Conflicting accounts of what happened at the 2017 Chicago Dyke March are causing an international media storm, with only a few items being agreed upon by all: three Zionists, of whom one is staff for the pro-Israel organization “A Wider Bridge,” were asked to leave the march, after a long discussion which failed to convince them of the impropriety of their behavior. Not in the least surprisingly, the three expelled individuals are now attempting to discredit the march, and Palestine solidarity more broadly, as anti-Semitic, even though there were many Jewish marchers who proudly displayed Jewish symbols, wearing Tshirts and carrying posters with slogans in Hebrew, and felt perfectly at ease. In the aftermath of the “controversy,” Jewish-identified organizations who participated in the march, such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Not In Our Name, also asserted they did not experience any hostility, and have issued statements in support of the march, and of the Dyke March Collective’s decision to expel the three provocateurs.
JVP went further, by posting a video denouncing A Wider Bridge’s longstanding role in pinkwashing, the Israeli government-sponsored propaganda campaign to distract from Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights by focusing instead on Israel’s alleged gay-friendly policies. As Palestinian activist in the LGBTQ community, Izzadine Mustafa stated in a Facebook post, “Their racist ideology does nothing but justify the oppression of my people. They claim to be a wider bridge, but in fact create a wider wall which divides and tricks Queer folks into supporting a racist criminal entity.”
At the Chicago March, the three were disrupting the rallying call “From Palestine to Mexico, All Walls Have to Go” with chants that erased any mention of Palestine, substituting the word “Everywhere” instead. Additionally, they were flying a flag long associated with pinkwashing (pictured below), which Jewish allies do not carry, because of the trauma it inflicts on Palestinians. When asked by collective members if they were Zionists, they stated that they were, indeed, proud Zionists. As such, they were in violation of the vision behind this march. The Chicago Dyke March is not a sanitized commercial event, with contingents from stores and banks seeking to capitalize on homonormativity. It is organized by a radical collective, with an explicitly anti-racist, anti-imperialist, pro-immigrant, pro-queer platform. The Chicago Dyke March was designed to celebrate the resilience of survivors against state violence directed at disenfranchised minorities.
It is an openly pro-Palestine event, and as such, it is anti-Zionist, as is made clear in the Dyke March Collective’s: “Zionism is an inherently white-supremacist ideology. We welcome and include people of all identities, but not all ideologies. We believe in creating a space free from oppression, and that involves rejecting racist ideologies that support state violence.”
Pinkwashing, the infiltration of progressive spaces with Israeli government-sponsored propaganda, goes back a few years. One early national example happened at 2010 U.S. Social Forum, where Palestinians convinced the conference organizers to cancel a workshop sponsored by StandWithUs. Many gay-friendly U.S. cities, including my hometown of Seattle, are frequent stops for Zionist-sponsored delegations, most recently by a trans soldier who promoted Israel as a land of “diversity, equality, inclusion.” That visit was co-sponsored by “A Wider Bridge” and StandWithUs. A silver lining to Israel’s propaganda is the documentary Seattle queer allies have made, Pinkwashing Exposed, and the conversations we have had with the city’s LGBT Commission, including explaining the role of “A Wider Bridge” in promoting Zionism. “A Wider Bridge” was denounced at yet another national LGBTQ conference a year earlier, namely the 2016 Creating Change conference, because of its ties to right-wing Israeli interest groups, and the Israeli government. Queer Arab activists have also launched Pinkwatching Israel, an online resource for activists working to expose pinkwashing.
In the aftermath of this disruption, and the media storm that is derailing from the issue at the core of the march, we must be intentional about re-centering the voices, experiences, and narratives of Palestinians, as we celebrate the growing grassroots rejection of Zionism. And just as the Chicago Dyke March walked on after asking a small handful of Zionists to leave, we must move on, after recognizing the beauty of the moment, and we must focus our attention again to the liberation of Palestine.
Indeed, as some of us in the U.S. celebrated “Pride Weekend,” the Gaza siege was in the news again. Within a mere twenty-four hours, three babies died there for lack of medical care. Electricity, already severely rationed, had just been further reduced to only two hours a day. The illegal and genocidal occupation is ongoing. Apartheid is ongoing. More Palestinian homes are being demolished, and more Jewish settlements are being built. These are the issues we need to address, yet the discussion around the march is dominated by Zionists alleging anti-Semitism, because three marchers were asked to leave.
This derailing is unacceptable, and all of us Palestinians and our allies must redress this, and bring the focus back to the truly progressive stance of the Chicago Dyke March Collective, and its principled support for Palestinian rights.
The questions that needed to be foregrounded, then, and which will continue to need to be asked, until justice is achieved, are not about details of what happened, but about the safety and comfort level of Palestinian marchers, Palestinians queers, and Palestinians and their allies generally. It is our bodies that are on the line. Chicago Dyke March Collective members have received hate mail and vile threats for their principled stance, and they need our support. The march was never meant to cater to the “fragility” of Zionists who feel challenged, unwelcome.
And beyond the questions, the discussion should be about measures, and concrete steps, and strategy, and organizing, to alleviate the misery of the Palestinians. After years of explaining to the world what we have known from the very beginning, namely how Zionism is racism, we need to tend to our own. Otherwise, we are enabling the age-old dynamics of the privileged asking the dispossessed to clarify further, so that the focus stays on them, as their discomfort is remedied, while we languish.
With the growing denunciation of Zionism in progressive spaces, we are at a turning point, and we must not allow ourselves to go back to square one. This is indeed the moment to celebrate the international denunciation of pinkwashing, the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism in various progressive spaces, and the centering of Palestinian liberation. This is not the time to cater to the discomfort of Zionists feeling a loss of privilege.
Finally, the “controversy” at the Chicago Dyke March highlighted two important developments that have become standard in activism around justice for Palestine. One is the growing awareness amongst various Jewish-identified communities of the need to delink anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism. Palestinians have long borne this burden, but our Jewish allies are now playing a major role in pushing the necessary conversation within their own communities. Second is the also significant growing understanding, in progressive communities, that there is simply no room for Zionism in justice-oriented spaces. After expelling the pinkwashing contingent, the Chicago Dyke March marched on, and we too must carry on, as we keep our eyes on the prize: the disruption and complete discrediting of Zionism, in all its colorful disguises, as a sine qua non for the restoration of Palestinian human rights.