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Who Speaks for the Jews?

Today on Jewcy: The other problem with the anti-Semitism panel at the New School.

B. Lana Guggenheim
November 28, 2017

A lot of ink has been spilled about Linda Sarsour’s place on a panel tonight at the New School on anti-Semitism, and a prominent benefactor has threatened to withdraw funding for the New School as a result. A lot of the negative reactions have to do with who Linda Sarsour is, what she’s said about anti-Semitism in the past, and what she supports. And there is an up-swelling of bigotry and Islamophobia rearing its ugly head, for which as a public Muslim figure, Sarsour is an unfortunate lightning rod.

But a lot of the censure has much to do with who is considered to be an appropriate spokesperson for the Jews about a Jewish experience. In activist and leftist circles, it is taken for granted that the people most appropriate to define their struggles in life are the ones who experience it. Thus, it is expected to defer to Muslims when the topic is the experience or definition of Islamophobia, or African-Americans when the topic is anti-Blackness in America, or women when the topic is misogyny. Why are Jews not afforded the same deference? Who has the right to define what we suffer for our Jewishness, or to define what it is to be Jewish? Who are the gentiles that are perceived to be experts on us from the outside, and why are we deferring to them?