Jewish man drinking coffee and working from home.

Addressing DEI's Missing 'ism': Practical Support for Jewish Team Members

With antisemitism on the rise worldwide, our Jewish friends, family, and team members need to know that we will work in solidarity with them to challenge antisemitism and support them in their full personhood.


Unfortunately, opposing antisemitism and expanding Jewish cultural competency remains noticeably absent from most workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

We’ve met with leaders from start-ups through to Fortune 500s, DEI professionals, Human Resources (HR) and people leaders, and more to understand why they haven’t added antisemitism to the list of “isms” they address or provided meaningful advocacy, education, and programming for Jewish team members at work.

For some, it’s unconscious and unintentional due to a lack of awareness. Others feel ill-equipped to navigate it or have been exposed to dangerous misinformation and stereotypes about the Jewish community.  And for the rest, it’s too personal, serious, painful, or traumatic.

No matter the reason, this resource is a call to action to equip leaders to actively combat antisemitism in the workplace and provide meaningful support to Jewish team members.

Content Warning (CW): This resource explores topics that may be emotionally distressing, such as abuse, discrimination, war, violent attacks, genocide, fascism, and murder. 

The History and Rise of Antisemitism

Antisemitism is the hatred of and hostility toward Jewish peoples. Although many people cite the Holocaust as the birth of prejudice and hatred against the Jewish peoples, anti-Jewish beliefs and laws have existed for millennia. Sometimes referred to as the “longest hatred,” many ongoing Jewish stereotypes started as early as the Middle Ages.

Long before the Holocaust, Jewish peoples in Europe were legislatively segregated from the rest of society through jobs, social customs, and land. The first recorded pogrom—a violent attack against a Jewish community—occurred in Russia in 1821.

The Canadian context has its own long and troublesome history relating to antisemitism, such as the Christie Pits Riot in 1933 or the refusal to accept over 900 Jewish refugees aboard the MS St Louis attempting to flee Nazi Germany. 

The hatred, bias, and prejudice against Jewish peoples continues with the rise of fascism, pro-Nazi groups, Nazi rallies, and antisemitic vandalism and violence. 

This hate is perpetuated in subtle ways, too. For example, in written communications, some people (primarily by grammatical preference or unconsciously) use a hyphen between the words “anti” and “semitism.” However, it’s essential to use the word without a hyphen. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance states that the hyphenated spelling allows for the possibility of something called “Semitism,” which legitimizes a form of pseudo-scientific racial classification that was discredited due to its association with Nazi ideology. The hyphen also divides the term, stripping it from its meaning of opposition and hatred toward Jews. 

Antisemitism: A Missing “ism” from DEI 

The DEI field has evolved and grown a lot in the past few years, sometimes fuelled reactively by painful events, such as the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the flood of racist and xenophobic violence and discrimination arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are having more conversations about anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, and many essential topics outside these two salient issues, the lack of attention to anti-Jewish violence is jarring. Before sharing actionable tools, we want to explore a few reasons why leaders have hesitated to address antisemitism. 

Stereotypes, Conspiracies, and Misinformation  

Stereotypes about the Jewish community are ingrained in us through media, social groups, demagogues, and broader culture. Stereotypes are assumptions about a group of people applied to individuals (regardless of their unique characteristics) simply because of affiliation with a group. Stereotypes are often inaccurate, reductive, and incomplete; they can encourage us to encounter people as caricatures rather than in their full personhood. 

The deep-seated stereotype of Jewish people as wealthy and powerful is cited as a reason why Jewish people are sometimes left out of critical conversations about what it means to build a more inclusive workplace and what kinds of experiences and needs are ultimately considered under equity-based movements and initiatives.  These stereotypes are damning for Jews of various socio-economic means and can desensitize people to experiences of bias, discrimination, and hate. Such misinformation, alongside the repeated myth of Jewish dominance, can incite violence toward Jewish peoples in public spaces, in places of worship, and historically on even more terrifying scales of dehumanization.  

Conspiracy theories and malicious fantasies about the Jewish community run even more profound and are concerning on many levels. Antisemitism goes beyond harmful stereotypes and social prejudice and has been cited as a “conspiracy theory about how the world operates.” It is often coded in terms like “New World Order,” “Illuminati,” and “Freemasonry.

Limiting Jewish Identity to Religion and Spirituality 

When thinking through Jewish inclusion initiatives, leaders often mistakenly view Jewish identity solely through the lens of faith, spirituality, and organized religion. However, it’s important to recognize the multifaceted nature of Jewish communities and experiences. 

Jewish people are not just strictly followers of Judaism. Many members of the Jewish community view being Jewish as a culture or an ethnicity. There are secular, atheist, and non-practicing people who still consider themselves Jewish. 

Jewish peoples often share holidays, cuisine, and an upbringing in a similar culture but may not go to synagogue or observe religious customs most of the time.  Jewish peoples have a shared global history and a common language connected to Jewish identity, Hebrew.

Various Jewish communities share specific migration experiences, geographic and national backgrounds, cultures, and traditions, such as Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, and Abayudaya communities.

Around 47% of the global Jewish population resides in Israel, and many North American Jewish people report a special connection to the nation of Israel and have visited Israel

In these ways, Jewish identity can be understood as an ethnicity, and there are plenty of Jewish people who identify as Cultural Jews rather than religious Jewish peoples.

Workplaces should consider Jewish identity's cultural and faith-related dimensions when designing initiatives and developing a larger strategy to foster Jewish inclusion on their team. 

Confusion about Jewish Peoples and Race

Leaders are sometimes unsure how or where to include Jewish peoples in their DEI efforts because of perceived complications relating to Jewish identity. 

One problem is that some leaders hold the erroneous belief that Jewish people are only white. This reflects a general lack of understanding of the racial diversity within the global Jewish community and erases the experiences of Black Jews, Asian Jews, Hispanic and Latine Jews, Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) Jews, Indigenous Jews, and more.

Alongside this misconception, confusion among leaders is compounded by debates that persist in North America about whether Jewish peoples are considered racialized. For example, some believe that white Jewish peoples need to acknowledge white privilege, and discussions of racialized antisemitism in the modern world only serve to revive and reinforce dangerous pseudo-science.  Others consider this an offensive erasure of their racialized oppression and the ongoing antisemitic hate perpetrated by white supremacist groups.

Race, specifically in North America, is almost exclusively understood as relating to skin tone. For some, the Jewish experience puts these North American understandings of race—mainly constructed around biology and physical appearance—into contention. Many leaders feel ill-equipped to constructively navigate these conversations and nuances relating to Jewish identity in inclusion programs. 

Missing The Connection to White Supremacy

Intersectionality is a cornerstone of effective and holistic DEI strategies, yet many leaders miss the intersection and connections between white supremacy and antisemitism.  Activists and thinkers have presented compelling testimonies showing how antisemitism is a foundational building block of white nationalism and white nationalist movements. Many white nationalist groups will attribute meaningful positive social changes related to civil rights, feminism, and LGBTQIA2+ inclusion to an invisible, omnipotent, and global “elite” of Jewish people defined not through faith but as a “racialized group” that would not lose this status as a member of the “Jewish race” even upon conversion to another faith. 

In these groups’ visions of a “white only” state, Jewish peoples are absent alongside other racialized or people of colour, with many white nationalist adherents asserting that the growing perception of Jewish peoples as white in North America is a result of manipulative lies and tricks perpetrated by the Jewish community. Neo-Nazi symbols saturate white supremacist rallies, and it follows that the most virulently anti-Black, anti-Asian, and anti-immigrant segments of the North American population are often simultaneously calling for unthinkable acts of violence toward the Jewish community as well. 

Leaders must understand that to challenge racism, they must also upend antisemitism and vice versa. These issues are deeply entangled and mutually reinforcing. 

Conflating Judaism, Jewish Identity, and the State of Israel

When discussing the historical and ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine, leaders often conflate Jews, Jewish experiences, and Judaism with the State of Israel.  Frequently, the line between constructive critique of the actions of the Israeli government and perpetuating anti-Jew and antisemitic beliefs is blurred.  Additionally, the long history of Jewish oppression is often used as a shield against critiques of the State of Israel. 

What Can We Do?

These are just a few of the reasons leaders may struggle to address antisemitism in the workplace.  It takes intentional and ongoing action to challenge the intense, pervasive, and increasing existence of anti-Jew hate or antisemitism and even more of an effort for Jewish team members to feel fully supported. Here are some tools to consider in your workplace.

Recognize the Diversity of the Jewish Identity

Understanding the complexity of each Jewish person’s identity and experiences is essential. In your attempt to do this, using an intersectional framework is helpful. Some Jewish peoples are white. Others are Black, Asian, Latine, etc. Some Jewish people identify strongly with Judaism, while others prefer to define their Jewish identity through a cultural lens. Some Jewish people eat kosher, while others do not. Some Jewish peoples are disabled. Some Jewish peoples experience homelessness. Jewish peoples have intersecting identities of privilege and oppression that inform and shape their experiences.

Collect Better Data

Too often, Jewish peoples are left out of surveys, or data collection is limited. Being Jewish goes beyond religion or beliefs, so to capture the nuance and complexity of the Jewish experience, we must collect data under both “Religion and Beliefs” and “Race and Ethnicity.”

Beyond demographics, we must also understand more about our Jewish team member’s day-to-day experiences. Understanding more about people’s historical and present-day experiences relating to bias, discrimination, and oppression can help you to make the appropriate organizational changes.

It’s important to note that throughout history, governments have used data and records relating to Jewish experiences to facilitate the persecution of Jewish peoples. This may lead to a justified skepticism and reluctance among Jewish team members to share their Jewish identity on surveys and other locations. While data can be leveraged to illustrate the challenges Jewish people are facing and design targeted interventions, workplaces and other institutions are never entitled to this data, and no Jewish person should be required to share.

Dismantle Harmful Jewish Stereotypes 

Harmful stereotypes—when used in a joke, for example—are often considered benign or mundane, perpetuating their usage. When we identify these stereotypes, we can be critical of how we may perpetuate them ourselves and be prepared to ”call in” the people who use them. For example, when you notice someone attributing particular qualities or stereotypes to Jewish peoples, use a “micro interruption” to intercept them. For example, you could say, “Can you tell me what you mean by that?” 

Remember that even seemingly “positive” stereotypes can be harmful. For example, philosemitic remarks (i.e. “Give David the account because he is good with money”) may seem positive on the surface. However, even positive stereotypes cause harm and even incite violence. Remarks like these only serve to reinforce myths and conspiracy theories of Jewish influence and domination while reductively homogenizing an incredibly diverse community. 

Furthermore, positive stereotypes bolster negative stereotypes as the binary of the “good” or “bad” Jew becomes reinforced. For example, the stereotype that Jewish people are smart with money reinforces the negative stereotype that Jewish people control financial markets. What occurs with these positive stereotypes is philosemitic antisemitism—hatred of the Jewish peoples hidden under the guise of respect and/or admiration.  

Focus on Systems of Power, not People

Governments worldwide commit acts of violence, and too often, the communities experiencing marginalization are deemed responsible.  Like many others, Jewish people navigate complex political and social systems, and all Jewish people are also not responsible for the decisions or actions made by the State of Israel or the Israeli government.  

Being critical of governments is about being critical of power.  We can be critical of government policies without demonizing entire communities or groups.  Be mindful not to perpetuate stereotypes and generalizations toward individuals or entire communities, especially the Jewish community. 


Approach Dialogue as a Bridge-Builder

As a leader, prepare to understand the historical and ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine outside antisemitic narratives and consider approaching such conversations as a bridge-builder. Frances Lee wrote a beautiful essay about what it means to be a person who seeks to build bridges.  From our perspective, we must be willing to go further and engage in the messy, emotion-filled, complex parts of the conversation. In this way, we facilitate conversations rather than act as the holder of absolute "truth." Some tools we find helpful when facilitating dialogue with a bridge-building approach are avoiding zero-sum thinking or binary mindsets.  

Historically, a scarcity mindset has led communities experiencing marginalization to feel like there is not enough space for all experiences to be recognized, and this mindset continues. Dominant groups sometimes use “zero-sum thinking” to place those experiencing marginalization in competition. Sometimes, groups themselves will engage in the “Oppression Olympics,” a game of pitting experiences of oppression against one another. 

We encourage leaders to combat these mindsets and focus on addressing issues systematically.  We can be critical of the actions of the Israeli government, advocate for the safety of the Palestinian people, and actively work against antisemitism.  In the workplace, this means designing policies, processes, and programs that consider all the isms and forms of inequity and are intersectional and comprehensive.

Establish a Jewish Employee Resource Group

According to the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, religion is one of the most unacknowledged elements of identity in the workplace. Creating a Jewish Employee Resource Group (ERG) could be a valuable support and acknowledgement for Jewish team members. However, remember that Jewish identity is not solely connected to religion; it’s also a culture. Being Jewish is not synonymous with being a follower of Judaism or participating in Jewish religious rituals. A Jewish ERG can provide a space for Jewish team members across cultural and religious diversities to find support and resources and advocate for their needs. 

Acknowledge and Accommodate Jewish Holidays

Workplaces must acknowledge and accommodate flexible deadlines around the Jewish High Holy Days. Along with the dates outlined below, remember that Jewish team members may celebrate some or all of these holidays, depending on their level of observance or expression of their religion. Building an inclusive environment includes supporting and enabling people to express their religion(s) in whatever ways they choose without judgment. It’s also good to note that a Jewish “day” begins and ends at sunset (not midnight). Depending on the sunset time and people’s level of observance, some Jewish team members may need to leave work early or not come to work at all. 

Jewish High Holy Days are always sometime in the Fall, but the specific days may shift annually relative to the Gregorian calendar. Some important dates: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Passover, Purim, Shabbat, Shavuot, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), Lag B’Omer, Tisha B’Av, and Tu B’Av.

Important Note

Becoming more aware of the long and enduring existence of prejudice and hatred of the Jewish peoples is necessary for everyone in the workplace. The lack of understanding of the diversity and intersectional nature of Jewish identities, the acceptance of harmful stereotypes, and media coverage that blames the entire Jewish population for the actions of the Israeli government are a few examples that contribute to experiences of antisemitism in the workplace. This discrimination will only continue if leaders do not work to combat antisemitism in the workplace with meaningful action actively. 

About the Authors

The Feminuity Team with contributions from Jodi Kovitz (Founder, #MoveTheDial) 

Give Credit Where Credit's Due

If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation: Feminuity. "Addressing DEI's Missing 'ism':  Practical Support for Jewish Team Members"

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