Reader Post: Jews and Race – The “Skin Color” Argument in Anti-Israel Discourse
The Jews, also known as the Hebrew people, Judeans, or Israelites, are a Southwest Asian diaspora indigenous to the Fertile Crescent, located in what is now Israel, Palestine, southern Lebanon, and the Eastern Bank of the Jordan river. The Jewish identity, language, culture, religion, holidays, and folklore were all born and developed as a subset of Canaanite culture on the westernmost shores of the Asian continent, nearly 4000 years ago. For roughly 2 millennia, we enjoyed independence in our land of origin, eventually building one of the most glorious, prosperous, and ultimately influential kingdoms in the entire region, at a time when most of the rest of the world were still farmers or hunter gatherers. The Jewish/Israelite impact on Middle Eastern culture is, without a doubt, significant. In fact, it’s hard to imagine what modern Arab or Iranian culture would look like if it weren’t for the Jews.
That’s not to say that there were no bumps in the road. Given our desirable (and vulnerable) location at the crossroads of Asia and Africa, we have had more than our share of colonizers. First the Assyrians, then the Babylonians destroyed the Jewish kingdom and carried a large chunk of its people off into slavery. Eventually, the Persians conquered Babylon and sent most of the Jews home, allowing them to rebuild their Temple. Those who remained in Iraq became today’s Mizrahi Jews.
Although we successfully repelled the Greeks, commemorated in what we today recognize as Hanukkah, the Romans conquered Judaea (or Yehudah in Hebrew) in 63 BC. The Romans were tyrannical, despotic rulers* who tried to stamp out Judaism, and almost succeeded when it destroyed the Second Temple and most of the inhabitants were (again) exiled or carried off into slavery, mainly to Rome. The Ashkenazim (Jews of Central/Eastern Europe) and Sephardim (Jews of the Mediterranean and North Africa) are the direct lineal descendants of these slaves, settling in other areas of Europe at various times and absorbing some Southern European, North African, and minimal Central/East European ancestry. To this day, both Ashkenazim and Sephardim maintain a closer genetic relationship to other Levantine groups (Samaritans, Druze, Cypriots, and Palestinians especially) than to native Europeans (save for Greeks and Southern Italians) or North Africans, which could be considered somewhat of a miracle given their long sojourn outside of Eretz Yisra’el. Others were dispersed to regions such as India, Ethiopia, South Africa, and East Asia, where they faced less persecution and assimilated to a much larger degree.
What does all of this have to do with skin color and race? The answer is a simple one. The Jews, as mentioned above, are an indigenous Middle Eastern tribe who, despite centuries of racist persecution and attempts at cultural extermination, never lost their identity, religion, culture, blood, or any of the key components that make Jews a native people of the Middle East. Indigenous status cannot be lost via colonization and exile. Rather, it has to be given up willingly, either via assimilation or a complete rejection of one’s indigenous cultural identity. For example, one can easily find a white North American claiming Cherokee or Choctaw heritage, but if they are not accepted as a member of the tribe, keep none of the traditions, and do not identify as a member of said tribe, they cannot be considered indigenous in the anthropological or political sense. With all of that said, it should go without saying that Jews are, and remain, a people of the Middle East as opposed to their host countries, unless one also accepts that white European Americans are now native to North America rather than Europe.
And as such a status entails, most in the Jewish community (particularly the Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Mizrahim) still look the part, or retain at least some of their Semitic traits. Furthermore, one can find about as many Arabs, especially from the Levant, who are light in pigmentation and could easily pass for Europeans. Throughout most of our history until no less than 50 years ago, Jews living in the West were perceived not as native Europeans, but rather as swarthy, foreign Orientals from Asia and a direct threat to the “purity” of European Christian culture. One can easily find examples of this in the writings of prominent European historians and philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant who stated openly that the local Jews were “Palestinians among us”. Further examples can be found in antisemitic caricatures, many of which have lasted well into modern times, and in George DuMaurier’s novel ‘Trilby’, whose antagonist is described as a dark skinned Asian man of Jewish stock (note: the antagonist in question is, in fact, a Polish Jew). There are other examples, but I’ll stop there for now. Today, the idea that Jews are merely a religious group, no different from Christians or Mormons, is a common refrain among antisemites and the anti-Zionist left. So what changed?
One factor is the assimilation of many Jews into North American and European culture since the late 19th century, and beginning in the early 70’s, substantially higher levels of admixture and intermarriage with Europeans and white North Americans. Most Jews in America no longer “look” Jewish, since the majority now have a white grandparent or two.
So how did this happen? Put simply, as the left began to drift away from its initially strong support for Israel and Jews to an increasingly antagonistic stance, the Jewish community in the West splintered in two directions. Many of us either moved towards the right (buttressing the leftist image of Jews and “the white man” as “one and the same”) or remained on the left, sacrificing our “chauvinistic” Jewish national identity and all of its trappings in the process, favoring social acceptance and belonging instead.
Another factor in this shift is, as mentioned above, the left’s betrayal of Israel and her diaspora in conjunction with increased exposure to anti-Israel propaganda, courtesy of the Soviet Union and the PLO. Modern Jews, as they would have it, are not “really” descendants of the indigenous Israelite tribes of the Middle East. Rather, they are foreign conquerors, mainly of Eastern European and Khazarian stock, who just so happen to be of the “Jewish faith”.
This narrative stems, in large part, from the general refusal of most Arabs and Muslims to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to self-determination on their ancestral lands. According to them, there was never a Jewish Temple on the mount where the Dome of the Rock now sits, Jesus was a Palestinian Arab Muslim, and the Palestinians are the “real” descendants of the ancient Israelites (that is, if they’re even willing to acknowledge that Jews once lived there) who have lived there since “time immemorial”. The real reason for Arab animus towards Israel (which began long before the 1948 war, and the refugee crisis) is a religious and cultural one. In large segments of Arab culture, Jews are considered an inferior people who are entitled only to “protection” (provided we pay the jizya, a poll tax, and even then, our safety was not guaranteed as pogroms were frequent) and religious autonomy, but not national or social freedom. Furthermore, the hard right-wing sects of Islam adhere to a sort of Brezhnev doctrine i.e. anything that is conquered by Muslims, at any point in history, can never be shared or given back to its original inhabitants. For example, I vividly recall some Muslims telling me online that once they reconquered Israel, they would go after Spain and Portugal. But I digress.
The third reason for the “Jews are white people” mantra derives from post-Holocaust insecurities among Jews. In other words, since the Nazis and their allies targeted Jews (along with Roma) as an inferior non-European people, the issue of race is a very sensitive one for many descendants of Holocaust survivors and refugees, and a large portion of them prefer to embrace it as a religious and cultural identity rather than an ethnic one. They fear that reasserting their national/ethnic identity will put themselves “back” in the line of fire of white nationalists and the hard right, as if they ever left it in the first place.
And last but not least, this change in perception is also a result of antisemites (of the more traditional variety) no longer finding it convenient to cast the Jewish people as Semitic Middle Easterners. It was easy to malign Jews as non-whites when they were a vulnerable minority in Europe who didn’t have a state in their homeland to defend themselves with. But now that they have a good chunk of their land back, a high class, well trained army, tanks, borders, and nuclear weapons, they now have all the reason in the world to deny the national/ethnic identity of the Jews, thereby undermining their claims to a state in Israel in the hopes that it will one day be dissolved and the Jews will be vulnerable, defenseless minorities once more, so that their attempts at finishing Hitler’s work may continue in earnest. It also has the added benefit of relieving Europeans of post-colonial, post-Holocaust guilt by throwing these assertions back onto the Jews, validating and redeeming their sense of moral worth (aka “See? The Jews really are evil! Hitler was right! We’re not such bad people after all!”).
All of that aside, racism and left wing ideology were at one point considered contradictory. That is, one could not be racist AND left wing simultaneously. However, radical left politics and antisemitism now co-exist comfortably with one another. And as an ardent leftist myself, I feel it is necessary for the well-being of our movement to expunge Jew-hatred in all of its forms from our ranks. And this is where we must start.