IfNotNow Stands With Queer Jews and Against The Occupation

A Public Response to the Discourse Around the Celebrate Israel Parade Disruptions

Note: This statement was written, edited, and reviewed by queer and trans member-leaders of IfNotNow, including queer members of the Orthodox community.

June 5 marked the 50th anniversary of the military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. While many of our communal institutions celebrate this anniversary of the so-called “reunification” of Jerusalem, we at IfNotNow believe that 50 years of Occupation are 50 years too many, and that our community must mourn, oppose, and resist the Occupation. We see 50 years as a wake-up call to the Jewish community; now is the time to confront this legacy, to declare that the Occupation is a moral crisis for our community, and to chart a different future, grounded in freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.

Every year at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, different Jewish institutions and people march together under the banners of various themed contingents. This year, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) coordinated several non-violent disruptions to respond to these groups’ tacit or explicit support for the Occupation. Members of IfNotNow NYC also participated in protests at the parade in coordination with JVP. We are grateful for the logistical efforts undertaken by JVP organizers to ensure the safety of our participants, as well as the parade-goers.

IfNotNow chose to disrupt the parade by demonstrating in front of Hillel International and unfurling a banner displaying the words “No Celebration With Occupation.” As a youth-led movement focused on ending the American Jewish community’s support for the Occupation, we see it as our responsibility to take moral leadership and to challenge members of groups like Hillel, which has a history of stifling dissent, including siding with their pro-Occupation donors over LGBTQ youth.

We were not involved in planning any of the JVP-led disruptions of the parade. However, we feel compelled to respond to the the public discourse that has focused on one specific disruption. A group of queer-identified JVP members disrupted the march by blocking the LGBT contingent, which hosted a range of Jewish LGBTQ groups. Despite the fact that this action was planned and executed by queer Jews and only one of several protests that day, the disruption has been characterized by some as a “homophobic attack” and a “hate crime.” We reject these accusations, which not only erase the identities of the queer and trans JVP members in question, but also disregard the truly violent hate crimes that queer and trans people face every day in this country, in Israel, and in Palestine. JVP’s action was an intentional choice by queer Jews to challenge other queer Jews to acknowledge and reject the Occupation.

While IfNotNow chose to challenge a different part of the parade, we understand why JVP’s queer contingent chose theirs. Queer people are often tokenized in pro-Israel advocacy, a phenomenon commonly known as “pinkwashing.” Israel is presented as gay-friendly to deflect from human rights abuses carried out against Palestinians, while conservatives use this narrative to present anti-Occupation groups as homophobic. Jewish organizations cannot use queer Jews to mask the reality of the Celebrate Israel Parade: progressive groups and marchers were forbidden from mentioning the Occupation, while multiple right-wing groups openly celebrated “50 Years of Judea and Samaria.”

As IfNotNow, we believe queer Jews, especially those marginalized by their families and religious communities, deserve the right to be seen and celebrated by the larger Jewish community. We honor the bravery of trailblazing LGBTQ organizations in the Orthodox community, like Jewish Queer Youth (JQY), in supporting young people to be their full selves. Homophobia and transphobia should be unacceptable in all Jewish communities, regardless of political affiliation and religious observance.

We sympathize with those who were made uncomfortable by the action, particularly queer Jews who chose to march out of a desire to be seen and heard in the Jewish community. We recognize that risks of communal and familial rejection are often greater for the Orthodox and religiously observant queer community, and we see the courage of JQY members in marching proudly as Jewish and Queer. We also recognize the risks that queer anti-Occupation Jews take while putting their bodies on the line to bring attention to human rights abuses. And we recognize the even greater risks that queer Palestinians face under a system of Occupation.

We believe we need to learn from and support queer Orthodox Jews. And we refuse to let anyone use queer and trans pain and trauma to justify the Occupation.

To queer Jewish youth: we love you, we see you, and we are here for you.

To queer Jews against the Occupation: we love you, we see you, and we are here for you too.

We are fighting for our Jewish community to be one where the path to acceptance for queer Jews and other marginalized Jews does not require marching alongside organizations such as the Hebron Fund, which actively obstructs Palestinians’ daily life and liberty, or participating in a celebration of the “reunification” of Jerusalem — which is a really a celebration of the beginning of the Occupation. We believe that queer Jews deserve spaces for, led, and shaped by queer Jews. We are working for a community that will call for freedom and dignity for all people: Israelis, Palestinians, and LGBTQ people of all communities.

We hope you will join us.