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The Bigotry - and Danger of - Intersectionality (March 2017)

There is a term that has become somewhat ubiquitous in current political discourse, particularly in progressive or liberal circles.  “Intersectionality” was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 essay but it is only in the last few years that the term and the phenomenon it represents have become widespread and commonplace. 


“Intersectionality” refers to the “complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and yes, intersect—especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups” (from Intersectionality holds that various forms of oppression — add homophobia to the above list — constitute an intersecting system of oppression. In this worldview, a transcendent white, male, heterosexual power structure keeps down marginalized groups. Uniting oppressed groups, the theory goes, strengthens them against the dominant power structure.


The intersectionality phenomenon is problematic for any of us who consider ourselves lovers of Israel, because Palestinians are included among the other oppressed and repressed groups.  Israel and Zionism are therefore oppressors or oppressive in this worldview.  And the fine line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is often crossed. 


Intersectionality has, not surprisingly, been used by proponents of BDS—the boycott, divestment and sanctions effort against Israel.  BDS activists have sought to gain allies to their cause by linking Israel’s oppression of Palestinians to the oppression of minority groups.  This is why you will often see anti-Israel placards and speakers at marches or demonstrations for women’s rights or gay rights.  It is why the Black Lives Matter (BLM) platform, drafted last summer, devotes an entire paragraph to Israel in which it condemns Israel’s “genocide” of the Palestinian people and calls Israel an apartheid state.  The oppression of African Americans “intersects” with the oppression of the Palestinians.  The claims are, of course, not only wrong but offensive.  Israel is the only country whose domestic policy the BLM platform criticizes.  Why Israel is even mentioned in the platform, and what the implications of that are, are questions that have been explored in numerous reactions to the platform’s release.


There is incredible irony in the intersectionality phenomenon leading to condemnation of Israel in women’s rights and gay rights circles and organizations.  For, as you may be aware, women and LBGT people enjoy more freedom and equality in Israel than in virtually every other country in the Middle East.   If you are gay in Israel you can be open about it and march in an annual gay pride parade.  If you are gay in the Palestinian territories or in most Arab countries, you fear for your safety and your life.  And yet, in some LGBT progressive circles, it is not the repressive and murderous regimes of the Middle East or ISIS that are condemned, but the State of Israel, leading one astute observer to comment that “intersectionality makes you stupid.”


It happens that over the next several days the greater Boston Jewish community is hosting Lieutenant Shachar Erez, Israel's first openly transgender commander in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). From the Israeli Consulate:  “Although he now identifies as a man,  Lieutenant Shachar joined the IDF as a woman. Throughout his military service, he went through the unique and complicated process of changing his gender. Throughout this process, he experienced support from his unit and commanding officers. His case also prompted the Israeli military to fast-track new protocols now in place that range from tolerance training for senior officers to ensuring that the military would cover the cost of hormone treatments and sex reassignment surgery.”  I think it’s safe to say that there are very few militaries around the world that can claim as open and supportive an approach to a transgender soldier as this, and in all likelihood none in the Middle East.  Yet, thanks to the double-think of intersectionality, Israel has at times been condemned or ostracized by LGBT organizations.


Professor Alan Dershowitz has been one of the most consistent and articulate voices speaking out against BDS and its corollary, intersectionality.  I close by offering you his most recent piece, “The Bigotry of Intersectionality,” from The Gatestone Institute, which I encourage you to read.

Fri, July 12 2024 6 Tammuz 5784