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 interacted 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.
For some, it may be unconscious and unintentional due to a lack of awareness. Others may feel ill-equipped to handle such a heavy, loaded topic. Others may have been exposed to dangerous misinformation and stereotypes about the Jewish community, reinforcing negative opinions about them and their relative power and influence in the world. And for the rest, it may be too personal, serious, painful, and traumatic, and they don’t know where to begin.
No matter the reason, this resource is a call to action and toolkit to equip leaders to actively confront and reject 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.
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 centuries. Sometimes referred to as the “longest hatred,” antisemitism began in the first millennium of the Christian era when church doctrine blamed and punished Jewish peoples for the death of Christ. 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. (Of course, these practices and beliefs were a catalyst for the Holocaust.) The first pogrom—a violent attack against a Jewish community—occurred in Russia in 1821.
The hatred, bias, and prejudice against Jewish peoples continues with the rise of fascism in the United States (U.S.), pro-Nazi groups, Nazi rallies, and antisemitic vandalism and violence. Most recently, we’ve witnessed people with large platforms abuse their power and incite violence and hate against the community.
Of course, this hate is perpetuated in subtle ways too. For example, in written communications, some people (mostly 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.
Note: We have intentionally avoided including links relating to antisemitism because we do not want to amplify the violence; if any of the above is news to you, please take some time and do a fulsome Google Search.
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 we share actionable tools, we want to explore some possible reasons why this is happening.
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 that are 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 that Jewish people are wealthy and powerful inhibits them from being asked to take part in critical conversations around what it means to build a more inclusive workplace and world, and what kinds of experiences and needs are ultimately considered under equity-based movements and initiatives. Moreover, these false representations and elaborate deceptions can desensitize people to the Jewish community’s real and growing experiences of bias, discrimination, and hate—even distorting perceptions to the point that people do not believe in these struggles at all. All of this misinformation alongside the repeated myth of Jewish dominance ends up inciting violence toward Jewish peoples in public spaces, in their places of worship, and historically on even more terrifying scales of dehumanization.
Conspiracy theories and malicious fantasies about the Jewish community run even deeper 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.” Recently, a rabbi in Colleyville, Texas and three other members of the synagogue were held hostage by a gunman fuelled by hateful and absurd conspiracy culture.
Leaders are sometimes unsure how or where to include Jewish peoples in their DEI efforts because Jewish identity is complicated.
In North America, for example, there’s debate about whether Jewish peoples are considered “people of colour” (POC) or racialized. This issue is not settled within the Jewish community.
Some believe Jewish peoples are white and need to acknowledge white privilege. Others consider this an offensive erasure of their racialized oppression. Aside from white Jews, there are also Black Jews, Asian Jews, Hispanic and Latine Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, Indigenous Jews, and more!
Race, specifically in North America, is almost exclusively understood as relating to skin tone. We witnessed this when Whoopi Goldberg commented that the Holocaust was about “man’s inhumanity to man” and “not about race.” (In her defence, Goldberg later apologized and noted that she should have said it was about both issues. She also stated that, as a Black person, she thinks of racism based on skin colour.)
Indeed, the Jewish experience puts the North American understanding of race—mainly constructed around biology and physical appearance—into contention. This makes it difficult for leaders to know how to discuss race as it relates to Jewish peoples. More on this below in the actionable suggestions!
However, white supremacy, and antisemitism are undeniably connected to one another. Activists and thinkers have presented compelling testimonies showing how antisemitism is very much 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 hate group’s 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 oftentimes simultaneously calling for unthinkable acts of violence toward the Jewish community as well.
Workplace leaders must understand that to truly challenge racism, they must also upend antisemitism and vice versa. These issues are deeply entangled and mutually reinforcing.
More on this below in the actionable suggestions!
While Jewish peoples are oftentimes mistakenly understood strictly as followers of Judaism, this does not represent the many members of the Jewish community who view being Jewish primarily as a culture or an ethnicity rather than a religion—or as two or three of these things.
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. In these ways, Jewish identity can be understood as an ethnicity and there are plenty of Jewish peoples that identify as Cultural Jews rather than religious Jewish peoples.
A study in the United Kingdom (UK) found that nearly a quarter (24%) of Jewish respondents regarded themselves as secular or cultural rather than belonging to any of the religious streams of Judaism.Workplaces should consider both the cultural and faith-related dimensions of Jewish identity when designing initiatives and developing a larger strategy to foster Jewish inclusion on their team.
When discussing this complex issue, the line between constructive critique and antisemitism can be blurred and easily crossed.
To be clear, we condemn acts of state-sanctioned violence. However, too often, as in the case of Israel, the analysis of such violence can be clouded by antisemitism. And on the other side of the debate, the long history of Jewish oppression is often used as a shield against critiques of the State of Israel.
We get it; it’s easier to stay silent. However, when we do this, we fail our communities and colleagues. In many ways, we further divide.
More on this below in the actionable suggestions!
Whether intentional or not, some anti-Israeli sentiments within the media and left-leaning spaces reignite antisemitic beliefs.
For some, being anti-Israel has become a token of “wokeness.” And those who do not declare themselves “anti-Israel” may be labelled racist, colonialist, imperialist, or be “cancelled.”
Some anti-Israel taglines leave little room for nuanced debate, historical context, compassion, empathy, or understanding. Some leaders likely feel pressure to align themselves with this frame when discussing Israel, Jewish peoples, and antisemitism.
It takes intentional and ongoing action to challenge the intense, pervasive, and increasing existence of antisemitism in the workplace and even more of an effort for Jewish team members to feel fully supported. Here are some actionable tips and tools to consider in your workplace.
Understanding the complexity of each Jewish person’s identity and experiences is essential. In your attempt to do this, it’s helpful to use an Intersectional framework. Some Jewish peoples are white. Others are Black, Asian, Latine, etc. Some Jewish peoples 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 houselessness. Jewish peoples have intersecting identities of privilege and oppression that inform and shape their experiences. However, you won’t know any of this unless you collect meaningful 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 also need to 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.
With meaningful data, you’ll be well equipped to include antisemitism within the “isms” and forms of inequity your workplace seeks to dismantle.
Consider the following:
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 peoples are smart with money reinforces the negative stereotype that Jewish peoples 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.
Like many others, Jewish peoples navigate complex political and social systems. They may not have an answer to the Israeli-Palestine conflict or how to overcome centuries of hatred and oppression. They are also not responsible for the decisions or actions made by the Israeli government.
Governments worldwide commit acts of violence, and too often, the communities experiencing marginalization are deemed responsible. We can be critical of government policies without demonizing entire communities or groups of people. For example, Canadians are not regularly spoken of in derogatory terms because of the Canadian government's complicity in the genocide of Indigenous peoples.
Being critical of governments is about being critical of power. Be mindful not to perpetuate stereotypes and generalizations toward individuals or entire communities, especially the Jewish community.
As a leader, prepare to understand the Israel-Palestine conflict outside antisemitic narratives. This requires vigilance as antisemitic narratives are present in some academic writing, social justice spaces, and organizations. Learn about the conflict through various sources and perspectives while avoiding extremists on both sides.
When it comes to such conversations, Feminuity likes to think of our approach as that of 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." We invite you to try this approach.
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 form of 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.
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 personal level of observance and/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.
A lot is happening worldwide, and leaders who care want to show up for others. 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. No one wins when we do this.
For this reason, we encourage leaders to shift away from binary, scarcity mindsets. We can support #BlackLivesMatter while we fight for Jewish lives. And we should, because the hatred toward Jewish peoples is not just a "Jewish problem.” Antisemitism is a deliberate sign of intolerance and inhumanity, and it’s connected to other “isms” and forms of systemic inequity. Groups that support white supremacy ideologies are connected to the oppression of many communities experiencing marginalization.
We encourage leaders to combat these mindsets and focus on addressing issues at the systematic level. In the workplace, this means designing policies, processes, and procedures that consider all the isms and forms of inequity and are intersectional and comprehensive.
Phew! That’s a lot, but it’s essential. 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 invalidation of Jews’ racial and religious identities, the intersectionality of their experiences, the acceptance of harmful stereotypes, and the intense media coverage that blames the entire Jewish population for the Israel-Palestine conflict are all ongoing phenomena. This discrimination will only continue if we do not hold ourselves collectively accountable to embed targeted actions and intentions into our DEI work.
If you need support, contact us to learn more about our workshop, Antisemitism and DEI: Supporting Jewish Team Members at Work 📢 ✡️, which expands on the content in this resource.
We recognize everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, languages, and more. We’ll continue to update this resource with your feedback; email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions.
The Feminuity Team, with contributions from Jodi Kovitz (Founder, #MoveTheDial)
If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation: Feminuity. (2022). "Antisemitism and DEI: Supporting Jewish Team Members at Work"