Limmud panellists round on 'deeply damaging' identity politics

Majority of panellists argue that intersectionality has functioned to exclude Jews


The global identity politics movement was labelled a “disaster” and “deeply damaging” for Jews during a panel debate at Limmud.

Panel member Erielle Davidson, a writer at conservative US magazine The Fedralist, cited US-Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour’s statement that one cannot be both a Zionist and a feminist as an example of how Jews are often excluded from the identity politics movement and its ideological subsidiary, intersectionality.

She said: “On college campuses, if you are progressive, in order to show you progressive credentials, you need to be not only in favour of raising the minimum wage but also anti-Israel in some way. 

“For a lot of Jews, Zionism is part of their religious identity. And yet, when I worked in academia, I noticed that this was a badge of honour,” said Ms Davidson.

“It find that deeply abhorrent considering that women experience the most equality in Israel compared to anywhere else in the Middle East. If you want talk about women’s equality, let’s talk about how women are treated in Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Another member of the panel, political theory specialist Dr Gabriel Noah Brahm, told the audience that while those promoting identity politics relied on a “victimhood narrative”, the Jewish narrative is not one of victimhood “because we are not victims any more”. 

This was partly due to the social mobility of American Jews, who have gone from poverty to “prosperity and dignity” - and also “thanks to Zionism.. we all have eligibility of citizenship in the Jewish state”.

Abby Stein, trans woman and author, also on the panel, argued that US Jews were not as successful or safe as contested by Mr Brahm, and that the discourse around discrimination and socio-economic oppression, as posited by the identity politics movement, did in fact apply to Jews.

Ms Stein asked the audience how many identified as Jewish, and then asked, of those, how many had struggled to pay any costs that come with being Jewish. 

After many hands were raised following both questions, she said: “You have demonstrated, in the strongest way, intersectionality. It is impossible to talk about the struggles that Jews have without talking about the struggles of poverty, without talking of access.

“Jews did succeed in the US compared to a lot of other marginalised groups, but that was always conditional. The only thing the far left and far right agree on sometimes is how to hate Jews. Jew hate exists.

"But the only people that want to kill Jews are are on the far right, and it’s growing really fast. Two out of the last three shootings of Jews in the US come from that world.”

Mr Brahm countered that Jews in the US were far safer than they have ever been. He said: “To quote Irving Kristol, for the first time in history they don’t want to kill us, they want to marry us. We’re fully American. We’re not outsiders.

“Fifty per cent of American Jews already earn more than $100,000 a year, compared to 19 per cent of the population as a whole. Twenty or 30 per cent of the students at the best US universities are Jews. 

“There is no question that Jews have had a golden age in America in the last 50 years. There is no point denying our deserved achievements.”

Mr Brahm added: “We live in the diaspora by choice. That’s thanks to Zionism. We live in an age of achieved national liberation, we all have eligibility of citizenship in the Jewish state. It’s double not dual loyalty. We can’t join the movement of identity politics because we’re not victims, we refuse to be victims.

"Our story is one of resilience and self reliance. That should stand as a moral, and stand in contrast to identity politics which offers people an identity based on their suffering.”

In a similar vein, Ms Davidson emphasised the role that individual choice plays in people's lives. She said: “The intersectionality that comes with identity politics robs people of the ability to think logically about issues yourself, and reduces people to immutable characteristics. 

“We we make active choices, that’s different to being born black or Jewish or however you might identify. There might be so much more to you than that immutable characteristic. 

“We are now discrediting people because ‘you haven’t lived that experience’ or ‘you’re not the right colour’, ‘you’re not the right religion’ - that is robbing someone of their ideas because you’re made a judgement about them before you have got to know them or heard what they have to say.”

Ms Stein countered: “We’re looking at identity politics the wrong way. We’re looking at it as it was invented in order to put people in certain boxes. 

“The US was never ‘united by ideas’ as Margaret Thatcher said - and that is exactly where identity politics comes in. 

“We have a society where for 200 years there has been institutionalised discrimination against millions of its people, you cannot just say everyone is equal in the eyes of the law and therefore we don’t have to talk about it. It doesn’t work like that. Institutionalised racism exists in the US to this day.” 

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