Things I’m Verbing: Chicago Dyke March Versus Antisemitism Edition

The worst thing for me about this whole Chicago Dyke March incident (and others before it) is seeing my progressive activist friends utterly fail to recognize the libels, slanders and tropes that have been used to silence, reject and violate Jews for hundreds of years, if not more.

Aw boy. I really would have preferred to do a link round-up about the inherent hilarity of British English, or the awesome Chicago Mosaic Project, or Lindy West’s op-ed on defending free speech from trolls. Instead, I am here to talk about leftist, progressive and radical antisemitism and last weekend’s Chicago Dyke March.

Your reaction to this story depends a lot on what you believe happened. By some accounts, a group of Zionist infiltrators disrupted an explicitly anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian march and rally by harassing other participants while waving Pride flags superimposed with the Israeli flag, all to stir up media attention with crocodile tears after. By their own accounts, three queer Jewish women, one of them Iranian-American, were ejected from a safe space after being aggressively interrogated on their political beliefs by both marchers and organizers when they showed up wearing either Star of David apparel or carrying flags featuring the Star of David, a symbol so intimately connected with Jewish identity that the Nazis used it to brand Jews during the Holocaust. Maybe it was all a miscommunication.

Chicago Dyke March is now organizing a self-care retreat to refresh after the trauma of being called out for antisemitic behavior, though they have deleted the comments section criticizing the fundraiser, which is going toward themselves rather than the causes they support. The sample letters provided to express and demand solidarity from other organizations also contain flat-out fictions linking the Jewish group A Wider Bridge to unnamed “Zionist organizations connected to hate groups profiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

In defending their actions, Dyke March representatives and allies have made statements such as “[W]e need to be in control of our space just like you wouldn’t accept Nazis in your synagogue.” To compare Jews and/or Zionists to the people who destroyed Jewish populations to the extent that they only recovered to pre-World War II levels worldwide in 2015 is, in fact, textbook antisemitism. To insinuate that Jews are deliberately embedded fifth-columnist saboteurs out to undermine and disrupt your own work is classical racialized Jew-hatred going back to the Spanish Inquisition. And to insist that non-Jews are the arbiters of defining Zionism runs contrary to the foundational notion of relying on minorities to define both their own oppression and liberation.

Joel Finkelstein, blogging for the Times of Israel, defines Zionism thusly:

Zionism stands as the indigenous rights movement of the Jewish people, who constitute a historically dispossessed Middle Eastern ethnic group and endeavor to escape from white colonial supremacy and Arab colonial supremacy alike by returning to their native land: Israel.

For 2,000 years, Jewish prayer services have longed for a return to Jerusalem; archaeological evidence confirms an indigenous Jewish presence in the Levant going back thousands of years. Genetically, Jews are most closely related to Palestinians, Israeli Bedouins and Druze. Historically, Jews have never been “white” until very, very recently — even then, conditionally and largely in the United States, and even then, it had a lot to do with McCarthy-era conformism, trauma and opportunities for widespread economic advancement that only came with the G.I. Bill. American pro-Palestine activists tend to categorize Israelis as white European colonialist invaders, an echo of the Khazar theory that Ashkenazi Jews are all descended from converts and thus have no claim to Middle Eastern ancestry.

Israel, of course, is more than 50 percent Mizrahi, Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries who were expelled to the point of extinction in ancient communities after state violence in the second half of the 20th century. (This goes directly against the claim that Ashkenazi/white Zionists somehow fooled nearly a million Mizrahim into leaving their homes just because. See also: the widespread notion that Zionism represents white supremacy, which white supremacists would surely argue against.) I’d argue that the only way you can understand Israel is as a nation almost entirely composed of refugees and their descendants. So, that’s Zionism.

Hashtags included in Chicago Dyke March’s statements include references to the genocidal “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” (This chant means all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea; the “will be free” part does not appear to leave room for Jews.) Read the Hamas Charter, which includes multiple pronouncements like “The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized.” (Not so surprising that Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot would hope for a Gaza free from Hamas.) So if Jews seem alarmed by Chicago Dyke March’s use of these tropes and slogans, I hope you can see why. As Tumblr user optometrictzedek writes:

You can’t use a symbol to mark us for genocide and then tell us we can’t use that same symbol to represent ourselves because it might offend someone

You can’t support White Supremacists tropes of antisemitism while calling yourself progressive

The one thing the far left and the far right have in common is making sure Jews have a place nowhere. And then you turn around and condemn us for having one place in the world to keep us safe. But that makes sense if you just want us all to die.

It was never about antiZionism. This is antisemitism. Period.

Myself, I wonder with whom anti-Zionist activists believe they’ll ultimately accomplish their goals, whatever they are, if not in partnership with Zionists. The vast majority of Jews my age I know believe in both the right of the Jewish people to live in peace, dignity and full self-determination and the inherent right of the Palestinian people to do the same. Making Jews of any nationality pass an ideological purity test to participate in any liberation movements simply isolates and ghettoizes those Jews who aren’t willing to put up with violence against their own identity. The Jews I know want to form partnerships to ensure justice for both peoples, despite becoming proxies for the very worst of a foreign government’s actions at any given moment they exist in the world.

What I don’t see among my own close cohort is Zionists who give Israel and the Israeli government some sort of free pass. That seems to be something more likely found among older generations, or Christian and right-wing Zionists. Israelis themselves could criticize their government vociferously enough to make a BDS supporter’s hair turn white. Most of all, we need to raise up Palestinian voices that ask us all to do better. Hiba Bint Zeinab, who is Palestinian-Lebanese, wrote a fantastic, nuanced Facebook post calling on pro-Palestinian activists to stop centering Israel in their activism:

I firmly believe that the kneejerk way the Palestinian Cause is held up like a trump card whenever convenient and the infuriating reverse exceptionalism with which the conflict is treated has been a firm factor in prolonging the crisis and exacerbating Palestinian suffering. I’m struggling to find the words for why it troubles me so much to see all these conversations stuck on questions of whether anti Zionism is anti Semitism because don’t forget Israel and what about accountability for Palestine.

Please. Please. Please try to understand that an anti-Zionist pro-Palestine liberation stance is not one that needs championing in the left, that nobody fucking lets us forget Israel when we try to talk about Palestine, and nobody stops talking about Palestine when anyone mentions Israel, and it hasn’t done shit for diaspora or territory Palestinians except turn us into a handy slogan.

Establishing a stance of basic advocacy for the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people is not what the discourse lacks, it is what the discourse needs to *move past* already. Everybody is well-versed and comfortable with the Israel Blame Game– it drowns out and supersedes everything else, and it’s everything else that Palestinian advocacy desperately needs.

The worst thing for me about this whole Chicago Dyke March incident (and others before it) is seeing my progressive activist friends utterly fail to recognize the libels, slanders and tropes that have been used to silence, reject and violate Jews for hundreds of years, if not more. Friends who fight honorably against anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, ableism and homophobia cannot spot antisemitism, especially not among their own colleagues and allies. Worst of all is when Jews are told to step aside and shut up, since they’re white, rich, privileged and in no way oppressed—a total failure of practicing the very intersectionality we all want to acknowledge. Our only recognized oppressions are, ironically, our intersectional oppressions, whether we’re queer Jews, Jews of color, disabled Jews, immigrant Jews or more.

This exhausts me, and it breaks my heart. I wish I could get my friends and fellows to understand that while anti-Zionism is not inherently antisemitic, it often doesn’t care too much when it is. The calling-out of antisemitism must not be more offensive than promoting antisemitism. It will take a lot of advocacy and a lot of work from both Jews and non-Jews to reach the kinds of understanding we crave. Until then, if any of the above is news to you, please start your education with a very simple list: “How to Criticize Israel Without Being Antisemitic.” I hope you really read it.

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Graphic by hafetzhashud (Tumblr)

Things I’m Verbing: Indiana Man, Alabama Man and Florida Man

Today is one of those days where I want to opt out of the news cycle entirely. Any partisan take on shooting up a congressional GOP baseball team’s early morning practice is awful by default, yet I can’t help feeling that it will be become a bludgeon by the end of the day, not least from the president, despite his hopes and prayers.

Today is one of those days where I want to opt out of the news cycle entirely. Any partisan take on shooting up a congressional GOP baseball team’s early morning practice is awful by default, yet I can’t help feeling it will be become a bludgeon by the end of the day, not least from the president, despite his hopes and prayers. Meanwhile, in high Triangle Shirtwaist fashion, a massive fire at a London housing complex has horrifyingly illuminated the low esteem in which society (including landlord MPs) holds working-class life. Remember last night, when we were all simply angry about AG Jeff Sessions’ non-testimony on Russian interference with our election?

  • I clicked on Molly Ball’s profile of a freshman GOP congressman because of a tweet from Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg: “Embedded in this elegant @mollyesque profile of an Indiana congressman is a non-benign Trump dis of Mike Pence.” Yikes, non-benign is right.
  • Writing for Slate, Donna Minkowitz has scared me where I didn’t need to be scared with “How the Alt-Right Is Using Sex and Camp to Attract Gay Men to Fascism.”
  • You should follow Ironed Curtains, a blog collective featuring essays from Americans with Soviet roots. Their most impressive work to date is “Brilliant Blue Sky: Eyewitness Stories From Chernobyl,” sharing accounts from more than 100 people on the disaster’s 31st anniversary.
  • June 12 marked the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre. In honor of the 49 murdered and those who rushed to help, Dear World assembled portraits and interviews with survivors, first responders and loved ones. I wept reading through these, in large part because of the genuine love for the victims that restores their individuality.
  • We’ve talked a lot about how important Wonder Woman is for its representation of women, including Jewish women. One area where the film fell down, however, is representation of disability. Erin, the blogger behind The Geeky Gimp, presents the clearest argument yet for why the entertainment industry needs to change the conversation on disability, and facial difference in particular, as a signifier of evil.

Grim as the news has been, there have still been some light (or at least darkly humorous) takes to be had. It’s okay to enjoy them.

Stay brave, friends.

Image credit: King Lear, Great Lakes Theater, Cleveland, 2015

Things I’m Verbing: Free speech, werewolf handbooks and the 3.5 percent

I had jury duty on Thursday; happily (sorry, civic duty), I wasn’t selected from the pool, but actually happily, that meant I walked out of the Brooklyn courthouse right into the Yemeni-American Bodega Strike. It was stunning and beautiful. I’ll let this video speak for itself:

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"JUSTICE! NOW!" #bodegastrike

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It’s a wonderful antidote to all those “protesting just distracts you from the REAL problem, which you can’t fight!” thinkpieces. For more on that, see Huck magazine’s “There is no secret motive: Trump is as shambolic and as racist as he seems” and Ijeoma Oluo’s “Fuck This White Dude Game Theory.”

  • A really interesting statistic made the rounds this week, as Guardian headline announced that only 3.5% of a nation’s population can peacefully overthrow a regime. Thank research by University of Denver professor Erica Chenoweth, who also sums it up briefly and wonderfully in a TEDxBoulder talk from 2013 (link includes transcript).
  • Journalism loves navel-gazing, and one of its favorite conversations is about objectivity and evenhandedness. Who decides what neutrality is, however, is not neutral at all, as Lewis Wallace discovered this week when he was fired from Marketplace for a blog post musing on institutional power and the responsibilities of reporters to acknowledge bias and imbalance.
  • Sometimes with the news you just want to love somebody, and for me this week, it’s queer Black breast cancer survivor and activist Ericka Hart, whose “Mastectomy Story” video over at Allure is just so human and honest and fabulous.
  • Hey, meanwhile, Marvel needs to stop trying to make us feel conflicted somehow about Nazis. If you want a really good comic that will make your heart swell with joy, may I recommend How to Be a Werewolf? Queer characters, immigrant characters, multiracial characters, birth families, found families, a coffee shop, a mysterious old house on the edge of town, social anxiety… it’s so perfect. You will love it. Just go — it won’t take you that long.
  • Finally, this XKCD comic about free speech and what it really means is always handy and will never go out of style. Actual threats to free speech as enshrined in the Constitution come from the government.

It’s the weekend, friends. Stay brave.

Things I’m Verbing: Moral politics, strange medicine and the perks of being fantastic

I don’t consider myself a politics writer, even though I’m immensely concerned with politics (I tend to find them in everything else I write and think about). Sometimes lately I ask myself whether I really need to focus so hard on sharing links about Trump; Things I’m Verbing was always supposed to be more wide-ranging than that, or if it did narrow focus, it would be because I had a better idea of how to define my professional interests. (Spoiler alert: still a copy editor at heart, still interested in absolutely everything.) So, do I need to share that spreadsheet of signs of fascism? That write-up of narcissistic personality disorder and what it means for covering this impending White House? That (I believe) misguided, if well-meaning, announcement that a Hillary-voting journalist is now voluntarily writing for Breitbart?

Ultimately, for now, I can’t do anything else. It’s all I can think about, and it’s all I seek out. So, for now:

  • Thank goodness for Masha Gessen. Her newest essay for the New York Review of Books, on Trump and moral realism, is essential.
  • The Guardian has two great, interlinked pieces on the systems that elevated Trump. Shot: “Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy“; chaser: “What Gamergate should have taught us about the ‘alt-right.’
  • The Atlantic, which has a wonderful science section, put out an interesting article yesterday, about how we should actually consider Trump’s relationship to science. I’m generally skeptical of “no really, it won’t be that bad!” articles, but this is a nuanced analysis of something a lot of people are very frightened about.
  • Here’s a headline I never thought I’d click on, much less truly enjoy: from the Los Angeles Review of Books, “Doctor Strange and the Trump Presidency.” I’ve given this Marvel film a miss thus far, but you don’t need to know much of anything about it; the essay explains the national mood among a certain set very well.
  • Sidling over to some further film criticism, I actually agree with Slate on this one: “J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts Flirts With Gay Allegory. Its Sequels Should Go All the Way.” Contains spoilers, but hey, I think you should see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — I went in with no expectations and knowing it would have problems (oh boy, it did), and yet I came out absolutely loving it.

Things I’m Verbing: Oh God, Not the Debates Edition

Weeks ago, a friend invited me to join her in the audience for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, which, no-brainer! It was only yesterday that I finally made the connection between the date we’re attending — tonight — and the fact of the first presidential debate, also tonight. I thought maybe that meant we could escape enduring it altogether, but not only is this Stephen “Stephen Colbert” Colbert we’re talking about, but actor/White House adviser Kal Penn and The West Wing star Rob Lowe are the guests. At least it’s going to be much better than exposing myself to the unedited horrorshow firsthand.

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Good luck and godspeed, my friends. Below, have some stories that are not about the debates at all, while I go devour the GQ cover story on Lin-Manuel Miranda and what he’s doing next. (Maybe you can just listen to the cabinet battles between Hamilton and Jefferson on loop instead: OCR#Ham4Ham and #WhiteHouse4WestWing4Ham versions.)

  • The New York Times Magazine has a sober, fascinating look at a design and architecture question: “Can You Erase the Trauma From a Place Like Sandy Hook?
  • Sometimes apps are in fact developed for good and not for evil. Sapiens profiles Joshua Hinson, a member of the Chickasaw Nation who felt disconnected from his own ancestral language. So he built both software and community institutions to get all generations speaking it again.
  • Michelle Goldberg, writing for Slate, has some wonderful insights on the true tragedy of Ralph Nader’s campaigns and movement: “In the 2000 election, the high priest of anti-consumerism turned politics into the very thing he hated most.”
  • I don’t watch High Maintenance, but after E. Alex Jung’s look at how one episode deconstructs the tired and tiring “gay best friend of straight woman” dynamic, maybe I should. In some ways, I’d like to pair this with “Who Gets to Write What?” from author Kaitlyn Greenidge, about writing what you know, cultural appropriation and the ongoing mess regarding aggrieved writer Lionel Shriver.
  • Racked has a visually beautiful and totally fascinating history of pockets for women. If you’re a fellow, this sentence probably leaves you utterly cold, but I guarantee most women have the following response:

On a side note, I’ve started a new blog for personal essays and their ilk, if you’re interested. Today I posted “Let’s go visit the swans,” which is both about animals, continuity and memory and about how dogs, suburbs and moms are dopey and wonderful all at once. I hope you like it, and I’d love to hear what you think. Thanks for reading!