Queer Jews don’t need to pass your litmus test to be out and proud.

Update 28/06/17: The Chicago Dyke March now claims that the banned participants were asked to leave for distorting chants at the march to remove any mention of Palestine. However, the organizers still maintain that the participants were initially approached because of their flag, in line with the testimony of the queer Iranian Jewish woman who was told that “[her] choices were to roll up [her] Jewish Pride flag or leave”. 

The Chicago Dyke March is embroiled in controversy this week after reportedly banning three Jewish participants from their march. According to reports, the organizers asked the participants about their views on Zionism after they were seen carrying rainbow flags with a blue Star of David in the centre, subsequently banning them from the march after learning about their pro-Israel views.

The exact rationale for this ban was initially unclear.

Initially, one of the march organizers said that the three participants were banned because of their flags, which “made people feel unsafe” and were not in keeping with the “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Zionist” sentiment of the march.

That story was soon done away with when the official Chicago Dyke March Facebook page claimed that the participants were instead banned after they “repeatedly expressed support for Zionism”, though they admit that the participants were initially approached because of the flags they were carrying.

So it was the flags after all.

The Dyke March has since discovered that at least one of the banned participants, Laurel Grauer, is a member of A Wider Reach, a notorious pro-Israel group that has a habit of infiltrating pride events to promote Israel’s gay rights record. This is done in order to distract people from the violent occupation of Palestine, a tactic known as “pinkwashing”. The group has even feigned attacks on its members to garner sympathy, and is by all accounts a pretty insidious creation.

But the Dyke March had no knowledge of this at the time, and though they can thank their lucky stars their fears were at least partially justified, they can’t now retroactively claim that was the reason for asking the participants to leave.

The only basis for their suspicions was the queer Jewish pride flag, and that’s a big problem, not least of all because it buys into the narrative that Israel has some sort of monopoly on Jewish people’s identity, or that simply by being openly Jewish, a person has some connection to Israel.

As part of its propaganda efforts, Israeli authorities routinely market themselves as the sole representative of the Jewish people by co-opting their iconography and exploiting their suffering for political gain. This cynical ploy is meant not only to encourage Jewish people living in Europe to emigrate to Israel and further the settler colonial project in the West Bank, but more importantly, it is meant to tie any criticism of Israel as a secular state with the evil of anti-Semitism.

By implying that the Star of David has an inherent Zionist connection, the Dyke March is agreeing that Israel is somehow the sole proprietor of Jewish culture and identity, a proposition not only incredibly harmful to all Jews, but especially queer ones who are already marginalized in many supposed ‘safe spaces’ organized by leftists.

Even the FTP Artists Collective, which was supportive of the Dyke March’s decision, has the good sense to point out that the Star of David exists separately from Zionism, though they maintain that it behoves those wielding the symbol to explicitly separate it from Zionism:

“Imagery that either intentionally or unintentionally invokes Zionism without any attempt to acknowledge or subvert those visual associations only serve to bolster support for Israel”

This is incredibly prejudicial. To put such an onus on Jewish people is to assume that they are guilty until proven innocent, and that until they verbally denounce Israel, they are Zionists and ‘bad Jews’. We have seen this sort of blame tactic put on other minorities, such as African-Americans who are told to dress and behave ‘respectably’ if their grievances with state violence are to be taken seriously.

We rightly regard this as bigoted, so why is it different when it comes to queer Jews?

Regardless, the Star of David has about as much connection with Zionism as the Muslim star and crescent has with Wahhabism, or the Christian crucifix has with the KKK.

If the FTP Artists Collective is right and Star of David is indeed at risk of being stolen by Zionism, and the Dyke March really is welcoming to queer Jews, they should be helping anti-Zionist Jews to reclaim their iconography and fight against the anti-Semitic guilt by association that they suffer at the hands of Israel’s violent occupation. Whatever prejudice Jewish people face, queer Jews face twice.

The last thing we should be doing is helping Israel to further monopolize the Star of David by equating it with Zionism. Even if the Dykes’ instincts were right in this case, the method in which they acted on those instincts was prejudicial, and will serve only to make queer Jews feel less and less welcome in leftist circles.

For the record, I’m all for excluding apartheid apologists like Laurel Grauer from pride events. I just believe that there’s a better way of doing it than asking queer Jews to answer a questionnaire every time they want to be out and proud.

In defense of boycotting Wonder Woman.

Apparent strides forward in on-screen representation have suffered a number of contextual setbacks in recent years. Sherlock writer Stephen Moffat, for instance, was initially praised for making Moriarty an LGBT character on his show, only for us to discover that the character’s sexuality is simply a tool to get across how “psycho” and “unpredictable” he is. Hardly a role model for young LGBT people. Marvel’s Black Widow, too, was hailed as a strong, independent quasi-superhero on our screens, only for her entire backstory to be condensed down into a “I got sterilised and now I’m worthless” trope during Age of Ultron.

The release of Wonder Woman finally offers a lead role to a female protagonist, but it too may prove to be no exception.

The eponymous superhero of this movie is played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli-born former Miss Israel who previously starred in the Fast & Furious movies. Like all Israelis, Gadot served two years in the Israeli Defense Forces in line with the country’s mandatory conscription laws, an experience she says taught her “discipline and respect”. During this time she was a combat trainer, and after leaving, she studied law before finally going into the film industry.

The IDF in which Gadot served has a longstanding record of war crimes accusations against it. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the IDF launched an attack on the Gaza Strip so brutal that it killed over 1,600 Palestinian civilians (500 of whom were children), resulting in almost universal condemnation from the rest of the world.

The worst of the atrocities came in July, when the IDF killed several Palestinian children in two separate incidents. The first, on the 9th, occurred when the IDF fired a missile on nine Palestinian youths as they watched the World Cup. The other occurred a week later, when an IDF naval vessel opened fire on four Gazan children while they played football on the beach. All were killed.

Just over a week after these atrocities, Gal Gadot announced on Instagram that she supported “all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas”, along with the hashtag #LoveIDF.

This has subsequently sparked a backlash. Just before Wonder Woman was supposed to screen in Beirut, the Lebanese authorities banned all screenings of the film as part of an ongoing cultural boycott of Israeli products, both literal and artistic, and in opposition to Gadot’s service in the IDF.

To be clear, governments have no business in policing what films their citizens can and cannot see. The same Lebanese authorities responsible for this ban have also conducted similar acts of censorship on films that deal with religious topics, and films that explore sexuality. They are certainly no friends of mine.

The question here, then, is not whether the actions of the Lebanese authorities are justified, for they clearly aren’t. The question is whether it is right to boycott a film based on the actions and/or statements of its actors. While this seems like an obviously justified thing to do, some are convinced that this boycott is anti-Semitic in origin:

“Gal Gadot was a fitness trainer in the IDF, which, if you recall drafts every Israeli teen. It was not her choice, and she was in just about the least harmful position one could possibly be in, given the mandatory induction of all youth in Israel. If you boycott Wonder Woman just because Gadot was in the IDF/is Israeli, then you are being anti-Semitic” – a commentator on Tumblr

Obviously, boycotting a film purely because of somebody’s nationality or ethno-religious background is wrong. If anybody out there seeks to boycott Wonder Woman because Gal Gadot is Jewish, they are behaving reprehensibly. If that is the motivation of the Lebanese authorities, then shame on them as well. Jewish people are not de facto responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, let alone its military forces.

Admittedly, the line is blurred somewhat when it comes to conscripted service. It’s not as though Gadot walked into an IDF building one day and said “sign me up!” There are harsh penalties for conscientious objectors in Israel, and the government only acts leniently on those who insist that their religious studies preclude serving. It is not for me in a safe and faraway position to say whether one should always refuse conscription, though I suspect that were I an Israeli confronted with the choice, and witnessing the crimes of the IDF, I would refuse to serve. Spending time in prison is surely a fair price to pay for not assisting an army that fires missiles at children.

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Of bigger concern is Gadot’s conduct since leaving the IDF, which has been reprehensible and callous. Were we faced with a film where the lead actor pledged support for the Chinese, Russian, Australian, or Filipino army, I would be arguing in favour of a boycott there too. People have the right to boycott things if they feel that a person involved in its making has done or said something heinous. Gadot has associated herself with an army that has a track record that should offend our every sensibility, and as such, boycott away.

That is, or at least should be, the basis of this boycott. Not her nationality, not her Jewishness, perhaps not even her refusal to be a conscientious objector. No, none of this really matters. What matters is her unapologetic and enthusiastic support for a terrorist army.

For the record, I’d be more than happy with an Israeli actress playing Wonder Woman. I’d just prefer one that doesn’t celebrate war crimes on Instagram.

UKIP’s “integration agenda” is impractical, dangerous, racist, and paedophilic.

PaulNuttallUKIPParty leader/leading berk, Paul Nuttall

In its local election manifesto, UKIP says it is bringing “a breath of fresh air” to British politics. While most of us would insist that it’s not fresh air we smell, but rather the sweaty funk of proto-fascism, UKIP is nonetheless coming into this election campaign to remind us that it’s a serious party full of serious people with serious policies, rather than the party crammed full of paedophiles, white supremacists, and animal abusers that it was two years ago.

Who knows, maybe a leopard can change its spots. Let’s see what flavour of “fresh air” party leader Paul Nuttall wants to waft across Britain, shall we?

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Well, that’s certainly one way to spearhead your campaign. While the rest of the political parties bother the airwaves with such trivial matters as the future of the NHS and the issue of low wages, UKIP is courageously breaking the mould by targeting people for the clothes they wear.

In an interview with Sky News, Nuttall suggested that garments like the burqa are a security risk in places like banks, since the perpetrator cannot be properly identified. There is exactly one recorded incident of a person robbing a British bank while wearing a burqa. Clearly a national emergency.

Deputy party leader Peter Whittle also claims that full-face veils are a “deliberate barrier to integration”, but UKIP isn’t very clear about what constitutes integration in the first place. I hate football, couldn’t care less about fish and chips, and haven’t watched the X Factor for years. Have I failed to integrate too? Can we trust people who wear tweed to properly judge what is and isn’t acceptable dress?

In all seriousness, burqa bans are both ineffective and dangerous. Reports from France, which banned full-face veils seven years ago, suggest that the ban hasn’t stopped women from wearing the burqa in public, and many pay the fine but continue to dress the way they want as an act of defiance. The ban has also produced a rise in Islamophobic hate crimes in cities like Paris, where women are assaulted on the streets for wearing Islamic clothes. The ban has not “integrated” anybody, but rather put them at risk of violence.

So, it’s clear that UKIP is just wasting everybody’s time with its proposal for a burqa ban. But it does take the grave issue of female genital mutilation seriously, at least. The party now offers us an integration agenda to peruse on the issue, so let’s see what well-measured, sensible and Muslim-led policy UKIP has to stop the spread of FGM:

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In case you’re staring at your screen in bewilderment, I’ll spell it out for you: UKIP wants to force “at risk” schoolgirls to undergo an invasive medical exam on an annual basis to make sure they haven’t been subjected to FGM. Girls who travel abroad would also be subjected to an additional exam of their genitals when they return to school too, and if a girl is found to have been mutilated, UKIP would automatically prosecute the parents.

No parent in their right mind would willingly subject their children to such abuse. Were I a Muslim parent, I would seriously consider taking my children out of the state school system if such a policy were passed. That leaves either homeschooling or faith schools, the latter of which would be extensively monitored by a UKIP government too. The party essentially wants to keep Muslim girls under the watchful eye of the state at all times.

It is no surprise that a party which repeatedly nominated paedophiles and sex offenders during the last general election doesn’t think it’s wrong to forcibly inspect young girls’ genitals.

The final noteworthy tale in this saga of “holy crap are they serious?” is a policy targeting child groomers. The policy does not actually do anything to prevent child grooming, but rather offers an inconceivably racist change to sentencing. According to UKIP Education Spokesman David Kurten:

“In cases where the victims of grooming gangs are of a different racial or religious ­group than the offenders, the CPS should cite this as an aggravating feature of the ­offence when prosecuting, opening the way ­to a longer sentence”

UKIP genuinely wants to create a two-tier criminal justice system which factors in a person’s religion and skin colour when charging them with a crime. But harsher sentences for groomers who happen to be different from their victims means lighter sentences for groomers who happen to be the same as their victims.

Why does UKIP want to let off white groomers? Why are they not deserving of harsher sentences too? Child grooming should be a crime, full stop, and there is no possible way being the same colour as your victim makes the crime less severe or worthy of a lighter sentence.

Thankfully, this insistence on persecuting British Muslims is offending just about everybody, including top members of UKIP itself: MEP James Carver recently resigned in protest against the “integration agenda”, describing it as “vile” and “misguided”. “No one has the right to dictate what people should wear”, he added.

The party’s finances continue to be in absolute ruin (ironically, thanks to Brexit), and many of those who voted UKIP in 2015 have deserted the party and returned to the Tories. The party is bleeding badly, and if it thinks inspecting children’s genitals will rescue it and restore it to national glory, it is even more stupid than I initially thought.

Letters to my MP: The anti-gay pogrom in Chechyna.

This letter concerns the ongoing anti-gay pogrom being committed by the Chechen government and was sent via WriteToThem.

Dear Cat Smith,

By now, you have probably heard of the news coming out of Chechyna, where the government is rounding up gay men and putting them into concentration camps. At least a hundred men have been rounded up so far, and many of those who have escaped the pogrom have now become refugees in their own country. Within these camps there are allegations of horrendous living conditions, torture, and summary execution. Both the Chechen government and the Kremlin deny the allegations, but that is of little surprise.

Today, I urge you to use your public voice to demand that the Russian government take the situation in Chechnya seriously, and to raise this issue of anti-gay violence in whatever capacity you can. This starts with demanding that Theresa May make a public comment on the fledgling genocide and reaffirm her commitment to treating all LGBT asylum seekers with the respect they deserve. May must make her position to the British people absolutely clear on this issue.

As a Labour MP, I also urge you to get in touch with Jeremy Corbyn so that he can make his voice heard on the issue, and to provide us with more details about his plans to reform the LGBT asylum seeking process in the UK.

Yours sincerely.

Cat Smith, Labour MP: Replied same day.

Thank you for your email sent on 11th April regarding the persecution of homosexuals in Chechnya.

I was horrified to hear the reports coming out of Chechnya. Sadly this is an all too familiar story in many parts of the world. I agree the United Kingdom should be making an unequivocal statement condemning this abhorrent persecution and reiterating our commitment towards equality and eradicating homophobia. I also agree a fair and humane policy towards LGBT asylum seekers must be central to this.

I will write to the Foreign Secretary putting your points to him and request that he respond to them. I will also keep your comments in mind in discussions which I have with Shadow Cabinet colleagues on this matter.

I will write to you again once I have received a reply from the Foreign Office however in the meantime if you feel I can be of any further assistance on this or any other matter please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely.