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Intersectionality and Israel

by Mitchell Bard

R13

“Intersectionality” has become a popular buzzword, particularly on college campuses. The word refers to the idea that race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap, and that all injustices are interconnected. Women and minorities (theoretically including Jews, but in certain instances excluding them) are seen as victims of white oppression.

Jewish Voice for Peace summarizes how intersectionality is applied to Israel by linking the Palestinians’ plight to “the struggles of students of color, student survivors of sexual assault, and all others who on campus fight against oppression, whether imperialism, racism, patriarchy, police violence, or other systemic inequities.”[1]

The effort by critics of Israel to link the Palestinian cause to more popular social justice issues is not new. Demonstrating intersectionality before anyone knew the word, “Arab students attempted to align themselves with other dissident groups on campus and in the nation in general” at the 1967 conference of the Organization of Arab Students. They specifically expressed solidarity with the antiwar movement and tried to build a relationship with black students by joining their call for the “liberation” of South Africa and other African nations and comparing the Palestinian struggle “against Zionist invasion and exploitation” to the resistance of Afro-Americans to inequality in America. The students also objected to “equating any criticism of Israel or any support of Arab rights as anti-Semitic.”[2]

Instead of focusing on a pro-Palestinian narrative, what used to be called “El Fatah” or “Palestine Week” morphed in recent years into “Israel Apartheid Week.” Jonathan Elkhoury, an Arab-Christian member of Reservists on Duty (RoD), an organization that sends IDF veterans to campuses to counter BDS, noted, many campuses are now replacing “Apartheid Week” with “Oppression Week,” in an effort to “frame the narrative that Israel equals white supremacy.” He said “it was clear that this was a well-thought-out strategy directed to coincide with the debate in the U.S. regarding oppressed minorities.”[3]

Ziva Dahl noted that “in the ‘jabberwocky’ of multicultural victimhood, Western, white, wealthy, cis-male,[4] and Israel (the collective Jew) are inherently evil, while third-world people of color, women, LGBTQ and Palestinians are automatically good…. Today, to the sanctimonious social justice warrior, Jews are part of the oppressor class.”[5]

The persecuted feel solidarity with other victimized groups, but often ignore the inconsistencies of their positions. Thus, for example, some LBGQT and women’s organizations support the Palestinian cause and simply ignore the treatment of gays and women by Palestinians.

“With the advent of ‘intersectionality,’” Dahl adds, “Jewish students must pass an Israel litmus test to prove their commitment to social justice. Jewish students are being marginalized on campuses, many feeling the need to hide their pro-Israel and Jewish identities to ‘get along’ in this hostile environment.”[6]

The pressure extends beyond the classroom, for example, to Black Lives Matter and the Women’s movement. The platform of the former compares Israel to racist South Africa and accuses it of engaging in genocide against the Palestinians.[7]

Similarly, the leaders of the Women’s March sparked controversy with their comments about Jews and Israel. Two of them, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, were criticized for their ties to Louis Farrakhan and asked to step down for allowing antisemitism to seep into the movement.[8] Sarsour was also criticized for, among other things, accusing Jews of dual loyalty, condemning the creation of a Congressional Black-Jewish caucus, and co-signing an article that accused Jews of waging “profound war on black people and people of color.”[9] She said, “on an issue like Palestine, you gotta choose the side of the oppressed … if you’re on the side of the oppressor, or you’re defending the oppressor, and you’re actually trying to humanize the oppressor, then that’s a problem.”[10]

In 2017, organizers of Chicago’s Dyke March asked three participants carrying LGBT pride flags with a Star of David over the traditional rainbow to leave. Dyke March organizers said they acted because the flags “made people feel unsafe” and the march was “anti-Zionist.”[11] This treatment of Jews has continued. The 2019 DC Dyke March organizers, self-proclaimed anti-Zionists from the radical Jewish organization IfNotNow, said they were banning “Israeli flags, as well as flags that resemble Israeli flags, such as a pride flag with a Star of David in the middle.”[12]

Protestors from the Zionist progressive organization Zioness showed up to the march with Jewish Pride flags—a rainbow-striped flag with a Star of David in the middle. They were initially blocked at the entrance to the march by Jewish marshals from IfNotNow but would not back down and were ultimately allowed to march.[13]

In 2013, following the shooting of African-American teen Travon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of the shooter George Zimmerman, Blacks began to organize under the banner Black Lives Matter (BLM) with the goal of promoting racial justice and protesting police brutality targeting the black community. The movement gained momentum in 2014 when Mike Brown was murdered in Missouri by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

While Jews supported and, in some cases, participated in BLM protests, some leaders of the movement created antagonism by their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic positions. Following the killing of Brown, for example, protestors chanted, “From Ferguson to Palestine, Occupation is a Crime.”][14]

Tensions increased in 2016 after extremists from the Black Lives Matter movement, who were part of the larger Movement for Black Lives (MBL) coalition, joined hands with anti-Semites to adopt the MBL platform that claims the U.S. is “complicit in the genocide committed against the Palestinian people,” compares Israel to Afrikaner South Africa, and calls for divestment from Israel.[15]

The Union for Reform Judaism called the language “offensive and odious” and said it “wrongly and harmfully conflates the urgent need to address the systemic racism faced by people of color in the United States with another challenging and related but different set of moral and political questions within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”[16]

In another application of intersectionality, supporters of the BLM movement began parroting the anti-Israel rhetoric of groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. The anti-Israel organizations, in turn, sought to link the struggle for civil rights and the end of racism in America to their claims about the mistreatment of Palestinians.


[1] Ziva Dahl, “‘Intersectionality’ and the Bizarre World of Hating Israel,” Observer, (March 15, 2016).

[2] “Study of Arab Propaganda on the American Campus, American Jewish Committee, (1968).

[3] Lidar Gravé-Lazi, “Campus activists call-in ‘reserves’ to counter new anti-Israel tactics,” JNS, (June 5, 2019).

[4] A “cis” person is a person who was assigned a gender and sex at birth with which they feel comfortable.

[5] Dahl.

[6] Dahl.

[7] “INVEST-DIVEST,” The Movement for Black Lives, https://policy.m4bl.org/invest-divest/. Accessed July 23, 2019.

[8] Just prior to going to press, it was announced that co-chairs of the Women’s March, Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Bob Bland, left the board, as reported by The Washington Post and JTA (“Sarsour, Other Leaders Accused of Anti-Semitism Leave Women’s March,” JTA, September 16, 2019).

[9] “Women’s March founder calls on leaders to resign for ‘allowing anti-Semitism,’” JTA, (November 20, 2018); Ben Sales, “Linda Sarsour apologizes to Jewish members of Women’s March over anti-Semitism,” Times of Israel, (November 21, 2018); Ariel Sobel, “OMG, Just Shut Up: An Open Letter to Linda Sarsour,” Jewish Journal, (July 10, 2019).

[10] Alex Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky, “Americans’ Two Conceptions of Israel,” Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies,” (February 19, 2019).

[11] James Kirchick, “Dykes Vs. Kikes,” Tablet, (June 26, 2017).

[12] Aiden Pink, “DC Dyke March Bans Jewish Pride Flag,” Forward, (June 6, 2019).

[13] Samantha Cooper, “Pride and prejudice at LGBTQ weekend,” Washington Jewish Week, (June 12, 2019).

[14] Kristian Davis Bailey, “Black–Palestinian Solidarity in the Ferguson–Gaza Era,” American Quarterly, Volume 67, Number 4, (December 2015).

[15] “AJC: Movement for Black Lives Disparages Jews, Israel,” Press Release, American Jewish Committee, (August 5, 2016).

[16] “Reform Movement Leaders Reaffirm Commitment to Racial Justice, Condemn Movement for Black Lives Platform Language on Israel,” Press Release, Union for Reform Judaism, (August 4, 2016).


Source:  Mitchell Bard, “American Jews and the International Arena (August 2018–July 2019): The US, Israel, and the Middle East,” in Arnold Dashefsky and Ira Sheskin, Eds., American Jewish Yearbook 2019, (CT: Springer, 2020).