By Mikhal Weiner
As a gay, Jewish, Israeli woman, I understand the premise behind the controversial ban of the Jewish Pride Flag (a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the middle) at last week’s Washington, D.C., Dyke March.
But the conversation around the ban — and, indeed, the ban itself — has been simplistic and lacking in nuance, especially for such a complex issue. It’s an issue that must be addressed for future marches in order to ensure that the Dyke March remains a place where Israelis and Palestinians can march together in support.
Moments of conflict, like this one, are opportunities for growth, for compromise, if only we can recognize that this isn’t a zero-sum situation.
I commend the D.C. Dyke March organizers for trying to create a nationalism-free space, especially in an age when nationalism is one of the scarier ills plaguing society. Likewise, I commend the Jewish dykes who stood up for their right to celebrate with their symbols. That said, I believe both groups are operating from a place of naiveté.
To equate a rainbow flag with a Jewish star in the center with Zionism is incorrect. Not all Zionists are Jews and not all Jews are Zionists. This approach also cheapens the richness of experience that Jewish people experience when proudly making connections between the religious and spiritual parts of themselves with their sexual or gender identity. My Jewishness and my gayness are connected and I have no interest in separating them. The D.C. Dyke March organizers acknowledged this when they wrote, “We love being Jewish and we love being dykes. As with all identities, there have been paths and twists and turns to reach that conclusion. We had to fight for them and we had to grow to love them. At this point it feels amazing to be able to say both of those things with certainty.”
This sentiment resonates strongly for me, which is why I want to feel at home in both worlds. Right now, I feel as though I belong in neither world. In LGBTQ circles, I’m always a little nervous when saying that I’m Israeli and that Israel will always be, partially, my home. In American Jewish institutions, I feel uncomfortable admitting my liberal ideas and harsh criticism of Israeli policies. Trying to be a liberal, gay Jew from Israel is like dancing delicately on eggshells.
I believe that the organizers truly wanted marchers to feel free as gay Jews and they didn’t see this ban as an impediment to that. As they stated, “It was never a flag that we felt directly connected to.” But they are assuming that untangling the connection between Jewishness and Israel, a connection that has been indoctrinated as synonymous for generations, is as easy as ‘moving the star’, as one marshal said in a video. It’s not. I understand what they mean when they say that “Israel has taken Jewish symbols and converted them into symbols of nationalism” — it’s a problematic conflation. But it’s important to acknowledge that, currently, those two identities remain enmeshed to many people. Both to the many American Jews who have come of age in a construct that equates the two and to we Israeli Jewish gay folks. If they truly want to dismantle this paradigm, it should be through an in-depth look at the relationship between Jewish America and Israeli nationality, and it should be in conversation with those who feel differently than they do.
Likewise, I truly believe the marchers when they say that this ban, intended as a stand against violent nationalism, felt like anti-Semitism to them. But anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism, although the two are related. To equate both terms is to equate Judaism with a version of nationalism and to devalue the worth of Jewish achievements and experience in the Diaspora. Jews are, indeed, a nation. But we are also a culture, a religion, a philosophy, a collection of traditions, a musical history, a set of ethics and values, a way of seeing the world unbound by geography. Israel is one part of all of this. Diaspora Judaism developed important and beautiful philosophical texts, poetry and music long before the first Zionist conference in 1897. And yes, it is extremely important to point out and stand up against anti-Semitism immediately when we see it, but let’s not make the mistake of abusing the term anti-Semitism to call out any criticism of the state of Israel and the Zionist idea.
What if everyone, on both sides of the divide, listened actively to those whose opinions make us cringe, instead of shutting them out? After all, banning those we disagree with will not make them disappear. If we listen attentively, putting aside our aggression, our provocations and trolling, we might actually learn something about where the other person is coming from. Assuming that we’re all intelligent humans and have come by these opinions through education and experience, maybe there’s a way for a compromise. Or at least a deeper understanding of why our actions make other people feel uncomfortable or marginalized.
Compromise, of course, means not everyone gets everything they want. Maybe we decide that denouncing nationalism is so important that no national symbols or symbols read as nationalistic can be shown — including the Jewish Pride Flag and the Palestinian flag, which is, at its core, a national symbol. Maybe we decide that no religious symbols can be shown on flags because flags tend to feel national whichever way you slice them. Maybe we decide that everything — flags, posters, T-shirts and other insignia — should be focused on the actual theme of the march, which this year was housing inequality and displacement of marginalized populations in Washington, D.C.
That theme is potent, crucial and speaks to the intersectionalism that the queer liberation movement strives for. The organizers of the Dyke March should be applauded for choosing it. I wish I was writing about that instead. Unfortunately, the theme got lost in the disarray due to this avoidable controversy. Now, if you search “DC Dyke March Official Website” on Google, the first two full pages are about the ban.
I’m not saying that my suggestions above are solutions to the problem. But they’re other options if we are willing to inhabit a space in which we are neither winners nor losers — a true rainbow of liberalism. If only people on both sides were willing to lose a little in order to win much more. If only we could grit our teeth and do the excruciating work of true listening with an understanding of the humanity of the person in front of us. If only we saw diversity of opinions about even the most controversial of issues as an opportunity to deepen our perception. What would we achieve then?
Mikhal Weiner is a writer and musician from Israel who currently lives in New York. Her work has appeared in GO Magazine, Lilith and Entropy Magazine.