Identity Politics

We Were Kicked Off Chicago’s Dyke March for Not Being ‘the Right Kind of Jew’

Two Jewish lesbians were ejected from Chicago’s Dyke March because of their Stars of David/‘Pride’ flags. The author says the organizers’ anti-Semitism is alarming and insidious.

On June 24, some 1,500 people joined the Chicago Dyke March, in what seemed like a utopia of acceptance and respect for people of all orientations, races, nationalities and backgrounds — or it almost was.

According to the Windy City Times, “it seemed as if the entire gender, racial and sexual spectrum was represented, walking hand-in-hand and demonstrating a powerful unity as they chanted "We are Dyke March" in English and Spanish.”

Then, organizers “ejected three people carrying Jewish Pride flags.”

Before she was singled out and, according to her, shouted over, cursed at, interrogated, and ultimately forced out by organizers for carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David against a rainbow background, Eleanor Shoshany Anderson had adored the annual Chicago Dyke March.

“It was my fourth Chicago Dyke March, and I love this institution. When I was first coming out, it meant the world to me,” Anderson told The Daily Beast.

Now she is looking at where she fits into the Chicago Dyke March, and even the progressive queer circles that have been integral to her identity.

“I had hoped to prove to myself that it would be okay to be openly Jewish in a progressive circle, and unfortunately that’s not what happened,” she said.

When Anderson first arrived at the starting point for the march with her flag, a person in an organizer’s t-shirt questioned her, saying, “We don’t allow imperialist flags. Is that an Israeli flag?”

Anderson said, “I was taken aback for sure, but I said, ‘No, this is a Jewish pride flag. This is the Star of David.’ She [the organizer]  said ‘okay’ and walked away. That certainly gave me some pause but I marched — and the march itself was without incident.”

After the march, in the gathering area for the rally and community picnic at Piotrowski Park, Anderson walked over to Laurie Grauer, another marcher with a Jewish pride flag with whom she attended the march.

Then they were “accosted” by two people, one carrying a Palestinian flag and the other wearing clothes with Palestinian flag patches, according to Anderson, yelling “How dare you carry an Israeli flag.”

“I started to explain, ‘No, this is a Jewish pride flag. This is the Star of David,’” Anderson said. “But they really were not interested in hearing it. They were swearing. They were talking over us.”

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Anderson also stressed that she refused to discuss her personal views on Israel (nor did she during her interview with The Daily Beast). “I just said, ‘I’m here as a Jew. I’m here as a Jew.’’

At this point, Anderson said people were shouting over them, and she walked away. Then she got a call from Grauer saying she had been kicked out. “I was standing in the middle of the park, and I felt scared to move. I felt if I moved at all, the people would see my flag and they would find me and kick me out, too.”

Anderson found Grauer near the edge of the park, crying. According to Anderson, shortly thereafter, an organizer who identified herself as “a Jewish person who had been sent by the organizers to speak with us about our flags,” approached her.

She told Anderson, “Your flag looks too much like Israeli flags because of the star, and that it is triggering to people and it makes them feel unsafe.”

Apparently, the irony of singling someone out and removing her from an event because of her Jewishness and then telling her she makes others feel unsafe was lost on the organizer.

Anderson said she tried to voice her own concerns about her well-being and security as a lesbian being kicked out of a Pride march for celebrating her Jewishness. “I said ‘You know, being told that my Jewish pride is unacceptable, that I can’t be visibly Jewish makes me feel unsafe, like it actually makes me feel unsafe.’” Her plea fell on deaf ears.

“They [organizers] just kept stating over and over again ‘This is unacceptable. This is too triggering,” Anderson said. “More people came over. I felt very out-numbered, and they were talking over me. It was clear that this was something that was unwinnable, and I left. Or, more accurately, they drove me out.”

In official statements, the organizers of the Chicago Dyke March have consistently said those carrying the Jewish pride flag were “asked to leave.” By the accounts from Anderson and Grauer, it seems like it was not a request but an order forced on them.

The Daily Beast made multiple attempts to reach out to the organizers of the Chicago Dyke March for comment.

Since the incident the organizers have issued two statements.

The first statement was posted on June 25. It reads: “Sadly, our celebration of dyke, queer, and trans solidarity was partially overshadowed by our decision to ask three individuals carrying Israeli flags superimposed on rainbow flags to leave the rally. The decision was made after they repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations with Chicago Dyke Mark [sic] Collective members.”

Anderson repeatedly stressed she did not discuss her views on Israel — and she and Grauer have repeatedly said they explained they were showing Jewish pride, rather than Israel or Zionist pride.

Grauer said when Dyke March participants began interrogating her about her views on Israel, she said she was a Zionist who supported both Israeli and Palestinian statehood. She said they responded, “‘No, you can’t believe both ways.’”

In the second statement, which was released on June 27, the Chicago Dyke March accused the women of disrupting the march’s chants and specifically “replacing the word ‘Palestine’ with “everywhere,” saying: “From everywhere to Mexico, border walls have got to go.”

Anderson and Grauer have adamantly denied this allegation. Overall, Anderson said the two statements from the Chicago Dyke March organizers were  “inflammatory and inaccurate.”

The second statement focused on stressing that the Chicago Dyke March was explicitly “anti-Zionist” and stated “Zionism is an inherently white-supremacist ideology.” It also stated, “We welcome the support we have received from Jewish allies and marchers who are as invested in liberation as we are.”

The part mentioning “Jewish allies and marchers” linked to the website for Jewish Voices for Peace, which promotes the boycott, divest, and sanction movement against Israel and, according to the Anti-Defamation League, is the “largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist group in the United States.”

Despite the organizers’ attempts to paint their behavior towards the three women with Jewish pride flags as being about Israel, not about their Jewishness, their initial behavior and their doubling down suggests otherwise.

What happened at the Dyke March in Chicago was like a strawman demonstration of anti-Semitism.

It centered on Jews displaying a Star of David. It is the same star that was in the background of one of Donald Trump’s asinine tweets about Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street — which people, especially on the left, were quick to point out as anti-Semitic last year. It is also the same star Hitler forced the ill-fated Jews under his Nazi empire to wear.

(For a full explanation of why the Chicago Dyke March’s response was anti-Semitic, I recommend reading Yair Rosenberg’s piece in Tablet and at the very least, consider this small pearl of wisdom:  “If one of Judaism’s classic symbols makes you feel ‘threatened,’ the problem is with you, not the symbol.”)

Now, liberal, progressive Jews, like myself, must reconcile with what it means when groups where we thought we were welcomed are actually hostile to displays of Jewishness.

Yes, some Jews have defended of the Chicago Dyke March. As noted above, Jewish Voices for Peace has stood by, as have Jews who have declared themselves to be anti-Zionist.

However, that may actually highlight a problem with the treatment of Jews in some progressive circles: we are accepted only if we hold hostile views towards Israel and don’t vocalize concerns about Zionism.

Anderson has seen this problem play out in the responses to the Chicago Dyke March.

“Some Jews who were there said that they felt comfortable. The big difference is all of the people that I have seen make these statements were known anti-Zionists,” she said. “I am not known by the community on that policy, one way or the other. I wasn’t willing to submit to their test. I felt I should be able to be there as a Jew without being the ‘right’ kind of Jew. That is why I was kicked out.”

The Chicago Dyke March also highlighted the uncomfortable fact that the respect progressive groups preach for marginalized people, especially in regards to naming the discrimination they face, may not always hold for Jews.

Even though, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 51.3 per cent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in America in 2015 were directed against Jews — by far the most of any religious group — when Jewish people called something out as anti-Semitic, the organizer of the Chicago Dyke March’s response was to justify it as merely anti-Zionist.

What happened at the Chicago Dyke March is not a one-off example where Jews in progressive causes are made to compromise or silence some part of their identity.

I, and other liberal Jewish feminists, experienced such a situation when the Women’s Strike occurred this past March.

The charter called for the “decolonization of Palestine” without any mention of Israel’s sovereignty and without any country, other than the United States, being singled out. Also, one of the prominent organizers was a convicted terrorist who was implicated in killing two Israeli college students.

A year earlier at the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Creating Change conference in January 2016, an optional Shabbat reception on Friday night was initially canceled because the executive director thought it would be “intensely divisive” to hold an event that was co-hosted by the leading Israel-based LGBTQ advocacy group, Jerusalem Open House.

While the event was ultimately reinstated, protesters reportedly targeted the event and blocked Israeli guests from speaking to the crowd.

These events still fell into a category where Jews could say the behavior of the progressive organizers was anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. After the blatant display of anti-Semitism at the Chicago Dyke March, progressive Jews are at a juncture where we must figure out how we navigate our place in a community where we had assumed our Jewishness was welcomed.

Anderson said she has been contemplating this very issue — and she is drawing upon the wisdom of one of America’s greatest LGBT equality leaders and icons, who also happened to be Jewish.

“Harvey Milk said, ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are,’” Anderson said. “I think for gay people, that has been the number one tool for changing hearts and minds. I think now is the time for progressive Jews to start doing that.”

Admittedly, it seems odd at best to think progressive Jews should “come out” in America. However, it is not about merely identifying ourselves but challenging stereotypes and expectations for how we must behave in our communities.

“People just have a very one-sided view of what it’s like to be Jewish in America and all the different views Jews can hold,” Anderson said. “I understand why people have been quiet. I have been quiet. But if we don’t speak, others dictate the conversation, and we get pushed out even more.”

Grauer is optimistic that, at the very least, the strong emotions surrounding the Chicago Dyke March will force an open discussion and, ideally, change.

“Hopefully, now that we have shared how we feel, how do we come together towards something better — whether it be a way we understand each other or the way we have relationships with Israel and Palestine and with people around these issues?" she said. "I would love to see us move towards something around those lines. It may be too soon for that to happen, but that’s where I would love to see this move. I think everyone — I would hope everyone — would, as well.”

For Grauer, it is “too soon to tell” if she would march in next year’s Dyke March. “I want to make sure that we’re marching together and accepting each other [and] our differences and recognizing that we’re here for a good reason together. If that’s the kind of Dyke March it turns into, that’s the kind of one, I’d be proud to walk in it.”

Anderson, on the other hand, was dubious she would join or, for that matter, feel secure at the next Dyke March. “I think I would feel physically unsafe if I came back with that same flag,” she said. “I think I would feel physically unsafe if I came back with anything short of a forehead tattoo that said ‘Israel is the worst thing that has ever existed’ — and I am not going to play that game. I should be able to be there as a Jew without passing a test.”