It doesn’t sound threatening. In fact, it sounds kind of technical, and boring, and it’s an awkward word to write on a protest placard. But intersectionality has become a buzzword on college campuses, representing a new form of prejudice toward Jewish students. It is a concept used in critical theories, referring to ways that various forms of oppression are interconnected and can’t be separated from each other. The practical result in our context today is that if a person opposes racism or sexism, he or she must oppose the oppression of the Palestinians at the hand of Israel.
A group of progressive Jewish college students we met with recently told us that when they sought to affiliate with Black Lives Matter, support LBGTQ voices or join campus efforts to combat the rape culture, they were not accepted because they were considered Zionists, and thus outside the circle of legitimate social justice advocacy.
The irony is that the students in question were members of J Street, the pro-Mideast peace group widely viewed in the organized Jewish community as insufficiently supportive of the government of Israel.
“We are seen by our peers as anti-Palestinian,” one student complained, “and by our parents’ generation as anti-Israel.”
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has become increasingly aggressive in its anti-Israel efforts on more than 100 campuses, has jumped on the intersectionality bandwagon. It seeks to work with liberal student groups in co-sponsoring anti-Israel programs. It also tries to isolate pro-Israel groups from participating in progressive causes, insisting that no discussion about oppression can take place without noting “the violence of the Israeli regime,” as one SJP spokesperson said.
Somehow, according to SJP, all forms of progressive activism require a common goal: opposing Israel.
Campus officials and student government leaders around the country are struggling with how to maintain and promote free speech while curbing blatant prejudice in the form of anti-Israel rhetoric and activity. The irony is that in promoting freedom, groups like SJP are trying to silence voices for Israel. And however they couch their mission and behavior, they are preaching a very old form of discrimination called anti-Semitism.