Israelis featured on the @israelsowhite Instagram account, which celebrates diverse Jewish heritage and pokes fun at claims that Israelis are “white colonizers.” (Photo/Courtesy Ben Younger)
Israelis featured on the @israelsowhite Instagram account, which celebrates diverse Jewish heritage and pokes fun at claims that Israelis are “white colonizers.” (Photo/Courtesy Ben Younger)

Instagram’s ‘IsraelSoWhite’ mocks notion of Israelis as ‘white colonizers’

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

A new Instagram account called @israelsowhite presents Israelis with diverse racial and ethnic heritage saying the words: “I’m a white colonizer.”

Some of the individuals featured are Black, some are Asian and most have olive or brown skin.

The satirical campaign pokes fun at the idea promoted by some critics that Israel is a “settler colonialist state” founded and inhabited by white Europeans. 

The account is the brainchild of director Ben Younger, whose films include “Boiler Room,” “Bleed for This” and “Prime,” which starred Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman.

Many of the three dozen Israelis in Younger’s #israelsowhite video reel smile or giggle as they utter the words, “I am a white colonizer.” One asks, in a puzzled tone of voice, “You want me to say what?”

Most Israelis are people of color

The amused reactions suggest that they think it’s absurd to use the term “white colonizer” to describe ordinary, nonwhite Israelis like themselves. The video ends with text stating: “Israel has 9.2 million citizens. More than 2/3 are people of color,” followed by a list of countries they come from: India, Ethiopia, Algeria, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Colombia and Morocco. 

“I made this video to illustrate one of the misconceptions many people have about Israelis,” Younger wrote on Instagram. “Jews are indigenous to Israel. All Jews. All shapes, sizes and colors. 90% of us have Israel in our DNA. Point is, we are an incredibly diverse people. We simply do not fit into a reductive, binary framework.”

In a phone interview, Younger, who lives in upstate New York, said the idea came to him on a trip he made to volunteer in Israel after the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks. Coming back from a kibbutz near the Gaza border where he’d spent the day trimming weeds, Younger saw an IDF soldier at a gas station. 

“I told him that back in the U.S. there is an alarming contingency of young people that believe Israel is composed solely of white Jews — colonizers and imperialists to boot,” Younger wrote in a post launching the account this week. The olive-skinned soldier laughed and responded, “Do they know the country is mostly people that look like me?” 

Getting likes — and criticism 

So far the video has received nearly a million views and more than 27,000 likes. Younger said he’s not very active on social media, but the campaign started getting attention when it was reposted by his friend, comedian Michael Rapaport, who has 2 million Instagram followers. It was also posted on the social media platform X by journalist Eve Barlow, who has more than 70,000 followers.

Not all the responses to the account are positive. “Every one of those people serves whiteness/white supremacy,” wrote one critic, referring to the individuals showcased in Younger’s posts. So this means you can kill 30,000 Palestinian’s and destroy Gaza and do settlements in the West Bank?” wrote another person commenting on Instagram. A third weighed in: “Do you think a whole long list of y’all’s Brown faces coming on here laughing saying your white colonizers do you think they actually changes anything??”

In an interview, Younger dismissed the criticism. This “is about an irrefutable fact,” he said. “If people had that fact, then we could make more informed decisions about how we do argue about the war and what we do say about the war.” 

He added that a defining characteristic of colonization is the imposition of language. Dozens of countries around the world speak English, French and Spanish as a result of colonization, but only one speaks Hebrew — the language of Jews who were indigenous to Israel. Another defining characteristic, he said, is the exploitation of resources to benefit the colonizers. “Where are the Israelis bringing all these things back to?” he said.

His goal is to get people “to understand who we are.” Calling Israelis colonizers “is actually so easily refutable. I just chose the visual path.” 

Remembering his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor 

Younger, 51, is an Ashkenazi Jew who attended yeshiva growing up in New York City and New Jersey. In addition to making feature films, he’s written for cable and TV shows. He’s also an avid participant in what he calls “goyishe stuff” — pursuits like motorcycling and snowboarding. He pilots his own plane, writes a column for the aviation magazine Flying and spoke to the Forward while on a snowboarding trip in British Columbia, Canada. 

His personal Instagram account, @thisisbenyounger, includes a post about Holocaust Remembrance Day honoring his late grandfather, Sam Schoenthal, whose entire family went to the gas chambers. The Nazis kept Schoenthal alive because he knew how to cut industrial diamonds. They put him to work operating a drill press in a factory, but one day he botched a job and was told if it ever happened again, he’d be executed on the spot.

“I never understood the importance of these stories until people started to claim they didn’t happen,” Younger wrote. “It used to take decades as it did with the Holocaust. But now we see Jewish pain erased just weeks after it occurred as it has with Oct. 7 and the widespread claims that no women were sexually assaulted.”

What’s next

Younger has more videos to post and hopes people will also start sending them in to help him make his point. While his subjects all seem relaxed, amused and enthusiastic about his project, it wasn’t easy to get them to take part. “Fifteen percent of the people I approached said yes,” he recalled. “The other 85 were like, smiling, nodding, saying, ‘You want me to say what? No, I’m sorry.’”

Jews — even pale ones — have long debated whether they should be categorized as “white.” Younger’s view is that it’s important to note that not all Ashkenazi Jews are white. “We all come from Israel, we come from Judea. That olive tone to my skin is not incongruous.” At the same time, he says, white Ashkenazi Jews should not be lumped in with the “oppressors in this binary outlook, as secondary citizens or worse. I’m only doing this to show that there are people of color in Israel,” but that doesn’t take away from others’ history there.

The account’s profile offers this as a motto: “Refuting fallacies from the River to the Sea.” Ultimately, Younger hopes it will be “a repository for debunking myths and establishing real facts about this country and who its inhabitants are. Next we’ll tackle apartheid.

This article was originally published on the Forward.

Beth Harpaz
Beth Harpaz

Beth Harpaz is a reporter for the Forward. She previously worked for the Associated Press, first covering breaking news and politics, then as AP Travel editor. Follow her @literarydj or email [email protected].