Jews should define antisemitism

Imagine if the voice of a white person was valued over a black person in speaking out against brutality against the black community.

GRAVES DESECRATED with swastikas are seen at the Jewish cemetery in Westhoffen, France.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
GRAVES DESECRATED with swastikas are seen at the Jewish cemetery in Westhoffen, France.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With the recent uptick in antisemitism there has been a welcome resurgence of activism on the left and right of voices speaking out against it. Yet, there has simultaneously been a push from within our own Jewish community to bolster and amplify the voices of non-Jews – sometimes even above Jews – in the public sphere. It has even gotten to the point where allies – sometimes even enemies – begin to assert their opinions on what “real antisemitism” is to other Jews, or in today’s terms, they “goy-splain” antisemitism.
We need all the allies we can get, and while we love and appreciate our non-Jewish allies, we as a community need to be careful not to confuse being an ally with being a spokesperson. Jews should not be undermined when leading the charge against antisemitism, and non-Jewish allies should not be lecturing Jewish communities on our own persecution.
Imagine if the voice of a white person was valued over a black person in speaking out against brutality against the black community. It would be wonderful to see such solidarity, but the only people who can really understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a person of color, or a Muslim or a Jew, etc., is a person of that group. It is for that reason that antisemitism should be defined by Jews, that Jews should be leading the educational initiative about what antisemitism is.
In our desperation for solidarity, many Jewish organizations have propped up voices of non-Jewish allies almost as though they are more enlightened or important than scholars of antisemitism from our own community. Sadly, this is not a new trend. For a decade, we have both worked in the Jewish community and witnessed first-hand how organizations work hard to foster positive relationships with others, particularly minority communities.
It cannot be emphasized enough how critical this work is. Together, Jews stand side by side with oppressed groups who face discrimination all over the US, and the entire world. But it is not for us to define their oppression or to lecture them about what is and isn’t discrimination against them. Why then, do we not only allow but encourage non-Jewish allies to define what is or isn’t antisemitism? Why then, do we hold lectures and events in which non-Jews lecture Jews about the state of our oppression? In some recent cases, these “allies” aren’t even allies at all, but merely paying lip service to the fight against antisemitism to serve their own goals.
When we prioritize the voices of non-Jewish allies and we let them dominate and define the conversation on what the antisemitism is, then we give space for people like Linda Sarsour or Marc Lamont Hill to dictate the definition as well. For example, in November 2019, The Jewish Vote held a panel on “The Jewish Left” featuring multiple non-Jewish “allies,” and Julia Salazar, a New York state senator whose campaign made headlines for her dishonesty in claiming she was Jewish.
Another notable example in recent history is, of course, Linda Sarsour, who herself holds antisemitic views. In November 2017, Sarsour was a featured speaker on a panel about antisemitism at the New School in New York. For the record, Sarsour has stated that antisemitism, which leads the FBI’s religiously motivated hate crimes for over 20 years straight, is “different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systemic.” The idea that someone who not only is not Jewish, is not a Jewish scholar, has not studied Judaism, and actively minimizes the very real and pernicious threat of antisemitism today is invited to lecture anyone about antisemitism is astounding.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Zionist Organization of America hosted Sebastian Gorka to speak on antisemitism in 2017, and in 2019, right-wing group Turning Point USA hosted him as a featured speaker at their “Jewish Leadership Summit.” Examples also come from true allies as well. In December 2019, JIMENA invited former Miss Iraq, Sara Idan, to speak on the history of Iraqi Jewish refugees at the United Nations. Idan has been an outspoken and courageous activist against bigotry and intolerance – in particular antisemitism – and she spoke truth to power in the halls of the United Nations. But, could no descendants of the 135,000 Jews who fled or were expelled from Iraq tell their story first-hand?
As evidenced above, this trend is not specifically unique to the issue of antisemitism. Upon further examination, we see the same trend within our own community, with Jews of Ashkenazi descent speaking for Jews of Mizrahi heritage, or panels at Jewish organization events on “equality” that are completely devoid of women. Ashkenazi Jews should stand with Mizrahi Jews against the historic and current discrimination they face, and men should most certainly stand with women against gender bias and discrimination, but we sometimes do these causes a disservice when we prop up voices who aren’t from those communities instead of voices who are.
We need non-Jewish allies, but we don’t need non-Jewish friends to tell us what antisemitism is, and non-Jewish advocates should not be prioritized over Jewish voices. It’s time we recognize the incredible strength we have already within the Jewish community, and embolden those voices to lead our cause hand in hand with our non-Jewish allies.
The writers are co-founders of the digital marketing firm Social Lite Creative