(January 6, 2019 / KDJ) Being Jewish is far from easy. At present, you are part of a group that remains, both in Europe and North America, the leading target of hate-crimes among all minority groups. Historically, you are saddled with some of the worst experiences of oppression imaginable, and for no other reason than identity.
Jews have suffered centuries of disproportionate violence: forced enslavement, exile, mass genocide, identity theft, and erasure. Like other Indigenous bodies, there has been no shortage of impostors who pretend to be Jewish and use this faux identity to criticize and demonize Jews and proponents of the Jewish State.
One of the more prominent Jewish cultural appropriators is Nylah Burton, an African-American woman from Colorado. Raised in a Christian household, Nylah remained oblivious of her father’s distant Jewish ancestry until college. Upon discovery, she took a 3-month class on Judaism (insufficient even by Reform standards) and began calling herself Jewish. These experiences are documented in full on her HeyAlma blog.
She quickly made a name for herself on “Jewbook” (a portmanteau of Jewish and Facebook) as a self-proclaimed advocate for “Jews of color.” Under the aegis of the increasingly out-of-touch Jewish Daily Forward, she penned articles promoting the erasure of “white” Jews, stripping them of their Middle Eastern heritage and their own lived experiences as a non-white group. These articles attracted significant criticism, most of which involved accusations of applying double standards to the Jewish community vis-à-vis other minority ethnic groups.
For example, pale or “passing” Hispanics, Arabs, or Native Americans are somehow “white-passing” while “white” Jews (many of whom do not “pass”) are somehow, according to Nylah, “functionally white.” Nylah’s HeyAlma blogs were discovered soon afterward, and she was promptly denounced by many as a fraud. She responded to this criticism by publicly lashing out at her detractors, accusing them of targeting her simply because she is black.
Although some of the criticism she received was indeed racist, most of her critics simply took issue with her deception and the apparent double standards employed in her work, not her skin color. Alas, that terrible article was only the beginning, as all of her subsequent articles involved her gaslighting Farrakhan critics and defending notorious anti-semites, including Alice Walker and the Women’s March leaders.
Nylah’s case is not unique. Sometime in August, NY State Senate candidate Julia Salazar also began claiming Jewish heritage. Just like Nylah, she used this identity to normalize anti-semitism while driving a wedge between actual Jews. Julia was openly anti-Zionist and weaponized her self-proclaimed Jewish identity in service of that ideology. But as with Nylah, it wasn’t long before her fake persona was exposed. She was swiftly outed as a non-Jew by none other than her own brother, and others formerly close to her.
Video footage (which can be seen below) of Julia’s tenure with CUFI (Christians United For Israel) emerged shortly afterward, further contradicting her own narrative about her origins. Like Nylah, she dismissed her critics as “right-wing racists”, an approach that appears to have worked (she won the Senate election).
This brings us to last month, which saw anti-Zionist NY Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed converso ancestry at a Hanukkah party (she does know what Hanukkah is about, right?). Coming fresh off the Salazar and Nylah controversies, and given Ocasio-Cortez’s own anti-Israel proclivities (including her friendship with odious anti-semitic figures like Linda Sarsour) many in the Jewish community expressed skepticism toward her claims.
The Tweet below demonstrates Ocasio-Cortez’s support for rabid anti-Semite and anti-Israel activist, Linda Sarsour.
Our future is a shared responsibility.
This woman putting it all on the line for healthcare, women & LGBT+ rights is @lsarsour.
The far right constantly maligns her w/ false attacks + threats of violence.
Yet here she is, as always, fighting for everything our flag represents. https://t.co/QR4rYnclLt
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 5, 2018
So does this cover the full extent of the problem? Hardly. These three women are just the most recent examples. Anti-Jewish posing is far from new and appears to be increasing in popularity. What is by far the most terrifying aspect of all this is how easily these impostors managed to get away with their deceptions, and how numerous their supporters within the Jewish community are. The latter is especially puzzling when one considers how rigid our standards for tribal membership are, so why are these posers the recipient of such passionate defense?
One possible reason is the fear of being perceived as racist. All three of the women mentioned in this piece are influential, highly visible women of obvious color. This presents a dilemma for many Jews, especially those of a more “progressive” and socially conscious persuasion who wish to see a Judaism that is more inclusive. They recoil at the idea of ostracizing these women because they fear that it would not only damage their own anti-racist credentials but that it would further strain the already fractious relationship between Jews and other communities of color.
“How do I explain to my gentile friends that my community isn’t racist when we’ve just humiliated and chased away three women of color who were kind enough to identify with us?”, they ask themselves. “How do I reconcile this behavior with my commitment to social justice?”.
Another possible reason is the view of Judaism as a religious identity, not an ethnic or tribal one. Obviously, anyone can convert to a religion, so why exclude self-identifying Jews just because they don’t share our lived experiences, our history, or our blood? “Jewishness is about what’s in your heart, not your DNA”, as these narcissists would often say. From the perspective of someone who sees Judaism as only a religion, it makes no sense to cast them away since the only prerequisite for being Jewish is belief. But those who see and recognize Judaism as far more than a religion are far more likely to balk at these outsiders who have inserted themselves into our community and then proceeded to bully us.
No matter the reason, no other minority would accept such blatant cultural appropriation. There is no reason why we should either. Those who seek to harm us from within need to be called out, and then unceremoniously pushed out.