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“Israel So White” Instagram Documenting Israelis of Color To Reject the “White Colonizer” Narrative

Tongue-in-cheek testimonials from Israelis of color challenge racial misperceptions about Israel.
[additional-authors]
February 7, 2024

A new Instagram account is aiming to set the record straight on the misconceptions about race in Israel. It features Israelis of color facetiously saying into the camera, “I am a white colonizer.”

The account, titled @IsraelSoWhite, is a visual campaign intended to dispel the pervasive narrative that all Israelis are white colonizers.

The caption of each quick video features the identity of the ancestors of the speaker. There’s Sherry (Yemenite and Libyan), Leah (Ethiopian), Yuval (Iraqi and Moroccan), Shahar (Tunisian and Iranian), and Liav (Moroccan and Turkish).

As of this writing, there are only 15 posts, but the account already grew to over 1,400 at press time.  It is being shared by some of the most vocal debunkers of harmful myths about Israel on social media, featuring an official collaboration with actress Debra Messing, actor Jonah Platt, and comedian Michael Rapaport — blasting out to a combined total of 3.6 million Instagram users in the past day. It has received likes from actress Selma Blair. Model Cindy Crawford called the account “Brilliant.” Comedian Matan Peretz facetiously commented “being a white colonizer is such a great feeling! Almost makes me forget I’m actually Moroccan.”

IsraelSoWhite is the work of filmmaker Ben Younger, writer and director of films such as “Boiler Room” starring Vin Diesel and Giovanni Ribisi, and “Prime” starring Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman. Younger hopes the videos on IsraelSoWhite changes the narrative amongst ill-informed Americans.

“The page just went live in the last three days, and the idea just happened in December,” Younger told the Journal. “I was in Israel, I was volunteering with my cousin, we were at a wheat farm for seven hours, exhausted. On the way back, we stopped at a gas station and I saw an IDF soldier who was definitely not white. And I said, ‘that’s a Jew?’ So I went over, I said, ‘Atah yehudit?’” (“Are you Jewish?”)

The soldier affirmed. Younger continued to the soldier saying, “’What’s crazy is that in my country, everyone thinks that you look like me, and they think that all Israelis are white colonizers.’ And he said, ‘yeah, what’s going on with your country?’ And I said, ‘I don’t have a clue what’s going on with my country. It’s out of control.’ And then right then and there, I just said, ‘Hey, you know what? Can you do something for me?’” The ensuing video is the first video on the IsraelSoWhite profile.

“I am a white colonialist,” the IDF soldier said facetiously, and unintentionally mispronouncing the word ‘colonist.’

Reflecting on the moment, Younger said that he doesn’t know the soldier’s name but knows that “he is Jewish and he doesn’t look like me.”

The interaction with the soldier at the gas station inspired Younger to ask more people on the streets in Israel to do the same.

“I just started stopping people on the street, most people told me to keep moving,” Younger said. He interpreted the subtext from some of the first few rejections from people he approached to mean ‘there’s no way I’m saying that line on camera, I don’t know who you are and you want to tokenize me?’ Younger started to hone his pitch and told the people he approached that it was satire, and showed them videos of a few other Israelis who said the phrase into the camera.

Younger has banked over 40 videos so far. In true filmmaker form, the pinned post at the top of the profile is very much a film trailer for the project. It features over 30 Israelis of color repeating the phrase, “I am a white colonizer.” The montage is followed by a marquee that reads, “Israel has 9.2 million citizens. More than two-thirds are people of color. They come from countries such as … Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Yemen, Ethiopia, Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, India, Colombia, Morocco.”  The end titles on the screen then read, “I am NOT a white colonizer. Learn more at … @israelsowhite.”

The caption of the pinned post adds a bit more:

“Israel has 9.2 million citizens.

“Over two thirds are people of color. Among them are Sephardic, Ethiopian, Ashkenazi, Mizrachi and more!

#iamawhitecolonizer #israelsowhite.

“NOTE: I am, myself, @thisisbenyounger an Ashkenazi Jew. I made this video to illustrate one of the misconceptions many people have about Israelis.

But 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.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by @israelsowhite

Younger described himself  “98% Ashenazi Jew.” But, he said, “if you go back far enough, I come from Judea because I’m a Jewish person. That’s the point of this — a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. And we come in all shapes and sizes and colors. And this binary reductive framework [that all Jewish Israelis are white], that woke-ism and DEI has tried to sort of force a square peg into a round hole for 10 years. Israel is the best example of how to push back against that. It’s so complicated, so diverse. There’s no way Israel fits into that paradigm. It’s a false paradigm. There are already some Ashkenazi people who are pushing back on my side saying, ‘well, we’re starting to feel like we’re less-than.’ And I get it. I’ve responded to those people by saying, ‘no, that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. I don’t subscribe to this insane orthodoxy.’ I needed to just start with something highly visual for people to at least scratch their heads and go, ‘wait, that’s a Jew?’”

“I needed to just start with something highly visual for people to at least scratch their heads and go, ‘wait, that’s a Jew?’”-Ben Younger

Younger wants to present incontrovertible visual evidence and invite viewers to reconsider their preconceived notions about Jewish identity and Israeli society. He hopes the account will serve as a repository of “inarguable, irrefutable facts about the country” and spark fact-based discussions. Unsurprisingly, Younger has already received some vile backlash in the DMs and comments. He knows it comes with the territory of patiently challenging deeply held beliefs.

Reflecting on the broader implications of his work, Younger touches on the critical role of education and dialogue in overcoming antisemitism and fostering understanding.

He recounted a recent interaction where someone made a personal attack about Debra Messing’s nose and other venomous words. Younger sees those sharp rusted interactions as “grounds for dismissal immediately,” as in, not even worth wasting your time engaging.

There are some people who are misinformed about Israel and Jews, but open to discourse (in other words, not shouting epithets, picketing funerals or causing general mayhem). When it comes to changing the minds of these people, Younger recalled some advice he received many years ago about interpersonal relationships.

“You can only tell somebody to ‘f— off’ once,” Younger said. “Because once you do that, that’s it, it’s over, and you’ve closed the door. So make sure that’s really what you want. If you’re going to say that, it might feel good for two seconds, but then you’ve lost a potential ally, you’ve lost a friend. That’s how I treat it, I’m going to give it a shot.”

While only in its nascent stages, @IsraelSoWhite offers a succinct and effective model for using social media to educate and foster much-needed dialogue, no matter how frustrating the task remains. Younger already has his sights on the next Israel myth to refute.

“I’m going to tackle ‘apartheid’ next,” Younger said. “Again, something that’s very easily refutable.”

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