Intersectional theory is uniquely suited to take on anti-Semitism. But intersectional activists often refuse to do so, perpetuating the prejudice instead: “Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are intersectional challenges. The intersectional justice movement should be doing everything that it can to tackle those issues and to include Jews and Jewish institutions in its advocacy work.” – Brown University alum, Benjamin Gladstone, writes.
For the last several days, leftist activist Linda Sarsour has dominated my Facebook feed. In an interview with The Nation, Sarsour insinuated that the feminist movement ought to exclude Zionists. The interview has stoked a larger conversation about the leadership positions of people like Sarsour, who has long advocated for economic warfare (BDS) against Israel, and Rasmea Odeh, a convicted terrorist who actively participated in the murder of two Jewish students at Hebrew University, in intersectional justice movements in America.
Yet again, progressive Jewish activists have been left wondering whether or not we have a place in those movements. We dealt with some of the same questions after the Movement for Black Lives came out with its own platform that falsely accused Israel of “genocide,” and we will undoubtedly confront these issues many times in the future. At the end of the day, however, no matter what the Sarsours of the world say, Jewish issues do belong in the intersectional justice movement. That’s because anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are both serious intersectional problems, and any truly intersectional movement ought to tackle them.
The problem is not intersectional theory. It’s intersectional activists who fail to adhere to it.
Let me explain. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a scholar, lawyer, and activist who is currently a professor at both UCLA and Columbia Law Schools, coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989. According to Crenshaw and others, intersectionality is a framework for understanding the interactions between different structures of oppression, focusing on people who hold multiple marginalized identities. Crenshaw’s insight was that the oppression experienced by black women, at the intersection of racism and patriarchy, was distinct from the oppression experienced by white women or black men. What began as a study of the unique experiences of black women has broadened in today’s discourse to include a wide range of overlapping identity categories. Beyond academia, it has become an ideological and strategic tool for marginalized communities and advocacy groups to coordinate their efforts and build progressive coalitions. It both highlights the most marginalized voices and provides opportunities for unity in the face of oppression.