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Marching on, beyond pinkwashing

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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.”

Laura Grauer marching in the background at the 2017 Chicago Dyke March. (Photo: A Wider Gap/ the Daily Mail)

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.

Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism.

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10 Responses

  1. JanetB on July 1, 2017, 3:37 pm

    Thank you for your article Nada, I’m currently having a discussion elsewhere regarding this topic and you have helped my argument immensely.

  2. JosephA on July 2, 2017, 2:12 am

    Bravo, thanks for sharing.

  3. DaBakr on July 2, 2017, 6:43 pm

    The so-called progressive and hard left in the US is quickly embodying fascist and Nazi-like tactics to distinguish themselves, promote their hackneyed bullsht idea of ‘intersectionality’ (right up there with whataboutism as ludicrous rhetorical inventions) and then just as quickly demonstrate their hypocrisy how they are no more intersectional and engage in whataboutism As much as anybody else struggling to justify their position. The difference is: carting out JVP for a counter opinion is like carting out the few black employees of David duke to oppose the NAACP. JVP is strictly in the same league as neturei karta.

    It will be entertaining to watch the evolution of the hard anti Zionist left fend off the same accusations of Nazism and fascism that pro Zionist, pro Israeli have been dealing with for a while.

    So entertaining to watch the so-called progressive hard left try and punch its way out of the bag of fascism and nazi-like tactics that they themselves love to throw around at the vast %-85-90%- of Jews who identify as Zionist and pro israel along with the probably 1000s of millions but at least millions of Christians both Catholic and Prot., Hindu, Buddhist, Bahia etc. who also support Israel.

    • chocopie on July 3, 2017, 12:34 am

      Oh boo. Progressives don’t like racism so they kicked the Zionists out of the parade. Good. Zionists can go march with their buddy, Trump.

    • on July 3, 2017, 1:26 pm

      DaKar “It will be entertaining to watch the evolution of the hard anti Zionist left fend off the same accusations of Nazism and fascism that pro Zionist, pro Israeli have been dealing with for a while.”

      The hard anti-Zionist left is a decentralized multicoloured mosaic of groups and individuals that share a common set of beliefs grounded in equality and human rughts for all regardless of race religion culture or gender – go ahead and lob accusations of fascism – the fending off part couldn’t be easier given the divide. One simply has to point to the definition of fascism to render the accusation silly, frivolous.

      What do the likes of you say when you are accused of being a fascist or racist or Zionist? Support your position as being the position we should all get behind. Tell us why Zionism (or racism or fascism) is good for humanity. Is DaBakr worried of being DaBunked?

    • Misterioso on July 3, 2017, 3:12 pm


      Speaking of “the hard anti-Zionist left…quickly embodying fascist and Nazi-like tactics to distinguish themselves…. and fending off “accusations of Nazism and fascism,” it seems
      the “anti-Zionist left” is in sync with more and more eminent Israeli Jews, including the following.

      Jerusalem Post June 24, 2017
      “‘Israel is becoming a fascist state, U.S. can’t save the day'”
      “Opposition leader Isaac Herzog doesn’t think the American efforts to revive the peace talks will bear fruit and warns that Israel is slowly slipping into fascism.”
      by Joy Bernard

      “Opposition leader and Zionist Union chairman Issac Herzog warned on Saturday that Israel was headed toward fascism and that its fate as a democracy was at stake.

      “‘We are going through a process of fascistization of the Israeli politics,’ Herzog warned while speaking at a cultural event in central Israel. ‘Whoever is wary of the country’s fate and would like to prevent the fascistization has to support the transition into one big and moderate political bloc in order to change this trend,’ he said.”

      “‘We have to change the regime in order to save the Israeli democracy from the fascistization that is threatening it,’ Herzog continued.”
      Jerusalem Post June 23, 2017
      “Hebrew U professor: Israel today similar to Nazi Germany”
      “Dr. Ofer Cassif of Hebrew University faces heavy criticism after his students leaked a video recording from his political science class.”
      By Yocheved Laufer

      “Hebrew University Professor, Dr. Ofer Cassif, compared recent Israeli legislation, both proposed and passed, to those of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, reported Channel 2 on Thursday as a recording of his class became public.

      “The statement occurred in a Politics and Government course as part of a preparatory college program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.”

      Why Do A Third of Israelis Want To Leave The Country?
      The Forward, March 22, 2017 By Naomi Zeveloff
      “A third of Jewish Israelis would leave the country if they could, according to a poll conducted by Masa Israeli, a group looking at the divisions of Jewish society in Israel.
      “It found that secular Jews were the most likely to want to emigrate, with 36% saying they would leave the country if they could. Orthodox Jews were the least likely to want to emigrate; only 7% said they would leave. The poll, which was reported by the Walla! news site, found that while 44% of secular Jewish Israelis identify as Israelis foremost, 83% of traditional and 90% of religious Jewish Israelis identify as Jews foremost.
      “The poll was conducted ahead of a conference called the “Israeli Journey to Change” in the Knesset which is looking for common ground in Israel.
      “ ‘The survey data indicates a problem with a sense of identity, connection and belonging to the people, to the land and to the state among a growing part of society in Israel and that reality already has created a rift and split in all of Israeli society,’ said Masa Israeli director, Uri Cohen.”

      Also, it seems that support for Israel is in decline in the U.S., especially among all important youth. No surprise!!

      “Support for Israel on Campus Drops by ‘Devastating’ 27%: Study” – The Forward, June 21/17
      The Brand Israel Group, a coalition of volunteer advertising and marketing specialists, has released a survey that shows a significant decrease in Israel’s approval rating among Americans.

      “’The future of America no longer believe that Israel shares their values. This is huge! Devastating,’” Fern Oppenheim, a co-founder of BIG, told The Times of Israel.

      While approval of Israel among American college students dropped 27% between the group’s 2010 and 2016 surveys, Israel’s approval rating among all Americans dropped 14 points, from 76% to 62%.

      The handwriting is on the wall. Around the world, Israel is increasingly viewed as a rogue/pariah state, an illegal, brutal occupier and a serial/escalating violator of international humanitarian law. It could only be thus.

      • Misterioso on July 3, 2017, 3:30 pm

        I forgot to include this important recent news item: national/376097/study-israel- losing-support-among- democrats-minorities- millennials/

        ​The Forward July 2, 2017

        ​”Study: Israel Losing Support Among Democrats, Minorities, Millennials

        ​”I​t appears that the more Americans learn about Israel, the less they like it.”

  4. Ossinev on July 3, 2017, 6:42 am

    “the vast %-85-90%- of Jews who identify as Zionist and pro israel along with the probably 1000s of millions but at least millions of Christians both Catholic and Prot., Hindu, Buddhist, Bahia etc. who also support Israel”

    “Probably 1000s of millions but at least millions”. WTF are you waffling on about?A classic Zionist example of eschewing science and spouting nonsensensical bullshit instead methinks.

    • Misterioso on July 3, 2017, 3:21 pm

      It should not be forgotten that currently, 1.75 billion Muslims worldwide do not “support Israel” and in 20-25 years they will number about 3 billion. There will also be over 600 million Arabs, including 10-12 million Palestinians between the River and the Sea as well as about 150 million Iranians and 150 million Turks. Can there be any doubt as to where America and the world’s long term economic and geopolitical interests lie? Certainly not with Israel.

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