By Joshua Yudkin
Identity politics, and the study of identity politics, has been instrumental in understanding social movements, institutions and government in a variety of settings. It has been critical in raising awareness of marginalized communities and their communities’ issues, unifying marginalized populations to advocate for change and advancing basic human rights. While most often due to the lack of alternatives, the success of the American Jewish community during the 20th century was a direct consequence of how our community used identity politics and came together to enact systemic change.
Like all forms of xenophobia and hate, there are new tropes and tactics evolving for antisemitism (recently renamed by some groups as Jew-hate). One example could be Holocaust denial. Thanks to the groundwork already laid out by our community’s leadership, we have been able to systematically respond by encouraging governments to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. We celebrate our community’s organization and success in creating more equitable and just legislation. We laud our community’s leadership for holding both individuals and governments accountable for their actions.
As we look ahead, our next great opportunity is to continue coalition building with other groups who share similar challenges. The iconic image that comes to mind from the 20th century is the photo of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. walking together for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Through sharing our story and learning their story, we create one shared narrative. In greater numbers, we, together, enact systemic change that benefits all. Efforts must be both grassroots and at the highest level — it is through personal connections that relationships are built, and it is through strategic collaboration that partnerships are codified and sustained.
Whether we look at the American Jewish Committee’s Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, the Jewish Community Relations Council Interfaith Passover Seder or the Anti-Defamation League’s recent co-programming with Equality Texas to focus on LGBTQ+ rights, our community leadership has its finger on the pulse of societal challenges and is ready to collaborate and respond.
Yet, identity politics is also inherently divisive. It is a product of modernity that forced everyone and everything into social and phenotypic constructs. In other words, it fragments humanity into non-mutually-exclusive categories like race, ethnicity and/or religion. It reduces the mosaic of our identity.
There is a dangerous and toxic new development in the realm of identity politics: comparative identity politics. Recently, solution-oriented, constructive and decent discourse has evolved into debates about which group(s) have suffered worse — in terms of awareness, duration and intensity. It is a counterproductive and impossible task to compare who suffered more. It is divisive and evades the root systemic issues that need to be addressed.
By focusing on the shared injustice, we can address root issues and make things better for all. By focusing on the shared goal, we have a better impact.
Moving forward, it is essential that the unique experiences of each person and group are understood in the most inclusive and expansive way. As we look at antisemitism, it is important to remember it is one of many forms of xenophobia and hate that plagues the status quo. Many other groups and subgroups are facing the same increase of intolerance and insecurity.
Antisemitism, like all forms of hate, is a symptom of a deeper societal disease of intolerance that is, most often, brought on by ignorance. When ignorance is paired with unanswered pain and suffering, it is all too easy to channel negativity toward a group about whom you know very little. To cure the disease — not just treat the symptoms — we must partner with others so that, together, we can find a cure.
Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.