May 31, 2020

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Academia embraces racism in obsessively referring to Jews as "white"

I came across this recently released academic paper  published in “Interventions:International Journal of Postcolonial Studies.”

Dismantling the Villa in the Jungle: Matzpen, Zochrot, and the Whitening of Israel 

Johannes Becke 


As a contribution to the debate over Zionism and Jewish whiteness, this essay establishes a typological framework that analyzes the history and politics of Israel’s self-whitening. The typology argues the Zionist emphasis on self-westernization has resulted in three modes of Ashkenazi-Israeli whitening: while colonial whitening describes the acquisition of whiteness by means of conquest, anticolonial whitening consists in the self-critique as colonial settlers, a process of acquiring whiteness by denouncing it. In contrast, postcolonial whitening shifts its emphasis to the politics of memory and atonement, a form of becoming white by means of white guilt. In order to explore the continuities and ruptures throughout the process of Israel’s whitening, the analysis focuses on both Zionism and Anti-Zionism, with a special emphasis on the two left-wing organizations Matzpen and Zochrot. Based on the typological framework, the essay argues all three forms of Ashkenazi-Israeli whitening might best be compared to what Edward Kamau Brathwaite describes as “bastard metropolitanism,” the long-distance Eurocentrism and denial of Creolization which characterizes the elite culture of postcolonial societies. 

Keywords:Ashkenazi-Israeli whitening, jewish whiteness, matzpen, Zionism, zochrot

The actual paper shows an obsession both from this author and from those he quotes to ascribe “whiteness” to Jews, or mostly to Ashkenazic Jews.

The introduction shows that the “color” of Jews has changed over time, but the reasons he gives are telling:

While American Jews became white by suburbanization, Israeli Jews did so by colonization (Brodkin 1998; Goldstein 2006; Sicher 2013). In both cases, the crossing of the colour line coincided with the crossing of geographic boundaries. Like other “ethnic” immigrants from Europe (especially Italian and Irish Catholics), American Jews became white by leaving the inner cities in a process described by Painter as the “third enlargement of American whiteness” (2010, 359). In contrast, European Jews transformed from an “Orientalisches Fremdlingsvolk (a foreign Asiatic people)” (Reinharz and Shavit 2010, 136) into a “white settler community in Palestine” (Owen 2000, 19) by crossing the Mediterranean. Throughout this process of whitening, racialized discourse on Jewish otherness switched into reverse. As long as Jews represented the “internal Orient” (Rohde 2005) of Europe, their Orientalization went hand in hand with speculations about their Middle Eastern descent.1 Once Israeli Jews came to represent the “internal Occident” of the Middle East, their Occidentalization was increasingly expressed in the form of speculations about their whiteness, since (to quote Joseph Massad) “they look like other Europeans,… they speak European languages” (Massad and Morris 2006, 163).

So what are Mizrahi Jews? If they are colonialists, they are white, if they are oppressed by whitened Jews, they are black.

This obsession with “color” gets even more absurd, as the author posits that  Israeli “whitening” makes American Jews more white as well:

Both US Jews and Israeli Jews gained a certain sense of whiteness as part of the boundary expansion of European colonialism, a process in which ever expanding geographic boundaries coincided with shifting notions of racialized discourse.

It is obvious throughout the paper that “white=evil” and “black=good.” “White” represents colonialism and racism, but only for Jews as alleged European proxies. Arab colonialism is never described in academia as “whitening.”

This next section is telling. He knows that there is really no racial distinction between Jews and non-Jews in the Middle East; he knows that it is too simplistic to categorize people as either black or white. But he has to!

The binary classification of human beings into “black” and “white” seems woefully ill-equipped to capture the multi-ethnic reality of Jewish peoplehood (Azoulay 2001). Given its origins in the pseudo-science of racial theory, the dichotomy could easily be dismissed as too unscholarly, too Eurocentric, and too recent to illustrate the formation of Jewish-Israeli identity. The categorization as “white,” for instance, would have made little sense to earlier generations of Zionists and Arab nationalists: both had been influenced by the complex racial theories of nineteenth-century Europe, which understood Jews and Arabs as too closely related to stand on different sides of the racial divide of “whiteness.”

However, since the discourse on Ashkenazi-Jewish whiteness has come to structure core elements of the Arab–Israeli conflict and Israeli identity [by idiot academics but not by the parties themselves – EoZ] , the process of Israel’s (self-)whitening deserves to be studied from a historical perspective (Sasson-Levy 2013). Whiteness has become a crucial category for the self-understanding of the “white sabra” (Benvenisti 2012),5 the distinction between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews as “white Jews” and “black Jews” (Chetrit 2010) as well as the Arab nationalist understanding of Zionism as a form of settler colonialism by people who “look like other Europeans” (Massad and Morris 2006, 163). The terminology of “whitening” and “self-whitening” deployed here already indicates the fluid, socially constructed, and ultimately contingent nature of racialized discourse (Tessman 2001). Even for a trained observer, it might be hard to distinguish Jews from Arabs and Ashkenazi Israelis from Mizrahi (or Middle Eastern Jewish) Israelis on the streets of Jerusalem.

This is academically approved racism. The author admits that there is no scientific distinction between “white” and “black” Jews or Arabs, but there have already been so many papers written that embrace that distinction, so we might as well embrace it.

There is a further irony. This author admits that Israelis now do not self-identify as white at all, and look upon themselves as indigenous. This threatens the thesis of “self-whitening.” So who comes to the rescue? Leftist Jews who blame Israel for all the problems of the region, who are doing this because they identify as white and they suffer from white guilt!

The colonial whitening of Zionist Orientalism transformed Jewish immigrants in the Land of Israel/Palestine into cultured Europeans, eager to liberate the Middle East (and themselves) from the “Orient.” In contrast, the anticolonial whitening of anti-Zionist Occidentalism turned a handful of New Left activists into “white revolutionaries” who would bring down their Zionist settler-state in order to ensure the survival of their community in a non-Zionist non-state. While both cultural formations still breathed the colonial vitalism of white (or maybe whitish) supremacy, the postcolonial whitening of Zochrot (or rather its elaborate staging of pseudo-postcoloniality) might be interpreted as the reflection of an increasingly post-western world order and a post-western Israel, in which the declining appeal of whiteness can only be savoured in the bitter-sweet aftertaste of white guilt.

Note that the German author finds these uber-Leftist Jews to be just as distastefully “white” as other Jews.

To give an idea of how offensive this all is, imagine saying that Barack Obama is white, given his perfect elocution of “white” English and his full acceptance as an ideal person by white liberal Americans. Obama would be offended, and rightly so.

Yet calling Jews who nearly all originated in the Middle East as white – when the word is used as an epithet to mean colonialist, racist, European Westerner – is not at all looked down upon by the very people who are conditioned to find offense in the slightest seeming act that can be interpreted as racist or orientalist.

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