The Chicago Dyke March: The Ugly Intersection Of Progressivism And Anti-Semitism

I won’t bury the lede – triggering anti-Semites is a good thing.

There were anti-Semites at the Chicago Dyke March last Saturday, as there were at the Israel Day Parade in New York a few weeks ago. I have gone to great lengths to distinguish between anti-Semitism and opposition to the Israeli government, and have been called out on it by some old friends who’ve become quite right-wing on this issue. I have worked for years now with J Street to bring about a fair and equitable two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and consider myself pro-Palestinian as well as pro-Israeli. What happened in Chicago, in spite of the backtracking of the Dyke March leaders, was anti-Semitism. This was part of their statement:

Chicago Dyke March Collective is a grassroots mobilization and celebration of dyke, queer, bisexual, and transgender resilience. Our priority is to ensure a safer space for those who are most marginalized. We welcome and include people of all identities, but not all ideologies. We believe in creating a space free from oppression, and that involves rejecting racist ideologies that support state violence. We welcome the support we have received from Jewish allies and marchers who are as invested in liberation as we are.

I identify, when asked, as queer, bisexual and trans, am quite resilient, and am offended that they believe they’re celebrating me by excluding me and those like me.

In a follow-up interview, Alexis Martinez of the CDM collective made a remarkable comment, that goes to the heart of the anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism issue:

But, we need to be in control of our space just like you wouldn’t accept Nazis in your synagogue.

Keshet, on whose board I sit (as I do on A Wider Bridge), put it best:

We were saddened to learn that yesterday, people who held rainbow flags with a Star of David were asked to leave the Chicago Dyke March. To be told to leave an event for waving this flag conveys that Jews don’t belong in the LGBTQ community. At Keshet, we have used this flag and image for years as a way to affirm our rightful place in both Jewish and queer spaces. We are here and we belong.

Sharon Kleinbaum of CBST synagogue in New York, who has long tried to be a bridge for pro-Palestinian Zionists over which they can engage in confronting the ongoing conflict, also made a powerful statement:

Personally, I am a progressive Zionist eager to engage with people with whom I disagree. I am proud to serve CBST, a Jewish and LGBTQ community that strives to create space for rigorous and passionate debate even among widely different perspectives. We are profoundly disappointed when any organization to which we feel connected – Jewish, Queer, or both – does not do the same. The action taken by the Dyke March representatives registers as both counter to the central goal of queer liberation and as unmistakably anti-Semitic.
  • Judaism is a religion, a culture, a civilization, and, in today’s parlance, an identity.
  • Zionism is an ideology which supported Jewish national aspirations in Palestine, the Roman name for the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.
  • Israel is a nation-state, like all others.

Much has changed within Judaism over the last two hundred years, and similar change has happened with Zionism since it developed in the late 19th century. Israel, too, has evolved, and not these days in a manner with which I concur. However, today, within the progressive movement, and particularly the radical left LGBTQ movement, there has been a deliberate conflation of Judaism with Zionism and the state of Israel. That became manifest in the dispute over the Jewish Pride flag at the Chicago Dyke March.

Some of that conflation is being driven by Jews themselves, to bring in allies and develop a movement. Similar to Jews colluding with Nazis on the right in this country and in Europe, we have Jews, in organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, willingly associating with anti-Semites with no concern for the damage that causes to the community. Shouting the old PLO canard that “Zionism is racism,” which was long ago revoked by the UN, or considering everyone who is “pro-Israel” to be a pinkwasher (a supporter of the Israeli government’s use of its relatively equal LGBT community as cover for the Occupation) or in support of the Occupation, is a deliberate attempt to create chaos. Here is a mild example of a complete lack of historical context from a very sweet and ethical young Jewish man:

“It’s not an insult to Jews to remove an Israeli flag from a pride event – it’s an insult to Jews to put a Jewish star on the Israeli flag in the first place.”

Really? A Jewish star, first created back in the 13th century, as the symbol of the Jewish national homeland, is an insult? Do you know how many people died because Israel did not exist during all those centuries? How many died to create a nation to save the remnants who survived? 75% of my family was among those murdered, and I will not tolerate that insulting attitude.

Zionism is racism? Jews don’t have the same right to national self-determination as others? That attitude is blatant anti-Semitism. Was the creation of Israel traumatic for many Arab people who lived in the region of Palestine? Yes. Do they deserve self-determination as well? Yes. Is the Occupation a brutal, apartheid-like regime which must end? Yes. But many of those who want to see an end to the Occupation want to see an end to Israel in any form as well, and that is racism.

In the dialogue between Laurie Grauer of A Wider Bridge, one of the women carrying the Jewish Pride flag, a member of the CDM wrote that the march “supports the struggle for a Palestinian state.” So do I, so does J Street, so do many of my pro-Israel progressive Jewish colleagues, at A Wider Bridge and Keshet. If that statement is correct, then why was she targeted? She made it very clear her flag was the Jewish Pride flag, which had been seen in previous marches, and was, once again, approved. So what happened?

Not having been there, and not yet having sufficient information to know the answer, I can only surmise. When I hear “some of our people were triggered,” I reflexively go on the defensive. Some women of color and trans persons were triggered? Why? Why is Jewish Pride a trigger? Why is Israel a trigger? I would think, having been involved in the progressive community for a long time, that we have far greater problems here in this country today. Certainly queer people of color, and especially the trans community, have far greater problems. So why is anyone wasting any time on a foreign policy issue that does not impact them, and that only serves to fracture the community? Where are our non-Jewish LGBTQ community leaders, other than HRC, speaking out against the bigotry and what amounts to really stupid activism? You are complicit in your silence, and you are only enabling more of this behavior.

And can we please dispense with all these triggers? Children, not adults, need safe spaces. Rape and war victims can be easily triggered and need support. We cannot, however, run political campaigns with everyone on a hair trigger. Nothing gets done by calling people out. Life has been far worse for most human beings throughout history, and those who survived learned to choose their battles. Their survival depended on it. Calling out your allies because your feelings are hurt will not help you in the long run, even if it makes you feel good in the moment. And for those who consider themselves revolutionaries, there is no recorded revolution where the revolutionaries allowed themselves to be crippled by words, privilege or asymmetric power.

Is this what intersectionality has become? Rather than sense of sharing in the drive to liberate everyone, we’re again mired in an Oppression Olympics?

Bari Weiss published a powerful op-ed on the deterioration in the meaning of intersectionality in The New York Times:

Intersectionality is the big idea of today’s progressive left. In theory, it’s the benign notion that every form of social oppression is linked to every other social oppression. This observation — coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw — sounds like just another way of rephrasing a slogan from a poster I had in college: My liberation is bound up with yours. That is, the fight for women’s rights is tied up with the fight for gay rights and civil rights and so forth. Who would dissent from the seductive notion of a global sisterhood?
Well, in practice, intersectionality functions as kind of caste system, in which people are judged according to how much their particular caste has suffered throughout history. Victimhood, in the intersectional way of seeing the world, is akin to sainthood; power and privilege are profane.

There has been a call over the past few months to have more marginalized persons in positions of power within the movement. That would be a very good thing, but leaders have to arise. They can’t simply demand the position. So here’s the opportunity for those who feel left out to stand up and lead. People will take notice.

This inability to confront reality as adults will, if unchallenged, destroy the progressive left and the progressive LGBTQ movement, just as happened back in the 70s. I doubt any on the Left want to see that.

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