In a landmark 2018 court ruling, Jews became a protected "race" under American law. This judgement was divisive. The case, in which a Catholic convert had been denied a job beause of his Jewish bloodline, should have been a victory for victims of anti-Semitism. Instead, many Jews saw its result as short-sighted. They argue that formalising racial distinctions legitimises racism. And that this approach is in the same genre of identity politics as the Holocaust. Others claim that categorising Jews as a minority ethnic group helps protect them against discrimination. Are Jews white?
No, Jews are not white
When "white" is used to categorise people within our society, it includes social, political, and historical dimensions that Jews are disconnected from.
White identity is predicated on historical anti-Semitic white privilege
When "white" is used as a political term, it assumes exploitative relationships in which white people are the beneficiaries. Within these structures, Jews have historically been excluded and subordinated. To call Jews white is to paint over the many centuries of anti-Semitic discrimination faced by Jews.
In America, Jews are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, brought in to put an end to white violence against minorities. This categorises them alongside blacks, hispanics and Native Americans, rather than "white people" of European origin.
Historically, "white" as a category has been used as shorthand for Christian Identity. That is, an anti-Semitic perspective of race that claims only those of Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Nordic and Aryan origin are white.
It is offensive to Jews of colour to describe all Jews as white
Jews, like many groups bound by their religious convictions, count millions of people of colour amongst their number. For centuries, large parts of Goa, Ethiopia, Egypt and the Middle East have had thriving non-white Jewish populations. Any argument that claims all Jews are white is therefore reductive, offensive and patently untrue.
Whiteness does not exist outside of the public imagination. Race is a cultural context used to help explain differences between populations. Increasingly, it is seen as an outdated method for understanding superficial differences. When it is used, it is invoked to describe subjective differences between populations.
As Jay Rosenbaum writes in The Jerusalem Post, "The term white as it is used today often has more to do with socioeconomic status than skin tone. To question whether Jews are “white”... is to question whether the term “white” describes any Jew, especially when it is used as a political tool to deny us the status of a persecuted people."
From an ethnocultural perspective, Judaism and its traditions originated with the Israelites. The ancestors of many Jews today were therefore olive-skinned from the Middle East. Groups that even today would not be classified as "white".
White people do not consider Jews to be "one of them". From anti-Semitic depictions of the "beady eyed" Jew to the European pogroms that plagued much of the twentieth century, Jews have been violently othered throughout white history.
There is only one necessary condition for whiteness: being white. Jews are white.
Jews are perceived as white
Whiteness is not performative, it is defined objectively by how one is perceived. Jews are privileged in society by virtue of their skin colour. One need look no further than the great levels of wealth and education enjoyed by Jews, relative to others, as proof of white privilege in action.
At its most essential, whiteness is about the colour of one's skin. Irrespective of arguments around systemic inequalities, it is an objective fact that many Jews have white skin and are therefore white.
Judaism is a religion. Therefore any argument premised on Jewishness as a race, is problematic.
Jews are an ethnically diverse religious group
Jews are defined by their religious beliefs, not their racial identity. Viewing them otherwise can lead to dangerous consequences. History shows us that when people choose to see Jews as a distinctive race, it is usually to give license to subordinate them.