The Reut Group on Tuesday released a report exploring the pressures that intersectional social movements put on the Jewish community, and recommending ways to sustain Jewish cohesiveness in America in the face of these pressures.
The report, “Navigating Intersectional Landscapes: Rules for Jewish Community Relations Professionals,” commissioned by the Julis Foundation for Multi-Disciplinary Thinking, finds that the application of intersectionality in its current form contributes to the normalization of the “new anti-Semitism.”
The concept of intersectionality initially intended to illuminate dynamics that have often been overlooked by feminist movements and theory (Becky Thompson). As articulated by author Bell Hooks, the emergence of intersectionality “challenged the notion that ‘gender’ was the primary factor determining a woman’s fate.” The historical exclusion of black women from the feminist movement in the United States resulted in many black 19th and 20th century feminists, such as Anna Julia Cooper, challenging the exclusion. This movement disputed the ideas of earlier feminist movements – which were primarily led by white middle-class women – such as the idea that women were a homogenous category who shared the same life experiences. In the end, intersectionality developed into identifying Jews as part of the system of oppression due to their affiliation with Israel. So simple, right?
Social movements that embrace the principles of intersectionality require Jews to acknowledge their status of privilege and reject their own claims of discrimination. These movements also hold little room for those who support Israel which is seen as a white, colonial nation-state, antithetical to the ideals which intersectional movements claim to champion. As such, members of the Jewish community who wish to participate as Zionists or as members of a disenfranchised minority are largely unwelcome.
The current application of intersectionality undermines Jewish communal cohesion. Anti-Israel groups intentionally leverage intersectionality as a vehicle through which to exert their agenda along the divides that weaken Jewish efficacy and strength. This reality particularly compromises the ability of Jewish communal organizations to engage with young Jews, who are largely critical of the traditional pro-Israel stance of these organizations. As a result, there is a growing tendency for Jewish communal organizations to decrease or disengage from Israel-related activities.
The report warns that this growing tendency to disengage from Israel will only exacerbate the identity crisis of American Jewry, further erode communal cohesion and deepen internal fissures. American Jewry’s disengagement from Israel, the report explains, will lead to the implosion of the ideal of Jewish Peoplehood as a cornerstone of the formation of Jewish identity in recent decades and will tear apart Jewish solidarity which is a key to the Jewish people’s continued survival across generations.
Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Reut Group, suggested that “the challenges of intersectionality are structural, intellectual and organizational, requiring a systemic response. The current form of intersectionality has contributed to a sharp rise of anti-Semitism that anti-Israel groups drive in progressive circles.”
The Reut report offers several concrete ways of fighting back:
1. Double down on Israel engagement;
2. Create a broad tent based on a narrow definition of delegitimization;
3. Engage young Jews where they stand;
4. Educate and empower young people to have tough conversations on Israel;
5. Cultivate constructive alternatives to hate campaigns;
6. Prioritize a relationship-based approach;
7. Intellectually reframe the focus of intersectionality on Israel;
8. Drive a wedge between ideological adversaries and their solidarity supporters;
9. Create your own intersectional alliances;
10. Kick-start joint Israeli-Diaspora Tikkun Olam.
The Reut Group is a strategy and leadership group, founded by Gidi Grinstein, that focuses on making sense of the fundamental challenges facing Israel and world Jewry and leading transformative social change.