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Let’s be clear: American progressives are rejecting Jews as Jews

As a Jewish feminist, SlutWalk leaves me stuck  

    SlutWalk Chicago
    SlutWalk Chicago Wikimedia Commons

    The June controversy over the Chicago Dyke March’s decision to kick out participants carrying Star of David rainbow flags lives on. While some, including the reporter who broke the story, are put off to say the least, others are more supportive.

    SlutWalk Chicago stands with the city’s Dyke March where Zionism is concerned. On July 22, SlutWalk took to Twitter to clarify that it was not in fact banning “the Star of David” from its upcoming event but, rather, just “Zionist displays”.

    What struck me more was another tweet from that thread, one aiming for inclusivity: “We support people showing their Jewish and LGBTQ+ pride. Please show yours if you feel so moved! Just leave the Zionism at home ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

    Leaving the Zionism at home is not a straightforward demand.

    For some Jews, Zionism is simply the belief that there should go on being a Jewish state on some of the land where there currently is one. It’s not necessarily an endorsement of the state’s borders or policies.

    Moreover, even Jews who do not identify as Zionists — plus some who do, but only at home, with the shades down — risk crossing this absurdly drawn line.

    Controversial – now deleted – Donald Trump tweet from July 2016
    Controversial – now deleted – Donald Trump tweet from July 2016 Mic.com

    The Star of David is on the Israeli flag, but is also a symbol antisemites reproduce, from the yellow star to Donald Trump’s sinister anti-Clinton tweet to that poster with Theresa May in evocative earrings.

    Is a Jew who embraces the symbol as pushback against antisemitism, but who does not run screaming from it because of its Israeli connotations, a Zionist? Put another way: Is “Zionism” here a positive embrace of Israel as a Jewish state? Or is it simply about existing, as a Jew, and not meeting an arbitrary and poorly explained purity requirement?

    The notion that Jewish identity can be dissected (by non-Jews, of course), with only the acceptable parts remaining, is an old one: During the French Revolution, the Count de Clermont-Tonnerre famously said, “We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals.” That was enlightened for 1789, but is not the sort of outlook that works on progressive Twitter in 2017. Except, apparently, where Jews are concerned.

    What’s so fascinating about the “leave the Zionism at home” tweet is the mix of 18th century demands and 21st century social-justice trappings. The LGBTQ acronym gets a plus sign, a generous choice given the 140-character limit of the form. And then the tweet ends on, of all things, a shrug emoji, as though anyone with a different take on the relationship between Zionism and Jewish pride can just be brushed aside as not worth the bother.

     What’s playing out in this new purge of “Zionism” from US progressivism is a crude, uninformed attempt at dividing the world into absolute categories of privileged and oppressed. The existence of antisemitism — an ideology based on hating Jews for perceived privilege — does not fit into this framework. Intersectionality offers Jews the language for explaining this complexity, but progressive spaces regularly remind us the language is not for us. And so the most that Jews can expect is Enlightenment-era qualified tolerance.

    Unfortunately, the SlutWalk tweets make clear this not simply a matter of Jewish progressives needing to stand alongside people they may disagree with regarding Israel, in the interests of solidarity. It’s about exclusion on the basis of unapologetic Jewish identity. If that’s not antisemitism, what is?

    I had followed the Chicago Dyke March controversy, but wondered if I should just sit that one out. (I’ve internalised the admonition to stay in one’s lane.) But the SlutWalk movement speaks for women like me — feminists, of any sexual orientation, who don’t think a woman has “consented” to assault by wearing a miniskirt. My opposition to sexism and antisemitism alike is existential, not an allyship that I get to jump in and out of. And if I have to choose, I’m stuck.


    Phoebe Maltz Bovy is an author and writer based in Toronto