“Whiteness” as the New Measure of Anti-Semitism

By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.

Our enemies are seeking to redefine our status, question our loyalty, and undermine our political interests. Some accuse us of trying to “replace” or imitate WASPS as the new power group. These new negative images represent an element of the contemporary assault on Jewish Americans.

In the end, however, these attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions are really about a larger question, what type of American ethos and culture will emerge over the decades ahead? This dual-edged war is directed toward questioning the status and place of America’s Jews, just as it permits others the opportunity to marginalize Israel and its legitimacy as a Jewish state. For the political right this is the first salvo in their war against multiculturalism and diversity.

By seeking to question the “whiteness” of Jewish Americans, the alt-right and its allies are also seeking to minimize the other “non-white” forces that “occupy” space in this society? Speaking about an American homeland, the alt right defines this idea as “white-only means Jews aren’t invited.”

They (Jews) have their own identity, and it isn’t white-slash-European.”[1] Greg Johnson best summarizes the bottom line of this assault on Jews when he writes:

I oppose the Jewish diaspora in the United States and other white societies. I would like to see the white peoples of the world break the power of the Jewish diaspora and send the Jews to Israel, where they will have to learn how to be a normal nation.”[2]

But the war against the Jews and Israel is not limited to the political right. Take specific elements from the political left, including the “progressive wing” of the Democratic Party, the Women’s Movement, BDS campaign, or Black Lives Matter.[3] Each of these voices carries its specific grievances against the Jewish State and in some cases against American Jewry. For elements within these circles, “Jewish whiteness” and their Zionist credentials are seen as both problematic characteristics and disqualifying issues. Here, the perceived Jewish political relationship to the Trump Administration and the close connections between this President and Israel’s Prime Minister serve as the backdrop in defining Jews today as “white” or being identified as part of the entrenched power-class, and therefore no longer qualifying as being legitimate political outsiders.

How Jewish Americans are currently being portrayed represents an important theme in connection with the new anti-Semitism. Where once Jews were seen as “marginal” players to the American economic and political story, today we are being described as the “New WASPS” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), i.e. as important and visible power brokers within this society. For our enemies on the right this development is seen as threatening to their definition of a “white” America.[4] As political impostors, we are being viewed as operating in a territorial space reserved for others. On the political left we are now seen as “powerful” and “influential” and as a result, “frauds” in our strivings to be present and active in challenging the status quo.

In 2014, writing on this site, I would offer the following observation:[5]

Historically, their enemies defined Jews as the subversive outsider; today they are described as the “oppressive insider.” By adopting this application, it now becomes easier to assign blame to the Jews, if they can be described as part of the political elite.

Within recent weeks, reports of hate crimes, physical attacks, anti-Semitic threats, and negative political messaging have accelerated. Our enemies, both left and right, have taken the opportunity to advance specific anti-Jewish commentaries or to repeat worn out mantras against the State of Israel. This new war on American Jews and Israel reflects the hidden, and not so hidden, hatred present within this society. Now unleashed, our community is experiencing assaults on individual Jews, Jewish institutions, and high profile symbols of Judaism and Israel.

21st Century anti-Semitism employs previous forms of anti-Jewish behavior, just as distinctive elements are being raised. The new anti-Semitism reintroduces the issue of “race” and “nationality” into the mix, as Jews are being challenged about their “whiteness” and their legitimacy as Americans. Drawing upon Hitler’s use of race, the assault today on America’s Jews seeks to employ a similar type of profiling.[6]

It is delivered differently than prior expressions, as social media carries contemporary hate. It seeks to target specific, high profile Jews (i.e. George Soros). The new hate employs the use of conspiracy ideas concerning Jewish behaviors and actions, a technique borrowed from earlier periods of anti-Semitic rhetoric. In this current framework of hate Israel has become a centerpiece in the war against the Jews.

What is contributing to the acceleration of these anti-Semitic attacks? American mainstream culture and politics have given space for these expressions of public hate. “We are deluding ourselves if we do not see the parallel between intolerant or hateful rhetoric and its inevitable consequence.”[7] In the past such overt commentaries and hostile actions would be seen as outside of the boundaries of acceptable behavior or public speech.

Some of the characteristics contributing to current phenomenon of anti-Semitism:

  • Using social media and the new technologies to convey hate messages
  • Linking Israel as a significant factor in contemporary anti-Semitism
  • Employing traditional anti-Jewish canards depicting Jewish behaviors and practices
  • Identifying Jewish support of Donald Trump as a contributing element
  • Viewing Jews as more loyal to Israel than to their countries of citizenship
  • Reintroducing an array of conspiracy theories on Jews and Judaism

We appear to be entering a period where we are witnessing a new normalization of anti-Semitism. The information revolution has altered both how and what is conveyed to audiences. New understandings of “truth” and “facts” have altered and disrupted the flow of ideas. We are seeing the dumbing down of public discourse, where messages of hate and intimidation are redefining the public square? Historic facts have given way to new mythologies about Jews, Judaism and the State of Israel.

Defining the New AntiSemitism:

Over the past year a number of new books on anti-Semitism have been released. Each seeks to reference the character and substance of this current pushback against America’s Jews and Israel. In her book Antisemitism Here and Now, Deborah Lipstadt noted:

A healthy democratic society cannot tolerate anti-Semitism and racism. If that is festering in its midst, it says something is unhealthy about the society. It’s not just Jews for whom this is dangerous. This should terrify you. Because if this is happening to Jews, it may start with the Jews but it doesn’t end with the Jews.[8]


We are experiencing a new era in the history of contemporary anti-Semitism.[9] The political culture has given space to the voices of hate, both left and right, to offer their angry perspectives on the status of Jews. This dual-edged war is directed on the political right toward questioning the status and place of America’s Jews, just as it affords the political left an opportunity to marginalize Israel. In both scenarios, Jews as “white folks” has been introduced as the defining and common measure.

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR, Los Angeles. His writings can be found on his website, www.thewindreport.com.

[1] https://www.thedailybeast.com/alt-right-leaders-we-arent-racist-we-just-hate-jews
[2] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/alt-right
[3] https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/274662/american-left-1
[4] https://search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?hspart=pty&hsimp=yhs-pty_email&param2=c88cb331-f414-4907-8ef7-c5bb528767eb&param3=email_~US~appfocus531&param4=4847_v4-bb9~Chrome~Are+Jews+white+folks%3f~A8809666F2B8E52E6070DA117F14F374&param1=20181223&p=Are+Jews+white+folks%3f&type=em_appfocus531_cr
[5] http://ejpprod.wpengine.com/rethinking-the-jewish-condition-five-scenarios-that-are-impacting-the-course-of-jewish-history/
[6] https://prospect.org/article/are-jews-white-its-mistake-even-ask
[7] https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-rise-of-hate-crimes-can-be-tied-directly-to-hateful-speech
[8] https://www.jta.org/2018/11/13/united-states/deborah-lipstadt-wrote-new-book-anti-semitism-
[9] See, other writings of Steven Windmueller on this topic: http://ejpprod.wpengine.com/responding-to-anti-semitism-revisiting-old-assumptions-understanding-the-new-threats/

Dr. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR, Los Angeles. His writings can be found on his website, www.thewindreport.com.