Eyes white shut

Although the opening of the exhibition ‘Are Jews white?’ has been postponed until the 9th of June, this week marks the beginning of public attention for the topic with a debate programme ‘Strange Bedfellows’ in De Balie and several Dutch national newspapers running articles on the subject. ‘Are Jews white?’ tackles the uncomfortable position of Jews in the intersectional antiracism movement, and the uneasy link between antisemitism and antiracism. 

I am both excited and anxious. The newspaper articles show how difficult it is to pinpoint at the core of the exhibition and its implications with clarity. The articles pivot around classical notions of antisemitism, and then get stuck around the unwelcomeness of Jews in antiracism movements and the situation in Israel and Palestine. However logical this might sound, especially against the backdrop of the political reality of the past weeks, this framing is missing the point. And it is missing the point in three ways: conflation, solidarity and Jewish intersectionality. 

The fact that Jewish activism in the Netherlands is complicated is not the mere fact of pro-Palestinian sentiment in these emancipation movements. The deeper cause is the conscious and unconscious conflation of Jews with Israel. It is the apparent interchangeability of Jews and Israel that accounts for the unease and unsafety. Actually, it seems impossible to address the link between antisemitism and antiracism outside the Israeli-Palestinian frame. But let me turn this around: it is impossible to address this link by remaining stuck in this frame. This conflation leads to awkward situations in which Jews in the Netherlands are being asked to answer for Israeli politics, to pass a ‘good Jew’ or ‘bad Jew’ quiz. And worse even, the situation in Israel and Palestine works as a direct justification for hatred against Jews anywhere in the world. Guilty by conflation. How I would love to have a conversation on antisemitism and antiracism beyond this frame. 

The second issue that seems overlooked is the mental barrier that needs to be addressed within the Jewish communities themselves: understanding the necessity of showing solidarity with the broader antiracism movement and its efforts. There is still a stifling sense of loneliness in the fight against antisemitism that seems to impair on seeing the bigger picture of how different forms of discrimination, hate and exclusion work in unison and are – for the most part – propagated by the same ideology. Among the 145+ organisations signing the letter to the informateur to ban all forms of racist policies in the Netherlands, there is only one Jewish organisation. Why’s that? And wouldn’t it be great if Jewish leadership would reach out to the antiracism leadership and vice versa, and explore common ground?   

And still there is a third layer, which may very well represent a fundamental blind spot within many Jewish communities: a conversation on Jewish intersectionality. To stand with Jews who are not white passing: Jews of color, for otherabled Jews, for Jews of mixed heritage, for LGBTQI+ Jews – the list is long. To want to understand what their experiences are like, facing discrimination on multiple axes of their being. Perhaps this is an entry point into accepting that intersectional solidarity is not something we do only towards whomever is on the other side of ‘us’, but rather is something we must learn to practice also towards our own selves. In this conversation lies an opening into the practice of solidarity and ultimately the forming of allyships with others. 

Tonight at De Balie I hope we can seize the occasion to recalibrate and set in motion an honest and layered conversation.

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