When a strong majority of Americans support LGBT equality, it takes a lot for a pride parade in any American city to cause a controversy, but the Chicago Dyke March, now in its 21st year, did exactly that in June. And it isn’t even the city’s official pride parade, for Dyke March organizers pride themselves on being outside of the mainstream, LGBT or otherwise.
The march nevertheless made it into the mainstream press after three participants carrying rainbow flags emblazoned with the Star of David were expelled from the event. Why? Because they were supporters of Israel.
The organizers acted in the name of comfort for any Palestinian participants and allies and in opposition to Zionism, which they call “an inherently white-supremacist ideology.”
Indeed, other than ostracizing Jewish participants, march organizers went to extraordinary lengths to make people from every walk of life feel comfortable.
The march invitation blared: “We challenge fatphobia and are body positive.”
Fat is okay, but if you’re Jewish, keep it on the downlow.
In the eyes of some in a crowd of 1,500 those Jewish pride flags resembled Israel’s blue-and-white.
“It’s triggering people, and it’s making them feel unsafe,” Eleanor Shoshany Anderson, one of those kicked out, was told, as she later recounted to Chicagoist.
“I really wanted to just be Jewish and gay in public and celebrate that.”
Their transgressions didn’t end there. When the enthusiastic masses chanted “From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have got to go,” the three took the poetic liberty of replacing the word “Palestine” with “everywhere” – which for the march’s disciplinarians was a grave act of defiance. (If you don’t believe this, check out the Dyke March’s official statement.) The irony is glaring: the few were forced to come out as Zionist among the anti-Zionist majority, in a space, mind you, that eschews rigid identities in favor of the freedom to define oneself at will and without penalty.
What to call this if not antisemitism? Sadly, that’s hardly the first time we’ve witnessed anti-Israel zeal in the ideological Left, or even in the LGBT community. In 2012, Seattle’s LGBT Commission, an official body, canceled an event with Israeli LGBT activists, and last year in Chicago, Creating Change, an annual and rather mainstream conference of LGBT activists that is organized by the well-respected National LGBTQ Task Force, canceled at the last minute a reception featuring leaders from the Jerusalem Open House, the city’s LGBT outfit.
The reception was later reinstalled only to be ultimately silenced by angry protesters. Both events were set up by A Wider Bridge, a California-based nonprofit with a mission of strengthening relations between the American and Israeli LGBT communities and which was dragged also into the latest episode: also expelled from the Chicago march was Laurie Grauer, whose job as a regional manager for the organization seems to have marked her for special scrutiny.
How can activists in the LGBT community, and indeed any well-meaning people, avoid such a mess going forward? Here are my guidelines:
1. You can believe wholeheartedly you’re not an antisemite and still be complicit in antisemitism.
Remember, when US President Donald Trump declared yet again, “I have a tremendous respect for women,” he was serious – and wrong.
2. Don’t point to Jewish support to disassociate from allegations of antisemitism. Topping the list of endorsements the Dyke March brought forward after the incident was an emphatic one by Jewish Voice for Peace. That’s typical but not more convincing than pointing to the president’s Jewish daughter and sonin- law to excuse antisemitism from the White House.
True, there’s a Jewish anti-Zionist tradition that is as old as Zionism itself. For over a hundred years – in a very Jewish way – some Jewish activists and intellectuals have insisted on asserting their Jewish identity through a very personal opposition to the Jewish state.
But those Jews are passionate about the Palestinian cause because of Israel, and not the other way around.
3. Stop with the “pinkwashing” nonsense. Overzealous activists have devised a conspiracy theory to silence anything that has to do with LGBT in Israel by imagining a nefarious public-relations campaign in which the Israeli government presents a gay-friendly face to distract from its anti-Palestinian essence. As I have written elsewhere, this allegation is childish, rooted in a cocktail of arrogance and ignorance, and ironically ends up inflating the gay-positive image of Israel.
4. If you try so hard to differentiate anti-Zionism from antisemitism, you’re playing with fire. Yes, in theory, Judaism is distinct from Zionism and antisemitism from anti-Zionism. Yet, in practice, activists don’t engage in criticism of Israel – legit if unpleasant – but are rather committed to an outright rejection of the very idea of Israel. It’s true that many Israeli leaders knee-jerkingly cry foul at any hint of criticism of Israel.
But don’t you hold yourselves to higher standards? 5. Don’t patronize Palestinians by suggesting they may not feel safe on American soil in the presence of Jews or Israelis. You may think you express empathy, but in effect you treat them as children with little agency or understanding. All the Palestinian Americans I ever met knew better.
6. If you label yourself pro-Palestine, it should not follow you’re automatically anti-Israel. In theory, you can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, and if you believe in decency, also in practice.
LGBT activism has taught all of us, gay or not, the importance of inclusiveness. We’ll all do well to heed this principle with seriousness and sincerity.The author, a member of the Jewish Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress, is a writer in New York. His website is www.YoavSivan.com.