Sameness as Peacemaking”: Extremists Virtue-Signal Through Ethno-Convenience
Far-Right Isolationists and Neo-Marxist Progressives have sought to appease tyranny by “making peace” through ethno-conveniencing related ethnicities into a single national group. Kurds & Persians, Jews & Arabs, and Ukrainians & Russians are the most common cases of this virtue-signaling.
“Arab Jews.” “Russians with Accents.” “Iranic Kurds.” All of these terms have one thing in common: ethno-convenience. As defined by Dr. Anton Shufutinsky in January 2019, ethno-convenience is a way of categorizing someone “because it is convenient to an argument, proof of a point being made, or action.” It identifies people and their thoughts, practices, culture, and values, based on mere appearance or assumptions. Often times, it leaves little agency to the said group of people and is used by those in dominant and oppressive power structures, or by outside people with “no skin in the game.” This is an illiberal strategy, practice, and ideology, yet it is one used only too often today by hypocritical “woke” leftists, as well as isolationist and Trumpian right-wingers. Unfortunately, both extremes of the political wings have used ethno-convenience to preach a “peace deal” for Ukraine and Russia. We have seen it from woke progressives such as Roger Waters and Ilhan Omar, as well as from ultranationalist provocateurs like Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson. This ideology is not only insulting, historically-inaccurate, bigoted and often ‘Orientalist,’ but it also disturbingly wraps authoritarian tendencies in a mask of well-meaning virtue signals. This is both a grave threat to the national groups affected most as well as to democratic societies as a whole, and it must not go unchallenged.
Ukraine: “Russians with Accents”
Perhaps the most well-known current example of ethno-convenience is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, the Russian dictator, has claimed that Ukrainians and Russians are one people, belonging to one land (which he sees as a new Russian Empire), with the same culture. Ukrainians are just “little Russians with accents,” the Russian ultranationalist zeitgeist explains. Russia’s military has destroyed countless cultural and heritage sites inside Ukraine – a clear war crime and has attempted to erase Ukrainian identity. The mass slaughter of Ukrainian civilians in Russian-occupied areas is further testament to this goal. However, the Russian government and its revisionist base isn’t the only promoter of this ethno-convenience. Interestingly, both the far-left and the far-right have adopted these same talking points in Western countries.
Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad, renowned Neo-Marxist anti-Zionists, claim that the US is using Ukraine as an imperialist pawn to maintain dominance in Europe and undermine Russia. They both advocate for the US to impose peace between Moscow and Kyiv–even though both are supposedly critical of Washington imposing its will in any other case around the world. Parallel to this, Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens of the ultranationalist camp, use isolationist language to support “peace talks” between Ukraine and Russia. Owens, like Peter Navarro, Charlie Kirk, and many others in her ideological camp, support Putin’s claim that Ukraine is a fiction, a mistake created by Russia, full of people speaking a mere dialect of Russian. This fake history, or alternative facts, is yet another form of ethno-convenience. It erases the millennia of Ukrainian history, and the fact that Ukrainians were victims of Russian colonization. It condemns them to Russian aggression currently because it assumes the superiority of the Russian Armed Forces, and is terrified of a Third World War. It seeks to bring about peace–either by abandoning Kyiv to its fate, or by imposing an unjust peace on it from the outside. In any case, it leaves no agency to Ukraine, ignores the current will to fight for maintaining Ukrainian independence, and whitewashes, ignores, or outright denies Ukrainian nationhood and ethnicity, simply because it supposedly is convenient for US national interests.
“Arab Jews”: Sephardic & Mizrahi Jews in Israel
The Russian erasure of Ukraine as a separate national identity has its parallel in Middle Easter Studies. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews–those of the Mediterranean Basin and Near East–are increasingly labeled as “Arab Jews” by scholars with an agenda to delegitimize Zionism, whitewash Islamic antisemitism, and normalize the legacy of Arab colonialism in the Levant and North Africa. As explained by Zionist activist Adiel Cohen, who has diasporic roots from Yemen, the overwhelming majority of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews reject the term “Arab Jew.” Indeed, many of those who insist on using the term are either Jews with no diasporic background in the Near East or Mediterranean Basin, or aren’t Jewish to begin with. Arabs and Jews are indeed related, yet are distinct peoples. To say that someone is an “Arab Jew” is a misnomer, as Jews living in Arab lands were seen as “foreign”; had distinct linguistic dialects; and were, at times, prohibited from even learning Arabic. Jews preserved their religious practice, and in countries such as Yemen and Iraq even had distinct cuisines. Precisely because they were not Arabs, they faced discrimination and ultimately were mostly expelled in the 20th Century, with the vast majority moving to Israel. In addition, the Jewish presence in North Africa and much of the Middle East predates the Arab Conquests by several centuries. As such, it makes no sense to refer to these ancient communities as “Arab.”
Prominent Palestinian activists like Susan Abulhawa as well as Jewish scholars such as Caroline Kahlenberg insist that Zionism was a European-Jewish colonial invention that sought not just to erase Palestinians, but the “Arab identity” of “native Jews.” Zionism, they further allege undermines Jewish cultural commonality with Palestinians, to make wedges between the two populations. This account not only overlooks basic historical facts, but does not permit Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews the agency to tell their own stories and experiences. This is a paradigmatic form of ethno-convenience: it takes a population, ‘orientalizes’ them from an external perspective, and uses this as a justification for anti-Zionist viewpoints and antisemitism.
“Mountain Turks” and “Iranic Kurds”
In an additional parallel, Persian ultranationalists in Iran and their sympathizers in the West have begun to erase the role of minority groups such as Kurds in the country, and even suggest that Kurds are little more than “Iranic Aryans.” In the 20th Century, the same phenomenon occurred under the new Turkish Republic, with the government labeling Kurds as “Mountain Turks” while carrying out a violent campaign against Kurdish nationalists who refused to be subjugated to Turkish ultranationalism. This ethno-conveniencing of the Kurds has spread to cultural practices as well. Scherco R. Baban wrote in 2017 that Newroz–known by Persians as Nowruz—is originally a Kurdish New Year festival, but has since been culturally appropriated such that it’s now synonymous with Persian heritage. Baban claims that even Turkey and some Arab states have tried to “de-Kurdify” this festival’s history. It does not, however, stop there.. Baban points out that “a ‘pure Iran’ or an Aryan Iran doctrine had to be presented. It began with the language purification. Consequently, over time there emerged among the country’s intelligentsia a political racial supremacy doctrine which contributed to the formation of Iranian chauvinism, later known as Pan-Iranism. Beside treating Kurdish Language as a word pool, they considered the motley fairer skinned Paleo-‐Caucasian Kurds (even the Talysh, Ossetians, Georgians and other fair skinned Iranian citizens) as their Aryan Gene pool (real Aryans) as Hitler did by regarding the Nordic people as the German Nations Gene pool or reserve Germans. This accounts for the presence of fair skinned Kurdish women on Iranian nationalist pages and social tool sites labeled as” Pure Aryan Iranian people.””
As for the current protest movement in Iran, Kurdish writers Ala Riany and Rezan Labady–both from Iran–detail how Persians in Iran and in the diaspora have tried to erase the role of Kurds. This seems absurd given how the Islamic Republic has fired missiles into Iraqi Kurdistan and launched an especially harsh crackdown on ethnic Kurds in Iran. Despite this, both the Iranian regime and anti-regime Persians in the diaspora have claimed that Kurds and other minorities are “separatists” who are undermining the government (and anti-regime demonstrations as well) by highlighting their plight. The case of ethno-convenience here is slightly different than in the other cases. Indeed, it does engage in silencing Kurdish identity and voices (as the mullah regime does in Tehran); however, it also claims credit for a movement largely started by Kurds, or blames them for the unrest. In other words, Kurds are to be blamed for this unrest and division and targeted for it, while simultaneously they don’t exist as a people.
As ISGAP’s publication and conferences have shown, the threat to Jews has come not just from Islamists, but also from the Neo-Marxist Left and Ultranationalist Right. These threats manifest themselves violently and in academia through the use of new theories and propaganda, yet also are present in a form of trans-partisan scholarship and journalism that aims to cover up its authoritarian, isolationist, and neo-colonial tendencies through virtue-signaling and “peacemaking.” By denying the existence of entire nations of people (especially through their heritage, history, and culture), the act of “sameness” is practiced. Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews are made out to be “Arabs” because it is convenient for anti-Zionist “solutions” to the Palestinian conflict. Ukrainians are now the same as Russians because it will “stop the bloodshed,” and because that is what old colonial borders dictated. Kurds are little more than a troublesome subgroup of Turks or Persians, with culture that is to be appropriated to those dominant groups while this minority is slaughtered and oppressed. The input of these groups is irrelevant and to be ignored, besides a few radical token members of each ethnicity who agree with this ethno-convenience. Despite the opposition to “neocon interventions” or “imperial overreach,” the will of more powerful entities or superpowers is to be brought into relief and imposed on the unwilling victims.
These efforts are neither journalism nor scholarship, and it certainly isn’t pro-peace activism. This is authoritarian neo-colonialism, which appeases dictators, undermines democracy and independence, and falsifies history. While it is certainly affecting many people throughout the world, it is also having an enormous impact on Jews, the Zionist movement, and the State of Israel. As scholars, professors, journalists, researchers, as authors and activists, we must combat this idea of “sameness” and ethno-convenience by harnessing our shared passions and abilities together. It is our duty to combat this threat to the Jewish community, as well as liberal democratic values as a whole, and expose this false academia and hypocrisy for the future generation of Zionist activists and scholars everywhere.