Liel Leibovitz, editor-at-large at Tablet Magazine, co-host of the podcast Unorthodox, and author of several books, spoke to an October 3rd Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the "deeply fraught" American conversation regarding race and how it demonizes Jews and ignores their historical and religious indigeneity to the land of Israel.
Leibovitz said that indicative of "everything that's so inherently nuts" about America's cultural elite and its obsession with judging people by the color of their skin is the "insane notion" that "Jews are white." Heard on college campuses, in publications and media, "and other circles where intelligentsia convenes," Leibovitz said that, in addition to fixating on racializing individuals being an "historically ... bad idea," arguing about what characterizes the entire category of white is "ridiculous." He attributes the psychological dysfunction gripping America's political left as akin to "Freud's notion of projection," where those who "scream racism" unconsciously project emotions they dislike within themselves onto someone else.
Leibovitz explained that "Jews ... are the indigenous people of the land of Israel," meeting all the U.N.'s criteria for indigeneity, as delineated by anthropologist Jose Martinez Cobo. Thus, Cobo stated that "people in nations" have one or more of the following: "occupation of ancestral lands, common ancestry, a shared culture or religion, and a shared language." The Jews, Leibovitz said, despite their exile, "shall always return," and this fact is a "double threat" that upends "ludicrous race politics" and undermines the raison d'etre for "anti-Israeli" violence in the Middle East.
"It makes perfect sense," he said, that anti-Jewish animus in the American left labeled Jews as white in its theory of intersectionality. Since that distorted idea "holds that every group of oppressed people is by necessity tethered and intertwined with other oppressed minorities," Jews are necessarily oppressors.
Leibovitz believes that, with few exceptions, American universities are a lost cause since they have forfeited the teaching of "realistic factual-based arguments" in order to serve a "bizarre cult." The black/white divide in America's Democratic Party circles also becomes a handy cudgel to reject Jews because they are white and therefore "part of this massive global face of oppression."
The American left's identity politics finds common cause with Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American who advances her antisemitic and anti-Israel pronouncements under the guise of feminism, and with Congressman Jamaal Bowman, who "virtue signal[ed]" his tweet about "black and brown bodies being brutalized and murdered by Israel." The irony is that Brown made his specious accusation during the same week that Hamas's missiles rained down on Israeli civilians, killing an Indian woman caregiver of an elderly Jew and an Israeli Jewish soldier of Yemeni descent.
Leibovitz said, "Israel isn't America, Jews aren't white, and Palestinians aren't black and brown people. Judaism is an identity that predates the idea of race ... the idea and reality of America ... the sin of slavery ... the idea of nations ... [and the] Christian and Muslim faiths." The predictable outcome of racializing Jews in these debates, he emphasized, is the increase in antisemitic rhetoric and violence against Jews in the U.S. to alarming levels.
He sees the choice as between fighting those who attack Jews "liv[ing] peacefully in their indigenous homeland," or partaking in the "reckless" terminology about race and colonizers used against Israelis and their "return ... to territories with which they've had an undisturbed connection — spiritual, emotional, physical — throughout millennia."
Leibovitz said Israel is the "canary in the coal mine" because it represents nation and nationalism, family, and religion — everything the progressive movement despises. He said the left must destroy these three institutions before it can "push these radically solipsistic theories" to gain power. American Jews with weak identities, who "have bought into this lunacy" and somehow feel "culpable" because they "could pass as white," should consider that while preoccupation about pigment is debatable, accepting the fact that they are Jews is not. This reality check should sensitize them to the significance of the Jewish people's "founding document"— the Hebrew Bible — which "has been the blueprint for literally every single serious civil and human rights crusader in this country." Leibovitz said the "language of the Civil Rights Movement ... comes to us directly from the tongues of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible." Those who purport to fight against racism but actually propagate neo-racism are indulging in the "negation of everything that the Hebrew Bible teaches," with its values of "forgiveness ... accounting of the soul ... repentance ... community working ... and building together."
The left's reliance on identity politics fills the vacuum that its rejection of the "ancient faith system" created. "What we're looking at right now is every bit a religious faith" with all its "[iconoclasm]" of "toppling statues [and] taking a knee." It is a religion masquerading as a social movement that has yet to decide what it "actually means." Once "you've been canceled, [it] has absolutely no channel for forgiveness." The refusal of its adherents to debate views that challenge its orthodoxy or question its assumptions leads them to feel threatened by Jews. Instead, they project their anger onto "a faith group that ... has gotten quite good at questioning mainly itself, but also everything else around it."
A conversation started by "people of faith" who show what Israel and Judaism mean can have an "impact." However, Leibovitz is concerned that the dominant ideology in the current political environment sways Democrats who consider themselves "moderates." The Obama administration's actions in its final days in refraining from vetoing anti-Israel U.N. resolutions and refusing to consider the danger of an Iran deal is part of a worldview personified by the Democratic Party, which is "no longer a viable place for anyone who cares about Israel or cares about Jews or about being Jewish."
Leibovitz is still optimistic that the "vast majority of ... normal Americans" see the "absurdity" of the new groupthink. "Unless you take actual steps to curtail people's basic [civil] liberties," he believes that "a free people" will "walk away" from the nonsense. To counter the ideology, we must "refuse this collective intoxication that has overtaken our body politic" and "our culture." While we must always address racism, we must simultaneously reject the "distorted lens of racism" that seeks to impose an invented "kookie theology." Rather, "by opening the heart" we come to realize that the Jewish people "bequeathed to the world a tremendous document that speaks very candidly and movingly about how to achieve this type of justice."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.