Jewsplaining the Dyke March
If you don’t know about the kerfuffle at the Chicago Dyke March between organizers, pro-Palestinians, and three members of the pro-Israel group A Wider Bridge, please Google it. But be warned, very few details are clear. I’ve read statements and accounts from people at the march and from representative groups, and none of them agree. Even the Chicago Dyke March’s own official statement conflicts on several points with that of core Dyke March Collective member and organizer Alexis Martinez in a Windy City Times interview. Were the Wider Bridge women asked not to display their flags, which resembled the flag of Israel? Were the Wider Bridge women abusive and disruptive? Were they asked to leave? Did they leave? Were pro-Palestinian marchers abusive to the A Wider Bridge women? Was anti-Semitism involved? Who started it?
These questions have no easy answers… except for the one about anti-Semitism, but we’ll get to that later.
There had already been friction between A Wider Bridge and the anti-Israel wing of the pro-Palestinian faction. Laurel Grauer, one of the A Wider Bridge marchers who may or may not have been asked to leave the march for flag-waving and/or harassing speech or chanting or behavior, had had a text conversation with a Dyke March organizer before the march asking if they would be protested there. The organizer said no, but made clear the position of the organizers in support of the Palestinian struggle.
In addition to its LGBTQ advocacy on the part of queer Israeli Jews, Arabs and others, A Wider Bridge is an emphatically Zionist organization, if uncritical enthusiasm for Israel is Zionism. A perusal of its website makes this clear. If an anti-Israel stance were part of a stated position of my march, one I didn’t want challenged, I would ask an organization that announces, “We see the independent state of Israel as the most important project of Jewish people,” not to represent that view at my march. Not that one can’t be pro-Israel and anti-Zionist at the same time, or pro-Israel but anti-Occupation, but those positions rarely divide or interweave in any simple way, either on the Palestinian or the Jewish side, and representing ideas of such complexity in a march would require real, concentrated effort on the part of all parties.
Does the complexity of the subject mean it should have been avoided? No, I guess not. I suppose that’s why the CDM organizer told Laurel her organization would be welcome. Rather than exclude A Wider Bridge, the Chicago Dyke March organizer simply implied that Grauer and her companions were expected to behave in a manner that did not conflict with the march’s position of support for the Palestinian struggle. But the Palestinian struggle is not a one-dimensional endeavor. How not to conflict with a layered, many-faceted point of view is something clearly open to interpretation on a practical level, beyond the intellectually narrow confines of a march.
Or maybe it’s simpler than that. In January of last year, A Wider Bridge hosted a reception at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference, also in Chicago. Although that event featured Jewish groups more obviously progressive and critical of Israel than A Wider Bridge, the reception was disrupted by anti-Israel protests so hostile that it had to be canceled.
So it’s not as if those involved in this year’s march had no inkling there might be some friction if A Wider Bridge had a presence at there. And it’s not as if pro-Palestinian queers in Chicago don’t have a recent history of overt, disruptive hostility toward A Wider Bridge.
All parties say the A Wider Bridge women were “approached” by pro-Palestinian marchers. Considering the fiasco at the reception in 2016, it’s easy to see how those particular Jewish women might have perceived elements of that “approach” as hostile. Conversely, even anti-Occupation Jews have a tendency to push back with rhetorical anger when they sense symptoms of global anti-Semitism. So it’s entirely believable that the A Wider Bridge women were actively antagonistic in their own right, pushing the “we’re just being pro-Jewish, not anti-Palestinian” trope as far as it could go, which could easily have been too far for people with certain pro-Palestinian sensitivities.
A Wider Bridge’s immediate response after the march, denouncing the organizers and demanding an apology, betrays a lack of good faith. A dialogue with the organizers should have been sought, even after the fact. Simply slamming the march as anti-Semitic is infantile and unconstructive. What does that accomplish?
If A Wider Bridge wants to shed its reputation for pinkwashing the human rights violations of the Occupation so it can march without being scolded, it should consider incorporating some critique of the excesses of the Occupation into its mission statement. Its entire focus is on making Israel itself welcoming to non-heteronormative identities, but if it truly wants to represent the best Israeli efforts at equality to the rest of the progressive community, it has to cease eliding the elephant in the room. Equality has a meaning that is not restricted to the LGBTQ community, nor to the area inside the current boundaries of the Israeli state.
Then again, does every LGBTQ organization in the US have to include statements about US imperialist crimes against humanity? If not, why not? Too many to mention them all?
If A Wider Bridge is unwilling to criticize the Israeli Occupation when talking about equality in Israel, then it is indeed pinkwashing by omission. But if Palestinian activists, particularly queer ones, are unwilling to acknowledge the oppression doled out by their own communities in Gaza and the West Bank, they’re doing a wash job of their own, using victimization by the IDF to excuse or ignore homophobia among their own authorities. At best it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations applied to your own people.
Some allies of the march organizers suggest, rather insipidly, that A Wider Bridge planned all along to set off an incident with the specific intent to later make an accusation of anti-Semitism. And some Jewish allies of Palestine have said, “We were openly Jewish at the march, but we behaved ourselves, and no one bothered us.” Is that what you really suggest for women in a Dyke March: be well-behaved? Is that what you recommend for Jews on the left? Behave?
In lieu of waiting for any of the agonists to mature and mellow, let me suggest that, in time, you’ll realize the same skills which serve artists well in collaborative situations also work when applied to conflict resolution in the regular world, even in the horrid, pathetic world of political marches. Listening, offering constructive criticism, working together to move toward changes in practice, being respectful and calm even in the face of disrespect and vituperation, being upfront and fair — these are the strategies adults have found, time and time again, lead to good outcomes when those with whom they are working toward a common goal in good faith disagree with them. That assumes, of course, that what you seek is conflict resolution, and not just conflict.
Posturing, staking out territory, simplistic accusations, simplistic diagrams of oppression, jargon, buzzwords, holier-than-thou smugness: this is what progressive solidarity has come to mean to me when it comes to collective action. The more oppression you have to complain about, the more obnoxious behavior you can consider yourself to have license for. And you, of course, are the final judge of how much oppression you have suffered, so you, and no one else, can arrogate how shitty you can justifiably be to another person.
Nothing is as obnoxious, short of a violent mob or an oppressive regime, as a self-righteous politico surrounded by likeminded loudmouthed douchebags, going at it like a self-felating dog with jock-itch.
I’m not saying, “A Pox On Both Your Houses.” I’m saying there’s just one house represented here: the house of politically self-righteous, self-justifying, rationalizing, posturing, punk-ass bullshit.
Sure, I’ll admit I’m not above a little self-righteous posturing myself. A critical view of the history, goals and tactics of the Israeli Occupation is an important duty of a moral person seriously examining the situation in the Middle East. But for a non-Jew to assert that any action or speech on their part touching on Israel is totally free from anti-Semitism is like a white person claiming not to be racist. Anti-Semitism is rooted so deeply in European history and thought that no one raised in a nation founded by Europeans can claim to be free of it without inviting ridicule. Ridicule from me.
For those of you with shallow knowledge, the oppression of Jews in Europe didn’t begin with Hitler, or with the pogroms at the end of the 18th Century, or even the forced conversions and expulsion from Spain in 1492. The racist othering of Jews has been a project over a millennium long, an intricate, deliberate process of fact-manipulation, profiling, diagnosing and pathologizing Jews to create in the non-Jewish European imagination a creature of perverse sexuality, unwholesome appetites, deranged but powerful intellect, arcane Satanic rituals, genetic dishonesty, cosmopolitan disloyalty, hypnotic persuasiveness, syrupy voice and repellent odor.
There isn’t a land west of the Urals and north of the Mediterranean where manufacturing an alien pathology of The Jew wasn’t indulged in over many centuries. The expulsion of the entire Jewish population of England took place two centuries before Spain’s purge of the Jews. England is where the founders of the United States hailed from, you remember that, right? You know that language you speak? That’s the language of people who massacred Jews and ran them off of their island nation in 1290. Fast forward to the 1930s, when our own glorious capitalist hero, Henry Ford, published a multi-volume screed entitled “The International Jew, the world’s foremost problem.” We’ve got Holocaust deniers in our government right now. Talk about a persistent congenital illness, that’s anti-Semitism in the West.
Given its history, who could argue but that othering of the Jew resides deep in the DNA of the white Christian capitalist hetero-normative patriarchy from which none of us is entirely free? How can lefties admit to unconscious, internalized racism while refusing to admit to unconscious, internalized anti-Semitism? Examine your critiques of the Israeli Occupation. How much of your rage is due to unconscious anti-Semitism rather than legitimate argument? You say all your indignation derives from coldly observing the injustices the State of Israel has visited and continues to visit upon the Palestinians? You have no irrational anti-Jewish feeling? Or if you do, you have absolutely no problem keeping the two separate? Wow, you must be a regular über-mensch!
To be fair, it’s understood that any group effort is going to suffer internecine friction. It just happens that a movement advocating peace, equality, and inclusivity, and questioning pernicious orthodoxies, is naturally going to appear hypocritical and mentally defective when friction arises, especially friction over doctrine. Especially friction over stupid, intelligence-insulting doctrine. The blithe dismissal by the left of their own internalized anti-Semitism is hypocritical, all the more so because of the lip-service they pay to tiptoeing around micro-aggressions, and their acceptance of deterministic theories of privilege and psychology.
But worse than all the mealy-mouthed psycho-social mumbo-jumbo and petty antagonism is the collective diminishment of the person. Each fallible human being’s personal shortcomings are amplified into a blunt and stupid instrument through herd behavior. Human beings are bad enough in workaday situations. When they come together with a great aspiration, only to fail comically and miserably, the embarrassment destroys hope.
Over the past 400 days, from right to left, beginning with neo-Nazis, through the deplorables and the Alex Jones contingent, via the GOP congress, Hillary supporters, Bernie supporters, Green Partiers, all the way through to the farthest fringes of the doctrinaire left, everyone has made me so ashamed to be human, I’m ready to volunteer for a solo mission to Mars. Human beings in a swarm, a throng, a march, a phalanx, a welter or a swelter have proven utterly disappointing.
For those of you who can thrive in the herd, though, my best wishes to you. Waving flags and banging drums is not for me. I long ago gave up chanting slogans in unison with a crowd, slogans I would always have to amend under my breath with small quibbles and interpolations. I prefer to do my berating and hating and baiting from the comfort of my desk, which I intend to make the most of before it’s thrown out into the alley by my landlady, along with my pathetic pressed particles of furniture and my sorry ass.
Hey, how about getting together to fight the predatory capitalism that is devouring us all? Easier and more ego-validating to argue and torment each other in the streets of Chicago. No wonder we’re being crushed. Pathetic. Pathetic insects, cockroaches, vermin, all of us.