrast, agrees to cede Jews to “White” and “Christian” so that it need not think about them any further, or any differently than it does “other” Whites or Christians.
The license to speak about Jews without having to “think any further” about them explains another important role Jews or Jewish entities sometimes play inside discourse about Whiteness. As discussed, much of the point of Whiteness discourse is about getting White people to reckon with privileges or powers or advantages that they have but would rather not think about. At the most basic level, this sort of self-critical reflection is an essential starting point (though rarely a conclusion) for overturning the systems and practices that produce these hierarchies. Moreover, such self-examinations and critiques by Whites about Whiteness avoid the difficult messiness of criticizing across cultural difference and hierarchy, arenas where Whites often lie at an epistemological disadvantage even as their (mis)interpretations are accorded disproportionate social weight.Footnote 73
The drawback, of course, is the loss of privilege inherent in a non-negligible self-critique. But because Jewishness is coded as a constituent element of Whiteness—part of the shared cultural patrimony of White people generally—Jewish spaces can serve as a convenient space for a putative “self”-critique by non-Jewish Whites. Jews exist in a liminal space where they are (assumed to be) sufficiently familiar to stand fully “known” to Whites, and included enough to fall within a broader category of Whiteness, yet alien and distant enough to absorb the actual tangible impacts of the critique without materially disturbing the bulk of White lived experience.
Certain discourses surrounding Israel and Palestine fall into this pattern. A full accounting of how racialized practices and ideologies implicate practices in and around Israel (including, among other things, Israel's treatment of Palestinian Arabs under occupation, the status of non-Jewish African asylum seekers, and domestic distinctions between Ashkenazic European Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and Palestinian citizens of Israel) is well beyond the scope of this article.Footnote 74 Nonetheless, it seems clear that tropes of Jewish Whiteness are quite implicated in how Israel is talked about outside of Israel. Even as Whiteness opens some doors for Israel (just as it does for Jews)—emphasizing a supposedly shared set of cultural values with dominant Western powers, for example—it also facilitates other discursive practices that are significantly limiting or restrictive, obstructing the need for understanding it in a distinctively Jewish context and instead relocating it as uncritically and undifferentiatedly European in character.
Explaining his “obsession” with Israel and the deep anger he feels at actions taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, English writer Robert Fowke says that Israel is “almost an English county planted on the Mediterranean shores.” It is not a “foreign” country like Thailand or Uzbekistan, but a Jewish country, and since he “[has] many Jewish friends” and views them as fully English, he feels comfortable calling it “my country too.”Footnote 75 One need not question Fowke's averred Jewish friendships or his sense that Jews are fully English to identify how dangerous this sensibility is. Fowke believes that for him to sharply critique Israel is akin to sharply critiquing England—in either case, it is an indictment of “[his] country.” But, of course, when Fowke critiques Israel it is not the same as a Jew (much less an Israeli or a Palestinian) doing it, or equivalent to Fowke lambasting England. It is, in fact, an external critique, a critique of an Other across difference and hierarchy, with all the complexities and difficulties that entails. The problem is that as a “self”-critique, it need not activate whatever checks or guidelines we might normally use to guard against inadvertent cultural prejudice or bias. Instead, Jews are thought to stand fully known to Whites because they are White.
That Israel is viewed either as a subspecies of European colonialism or as a European cultural vanguard, rather than something at least arguably sui generis, is reflective of the broader view of Jews as basically White.Footnote 76 Note that locating Israel or Zionism in a specifically Jewish context does not forestall critiques of either Israeli government policy or Zionism more broadly.Footnote 77 Plenty of actors have leveled critiques (of either type) that are fully informed by and cognizant of Jewish history and experience. But such critiques by necessity are more textured precisely because they take that history and experience into account. The appeal of “Whitening” Jews and, by extension, Jewish institutions is that it can avoid this additional texture as superfluous and unnecessary; persons who lack the requisite background or knowledge regarding Jews are still validated as legitimate speakers about Jews-read-as-White. For those who feel confident that they “know” Whites but may lack specific competency with respect to Jews, the Whiteness of Jews allows them to dispense with considerable epistemic labor.
Consider a critique of Zionism as “White supremacist” versus as “Jewish supremacist.” Neither label is exactly common, but the former term is certainly more respectable and mainstream compared to the latter. Zionism as “White supremacist” is found on prominent feminist websites, endorsed by campus activist groups, and alluded to by Jewish Voice for Peace.Footnote 78 Zionism as “Jewish supremacist” remains primarily associated with radical right-wing antisemites like David Duke.Footnote 79 Many persons who would use the former appellation would blanche at the latter.
The shyness around “Jewish supremacist” is understandable. In part this is due to its association with neo-Nazis, and the efforts, noted above, of such groups to redirect leftist concepts like “White supremacy” and “White privilege” towards a supposedly paradigmatic Jewish subject. But it also emerges because when Zionism is identified as distinctively Jewish—shorn of the epistemic crutch “Whiteness” offers as an interpretive mechanism—non-Jews (and particularly non-Jews on the Left) are more likely to recognize the possibility of gaps in knowledge or historical complexities that demand more fine-grained consideration. What the Left is willing to assert confidently about “Whites” it is far more uncertain about when it comes to “Jews.” Hence, even though, to the extent Zionism is “supremacist” of any kind, “Jewish” is clearly a more specific and accurate label than “White,” the preference for “White” as a descriptor is entirely rational. The ability to freely substitute “White” in for “Jewish” is facilitative and productive: it enables certain discursive practices that would otherwise be viewed as reactionary, ill informed, insufficiently attuned to historical context, or simply antisemitic.
I am not suggesting that non-Jews should not critique Israel, whether moderately or sharply. I am suggesting that such critiques are neither critiques of the self nor of an undifferentiated “(Judeo-)Christianity,” “Western-ness,” or “Whiteness,” and ought not be conceptualized that way. When non-Jewish Whites assimilate Jewish entities or practices into Whiteness for purposes of criticizing them, they circumvent the need to put in the hard work of understanding Jewish experience as a distinct entity that they do not simply “know” by virtue of an assumed shared Whiteness. They also substitute out the genuinely necessary work of self-examination in favor of a literal Jewish scapegoat.Footnote 80 It is a product of Jewish Whiteness that allows it to occupy this ambivalent role—included so that it can be virtuously excluded.
Jewishness outside of Kyriarchy
The problem should now be evident. The Whiteness frame looks at its subjects and asks that we see their power, their privilege, their enhanced societal standing. So far so good—it is important to unpack all of these things. But stereotypes of Jewishness sound many of the same notes: they too look at Jews and point out their putative power, privilege, and domination of social spaces. The issue is not that (some) Jews do have power or privilege along certain dimensions in American or Western society—for example, insofar as they are White, or male, or heterosexual, or economically well-off. But in those cases, the power that they have is as Whites, or men, or straight, or wealthy—it is not by virtue of being Jewish that they hold these benefits.
Normally, acknowledging multiple distinct axes of oppression yields the unremarkable conclusion that the same person can be advantaged along one dimension while marginalized along another. A White woman may be privileged through her race while subordinated through her sex; vice versa for a Black man.Footnote 81 And in theory, antisemitism and racism could operate the same way—the White Jew reaps the benefits of White supremacy while being oppressed by antisemitism, and likewise the non-White non-Jew stands superior over the Jew along the axis of antisemitism even as she suffers under White supremacy. (One need not think that the “advantages” conferred to non-Jews under conditions of antisemitism cancel out the advantages conferred to Whites through White supremacy to accept this formulation—indeed, in the American case it is clearly the case that racial oppression is far more extensive than antisemitic marginalization.) The concept of kyriarchy—that dimensions of power and marginalization are cross-cutting, such that all of us simultaneously stand in both positions across various social identities and locations—would seem an easy fit.Footnote 82
Yet the kyriarchical frame is definitively not how we talk about “White Jews.” Antisemitism is cast as an intramural divide within White populations, something that alters or degrades the status of Jews vis-à-vis other Whites. Harold Cruse made this point explicit: antisemitism may be a problem for Jews, but it is, he contended, “a problem for [Jews] to settle with other whites with whom they share political, economic, and cultural power.”Footnote 83 It is not seen as impacting Jewish standing qua Jews compared to non-Jews as a whole. Indeed, the rare attempts to make this kyriarchical observation are beset with anxiety—as when Brenda Cossman and Marlee Kline laboriously articulate what they are not saying when they are saying that Jews continue to face antisemitism. (We are not saying Jews are more oppressed than others, we are not saying Jews are oppressed identically to others, we are not saying that Jews do not necessarily possess advantages as White or wealthy or well-educated, nor are we saying that all Jews necessarily do possess those advantages.)Footnote 84 It is a preemptive defense against the assumption that discourse about antisemitism is in reality a “burst of victim-competition” where Jews “will deny both responsibility for racism and privileges derived from it.”Footnote 85
For many White Jews, the upshot of all of this is the denial of antisemitism's status as a unique and distinctive axis of marginalization, one that neither displaces nor is displaced by racism.Footnote 86 Instead, writers act as if the operative question about antisemitism is whether Jews are properly labeled White.Footnote 87 If they are not, or if they were in eras when they were not, then Jewish claims of marginalization make sense. But if/when Jews are White, they lose access to claims of ever being outsiders even as Jews.Footnote 88 In effect, Whiteness absorbs Jewishness, removing it from the kyriarchical field and cordoning it off from any sort of system-wide reckoning of privilege and marginalization. All that is left of antisemitism, under this view, is a sort of internal jockeying for position among White people.
Additionally, this framing has important marginalizing effects on non-White Jews, both as Jews and as non-Whites. “The Whitening of Jews,” writes Lewis Gordon, meant “that large groups of nonwhite Jews simply disappeared, or at least disappeared as Jews.”Footnote 89 So it is for Fanon, who, in a striking passage where he begins by declaring the Jew “a white man,” writes, “Of course the Jews have been tormented—what am I saying? They have been hunted, exterminated, and cremated, but these are just minor episodes in the family history.”Footnote 90 Indeed, Corey Balsam goes so far as to say that “the simple attribute of being Jewish functions to whiten Sephardic and other non-white Jews”—putting them in a position of relative power by virtue of their Jewishness.Footnote 91 All Jews are “White Jews” in this sense—non-White Jews are deemed White in their Jewishness; Jewish problems are assumed to be White problems regardless of which particular Jew is the one experiencing them.
For many Jews from outside Europe, the persistent identification of Jews as White (or Western) obscures or mischaracterizes their experiences in ways that go beyond simply “forgetting” their existence. On the one hand, Jewish Whiteness is what impedes the acknowledgment of (for example) Middle Eastern Jews as authentically Jewish; on the other, Jewish Whiteness is likewise what impedes the acknowledgment that Middle Eastern Jews are authentically Middle Eastern. Rachel Wahba, an Indian-born Iraqi Jew, complains bitterly of how the understanding of all Jews as European—a view promoted by both Jews and non-Jews, inside and outside of Europe—boxes out her story as a Middle Eastern Mizrahi Jewish refugee.Footnote 92 The story of Jews is a White, European story, which means any Jewish refugee story is also a White, European story, which then raises the question of (as Wahba imagines it) “What do the Arabs have to do with what Europe did to the Jews?”Footnote 93 The Mizrahi narrative is ignored not just as a Jewish story, but as a Middle Eastern story as well. Ruth Knafo Setton describes her experience of being kicked out of Morocco for being Jewish, being denigrated by American and Israeli Jews for being Moroccan, and finally being excluded by American non-Jews for being Jewish and Moroccan.Footnote 94 Any individual element of these stories might be assimilable into orthodox Middle Eastern or Jewish narratives. But they tend to be adopted in quite partial and opportunistic ways—those who are interested in tales of antisemitic oppression of Mizrahi Jews in Morocco or proud Mizrahi identification with Zionism are often less invested in the important influence and value such Jews place on Arab culture and identity or the serious discrimination they faced in Israel; and vice versa.Footnote 95
Non-White Jews thus experience a double bind effectuated through the fact that “Jew,” as a category, is read as White: on the one hand, their discrete problems or experiences may garner less attention (typically from non-Jews) to the extent they seem assimilable into dominant conceptions of “Jewish,” and hence “White,” issues. (One might ask Cruse whether the antisemitism they experience is something they should “settle with other Whites.”) On the other, their concerns may garner less attention, typically from White Jews, to the extent they cannot be so easily assimilated, and hence fail to register as “Jewish” issues at all. And—shorn of a strong understanding of the conceptual linkage between “White” and “Jewish” on a theoretical level—efforts to remedy this exclusion often end up retrenching or even accentuating it. Either non-White Jews are presented as functionally nondifferentiated from the “Jewish” (read “White Jewish”) category as a whole (they have to be, so as to be truly “Jewish”), or they're cast as in radical antagonism to that category—filling the role of “exceptional Jew”: “not like the others, not like ‘the Jews’ as [a] collective category” (they have to be, so as to be truly non-White).Footnote 96 Both erase non-White Jewish identity under the guise of including it. In the former case, “Jewish experience” is identical to what it was understood to be before the “inclusion”—their “inclusion” adds nothing to the category. In the latter case, “non-White experience” is identical to what it was understood to be before said “inclusion”—again, this “inclusion” is as a result functionally superfluous. Much as (absent an intersectional frame) “Black women” ceases to exist as a meaningful category, falling into masculine understandings of Black and White iterations of womanhood, the non-White Jew is eliminated because the supposedly constituent categories are read as radically antagonistic to one another.
Conclusion: Is Gal Gadot White?
The “White Jew,” as a figure, does more than ask that pale-skinned Jews who immigrated from Europe reckon with how and where they enjoy White privilege. It seems to step forward and subsume Jewish identity entirely: Jewishness is only recognizable as an empowered, even hyperpowered, status. Even—especially—when speaking of antisemitism, Jews “are recognized as only the privileged, the powerful, the oppressors.”Footnote 97 Any parallel discourse that might otherwise emerge about Jewish marginalization is rendered unintelligible.
That Whiteness seems to absorb Jewishness and seems to make Jewishness disappear as a distinctive category appears to be at least partially the reason some pale-skinned, European-descended Jews insist that they are not White in any capacity.Footnote 98 This debate—which never seems to lose its luster in the Jewish press—recently flared up again as a question of whether Israeli actress and Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot is “White.”Footnote 99
The initial spark for the controversy was an article by Matthew Mueller titled “Wonder Woman: There IS a Person of Color in the Lead Role.”Footnote 100 Mueller's piece was framed as a response to several Black women who were unhappy about the relative lack of women of color in superhero-type movies. As a contribution to that debate, telling a group of Black women concerned about racial representation in cinema “Good news—Gal Gadot is Israeli!” comes off as more than a little ridiculous.
This raises the question of why any Jew would be invested in identifying Gal Gadot as non-White—and, more broadly, why many Jews possessing pale skin, whose immediate ancestors lived in or immigrated from Europe, and who are in most day-to-day interactions (particularly with state actors) racially perceived as White, nonetheless passionately resist the label. One answer is that doing so serves to elide Jewish enjoyment of White privilege. And that may well be a sizeable part of the explanation. But Tamar Herman offers up another angle to the story that is quite illustrative. Forthrightly agreeing that Gal Gadot is White, she nonetheless declares that “Gadot isn't just another white woman on screen, and it's dismissive to say so.”Footnote 101 Herman's essay speaks movingly of how important and meaningful it was to have someone so openly and distinctively Jewish on screen in this sort of role—it genuinely mattered that someone like her was on screen, in a way that it would not if she were “just another white woman.” Those correctly insisting on Gadot's Whiteness, Herman suggests, sometimes acted as if that meant she did not count as a representational victory of any sort—even as a Jew, and in particular, a noticeably accented non-American Jew. It seems plausible that at least some of the Jewish writers arguing that Gadot was not White were reacting to the sense that the “White Jew” concept impedes, even obliterates, the recognition of a distinctive Jewish qua Jewish experience. Contesting their Whiteness is a means for White Jews to create space to talk about their Jewishness.
One need not find this decision to be analytically sound or ethically warranted to think that it is reacting to genuine social phenomena. Yet if complete denial of Jewish Whiteness ends up obscuring the ways in which White Jews enjoy and have in some cases helped propagate White privilege as against their non-White peers (Jewish and not),Footnote 102 that only underlines the need for an alternative approach that affirms the legitimacy of Jewish articulations of Jewish experience as existing in relation with, but not displacing, a nuanced and complex understanding of Jewish Whiteness for those Jews who are of European descent.Footnote 103 Accepting that, in their relations with African Americans and other people of color in America, White Jews are indeed WhiteFootnote 104 should not be taken to negate the existence or importance of antisemitism as a distinctive axis of marginalization—one that cannot always be fully disassociated or disentangled from Whiteness as a social concept. In this way, grasping how Whiteness and Jewishness intersect not only can further illuminate certain mechanics of antisemitism, but also can facilitate Jewish acknowledgment of the ways and contexts in which they are White and do benefit from White privilege.
As noted at the outset, White Jews—at least in the American context—surely enjoy many of the hierarchical benefits of Whiteness. We can debate the precise degree to which White Jews receive these boons and how “conditional” they might be, but there is no serious dispute that, over the past fifty or so years, pale-skinned, European-descended Jews have received a great number of the perks accorded to Whites in America. Nor should anyone object to the implied ethical command that White Jews should seek to undermine White supremacy and pursue racial justice, in part because they are directly implicated in and often beneficiaries of our racist systems.
The purpose of this essay, rather, is to offer a critical presentation of the interplay of Whiteness and Jewishness. In contrast to either the wholesale denial that White Jews enjoy some form of White privilege, or the complete subsuming of Jewishness into Whiteness, there is virtue in “illustrat[ing] the dangers of unambivalent readings with particular regard to the presumed ‘whiteness’ of European Jewry.”Footnote 105 Without careful attention to the particular social location that exists where Whiteness and Jewishness intersect, the Whiteness frame can reinscribe—even accentuate—deep antisemitic tropes of Jewish power, hegemony, and dominion.