Tensions Flare After Chicago Dyke March Demands Star Of David Pride Flag Carriers Leave Rally
By Rachel Cromidas in News on Jun 26, 2017 7:28PM
Photo of a rainbow pride flag with the Jewish symbol the Star of David, via Wikimedia Commons
This post has been updated with new statements on the incident.
Tensions are brewing and the Chicago Dyke March Collective is facing accusations of anti-Semitism after organizers asked two women carrying rainbow pride flags with a large Star of David symbol on them to leave the Saturday afternoon march and rally.
The controversy has since kicked off a wave of social media posts condemning or supporting the decision, as Jewish organizations release statements calling for an apology and Dyke March organizers offer explanations for why they kicked out the women. Some groups have also expressed solidarity with Dyke March.
To boil it down: as a grassroots event that explicitly and deliberately prioritizes people of color (who are often de-prioritized or outright excluded from mainstream LGBTQ pride celebrations) the Chicago Dyke March Collective says they told the women to leave the rally in Little Village's Piotrowski Park because the flags resembled the Israeli flag (which also includes a large Star of David) and some Dyke March attendees did not want to see a flag at the rally that could be construed as support for Israel, the political ideology of Zionism, or the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians. Dyke March is "very much Pro-Palestine," as one organizer told Chicagoist on Sunday, so the women were asked to stop displaying their flags and leave.
Since then, the women who were told to leave Dyke March, and many Jewish and non-Jewish people who observed what happened or heard about it after the Windy City Times first broke the story, have expressed alarm and confusion over how they were treated. Their flags were simply symbols of Jewish LGBTQ Pride, not statements on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they felt targeted for their religious beliefs, they said.
One of the women kicked out of the march, Eleanor Shoshany Anderson, spoke to Chicagoist Monday afternoon about her interactions with Dyke March organizers before and after she was told to leave the event. She emphasized that many of the accounts of what happened shared on social media have been misunderstood or significantly inaccurate—particularly accusations that she and her flag-carrying companion, Laurel Grauer, a regional manager for the Israeli organization A Wider Bridge, were there representing Israel, Zionism or the organization A Wider Bridge, or that they were espousing hateful rhetoric about Palestinians.
Shoshany Anderson said she had attended Dyke March for four years, and she attended the event this year with a Jewish Pride Flag because "I really wanted to just be Jewish and gay in public and celebrate that." She made a shirt for the march that said "Proud Jewish Dyke" and asked her friend Grauer to march with her. Grauer provided the Pride Flags with Star of David symbols, which Shoshany Anderson describes as "the ubiquitous symbol of Judaism."
"My overwhelming feeling is a sense of hurt at being excluded from my community for nothing more than having a Jewish symbol," she said. "It was truly nothing more and nothing less than that."
Shoshany Anderson said a Dyke March organizer first questioned her about her flag shortly after the march kicked off from its starting point at 26th Street and Lawndale Avenue.
"One of the organizers said, 'Is that an Israeli flag? Because we don't allow imperialist flags here.' I said, 'No, it's a Jewish Pride Flag.' and [the organizer] said 'OK,'" she said. The exchange made Shoshany Anderson feel confused and uncomfortable, but she continued to march without incident, until later in the afternoon when the marchers arrived at the park and began a rally and celebration with music and food.
At the park, she said a Dyke March organizer chanted "Viva La Palestina" in response to seeing her flag, and later two march participants, one carrying a Palestinian flag, confronted her about her flag.
"They started yelling and they swore and they said, 'You have an Israeli flag here and it's not OK.' I said no, it's not an Israeli Flag, it is the Star of David, the symbol of Judaism," she said. It didn't feel like they wanted to have a conversation with her, she added, "so I just walked away."
Shoshany Anderson said that she decided she would either refuse to engage in an argument or simply walk away if someone confronted her again. In contrast, Grauer opted to talk with the people who opposed their flags. The women got separated at one point in the afternoon, and Shoshany Anderson later received a phone call from Grauer saying Dyke March organizers had kicked her out of the park.
"I felt extremely vulnerable, like if I moved they would come find me and kick me out next," she said. "The only thing I had done was carry this flag. I've seen accounts saying I was tracking down Palestinians and harassing them, and nothing could be further from the truth. I really just wanted to be there, as a Jew—that's all I wanted to do, and I took a lot of care in what I said and what I expressed."
Shosany Anderson and Grauer reunited at the edge of the park, where a Dyke March attendee who identified as Jewish approached them and said she was asking them on behalf of Dyke March to either fold up their flags or leave.
"Her words exactly were: 'This flag looks too much like an Israeli flag, it's triggering people, and it's making them feel unsafe.' Again, I tried to explain, this isn't an Israeli flag," Shoshany Anderson said. "Some people have said I was spouting pro-apartheid rhetoric. But the only time I even said the word Israel was when I said 'This is not an Israeli flag.'"
"I said that this march is supposed to be intersectional, and here I am celebrating my intersection," she added. "Being removed from this march because of my visible Jewish symbol actually makes me feel unsafe. There was nothing wrong with my flag."
Shoshany Anderson said the interactions left her visibly distraught—"I felt outnumbered. I'm not the kind of person who cries in public, and I was sobbing." She noted that Dyke March organizers asked Jewish attendees to talk with her on their behalf, and that they have denied accusations of anti-Semitism in the wake of the incident. But to her, the Collective's approach is not acceptable: "Maybe it was OK for them to be there as Jews, but it wasn't OK for me to be there."
She would like to see the organizers apologize for kicking her and Grauer out, because even if they didn't intend to be anti-Semitic, the action can be interpreted that way: "They have clearly upset a lot of Jewish people, and instead of saying sorry, they've just double down. There has got to be an apology, and an apology to the Jews involved in particular, and to the Jews and other allies who told them how they felt and were talked over and not acknowledged. "
She said she still views Dyke March as a "valuable community resource," but would probably not feel comfortable returning unless the organization changes its approach. "I want Dyke March to change so they can be as inclusive as they claim to be," she said. "But as it stands, I feel unwelcome."
In the wake of the incident, Shoshany Anderson says she has appreciated shows of support from local and national groups, including Ald. Ameya Pawar's gubernatorial campaign, which changed the North Side alderman's Facebook profile photo to show a similar Jewish Pride flag.
On Sunday, Dyke March Chicago wrote a statement about the incident on Facebook, saying that the women were asked to leave "after they repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations with Chicago Dyke March Collective members." Shoshany Anderson says she never did this, but that Grauer separately had a conversation with Dyke March members in which she said that she supported Zionism, but is also pro-Palestine. Chicagoist will update this post if we hear back from Grauer. Chicagoist has asked Chicago Dyke March Collective for a follow-up interview, and will update if we hear back.
The full Dyke March statement says:
"Yesterday, June 24, Chicago Dyke March was held in the La Villita neighborhood to express support for undocumented, refugee, and immigrant communities under threat of deportation. 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. This decision was made after they repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations with Chicago Dyke March Collective members. We have since learned that at least one of these individuals is a regional director for A Wider Bridge, an organization with connections to the Israeli state and right-wing pro-Israel interest groups. A Wider Bridge has been protested for provocative actions at other LGBTQ events and has been condemned by numerous organizations (tarabnyc.org/cancelpinkwashing/&; for using Israel's supposed "LGBTQ tolerance" to pinkwash the violent occupation of Palestine.
"The Chicago Dyke March Collective is explicitly not anti-Semitic, we are anti-Zionist. The Chicago Dyke March Collective supports the liberation of Palestine and all oppressed people everywhere.
"From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have got to go!!
"[Edited to add: We want to make clear that anti-Zionist Jewish volunteers and supporters are welcome at Dyke March and were involved in conversations with the individuals who were asked to leave. We are planning to make a longer statement in the future.]"
The For the People Collective, a local arts organization, put out a statement of solidarity with Dyke March, saying, "As artists and cultural organizers, we know that visuals are incredibly communicative tools that have the power to both help and harm us. Imagery that either intentionally or unintentionally invokes Zionism without any attempt to acknowledge or subvert those visual associations only serve to bolster support for Israel."
The story has reached a national profile, and it reflects a larger debate over the role Israel can play in LGBTQ spaces. As Salon points out, Israel and the Zionist political movement have been accused of "pinkwashing"—using a pro-LGBTQ stance to distract from other human rights violations in the past, including last year when the A Wider Bridge organization was protested at a Creating Change conference. And the Palestinian-American feminist Linda Sarsour has said feminists should not be Zionists.
Updated June 27 at 1:50 p.m.: More organizations have put out statements for and against what happened.
The organization Jewish Voice for Peace put out this statement of solidarity with Dyke March. The reasons behind the decision to remove the two women are different than the reason described to Chicagoist earlier, and we have reached out to Dyke March organizers for confirmation:
As a Jewish organization dedicated to justice for Palestinians and opposition to all forms of bigotry, including antisemitism, Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago affirms our support for the Chicago Dyke March Collective, a powerful force for justice and queer and trans liberation in our city. While we also hear those who are concerned at the perception that Jewish participants were singled out at the march, we ask that everyone reflect on how events actually unfolded, how Israel has appropriated Jewish identity and symbols, and how that impacts our movement spaces.
On Saturday at the Chicago Dyke March, a small number of members and staff of A Wider Bridge challenged the inclusion of Palestinian human rights as an issue supported by Chicago Dyke March. A Wider Bridge has the explicit purpose of “building a movement of pro-Israel LGBTQ people and allies.” “Pro-Israel,” for a Wider Bridge, has included organizing war rallies cheering on the Israeli military during the massacre of civilians in Gaza in August 2014 and partnering with Israeli consulates in the US in organizing pinkwashing propaganda tours.
The A Wider Bridge contingent loudly encouraged fellow participants to erase mentions of Palestine during solidarity chants. When Palestinian attendees approached them, they became hostile while expressing explicit support for Zionism, which was one of the ideologies that march organizers had disavowed because it has led to decades of displacement and violence against Palestinians. After a two hour conversation with organizers and other members, the attendees were asked to leave for not respecting the community norms, including opposition to all forms of racism and violence. One of the people asked to leave was Laurel Grauer, Midwest Manager from A Wider Bridge (AWB), who held a rainbow flag with a blue Star of David identical in color, size and placement to the one on the Israeli flag.
Many other Jews, including members of Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, were present at Dyke March wearing Jewish symbols, including Stars of David, t-shirts with Hebrew, kippot, and sashes with Yiddish script, and none of them were asked to leave the event, interrogated about their politics, or were the target of any complaints because of their visible Jewish presence.
The Star of David is a Jewish symbol not inherently connected to the State of Israel. Since much of the media coverage has centered on whether Palestinians can justifiably feel unsafe around a blue Star of David in the center of a flag, we believe it is worth remembering that in the West Bank, Israeli flags bearing a blue Star of David fly above military installations and settlements. Stars of David are painted onto Palestinian homes to intimidate people, near Hebrew graffiti calling for “Death to Arabs.” Palestinian homes are demolished and replaced by Jewish homes flying the Star of David on an Israeli flag.
While for many this incident may have evoked fears engrained in our collective memory of instances in which Jews have been singled out, we believe this incident is a sad reminder of the destructive impact of the State of Israel’s appropriation of Jewish symbols and identity.
As Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago, we share the Chicago Dyke March Collective’s opposition to state violence, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-queer and trans, anti-woman and anti-Person of Color bigotry. As a Jewish organization committed to justice and equality for Palestinians, we invite everybody to work with us in opposing the State of Israel’s use of Jewish identity, trauma and symbols in its oppression of Palestinians.
The local punk music fest Fed Up Fest put out this statement in support of Dyke March, and the advocacy group Pink and Black also put out a statement of support.
Laurel Grauer, one of the women told to leave the march, wrote about her experience in a blog post on A Wider Bridge's website.
Other organizations have all put out statements condemning the Dyke March decision. Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, emailed us a statement saying that Dyke March has misinterpreted the significance of the Star of David:
“We are outraged by the actions of Chicago Dyke March organizers this past weekend. Expelling marchers simply for carrying a rainbow flag bearing the Star of David is unacceptable. The Star of David is a symbol of the Jewish people, and kicking marchers out for carrying a flag that demonstrates the intersectionality of LGBTQ and Jewish identity is anti-Semitic. As we advocate for the full equality and inclusion of all LGBTQ people, we also know that eradicating anti-Semitism and bigotry in all forms is crucial to our vision of a world of wholeness, compassion and peace.”