(Photo above by David Holifield via Unsplash)
Last week, I wrote an article covering the recent anti-Semitic comments of celebrities like DeSean Jackson and Nick Cannon. Around the same time these comments caused public backlash, the hashtag “Jewish Privilege” trended on Twitter.
I won’t include examples of the tweets genuinely using the hashtag because they are damaging, and they further discriminatory conspiracy theories — some are outright violent. But most of them are standard anti-Semitic sentiments, like Jewish people controlling the media (not true) and all Jewish people being complacent and/or enabling the Israel-Palestine conflict (in reality, many Jews support Palestine). Thankfully, most of the harmful tweets have been drowned out by Jewish people using the hashtag ironically to highlight the real hate and discrimination they have faced, like this poignant example.
What followed that horrific incident was an exceptional outpouring of support. Books were sent in from all over Canada , from schools , organizations and private donors. Never in my educational career have I ever felt such empathetic care from others.Good people right the wrong.
— roberta (@17birdie) July 13, 2020
Though the hashtag was mostly unsuccessful due to support from tweets like the one above, it should be noted that even the existence of such a movement proves anti-Semitism exists. And those people with similar experiences should not be forced to publicly relive their worst moments of bigotry to show that hatred and discrimination against Jewish people still happens.
The majority of religiously-motivated hate crimes are targeted against Jewish people — in 2018, 57.8 percent of religious hate crimes were anti-Jewish. The next-largest targeted group was Muslim people, who experienced 14.5 percent of religious hate crimes.
Denying that discrimination against the Jewish community exists allows it to continue and get worse. Casual anti-Semitism has become so commonplace and acceptable that I often hear people nonchalantly say things like “Jews are rich and run the banks,” without recourse (this is a myth that has persisted for thousands of years). Even when I’m around. Even to my face. And other Jewish people certainly hear these innocuous-seeming comments every day.
But if you believe or have repeated things like that, which seem complimentary or harmless and don’t contribute to physical violence, they are still damaging. Scapegoating Jewish people, believing they have unearned power or influence, and perpetuating other stereotypes breeds hatred and distrust towards this group of people. And that can lead to actual violence against the community — violence that increased 40 percent from 2014 to 2018.
With all that said, some Jewish people do benefit from white privilege or white-passing privilege. In a Pew Research Center study, 94 percent of American Jews self-identified as white. And because religion, unlike race, is not identifiable by sight, (unless someone is wearing a kippah or Star of David) white Jewish people are not targeted based on appearance. Unless a Jewish person publicly identifies themselves, they will not be denied a job, arrested, or otherwise discriminated against in the same way a BIPOC might be. However, Black Jews and other Jews of color exist and face multiple layers of discrimination, oftentimes within their own groups.
These white Jews do not have privilege because they are Jewish. They have privilege because they are white. And they face discrimination, hatred, and danger because they are Jewish. Many Jewish people, and American people in general, have different and overlapping forms of privilege and disadvantages.
But so-called Jewish privilege does not exist. And perpetuating the myth that it does furthers hate and enables anti-Semitism to grow and fester.