In-fighting amongst Jewish ethnic groups has broken out in the pages of Jewish publications such as Haaretz, The Times of Israel, Forward, The Washington Post, etc. over the question of whether White-presenting Jews should be considered White or “people of color” and what this means for marginalized Jews of color.
The controversy began when the movie Wonder Woman was attacked by Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) for not featuring enough non-Whites. Kadeen Griffiths wrote for Bustle that the movie was strong on feminism but weak on race:
[A]s a black woman and a longtime fan of superhero movies, the actual content of Wonder Woman depressed me. …For black feminists, it’s exactly like every other superhero movie, just with a white female lead.
…By my count, there were four lines spoken by black women in the entire two-and-a-half-hour runtime of Wonder Woman — and one of those lines was just the repetition of “Diana!” by her black caretaker. In fact, all of those lines were spoken by black Amazons who were, of course, subservient to Diana and her all-white ruling family. (And of course Diana’s black sister Nubia, who in the comics was kidnapped and raised by Ares to later oppose her, was not put in the movie.) Once Diana leaves Themyscira, the very appearance of black women drops down to none. It was such a radical change that I found myself combing through the background of scenes as she walked through the streets of London with Steve Trevor, desperate to catch sight of even one black face, if not at least one black woman’s face.
Gritffiths went on the complain that the movie “failed the LGBTQ feminists as well” because Diana was not depicted as as lesbian.
In response to SJWs Matthew Mueller fired back for ComicBook:
It might come as a shock, but there are people of color in the film, and one of them is in the lead role.
Yep, with a quick google search, it turns out that Gal Gadot is not actually Caucasian, but is in fact Israeli.
…Gadot was born in Rosh Ha’ayin, Israel, and served in the Israeli Defense Force for two years before winning Miss Israel in 2004. Yes, she won Miss Israel, but she isn’t a person of color? You get why that doesn’t make sense, right?
Simply put: LOOKING White, doesn’t mean you ARE white. As noted in this great column from The Times of Isreal, “conceptualizing Jews as either “white” or “just a religion”, as many of our detractors are wont to do, helps to perpetuate a culture of antisemitism on the anti-racist left.”
Hmmm… “antisemitism on the anti-racist left.” Interesting.
Also interesting is Mueller’s insistence that White-presenting Jews are neither White nor just a religious group. They are a non-White racial group according Mueller.
But the controversy did not end there. Anti-White SJWs at the Forward were having none of Mueller’s argument. They attacked him for dismissing the complaints of Black feminists and for writing about race without including obligatory denunciations of race as a biological reality.
Mueller’s article was rightfully met with outrage from advocates for diverse representation who saw the argument for what it was: an attempt to derail a conversation about black women’s representation.
However, in the Jewish community, the controversy over Mueller’s article reignited a conversation about Jewish racialization and whiteness. As Jewish people of color working for racial justice and liberation in the United States, Israel and Palestine, watching this conversation tiptoe around questions of white supremacy while centering on the perspectives of white Ashkenazi Jews has moved us to intervene with our own perspectives.
The discourse has been suspect, often conflating race, ethnicity, nationality and genetics. Besides Mueller’s nonsensical claim that Israeli is a race rather than a nationality (which obscures the oppression of racial minorities in Israel), his uncritical use of the term “Caucasian,” a pseudo-scientific term popularized by 18th-century race scientists, sets us up for a conversation dependent on the logics of disproved race science rather than contemporary realities of politics, power and privilege.
They went on to accuse Jews who insist that Gal Gadot is non-White of “parroting the same racial pseudoscience that Nazi Germany used to differentiate Jews from ‘Aryans’.” The SJW Jews noted that “Claims of a genetic basis for race are especially harmful in the context of Israel’s deeply entrenched Ashkenazi-supremacist racial hierarchy.” And they asked uncomfortable questions such as “Were European Jews not white when they joined their fellow white-skinned Americans as willing participants in chattel slavery — owning slaves in the American Jewish hub of Charleston, South Carolina, at the same rates as their Christian neighbors?”
The infighting highlights real ethnic and ideological divisions within the Jewish community around the world. It will be interesting to see how the fuss plays out. Clearly though, White-presenting Jews need to do more to welcome Jews of color, make them feel included and consider their historical grievances as a marginalized group within the broader Jewish community. Jews of color will not be silenced. And many would argue that is time for a true diversity of Jewish identity to be fully embraced and for the old Ashkenazi-supremacist racial power structure in Israel to be dismantled.