Born on November 21, 1941, Karen Brodkin is an anthropologist and gender-studies scholar who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan (1971). She is currently a professor emerita of anthropology at UCLA, on whose faculty she served full-time for approximately 22 years. Brodkin describes herself as “an old Marxist,” as well as a “secular Jew” and an “unobservant atheist” who is “not religious at all.”
In 1998, Brodkin published a book titled How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America, portions of which, by Brodkin's telling, “draw upon African-American, neo-Marxist and critical race theory.” “[Brodkin] points out that racial inferiority has been ascribed to waves of immigrants only when they were used as unskilled labor,” says a Publishers Weekly review of the book. “She notes how 'Jewish whiteness became American whiteness' after WWII, when Jews began to speak as whites and Jewish intellectuals 'contrasted themselves with a mythic blackness.'”
“It is certainly true that the United States has a history of anti-Semitism and of beliefs that Jews were members of an inferior race,” writes Brodkin in her book. “But Jews were hardly alone. American anti-Semitism was part of a broader pattern of late-nineteenth-century racism against all southern and eastern European immigrants, as well as against Asian immigrants.” Noting that “these views justified all sorts of discriminatory treatment, including closing the doors to immigration from Europe and Asia in the 1920s,” Brodkin explains that things “changed radically after World War II,” when “the same folks who promoted nativism and xenophobia were eager to believe that the Euro-origin people whom they had deported, reviled as members of inferior races, and prevented from immigrating only a few years earlier, were now model middle-class white suburban citizens.” “It was not an educational epiphany that made those in power change their hearts, their minds, and our race,” writes Brodkin. Rather, it was a massive “affirmative action program … for Euromales” – a process by which “each of the European immigrant groups became 'whitened'” and thereby introduced “changing notions of whiteness” to “America’s larger system of institutional racism.”
In the mid-2000s, Brodkin became active in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Hamas-inspired initiative that aims to use various forms of public protest, economic pressure, and court rulings to advance the Hamas agenda of permanently destroying Israel as a Jewish nation-state. In approximately 2005, Brodkin stated that “divestment can speak out loudly against Israel's invasions, illegal settlements, and systematic destruction of Palestinian civil society, and send a strong message for peace and an independent Palestinian state.”
During a 2010 interview, Brodkin described Israel as an “inherently racist” nation and argued that modern-day Jews have no unique historical ties to that geographical region: “I don't think there is any privileged connection, quite frankly, of Jews to Israel-Palestine. Just about all Christians, Muslims, and Jews have an equal claim to that, in that all three religions grew up in the same place.”
In 2015 Brodkin endorsed a University of California resolution that called on its Student Association to support “divestment from corporations violating Palestinian Human Rights.” The “targeted companies,” said the resolution, “are intricately involved in Israel’s ongoing system of military occupation that denies Palestinians their basic rights.” Specifically, corporations such as Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, CEMEX, and Hewlett-Packard “help produce, service, and sell equipment used in the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights, through the construction of the Separation Barrier deemed illegal by the United Nations, the forced demolition of Palestinian homes, and the establishment of inhumane checkpoints throughout the the West Bank.” Other companies – including Boeing, General Dynamics, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and United Technologies – “manufacture and sell arms used in attacks against Palestinian civilians and infrastructure,” the resolution added.
Brodkin is a member of an “advisory group” that provides guidance to the organization Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.” In February 2015, she co-authored a resolution encouraging the Anthropological Association of America (AAA) to boycott Israeli colleges and universities because they “have been directly and indirectly complicit in the Israeli state’s systematic maintenance of the occupation and denial of basic rights to Palestinians.”
In a 2016 essay, Brodkin charged that opponents of BDS were seeking to suppress open discussion about Israeli assaults on “human and academic rights in Israel/Palestine.” She also denounced the “real harm” and “real discrimination” allegedly inflicted by the Jewish state upon “a mix of ethnicities and nationalities that share only opposition to the politics of Israel toward Palestinians.”
In an early 2017 interview, Brodkin announced that she was “really proud to be a member” of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization she said was “doing a wonderful job of trying to organize [BDS] and to take on this issue of Jews and Israel in a very sophisticated, very humane way.” Moreover, Brodkin condemned “a terribly reactionary and racist” Israel as “the worst kind of invasive settler colony,” where “atrocious behavior,” “bigotry,” and “structural racism” abound.