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.