How liberal Zionists are causing deep schisms in the American left

Alex Rubinstein
Jul 23, 2017 · 11 min read
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Pro-Israel provocateurs generated mass outrage among the liberal commentariat after they were booted from the Chicago Dyke March, partly because the Zionist agents refused to roll up a pride flag with a Star of David superimposed over it at the explicitly anti-Zionist rally.

As a Jewish reporter covering left and right wing social movements, and personally, an anti-Zionist, I refrained from writing about it, in part over the PR fallout, and abuse, I knew I would suffer. I tweeted about it twice.

And I let it rest. I argued about it with some friends. I helped other friends sympathize with the organizers.

Then, Slut Walk Chicago, an activist group that protests patriarchy, made the bold move to ban “Zionist displays,” despite the torrent of liberal Zionist backlash the Dyke March faced.

Of course, I was not surprised to see hip liberal journalists throw their support behind the mass Twitter condemnation of anti-colonial black activists. Eve Peyser of VICE blamed “hardcore lefty” anti-imperialist activists in Chicago for equating Judaism with Israel, an argument Zionists have been making to smear black and Palestinian activists for decades; to the effect that any left wing opposition to the occupying state is at its root anti-Jewish.

Peyser, by blaming organizers of color for equating Judaism with Israel, places the cards on the table for Israel in its propaganda campaign against left wing opposition. Moreover, it fuels white bourgeois paranoia that anti-Semitism holds meaningful power in the left hemisphere, especially among black and Muslim groups. You may hear an argument to that effect from any prominent liberal Zionist in DC, who on the other hand goes to great lengths to ignore flagrant Nazism in Ukraine. In this sense, Peyser, VICE noose, and a countless number of so-called progressive outlets, through their statements, carry water for Zionists. They can walk that path even as liberal non-Zionists. And they do it on the same day Zionist forces brutalized Muslim worshipers; one video shows an IDF soldier kicking a man in the face while he was in prayer in the street.

I say I am not surprised to see Peyser take this line because I am familiar with her or her work. I am not. I am however aware of her outlet’s brand of socially chauvinist propaganda for Israel.

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VICE’s brand of sexy, hip feminism cuts the faces of women out of the thumbnail to get clicks, a not uncommon practice in media.

Peyser’s assessment that anyone on the left “equates” Israel and Judaism is yet another anti-dialectical conclusion. Zionism and Judaism are not being equated. The meaning of an image claimed by two separate ideologies is merely blurred by the material context, which is to say mostly by a highly sophisticated, pro-Zionist PR campaign to whitewash rampant human rights abuse and lawless settlerism.

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Far right Zionists equate their critics’ non-religious opposition to Israel’s behavior as a state to anti-Semitism, and in the same breath say that Palestinians aren’t a people. Their liberal propaganda counterparts share fake news in order to characterize Palestinians as anti-gay. They paint their fighter jets pink for “breast cancer awareness,” while restricting Palestinian’s access to cancer treatment. IDF soldiers gunning down a man running to catch a cab to his final chemotherapy treatment, however, is given brief mention in the Zionist press, and a headline stretching predictably far to avoid the impression the IDF killed someone.

In the Daily Beast’s article on the Dyke March, they refer to the Pride flag with the blue Star of David superimposed on it as being a “Jewish pride flag.” The article’s tagline is “Identity Politics.”

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Notice how Daily Beast’s headline keeps the conversation on anti-Jewishness and the lead refers to anti-Semitism, not Zionism.

When I saw Peyser’s tweet admonishing the Slut Walk for anti-Semitism, I felt compelled to say something. I have at many times been a victim of anti-Semitism, so weaponizing it against already marginalized people struck me as cynical. It also doesn’t occupy much space on the left, from my experience.

There is a kind of casual antisemitism on the left; the patriarchal activist refers to Jewish men only by their last name. The radical feminist uses the cringe-inducing term “ZioNazi” with suspicious frequency. But this isn’t a force on the left; it’s mostly ignorance and micro-aggression from young urbanites.

I don’t mean that anti-Semitism is not a current threat. I have faced it personally.

You’ll notice the KKK leader, a radical white Christian, in the interview, conflates Judaism and Zionism, as do, unsurprisingly, radical terrorist Jews that kick families from their homes.

In a perhaps too hasty reply to Peyser, I tweeted that a “flag with a Star of David on it is an Israeli flag. Color doesn’t matter. Would be cool for lefty Jews to avoid imagery invoking imperialism.” Then, “if the left still knew how to think dialectically this would not be a problem. Everybody is an identity politician now.”

After a month since the news about the Dyke March broke, I had forgotten that the Star of David imposed on the flag was blue. In my tweet, my remark that “color doesn’t matter” referred to the flag being a Pride flag, and not blue and white. It did not refer to the color of the star. In essence, my remark was meant to say the flag being a rainbow one did not sufficiently separate it from Zionism as Israeli Pride flags are not uncommon in Israel, and what they represent is essential to its legitimacy, and ultimately the support it gets, from liberal Western governments, oligarchs, and sympathizers.

My suggestion that putting a Star of David on a Pride flag makes it Zionist was understood as to be one condemning the Star itself to be a universal symbol of oppression, and received massive backlash from leftists as that. Magen David does not necessary evoke Zionism on a flag, but when centered over a rainbow flag, or other background, it certainly does and could. I asked for examples of “Jewish flags” and was tweeted all images that predate Israel. I lost several prominent followers. Many insinuated that I myself am anti-Semitic. A particularly nasty one invoked the Nazi’s version of the Star of David marking Jewish people. Typically, I see that image on Twitter when alt-right, self- proclaimed “white identitarians” get angry with my reporting and tweet pictures of something like my face superimposed on a Jew behind bars in a concentration camp.

Notice how, again, identity politics flips the conversation to Jewish oppression, rather than discussing Israel.

In Sartrean existentialist philosophy, which has historic popularity among Jewish intellectuals, a person’s “essence” is developed over time, but, it is argued, the individual exists first as nothing. This is considered the distinguishing feature of humanity; free will. And it shows how human existence is elevated from that of any old thing, say, an Israeli Pride flag, which has already been essentially determined a priori.

Jean-Paul Sartre, an activist against the Nazi occupation of France, once wrote:

If one considers an article of manufacture as, for example, a book or a paper-knife — one sees that it has been made by an artisan who had a conception of it; and he has paid attention, equally, to the conception of a paper-knife and to the pre-existent technique of production which is a part of that conception and is, at bottom, a formula. Thus the paper-knife is at the same time an article producible in a certain manner and one which, on the other hand, serves a definite purpose, for one cannot suppose that a man would produce a paper-knife without knowing what it was for. Let us say, then, of the paperknife that its essence — that is to say the sum of the formulae and the qualities which made its production and its definition possible — precedes its existence. The presence of such-and-such a paper-knife or book is thus determined before my eyes. Here, then, we are viewing the world from a technical standpoint, and we can say that production precedes existence … God makes man according to a procedure and a conception, exactly as the artisan manufactures a paper-knife, following a definition and a formula. Thus each individual man is the realisation of a certain conception which dwells in the divine understanding. In the philosophic atheism of the eighteenth century, the notion of God is suppressed, but not, for all that, the idea that essence is prior to existence; something of that idea we still find everywhere, in Diderot, in Voltaire and even in Kant. Man possesses a human nature; that “human nature,” which is the conception of human being, is found in every man; which means that each man is a particular example of a universal conception, the conception of Man. In Kant, this universality goes so far that the wild man of the woods, man in the state of nature and the bourgeois are all contained in the same definition and have the same fundamental qualities. Here again, the essence of man precedes that historic existence which we confront in experience.

It is within this framework that somebody could see the flag, and uses of the Star of David, as Zionist symbols. That thing I was talking about earlier — context — of human existence — must be considered in our assessment. A Palestinian person, whose character first starts off, in essence, as everyone: nothing, but with the burden to define oneself through action, is always bound to confront others — as well as the material conditions of their lived experience. Sartre once described confronting others in a play by saying “Hell is other people.” To Palestinians, those people may be the people arguing that Palestinians don’t exist as a people.

French President Macron argued recently that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. In this estimation, both the liberal and far right Zionist varieties view it as a form of Ethno-supremacy. In the lived experience we have, we see the brutalization of Muslim Palestinian worshippers by the IDF, and Palestinians make up the largest refugee population in the world. They’ve been evicted and largely ghettoized by the Israeli forces at home, and the United States Congress is considering criminalizing non-violent economic resistance to it.

The flag — its popularity in Israel, the purpose of its production, its PR value, its role in legitimizing an apartheid state to liberal Zionists, whether its purchase conformed to the rally’s support of BDS, the motivations of the person holding it (again, paid pro-Israel operatives), and in what context it was displayed (again, a black-run explicitly pro-Palestinian group of LGBTQ activists, not Chicago’s hyper-capitalist Pride march, which would have made a great alternative protest for two pro-Israel lobbyists to go to. Eleanor Anderson, one of the trolls, oddly, wrote that she had been going to it for four years)— these things have to be considered together in this discussion of the nature of the flag.

The star must also be distinguished in this manner; uniquely. In a better world, the Star of David would have a universal conception that we could point to which would grant association with the image solely to Judaism. In an ideal world, Zionism wouldn’t be here and Zionists wouldn’t try to convince us that not supporting Israel is anti-Semitic. The universality presumed over the Star is intellectually dishonest. An IDF tag is just that — an IDF tag; an indicator of an apartheid state and not Judaism, though it has six points.

To flags, there is a certain chauvinism, sure. One wouldn’t think that a Star of David in that manner, would one? My earliest experience with it was probably as a charm around my mother’s neck. In adulthood, it was on the tag of the yarmulk I would wear when I’d help make a minyan.

One Jewish person who was especially critical of my tweet argued the Star of David should not be trashed because of Zionists, and that it represents preservation in the face of historic oppression. I am not opposed to this. I never said it deserves trashing, nor that it is undeserving of reclaiming.

In the context of historic oppression, the Star of David is a symbol of preservation. In the context of the “‘historic existence which we confront in experience,” Palestine today, the Star could carry different meaning. Palestinians, who face a different set of material conditions that relate them to the symbol than Jews on Twitter, may see it differently. Twitter user Keyboard Resistor pointed out how even the Star, on its own, has been used in association with ethnic expulsion and apartheid by Zionist settlers.

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This is not to say, as was suggested, that the Star of David should be scrapped or necessarily “equals Israel” in every incarnation. This duality, undoubtedly, creates a difficult space for LGBTQ Jews to navigate, but, it is said our culture is creative, finds solutions, and perseveres in the face of lies that authoritarian governments put out about us.

Jews are all about resistance, right? I see this space as narrowed a bit, but navigable, and certainly a better shake than being Palestinian. Nor is waving an Israeli Pride flag in the US an act of resistance. In fact, the leftist mantra that “if it is inaccessible to the poor, it is neither radical nor revolutionary,” rings especially true here.

But the material understanding of the conflict here; the root of the politicization of the Star, is again, Zionists wanting us to conflate Judaism and Zionism to discredit their opponents as racist, to anti-black ends. I do not advocate giving up on these symbols. But I do not place the blame over the meaning of the symbols getting mixed up on “hardcore lefties.” I blame the Zionists who are using the Star of David to justify an ethno-nationalist agenda and today, employing cynical psuedo-Southern Strategy-type PR operations to win over American Jews and divide Pride by race.

It is not my intention to misrepresent the history of radical Jewish iconography or say that a Star of David can not be used tastefully. I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen Dyke March-style Pride protests in Israel, by Jews, that have no image associations with Zionism apart from their rejection of it. We can split hairs about symbols and contexts all day. I didn’t want to write this story until I recieved such massive blowback for my tweet about Peyser’s, which in my estimation exposed ideological failings of the new “lefty” identity politicians incapable of seeing the flag at the Dyke March as exactly what it was — a Zionist propaganda tool. Devoid of dialectics, and since any attempt at nuance was rejected, the liberal Zionist punditry threw its massive weight behind the Israeli government in their propaganda effort to smear left wing resistance. And the conversation about the march all the sudden stopped being about Zionism and started being about the anti-Semitism of some villainous black women activists in Chicago.

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