Have you ever heard a civil rights activist at a Black Lives Matter rally address their allies as “non-blacks” or “non-browns”? Have you noticed that the LGBTQ community is missing an “N” for all the “non-gays” that stand in solidarity with it?
Think about it: Do you recall any successful movement that describes its friends and potential allies in manner that emphasizes their difference? I’ve only noticed one movement that does this and, sadly, it’s the movement I belong to.
I’ve been a proud Zionist activist and friend of the Jewish community since 2011. When I arrived at college and witnessed the lies being told about Israel and how they impacted my Jewish peers, I was moved to learn more and do all I could to help. Even though I’m a Christian, black and Puerto Rican woman from Missouri, I felt a connection to Israel and the Jewish people. That connection has grown into a deep love.
Over the last 12 years, I’ve had the honor of mentoring Zionists from beyond the Jewish community in personal and professional capacities, guiding other allies to navigate the Israel space, which is, understandably, predominantly Jewish. These individuals find connections to Israel and celebrate Jewish self-determination even though we come from various religious and cultural backgrounds.
Religious, secular, Republican, Democrat, black, white and brown people connect to Israel and the Jewish community based on their values, experiences and distinct identities. These individuals, like myself, commit to fighting antisemitism alongside the Jewish people. We commit to celebrating Jewish self-determination in the form of a state in the Land of Israel.
Some of us are campus and community activists. Some are even professionals in the pro-Israel space. There is so much to who we are and what we have to offer the pro-Israel movement. But too often, we’re addressed in a way that implies we don’t belong in the movement. We’re the “non-Jews.”
When we in the pro-Israel space discuss people from diverse backgrounds who are learning about Jewish history and fighting antisemitism, here comes the phrase “non-Jews.” I understand “non-Jews” feels easier to say when you are used to addressing Jews. I appreciate that “non-Jews” being mentioned at all is usually a way of acknowledging our involvement. That acknowledgment is appreciated!
But I’ve noticed that even when the “non-Jews” belong to a definite group united by other characteristics aside from not being Jewish, somehow they are still simply “non-Jews” and little else. We could be discussing Christian Zionism, for example, and the phrase “non-Jews” will still be used despite this group being united by their faith, not their lack of Judaism.
“Non-Jews” is oddly exclusive language in a space where I know inclusivity is a core value because it is a Jewish value. Having been a part of the pro-Israel movement for over a decade, I know firsthand that the phrase is not meant to be exclusive or negative.
However, I recently pivoted professionally from supporting mostly Jewish students in their activism to broadening the base of Israel’s friends beyond the Jewish community. I seek to guide those newcomers in building bridges with their Jewish peers and Israel.
Since making this shift, I’ve realized how the phrase “non-Jews” sounds to young people starting out their Israel journeys and looking for their place in this space. Calling people “non-Jews” is awkward and othering, and it’s because I know the heart of this movement that I feel I need to point this out.
Yes, we friends and allies are not Jewish. But that isn’t our identity. We represent religious diversity, colorful cultures and a spectrum of political ideologies. From these identities, we are friends of the Jewish community and the Jewish state. We are simply people from different backgrounds.
Instead of defining people by how they don’t belong, let’s begin calling them what they are and what they have the potential to be. Call us friends. Call us allies. Call us people from different backgrounds. That’s what we are.
Let’s eliminate the phrase “non-Jews,” especially when we’re talking about people looking to carve out their own paths in the pro-Israel movement.
We allies appreciate acknowledgment when we get it, although we don’t expect a trophy or standing ovation for simply doing what’s right. We allies, like our Jewish brothers and sisters, understand that antisemitism impacts the Jewish community but cannot be solved by the Jewish community alone.
We in the pro-Israel space can agree that educating people from all backgrounds is key to preventing antisemitism in every form. We want people from all backgrounds to experience the beauty of Israel—the ultimate expression of Jewish self-determination.
To achieve these goals, we need to create a more inclusive movement for potential friends of the Jewish community and Israel. I know it’s already in our hearts to do this. It’s time to start reflecting it in our language.