Skip To Content

Anti-Semitism in America is Nothing New. Don’t Deny Jewish History and Culture by Calling Us “White”

On Nov 22, 2016, Sarah Ruiz-Grossman, an Associate Editor at the Huffington Post, published an article titled “White Jews Have A Duty To Stand With Muslims And People Of Color.”

Ruiz-Grossman followed up this doozy of a title with the sub-title “our current fears – which are new to some of us – are what many other people have been facing for generations.”

While the sentiment behind this piece is likely noble, since as Jews, we should always stand against bigotry and racism, the two principle claims upon which this article rests, that (a) anti-Semitism in America is a relatively new phenomenon; and (b) that Jews are “white” and have a “skin privilege,” are insulting to anyone who understands Jewish history and the history of anti-Semitism in the United States.

In her article, Ruiz-Grossman writes about anti-Semitism in America as if it is brand spanking new and that American Jews have been just standing around enjoying their “privilege” while “people of color, immigrants and Muslims” were being attacked:

“Now they’ve come for us and we’re demanding that everyone say something. But first they had come for them, and we didn’t say enough. So let’s say something now ― call out the hate our community is facing, but also vow not to stay silent when it comes to the hate people of color, immigrants and Muslims are facing now, and have been facing all along.”

Anti-Semitism in the United States, however, did not begin with the start of the 2016 presidential campaign. Incredibly, it appears that despite Ruiz-Grossman’s apparent concern about anti-Semitism in America, she has been unaware that since the FBI began tracking hate crime data in 1992, far more than 60% of all hate crimes based on religious affiliation in the USA targeted Jews. Between 2003 and 2014 (well before the relatively recent rise in prominence of the odious alt-right), 65% of all violent hate crimes in the USA were committed against Jews, who constitute less than 2% of the population.

While much of the American press may suddenly be interested in anti-Semitism, Jews have sadly been the most targeted religious group in America for over two decades (at least). While Ruiz-Grossman asserts that Jews have been skating by on their “privilege” for years (apparently), during the decade following 9/11, 66% of all attacks based on religious affiliation were committed against Jews, while hate crimes against Muslims during that same time period averaged 12.1%. Incredibly, in the same paragraph where she claims that Jews are protected from hate by their “skin privilege,” Ruiz-Grossman clearly makes allowances (as she should) for Muslim women who “choose to wear the hijab” while she is seemingly being oblivious to the fact that approximately a million Jews in America also “choose” to wear religious garb.

Ruiz-Grossman’s self-described “call to arms” also apparently disregards the long history of Jews in America standing with the victims of racism and bigotry and against those who attack people on the basis of their race, religion or ethnicity.

In the 2015 movie Selma, the (unfortunate) decision was made to airbrush out of the film Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched arm in arm with Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Bunche during the famous March 21, 1965 Selma March, but one would expect an associate editor of the Huffington Post to know better.

Image by Getty Images

Ruiz-Grossman also apparently believes that Jews in America have been hiding behind their “skin privilege” instead of being at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Perhaps Ruiz-Grossman never learned that Henry Moskowitz, an Ashkenazi Jew, was one of the founders of the NAACP in 1909, and that many, if not most, of the civil rights attorneys fighting for racial equality in the South in the 1950’s and 1960’s were Jewish. Maybe she never learned that half of the famous volunteer “freedom riders” in the early 1960’s were Jewish, or that it was the murder by the KKK of three such freedom riders, two Jews, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, along with an African-American, James Chaney, that helped galvanize the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As if ignoring Jewish history in America is not enough, Ruiz-Grossman also disregards her own Jewish identity and Jewish history by characterizing herself and presumably all (Ashkenazi) Jews as “white.”

This is wrong and offensive. Anyone that understands Jewish history as well as the history of the entire development of the idea or construct of the “white race” should understand how that no Jew, Ashkenazi or otherwise, is “white.” While it is certainly the case that many Ashkenazi Jews today in America (such as Ruiz-Grossman) identify as “white,” that doesn’t make it any more accurate or appropriate. It does, however, delineate a fundamental “identity” problem in the Jewish community, particularly in America; where at the time of the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 Jews were not considered “white” (see, Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, (1987) 481 U.S. 615).

Ashkenazi Jews have been the victims of European and Western oppression and violence for centuries precisely because they were perceived as not being a part of the “white” world, beginning with the Roman colonialism of Judea and continuing through the 20th Century with arguably the worst genocide in history based on racial classification, the murder of more than 6 million, primarily Ashkenazi Jews, precisely because they were non-whites. The characterization of Jews as now somehow “white” and beneficiaries of “white privilege” is one of the main fallacies behind the relatively recent identification of some self-identified progressives with the demonization of Israel, a hateful cause to wipe off the map the world’s only Jewish state and to once again destroy the indigenous homeland of the Jewish people.

This is not merely a semantic issue. Jews are not “white.” We are a tribal people from the Levant. Many of our people were forcibly exiled out of and into other nations, including in Europe, where we were taken in chains and often subjected to brutal and oppressive institutional racism based on our ethnicity, tribal affiliation, culture and faith. For thousands of years, including nearly 2000 years where the majority of the Jewish people lived without the protection or comfort of having a Jewish homeland, we still maintained our indigenous culture, passing on from generation to generation our traditions, our language, and our sacred texts, all of which are entirely based on our indigenous tribal faith and affiliation. To call us “white,” when the notion of a “white” race was created by indigenous Europeans as a basis for supporting the “White Man’s Burden” and European imperialism, which certainly persecuted and oppressed Jews, in addition to numerous other non-Europeans, is a gross travesty and distortion.

No one that wants to end anti-Semitism and to fight against bigotry and racism should be claiming that Jews are “white.” People who try to depict or describe Jews as “white” are (albeit likely unintentionally) nullifying Jewish history and identity, and they are (again albeit likely unintentionally) essentially supporting Western imperialism, or at least it’s cultural imperialism, by imposing an artificial European creation (of a “White people”) on Jews — who regardless of our shade or whether we are Ashkenazi, Sephardic, or Mizrahi — are genetic brothers and sisters who have more in common genetically with each other than with most ethnic Europeans or “whites.”

Based on Ruiz-Grossman’s article, it is plain that she would never deny an African-American, Hispanic or Native American person either their heritage or their history because they may be able to appear or “pass” as white. But sadly, she feels perfectly comfortable doing that to her own people, a people that has suffered as much as any people on earth for not being “white.”


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.