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White Jews: An Intersectional Approach

David Schraub brings to light the complex relationship between Jewishness and whiteness in our 25th Lunch Talk.

March 30, 2023 — David Schraub, Assistant Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark Law School, specializing in constitutional law, anti-discrimination law, political theory, and contemporary antisemitism, spoke at ENCATE’s 25th Lunch Talk.

Schraub’s enlightening presentation on “White Jews” during the first lunch talk of our intersectionality series left a powerful impact. The talk was based on a paper Schraub wrote five years ago, which remains relevant today, as it offers a nuanced understanding of the complex relationship between Jewishness and whiteness.

What is Schraub’s take on intersectionality, and why is it important?

According to Schraub, intersectionality involves examining how different aspects of a person’s identity lead to unique experiences that any single component on its own cannot explain. In his article “White Jews: An Intersectional Approach,” published in the AJS Review, he argues that understanding the intersection of whiteness and Jewishness is crucial for comprehending how these identities function together. Without an intersectional framework, political debates and efforts to achieve Jewish equality may be misinterpreted.

Recognizing and confronting various forms of discrimination is crucial, particularly for people who are part of multiply marginalized communities, like Women of Color. Intersectionality is typically used to examine how different marginalized identities intersect. However, Schraub is investigating how a dominant identity intersects with a marginalized one. This approach can offer valuable insights into important issues and experiences. David Schraub demonstrates how a dominant plus a marginal interaction plays out, e.g., white plus Jew. 

A recent example of the interaction Schraub is analyzing occurred during a student government debate at Stanford University regarding a resolution to denounce antisemitism. One student senator objected to that clause by claiming that to say “Jews control the media, economy, government and societal institutions” is not antisemitic but instead associates the issue with power dynamics and criticizes it.

Through Schraub’s analysis, we can observe the stereotypes attributed to Jews and how society’s perception of the Jewish image overlaps with archetypical whiteness. This intersection is particularly intriguing.

“The intersection of whiteness and Jewishness allows for the acceleration and the validation of something that otherwise might obviously seem to be antisemitic.”

Two critical qualities intersect with Jewishness when it comes to whiteness: power and omnipresence. It is possible to map both of these concepts onto aspects of antisemitism, such as the idea of controlling Jewish hyperpower and that Jews are indistinct; they are considered a subgroup of a larger entity, e.g., Judeo-Christian.

Equating whiteness with Jewishness overlooks the diversity within the Jewish community. As a result, non-white Jews are considered white as long as they express Jewish beliefs and/or issues that conform to the norm. Conversely, if they don’t conform to the norm, they are viewed as less Jewish.

Taking all these factors into account, utilizing an intersectional approach helps to separate valid critiques of privilege and power related to whiteness from antisemitism in discussions. Or in Schraub’s words: “The intersection of whiteness and Jewishness allows for the acceleration and the validation of something that otherwise might obviously seem to be antisemitic.”

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