Intersectionality Means Never Having to Say You’re Antisemitic
This week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, contains two very famous passages, the Shema and the Ten commandments. But this Parasha also includes Moses’ final request of God before he dies. As you know, even though Moses had led the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and through the desert for forty years, he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Therefore he begs of God: “Let me please go over and see the good in the land” (Deuteronomy 3:25).
The Kotzker Rebbe (a 19th century Chassidic Master) explains that Moses’ request was more than just to see the land of Israel; rather it was a prayer that God should enlighten his eyes to always see the good in the Land of Israel despite what may seem on the surface to be blemishes and shortcomings.
Ironically, Moses who spent much of his life shepherding the Jewish People and preparing them to enter the Holy Land was denied entry himself.
In modern times, almost no Jew is denied entry into Israel. It is a safe haven for all Jews and almost anyone who wishes to travel to Israel is free to do so. Recent Israeli government announcements suggest that those on BDS lists may not be allowed into the country but that is relatively rare.
And yet, while all Jews are free to visit or make Aliyah to Israel, sometimes the words of the Kotzker Rebbe resonate with us because there are many people who may be consciously aware that Israel is a major force for good in the world, but who still have a difficult time “seeing the good” which is so much a part of Israeli society.
Economically, culturally, scientifically and in so many other ways Israel is a leader and a light unto the nations. Yes, Israel certainly has its challenges and sometimes needs to take extreme measures to protect her citizens. But with all of her imperfections, Israel is the one and only democracy in the Middle East and one of the greatest democracies on earth.
That is why it was so painful when under the banner of intersectionality – a term I will define shortly — some perceived victim groups declare Israel to be evil.
As you may know it was not that long ago that the Black Lives Matter movement issued a platform which was virulently anti-Israel. They called Israel an “Apartheid State” and “genocidal.” Only moral blindness could account for such a characterization against Israel, particularly given the abysmal humans rights records of every one of Israel’s neighbors about whom Black Lives Matter had nothing to say.
As Jews, we both cherish that homeland and yearn for the day when Israel will live side by side with Palestinians in peace and security. We continue to work toward the day when this dream is a reality and the dignity and well-being of all Jews and all Palestinians are safeguarded by peace.
There is no greater measure of our humanity than to know the pain of the other.
And yet, developments in the cultural playing fields of our country have me greatly concerned. I speak specifically of the rancorous desire to label bullies victims and victims bullies. The technical term is “intersectionality”.
Before I define the term here is an example of it in action: When Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist . . . classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
Their response was play-book intersectionality. According to Christina Hoff Sommer’s, writing in Commentary Magazine, intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?
Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. For example a white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race.
A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender.
According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”
But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations.
Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking.
So please don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome. Very convenient, that.
A question you might be asking: How could comfortable college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”?
Most don’t mind because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is a great relief to many undergrads who never could measure up if their worth still was measured by academics.
Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech . . . has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”
When free speech equals violence then the challenge to free speech in this country is obvious. But intersectionality is also a fertile breeding ground for antisemitism. It would be funny if not so potentially tragic: the Jewish people – victims for time immemorial – are now too privileged to speak about anything. Somewhere in Hell Goebbels is laughing.
Our task as Jews – not because we are better but because we see ourselves as called to be a light to the world – is to work for peace and justice. But sadly we have also learned that no one will take responsibility for protecting us but us.
And so therefore the groups that reject our right as Jews –including those of us who support the State of Israel – must be called on for what they are doing. They are peddling antisemitism pure and simple.
We saw such antisemitism at the recent Dyke March. We see it all too often in the political left. We see it at the United Nations. We hear it in the self-hatred of many of our Jewish friends and family who would hold Israel to an impossibly high standard while ignoring or forgiving the crimes of other countries.
The only response for such antisemitism is to vocally call people out for their hypocrisy and to make sure the First Amendment is protected. When a victim acts like a bully they need to be called out. When a hater refuses to engage an opponent claiming trauma they need to be called out. And when Israel is held to an impossible standard for any nation it needs to be labeled what it is: it’s not anti-Zionism; it’s antisemitism.
The intersectionalists are right about one thing: words matter. And that’s why the words they use must reflect the emotions they carry. This is not trauma. This is truth.
And this I know: when truth no longer matters, Jews will be persecuted, and Jews will die.
My friends, I use Holocaust metaphors carefully. But it’s starting to feel a lot like Weimar these days.
And the best news is that it’s not too late. Let’s fight intersectionality. Let’s fight the bullies who pose as victims. Let’s protect Israel. Let’s defend the First Amendment.
And let’s wake up to our responsibility to speak the truth and hold people accountable.
To paraphrase Mordecai’s appeal to Esther: Who knows, maybe for this very reason we were placed here in the first place.