Report: 10 ways to counter intersectionality causing Jewish rift

‘It takes intersectionality to fight intersectionality.’

July 11, 2019 02:35
Jewish American

Thousands of Jewish American high-school students attend a rally in Manhattan in 2002 calling for an end to terrorism. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Intersectionality in its current form contributes to the normalization of a “new antisemitism,” a first-ever report on the subject found, citing 10 ways to counter the ripple effects emanating from intersectional movements that profoundly impact Jewish life, peoplehood and Israel’s relationship with US-based Jewish communities.

Navigating Intersectional Landscapes: Rules for Jewish Community Relations Professionals, commissioned by the Julis Foundation for Multi-Disciplinary Thinking and published by the Reut Group, traces the history of intersectionality from its founding in 1989 to the modern day and frames the challenges that the Jewish community faces within intersectional social justice circles. Then it offers 10 “rules” for countering its impact.

“The current form of intersectionality has contributed to a sharp rise of antisemitism that anti-Israel groups drive in progressive circles,” said Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Reut Group. “The challenges of intersectionality are structural, intellectual and organizational, requiring a systemic response.”

The original theory of intersectionality was developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an African-American lawyer and civil rights advocate. She holds that different forms of oppression and discrimination overlap and are experienced in a unique manner by individuals who fall within several biological, cultural and social categories. These could include gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age and class.

In the early 1990s, the report explained, University of Maryland Prof. Patricia Hill Collins expanded on Crenshaw’s original theory to explain that in the same way that identities overlap, so do the effects of systemic oppression. In other words, the struggles of victims are intertwined manifestations of the same root: social injustice.

Today, intersectionality has increasingly become a prism on the Left for understanding inequality and discrimination across nearly all social categories of discrimination, according to the report.

In 2014, the Ferguson Unrest – protests and riots that began the day after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson – marked what the report terms a “strategic benchmark” in the application of intersectionality to serve an anti-Israel agenda. Then, for the first time, these “intersecting social justice efforts” were paired when BDS groups promoted the #palestine2ferguson campaign in an attempt to draw a parallel between the Palestinian struggle and the struggle against police brutality.

Ferguson coincided with Operation Protective Edge, during which – depending on the report – between 2,125 and 2,310 Gazans were killed and between 10,626 and 10,895 were wounded, including 3,374 children.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is interpreted by outsiders as a result of the intersectional relationship of identity to power,” according to the report. “This approach sees all injustices as linked, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is increasingly seen in the global context of injustice.

“The Palestinian cause has been widely adopted as a core and prominent threshold for solidarity by many marginalized groups,” the report continued. “This struggle is framed as part of the struggle of other disempowered minorities, such as African-Americans, Latinos and the LGBTQ.”

The report noted that, for example, Palestinian protesters taking part in recent “Great March of Return” riots are seen as “people of color” who are fighting against white colonialists.

“The growing centrality of intersectional politics, along with the intersectionality theory’s susceptibility to anti-Israel agendas, contribute to a sharp rise of a contemporary form of antisemitism that anti-Israel groups drive in progressive circles,” the report said. This can include viewing Jews as “privileged” and “powerful”; showing no tolerance toward Israel and renouncing all pro-Israel Jews as “responding for the original sin of Zionism” unless they work against the Jewish state; or silencing those who criticize statements or actions as antisemitic – unless they bundle their cries with condemnation of Islamophobia as well.

Intersectionality led to the exclusion of a participant holding a rainbow Star of David flag at more than one Dyke March and to the controversy surrounding the last Women’s March – after one of its leaders, Linda Sarsour, said that in addition to fighting for women’s rights, “We will protect our constitutional right to Boycott, Divest and Sanctions in this country,” a reference to an anti-BDS bill that was being debated in Congress at the time. The group also included opposition to anti-BDS laws in its 2019 Women’s Agenda, a policy platform released by the Women’s March in January.

“THE ‘NEW ANTISEMITISM’ is already resulting in palpable exclusion,” according to the report. “In order to participate in intersectional spheres, many Jews feel compelled to renounce aspects of their identity and heritage that tie them to the Jewish state.”

Reut Group CEO Eran Shayshon said that, “Since the 2014 Ferguson Uprising, supporting the BDS movement has been widely adopted as a core and prominent threshold for solidarity by several marginalized groups. This challenge makes it increasingly difficult for the Jewish community to build consensus surrounding Israel.”

This growing tendency to disengage from Israel will only exacerbate the identity crisis of American Jewry, further erode communal cohesion and deepen internal fissures, the report warns. It then offers 10 principles meant to help drive Jewish solidarity and collective action against anti-Israel activities within intersectional frameworks, and to isolate Israel’s ideological adversaries.

Rule No. 1 is to “double-down on Israel engagement,” rather than turning away from the Jewish state. Rule No. 2 is to take a “broad-tent approach,” by defining “delegitimization” of Israel in the narrowest possible way. No. 3 and 4 are to engage young Jews where they stand and then to educate and empower them by having “tough conversations on Israel” before they get to their college campuses. And rule No. 5 is to proactively re-frame the context through which young Jews engage with Israel, cultivating “constructive alternatives to hate campaigns.”

Other rules focus on the work of Jewish communal professionals and organizations, calling on them to “prioritize a relationship-based approach [six]; develop a counter-intellectual narrative to intersectionality by partnering with theorists to break the focus on Israel and restore the concept to its original meaning [seven]; and to confront ideological adversaries [eight].” Rule No. 9 is to create a more inclusive Jewish community. Rule No. 10 is to “kick-start joint Israeli-Diaspora tikkun olam” projects that improve the world and unite Jews in Israel and abroad around a larger cause.

According to the report: “It takes intersectionality to fight intersectionality.”

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