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: Direct action, dirty hands and Asian-Americanness

Throughout my life, I have frequently had to yell at New Yorkers to stop writing, talking and behaving like 1) New York is the only real place on earth and 2) everyone knows and 3) cares about every little New York thing that’s happening in New York at any given second. But I have to indulge in this amazing story that will fill your heart with joy if you are in the know: We can now get Big Gay Ice Cream in grocery stores and indulge in the comforts of our own homes.

And hey, this isn’t entirely New York-centric — the pints are also coming to Philadelphia!

Okay, on to the real stuff.

  • A trio of incredible reporting and writing on Asian-American experiences.
    • First, 99 Percent Invisible did an episode about Manzanar, the World War II internment camp where American citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up and imprisoned in the name of national security. Honestly, I wept listening to this. The text and photographs that accompany the podcast are worth seeing on their own, but there’s always something so haunting about actually hearing oral histories.
    • For Catapult, Vanessa Hua reflects on her feelings of being “out-Asianed” at a San Francisco spa.
    • At the Nib, Malaysian-American cartoonist Shing Yin Khor asks, “What Would Yellow Ranger Do?” There is a straight line between Manzanar and the “innocent” racism she describes in this comic.
  • Meanwhile, the Atlantic‘s Adrienne LaFrance tells us how not to write about Hawaii.
  • From the Chicago Reader, KT Hawbaker-Krohn writes about protest as self-care, and why direct action feels better than consumerism. Pair her exploration of toxic masculinity and rape culture at the University of Iowa with Jess Zimmerman’s “Why Is Male Anger So Threatening?” for Dame.
  • I’m reconnecting with my love of stories about sustainability, which has, inevitably, brought me to the great Civil Eats. This article examines Letters to a Young Farmer, and what farming (speaking of direct action) means both timelessly and in the present.
  • Writing for American Anthropologist, Jonah Rubin deconstructs a viral image about media bias and news literacy, and what extreme political views actually mean about those who hold them. Follow up with famed/respected media critic David Carr’s syllabus for his “Press Play” master class on understanding the news.

Stay brave, friends.

Things I’m Verbing: “We Reject the President-Elect” and a WPA for Journalism

I marched in my first take-over-the-streets mass protest Wednesday night. Conveniently, I’d scheduled therapy for the day after the election, but I’d done all my crying before that. I’d heard there was going to be some sort of protest at Union Square, about a 10-minute walk from my therapist’s office, so I grabbed a pita from the halal food truck parked on Sixth Avenue and planned to go eat in Madison Square Park before joining in. But I heard the roar of the crowd just then; the front of the march streamed past me. “Join in!” someone yelled. So, carrying my Gatorade under one arm and my styrofoam plate of chicken and hot sauce in my other hand — I did.

What is there to say? I’ve never felt the national mood change so direly before, and I include 9/11 in this. I’ve been glued to Twitter; it seems like the only place I can rage and grieve right now, and make no mistake: this is grief. Last night I had dinner with a dear friend; we ordered three very hot dishes by accident, but neither of us cared, because at least we could feel something, as we joked.

I’ve been thinking about this tweet a lot:

I’ve started speaking up more now. I don’t feel so constrained by the fear of getting into online fights with other people’s conservative friends and relatives. The stakes are too high. Donald Trump has spent the past year and a half promising he’s going to harm the most vulnerable among us, and I believe him.

This is not normal. I’ve never seen my nation this scared. Only one-quarter of eligible voters elected this man, and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Children are terrified. Minorities and queer people are terrified. White nationalists are openly celebrating; antisemites are getting bolder; our enemies abroad are pouring champagne. Trump voters are getting angry that they’re being called out for supporting bigotry, passively or tacitly. They were only 25%. They had voter suppression and intimidation on their side, whether they like it or not. They have no right to hold us hostage like this.

I see the desperate petitions for President Obama to simply appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, for California to secede, to eliminate the Electoral College, for the electors to go rogue and simply not empower such a profoundly dangerous, unethical and uninterested candidate. I don’t know what I believe can and will happen anymore.

Earlier this week I said I believed that “objectivity,” whatever that means in journalism, is a copout and that supporting or at least not challenging Donald Trump puts everything I hold dear in danger. I stand by that more than ever now. I know we in the media are supposed to be soul-searching right now, to be less snide and presumptive. I wonder how many have simply forgotten j-school in a bumper sticker: Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. Moreover, as I think going back through this blog will show, the media did tell the truth about Donald Trump. Voters simply didn’t care.

I am a journalist, and I believe journalism should be a force for good in the world. Over the next few weeks, I want to talk to people who can help me make that happen. I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who wants a 1930s approach to media — a New Deal, a Civilian Conservation Corps, a Works Progress Administration. I grew up in Appalachia, in “flyover country.” I will go back if someone invests in sending me. I call on media companies to put their money where their mouth is. I don’t need to be in New York to do great work. You have a surplus of immensely qualified journalists here. I suggest you use them.

Obviously this will mean figuring out what a WPA for journalists would look like. I’ve spent a lot of time outlining questions — who will these journalists serve, local or national audiences? What kind of journalism do communities really want? How can we support the journalism that’s already out there, but suffocating from being understaffed, devalued, hated, underpaid? What could we do to support journalists who expected to make it in New York, but would find themselves in communities they don’t recognize? What’s the desired end result, and is it achievable? How do you compete with for-profit journalism that simply tells audiences what they want to hear?

Please email me if you want to talk about this further: esther.bergdahl@gmail.com. I want your help, your ideas, your energy. A lot of people are out there doing good works today. This is going to be my thing. Let’s fix what we can, no matter how small the steps.

And now, a few links, though I hope you’ve also been browsing those included above:

Things I’m Verbing: Raising the dead, weighing the soul and decrypting the wires

I wish I could say that today’s link roundup is a bit late because I was hobbled by the same Internet outage that’s messing up everyone’s day, but to be quite honest, I’ve been reading this great book about the science of the afterlife all morning. Mary Roach’s Spook is my book club’s selection for October (a fact I only realized after first reading her survey of corpses and cadavers, Stiff). About a third into it, we’ve already discussed the quest to weigh the soul, the day-to-day of reincarnation investigators and the many strange ways people once believed a person gains a soul in the first place. Pair with the Gimlet podcast Science Versus two-parter on forensic science and we’ve got some wonderful topical journalism chasing clicks and book sales around my favorite holiday.

  • Also in the podcasting world, 99 Percent Invisible went for the episode that needed to happen the moment McMansionHell went viral, and it’s great. (Side note: I’m so thrilled that McMansion Hell is run by a smart, hilarious woman.)
  • Undark, a science publication you will probably enjoy, explored the less flashy side of de-extinction recently. Rather than start with dinosaurs or mammoths, why not go for bringing back something actually doable: the Martha’s Vineyard-native heath hen?
  • This is an older piece from the Atlantic, but I was trying to explain to a friend why so many people, especially millennials and younger, don’t like talking on the phone. I fell down this rabbit hole about sound transmission over cables versus cellular networks, and I remain fascinated.
  • Catapult is another home for literate and brave essays you should get to know. “Nineteen Slaves” by Jona Whipple digs into questions a lot of Americans may have, starting with “Am I really part of the problem if my family never owned other people?”
  • It’s been a good week for artist profiles and art reviews. I don’t think you should miss any of these pieces: Jeffrey Eugenides profiling Zadie Smith; Rachel Syme reviewing Marina Abramović’s latest memoir; Hilton Als considering Moonlight and what it means for depictions of gay black men on film.