Shaatnez refers to the prohibition in Jewish law against mixing wool and linen in the same garment. Such mixing is considered, as Cohen puts it, “an inappropriate bringing together of opposites” (35). His article is an exploration of the value that multiculturalism could have for American Jews, despite the fact that proponents of multiculturalism often seem to exclude Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness from the multicultural umbrella. Here is an excerpt:
[T]oday’s multiculturalism is often expressed in a spirit quite distant from [previous versions that] almost invariably included Jews. [Nowadays,] multiculturalism is often identified…with a segment of the left that has, to put it bluntly, a Jewish problem. Sometimes this problem is manifested in an obtuse anti-Zionism, other times in insensitivity to Jewish interests and fears, and sometimes in an inability to rebuke anti-Semites without qualification. The Jew, in short, is the problematic Other. The reproduction of this attitude among some advocates of multiculturalism, especially those with third world orientations, threatens to taint multiculturalism in the same way that Communism unfairly tainted the left as a whole.
The problem doesn’t necessarily express itself in outright anti-Semitism…or in the tendency of some people to speak of Israel with a hiss reminiscent of neoconservative pronouncements about the left. Sometimes this tendency is manifested simply as intellectual numbness when it comes to Jews, a numbness multiculturalists quickly protest when it comes to other groups. Moses Maimonides is rarely on the list of authors these multiculturalists aim to incorporate into the canon. Consider, for instance, Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader, a recent, weighty collection of some twenty essays. The only reference to Jews and Judaism to be found in it are in passing, and Jewish studies, which has flourished across the United States in the past quarter century, does not exist in it at all, even in the essay entitled “Ethnic Studies: Its Evolution in American Colleges and Universities.” Marx wrote somewhere that in his vision of the future, the conditions for the liberation of one would be the conditions father liberation of all. If some American Jewish liberals are wary of some advocates of multiculturalism, the reason is plain: it is not always evident that the multicultural “all” includes Jewish culture. (45)