From ‘S. African drag king’ into an ‘American Zionist’

Why did this group buy a black woman’s image to use as an example of diversity?

DIVERSITY CANNOT be purchased.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
DIVERSITY CANNOT be purchased.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In recent years pro-Israel voices have found themselves shut out of left-leaning and progressive events in the US. To combat that some passionate Zionists have sought to emphasize that Zionism has a progressive face that intersects with feminism, human rights and self-determination.
Now it turns out that one of the faces of an attempt to position Zionism as part of the women’s movement was neither that of a Zionist nor a Jewish woman. An image of a South African woman was manipulated, her Christian tattoo removed, for repackaging into an example of an “African-American Zioness.”
It raises disturbing questions about the lengths pro-Israel groups are willing to go. Exploiting and manipulating images to make the pro-Israel crowd seem more diverse than it is doesn’t help Israel.
On January 18 a Twitter account posted an iconic image of a black woman wearing a Star of David, next to the original photo used to create it. “So uh the Zioness movement took a picture of a Black woman from Getty images, lightened her skin, and then made her part of their logo,” tweeted Emeline from Cleveland. The real woman behind the image, South African rapper Dope Saint Jude, tweeted on January 21: “I am in no way affiliated with the Zioness movement, at all.”
Dope Saint Jude was born Catherine Saint Jude Pretorious. In an August 2017 interview with she was described as the “South African drag king keeping rap queer.” According to the interview Saint Jude has modeled her “drag king” persona on American rapper Lil Wayne. “I have been involved in the Cape Town queer scene since the age of 16,” said Saint Jude.
How Saint Jude’s image ended up on the posters of a pro-Israel group is as strange as the decision to use her image in the first place. At some point she was photographed by “wundervisuals,” two men named Pascal and Kevin who “shoot extensively in their native Germany and South Africa,” according to a photography website. The image of Saint Jude, posing in a bike shop, ended up at Getty images, number 5182022994.
By this time it had been captioned “Afro woman bicycle mechanic looking proud in bike repair shop.” The caption claimed she was an “Afro-American woman.” Her image is one of 451 that shows up under “African American woman mechanic,” even though she is neither a mechanic nor an African-American.
The Zioness movement was started in August 2017, according to an article at The Jewish Journal, when “a group of 20 progressive Zionists banded together to participate in the Chicago SlutWalk.” Amanda Berman, a civil rights attorney and director of legal affairs at the Lawfare Project wrote at The Forward that month about becoming the co-founder of the movement. “A group of passionate Zionists with a history of progressive activism came together to demand inclusion in the movements that were originally spearheaded by the proud Zionist civil rights leaders who came before us. We launched the Zioness Movement, declaring that the same values of human rights and self-determination at the heart of progressive causes also underlie Zionism.”
At some point in the fall of 2017 the image of Saint Jude was colorized in the same style of the Women’s March images common in January 2017 protesting Donald Trump’s election. It was also similar in style to the famous Barack Obama “hope” poster from the 2008 campaign designed by artist Shepard Fairey. The image was used in an article at the Forward in October to illustrate an article by Josh Nathan-Kazis.
However it wasn’t until January that controversy began, when the Electronic Intifada website ran an article titled “Fake feminist group Zioness used rapper’s image without her approval.” On Facebook the Zioness movement responded: “All images used in the Zioness posters, logos and graphics are representation. They are intended to reflect the diversity, strength and courage of the Zioness community.” They claimed that “we were drawn to the photo of the model representing the African-American Zioness because she is bold, confident, proud and beautiful.”
There’s just one problem, though: she is not a model, or an African-American. She’s a South African rapper who is also famous for being a drag king. The Zioness movement seeks to justify its use of the image by claiming “we purchased all rights to use this photo” and that the model “profited in the exchange.” They also claim “although we are under no obligation to do so, the Zioness Movement will not use the image of this model moving forward.”
The movement still can’t seem to come to grips with reality. You can purchase rights to use a photo, but there’s a huge elephant in the room when you buy the photo of an African woman and repackage it as something totally different. The Christian tattoo that Saint Jude has on her arm in the original photo was removed and a Star of David necklace added. Worst of all is the idea that diversity can be bought, sold and repackaged.
If Zionists want to position themselves as diverse progressives, they shouldn’t buy images of black women to do it. They should use real images of black women that support the movement. If there are African-American Zionist women, then use their images, with their consent. If it were the other way around and a Jewish rapper’s image was repackaged to be the face of a pro-Palestinian group, or a white Christian group, their Star of David erased and a Christian tattoo added, we’d be rightly outraged. Just because you can buy a photo online doesn’t mean you can do anything you want with it.
This is not the first time black women have been exploited and used as the face of pro-Israel events. There have been manipulative uses and abuses of diverse groups in Israel, held up sometimes without their consent as examples of “diversity” when they themselves complain of racism in Israel.
Yet their critical voices are ignored to create a monolithic “pro-Israel” narrative.
Ethiopian women in Israel have been flown abroad to speak at pro-Israel events, but when those same women joined anti-racism marches in Israel the well-heeled “pro-Israel” groups ignored them. Diversity is too often used as a shield for Israel by those who have no real interest in diversity in Israel and often don’t even care to listen to diverse voices in Israel.
If Zionism really is diverse and if it really is about all these progressive “values,” then pro-Israel activists should be more ethical when it comes to using images of people.
That means not taking a South African rapper with a Christian tattoo and passing her off as an African-American woman with a Star of David. If you think her image represents “strength and courage,” then respect her individual strength by having the courage to ask her if she wants to be face of your “diversity” campaign. This rule should apply to every organization, far beyond Israel, that uses and abuses images of people of color for their own cynical reasons.