Self-described ‘queer Zionist’ Yuval David takes hits from both the Right and Left

“Jews in America have always been active at serving other marginalized and victimized groups, it’s a principle in Zionism and Judaism. If you are to help yourself you are to also help your neighbor."

 YUVAL DAVID: We all need to speak up and not just accept that it’s cool to be anti-Israel. (photo credit: Matthew Schipper)
YUVAL DAVID: We all need to speak up and not just accept that it’s cool to be anti-Israel.
(photo credit: Matthew Schipper)

New York – Something is wrong in American society, and it’s not just the far-right, Yuval David warns. With a kaleidoscope of notable television, film and theater credits, the 36-year-old Israeli-American actor, producer, advocate and content creator – a self-described “Queer Zionist” – has paired his award-winning acting career with advocacy for social change.

Some of David’s harshest critics are within his own progressive circles.

“The LGBTQ community is the most diverse in the world because we happen to be part of every other community in the world,” David said last week. “Sadly, I have to remind people that those who seek the most amount of tolerance often become the most intolerant. That’s one of the problems we are seeing among ‘woke’ communities. While we are fighting for rights and equality, we need to still educate and change opinions. I do not believe that ‘cancel culture’ is ever correct.

“Jews in America have always been active at serving other marginalized and victimized groups, it’s a principle in Zionism and Judaism. If you are to help yourself you are to also help your neighbor. I’ve always understood I’m a minority within a marginalized, victimized community. In the entertainment industry, for example, the amount of jokes about Jews makes it seem almost okay to speak about Jews in a specific way while if you made those jokes about other groups it would be horrible and racist. In conversations I have with people who are anti-Zionist, I need to redefine what Zionism is for them so they understand what the word actually means,” he said.

David has a slew of projects on those issues, including directing a feature length documentary film about the intersection of LGBTQ and religious identity, titled Wonderfully Made – LGBTQ+R(eligion), directing and producing an advocacy series bringing light to under-reported human rights atrocities happening in different countries and his passion project, “Identity Politics,” on how to be an advocate for marginalized communities.

A Wider Bridge created a new inclusive flag whose rainbow colors and Star of David represent inseparable parts of the identities of LGBTQ Jews.  (credit: A WIDER BRIDGE VIA JTA)A Wider Bridge created a new inclusive flag whose rainbow colors and Star of David represent inseparable parts of the identities of LGBTQ Jews. (credit: A WIDER BRIDGE VIA JTA)

Zionism is the ideology and movement that believes in the self-actualization of the Jewish people where Jews must represent themselves and maintain a connection to their homeland. So how can someone be anti-Zionist and not be anti-Native American or anti-Chinese or anti-Buddhist? If they are singling out Jews, that’s how anti-Zionism is masked as antisemitism. We’re once again at one of those times where I’m concerned wearing my Magen David in public,” David said.

Another problem in society, David expressed, is how news is being absorbed.

“I very much recognize the challenges in news media currently, where things are thought of from an entertainment audience perspective,” he said. “People will only read the headline, at the most. Ninety percent of young people get their news from Facebook and TikTok. They will say Bella Hadid said this so it must be true.”

David’s recent speaking engagements include hosting two events in partnership with The Aguda, the Association for LGBTQ Equality in Israel, titled “Pride in the Living Room” and addressing intersectional identity, speaking about the importance of “Art for Social Change” at Beit Mishpachah, Washington, DC’s only synagogue embracing a diversity of sexual and gender identities, and giving the keynote presentation regarding advocacy and identity politics at the Israeli Embassy to the US.

Born and raised in Washington, DC, David splits his time between his hometown and New York City. When he’s not spreading his mantra of “today’s socio-political climate, numerous identities are under attack, and it is critical to stand loud and proud – together – to support each other.” David can be seen in provocative roles on screen and stage, including appearing in CBS’s hit political drama Madam Secretary, NBC’s The Michael J Fox Show, and productions with HBO, Comedy Central and Broadway.

David says he always knew he wanted to be an actor. His advocacy work has been ingrained in him for as long as he can remember, too.

“I’ve [always] been very proud of my Jewish identity,” he said. “I need to make the most of my life, especially because of our relatives who didn’t have the opportunity to do so.”

He recalled that as a kid spending summers visiting his grandparents in Israel, he expected all elderly people to have numbers tattooed on their arm. “I have a very small family and it was obvious that people who started our family had tattoos [from the Holocaust].

“Stories of our past, whatever my grandparents could remember, were always shared with me, my brothers and cousins. I’m not only talking about the horrors of the Holocaust, antisemitism and the challenges Israel was having as a young country. It’s also the joys. The amount of art and folk songs that were prevalent throughout my childhood, inspired by Zionism, was everywhere.”

David said his summers in Israel inspired him to volunteer in senior living facilities back in the US. “It’s what taught me to become a listener. I would give people that attention everyone craves. Everything was about stories, sharing the stories we have of our family, friends and experiences. Conversations that I had and stories that I heard inspired my entire life as a storyteller. That’s what I am, a storyteller trying to connect to an audience by humanizing experiences. It’s all very much inspired by my Jewish identity and understanding of how important Zionism is.”

David expressed the grave challenges he’s faced with everyday while maneuvering through and combating the anti-Israel focus of the LGBTQ community in the US.

“We all know the joke: ‘three Jews, five opinions.’ It’s okay to have different opinions. In Jewish education, we’re taught to question everything,” he said. “But people in progressive circles are sometimes conflicted about including me because I am proud of my identity.

“We all need to speak up and not just accept that it’s cool to be anti-Israel.”

On the flip side, he expressed belief that many US Zionist groups fail to do enough to include LGBTQ voices.

“That’s very much my battle,” he said.

“It’s a problem. Everyone is talking about the anti-Israel sentiments that exist within the left-wing, progressive, communities. Well if it’s such a big problem, why not embrace the Jews and Zionists who exist within those communities? I’m over here like ‘Hello, include me and recognize me.’ We are just as important and just as Zionist as they are. We have ultra-Orthodox haredi Zionists, Reform, Muslim, Christian Zionists.

“Certain organizations present that their Zionism is better than mine,” David continued. “I’m here to remind them that mine is just as important. I’ve been invited by different denominations of Judaism to speak about what it means to be who I am, all of me as a Jewish-Israeli-American. Sometimes I will speak about what it means to be a Jewish actor or Zionist filmmaker and they may not ask me to speak about my sexual identity, my fluidity of being gay, bi and queer, but I will include it because it’s impacted everything.

“As a storyteller, it gives me a more diverse voice because I exist in communities that focus on diversity. Are certain denominations troubled by who I am? Maybe the leaders of the organizations might be concerned by bringing someone like me on paper. But that just means more of our Jewish leaders need to open their eyes. We know what happens when we stay quiet because we don’t want to accept people.”

The morning of his interview with The Jerusalem Post, David woke up to find 30 Holocaust jokes on his Youtube videos.

“I receive so much antisemitism across social media. It has gotten to the point that some friends said they aren’t comfortable commenting because they receive hateful comments, too. It’s unfair, it’s unjust, it’s a hate crime,” he said.

He recalled a recent speaking event where a member of the audience called him “openly Jewish and obviously Zionist.”

“It was said negatively. How is that even an accusation? People feel like they can be critical of an ‘ism.’ People think they can criticize feminism. I’m a huge feminist.”

Negativity comes from the entertainment industry, as well.

“As an actor I have been told I am ‘too Jewish.’ Or ‘not Jewish enough.’ I had five callbacks in a role for a major film. The comments were that they loved my work but that I needed to play the character as ‘more Jewish,’” David recalled. “What does that even mean? I was very angry. In my early career, I was told I should change my name because it’s ‘too ethnic’ and ‘too Israeli.’ I was born in Washington, DC and they’re telling me my name makes me un-American.

“I’m singled out regularly and I think it’s coming from a very misinformed place. I sometimes feel very exhausted and alone. But I know that I need to keep speaking out, because when I do, I realize I am not alone.

“With all the hateful messages I get, I could really use some positive comments,” David continued. “We need to respond to the hate with power, love and support.”