Bari Weiss at her old desk at the New York Times in 2019. (Photo/JTA-Josefin Dolsten)
Bari Weiss at her old desk at the New York Times in 2019. (Photo/JTA-Josefin Dolsten)

Bari Weiss shakes things up on race and antisemitism in Z3’s ‘town square’

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Explaining the relationship between Jews and whiteness in an American context to an Israeli politician makes for some interesting discussions. That was part of the lively, friendly conversation Monday between journalist and author Bari Weiss and Knesset member Merav Michaeli, moderated by journalist-turned-Facebook-exec Anne Kornblut, as part of this year’s Z3 conference.

Weiss, who famously left the New York Times opinion section five months ago after claiming an intolerant, biased work environment, was explicit to Kornblut and Michaeli in her claims that there was a “whitewashing of full-on antisemitism” at the newspaper and in similar media environments.

“There is an unbelievably intense fixation on diversity and inclusion and making sure work is a safe space for everyone, and yet the lack of care when it comes to Jews inside these institutions is striking,” she said during a Z3 panel titled “The New Town Square: Talking Israel and Identity in the Media.” Z3 is an annual event organized by the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, and this year, due to the pandemic, it’s taking place entirely online through Thursday.

Kornblut, meanwhile, explained to a curious Michaeli, who seemed taken aback, that American Jews occupy an unusual and much-debated place in the U.S.

“Jews are effectively white, and because the conversation in the United States is very much about race, and in many cases people of color — skin color — Jews are part of a white privileged majority that is not in the same situation of oppression,” Kornblut explained, framing the discussion for Michaeli.

Weiss added that Jews were “twice cursed” for their whiteness and for supporting Israel, a position that in the last five years has become completely unacceptable on the left.

“That’s our second sin, because not only are we handmaidens of white supremacy, because we are a sort of ‘fake’ minority, we are also loyal to the last standing bastion of white colonialism in the Middle East,” she said.

A spirited discussion of divisions within the Democratic Party also led to a conversation with Michaeli about Israel’s left. A former TV and print journalist and feminist activist, she’s one of three Labor Party members in the Knesset but is in opposition in many ways to her own party; her two fellow Labor MPs joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s “unity government” in the spring.

There is an unbelievably intense fixation on diversity and inclusion … and yet the lack of care when it comes to Jews inside these institutions is striking.

Michaeli feels Israeli parties on the left have repeatedly capitulated to Netanyahu’s attempts to delegitimize the left.

“Our liberal camp has been crumbling down for many years, and so the situation is really dire right now. It’s really crushed,” she said. “And there is no functioning political platform on which we can start building.”

She said she is choosing to resurrect Labor and believes that there are Israelis who will support her. According to Michaeli, most Israelis believe in equality between Jewish and Arab citizens and, even by a small majority, in the two-state solution.

“The truth of the matter is that the majority of Israelis are very moderate, they’re not right-wingers, even though it’s very common to say the people have gone to the right,” she said. “That is not true, when you ask them about the issues.”

While Micheali said she was trying to give these Israelis a political home, Weiss said she found herself doubting whether she’d be able to stay within a Democratic Party that is trending in a progressive direction.

“If you just look at what happened with the Republican Party, beginning with the tea party movement and I think ultimately culminating in the overtaking of the party by [Donald] Trump, I think we could be seeing something similar to that in the Democratic Party,” she said. “I hope I’m wrong.”

Micheali also brought up the polarization of Israel and the United States, saying that Israel was ahead of the curve in becoming a fractured and divided political culture but that the recent U.S. election had provided some much-needed optimism for those who oppose Netanyahu at home.

“For us it’s a beacon of hope looking at what happened in the U.S. and thinking, yes, it’s possible,” she said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.