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Creating Change, or celebrating privilege?

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There is no such thing as selective justice:  it is either indivisible, or it is privilege for some, disenfranchisement for the rest.  That message was made clear on January 20, the nationwide anniversary of the Women’s March, as Palestinian feminists and our allies stepped up at various rallies around the country, arguing that feminism cannot pick and choose which women to uphold, and who it can ignore, and that as such, feminism must include Palestinian women and children.  In Los Angeles, for example,  the march had received funding from the Zionist organization National Jewish Women’s Council, and featured Scarlett Johansson as one of the speakers, prompting PAWA, the Palestinian American Women’s Association to withdraw its scheduled participation in the rally.  But when Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah had the microphone, she passed it on to her young daughter, Thandiwa Abdullah, who immediately spoke of Palestinian and Muslim women’s rights.  In St Louis, Palestinian American organizer Sandra Tamari called for consistency as she discussed the case of Ahed Tamimi, whose arrest and imprisonment, after she defended herself from Israeli soldiers invading her home, seems not to have galvanized mainstream feminists. And at multiple marches, from Spokane WA to New York City, which had a large “Free Ahed Tamimi” contingent, people carried signs calling for freedom for Palestinian women and children, even when the organizers had neglected, or deliberately censored, this pressing injustice.

The 2018 women’s marches had one overarching theme, “March to the Polls,” encouraging participants to vote Democrat in the mid-term elections, so as to loosen the Trump Administration’s grip on this country.  The past years, even decades, have seen increased alienation amongst progressives, who are disenchanted with “liberal” politics by Democratic administrations that waged wars on black and brown people, both domestically and globally.    Yet whatever our misgivings about the “liberalism” of most of the marches, we had to disrupt these spaces, push them towards a more progressive stance, because these are the spaces where change towards a better society is brewing, and we cannot walk away, abandon them to the Zionists.  As Elizabeth Schulte argues, “When leftists insist that only protests and action organized around a radical, working-class agenda are worth taking seriously, they risk missing the audience for socialist politics among attendees of a protest that actually happened. They also miss out on the impact that large demonstrations, even ones dominated by liberal politics from the front, can have.”

One week after the women’s marches, the push to become truly progressive, not just liberal, was clear again at the Creating Change conference in Washington DC, the largest convening of queer activists and organizers.  There, queers and trans activists working on racial justice and Palestinian liberation had to disrupt, again, a supposedly progressive gender justice event, to challenge the pinkwashing agenda of the National LGBTQ Task Force, the conference organizer.  Pinkwashing, a deliberate strategy to distract from Israel’s human rights abuse by highlighting some pockets of Israeli society’s acceptance, even the occasional embrace, of Jewish gay lifestyle, is all the more egregious as it comes after the controversy of 2016, when the Task Force faced protests over its alignment with Israel propaganda groups.  As a result of the protests, and the national conversation that ensured, the Task Force had made a commitment to include anti-pinkwashing workshops at future gatherings.  However, this year, it rejected all proposals for sessions related to Palestine and pinkwashing, and put Israel advocates, and not a single anti-Zionist, at the lead for all Jewish programming at the conference. The conference organizers also rejected all three of Tarab NYC’s workshop submissions, which included a Zionism-free Queer MENA Caucus, a workshop on Orientalism, and Tarab’s own “Know Your Rights” training. Beyond the Creating Change January conference, the Task Force indicated its longer-term alignment with Israel, by partnering with the Israeli-based “Forever Tel Aviv” for its annual Winter Party Festival in March.  This event is in direct violation of the international boycott of Israeli companies and cultural institutions that are complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights.

As soon as the 2018 conference program became public, after the rejection of all anti-pinkwashing proposals, a group of activists launched a petition asking the organizers to cancel the Zionist sessions, and sever their ties with Forever Tel Aviv.  And as the conference was underway, these organizers facilitated two guerilla sessions, just outside the venue.  Stephanie Skora, an anti-Zionist Jewish trans woman, and member of Jewish Voice for Peace, who had flown in from Chicago, wrote me in a private communication that the guerrilla sessions they facilitated went off without a hitch. Skora was one of the activists who last summer expelled Zionists from the Chicago Dyke March, in line with the Dyke March Collective’s vision that “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.”

“Over 150 people attended spread over two days, which in light of the Creating Change conference’s ban on workshops that could include discussion about Palestine, was projected in true guerrilla conference style: in a hotel hallway inside the conference venue, on a bedsheet taped to the wall. Our organizing group was thrilled with the reception from conference attendees,” Skora added.  “We know that justice for Palestine is a topic of interest at this conference, and will continue to be going forward, and we were so glad that so many people came out in solidarity with Palestine. Hopefully Creating Change and the National LGBTQ Task Force will take notice, listen, and meet our demands so that next year, we can have a space provided for us to talk about decolonial solidarity in Palestine and beyond.”

“The Creating Change conference organizers allowed the guerilla sessions to occur unperturbed in the public hallway,” Skora explained, “but made no comments or commitments to the organizers with regards to ending the ban on Palestine at the conference.”

From the Women’s March to Creating Change, we need to persist in our demands for equal rights for all.  As the global discussion of misogyny and gender violence continues to build up, denouncing their pervasiveness in all aspects of life, we must insist on a discussion of Israel’s intrinsic violation of the human rights of Palestinians, in the name of “Jewish democracy.”  Israel is not “gay friendly,” it is friendly to Zionist gays, so long as they serve its apartheid agenda.  All Palestinians, regardless of their sexuality, are oppressed by Israel’s system which claims, in the words of its Supreme Court Justice, Asher Grunis,  that “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide.”  It is time for “liberal queers” to end their collusion with a fundamentally racist ideology, as being queer is about refusing to be complicit in systems of definition and identification, especially when these cement  privilege. Creating Change must do better.   #Time’sUp to toss Zionism where it belongs, in supremacist communities.

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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2 Responses

  1. pabelmont on January 29, 2018, 7:58 pm

    Skora was one of the activists who last summer expelled Zionists from the Chicago Dyke March, in line with the Dyke March Collective’s vision that “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.”

    A WONDERFUL STATEMENT! All identities, but not all ideologies.

    I guess the problem for anyone trying to work for any “outlawed” position in a larger group is to decide whether to stay “in” or to leave and work from outside. I have that problem with supporting Democrats (as a largely oligarchy-supporting party) rather than supporting only particular “acceptable” candidates.

    I don’t know if Zionism is white-supremacist or rather Zionist-Jewish-supremacist, because many Zionist-Jews are from Arab countries and share skin-tint with the Palestinians. Ahed al-Tamimi is “whiter” than her captors in some pictures. There are some black Jews living in Israel and I suppose some of them are Zionists despite ill-treatment.

    But the Dyke March Collective is right to abominate ANY supremacist ideology or group.

    • Citizen on January 30, 2018, 6:14 pm

      Yep. Zionist is just supremacist, not necessarily “white supremacist.” It’s a shame they always have to castigate whites–no other group has such automatic evil assumption. That’s PC.

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