Why a sincere critic has so much of it wrong.
I don’t live in Chicago anymore, but I grew up in the same north suburban area as Ashley O’Brien, recent resident of Tel Aviv and op-ed writer in the Jerusalem Post. Ashley challenges the Chicago Jewish community on what she considers an inadequate response to the exclusion of activists carrying a rainbow flag with a Jewish star on it. And she makes five points.
So I will respond to the incident and then to Ashley.
Banning the flag and the marchers was wrong. It was intolerant, bigoted and a violation of the principles of inclusiveness that have been the hallmark of pride movements and Jewish progressives. Any America that excludes the free and reasonable exchange of ideas betrays the very notion of America. In that sense, the misuse of the category of “triggers” ought to be publicly repudiated by anyone of conscience.
Ashley, I hope you are satisfied that some deep-dish-pizza-loving life-long-Cub-fan flat-a-pronouncing Jew (with a Swedish last name) has spoken out, and many days before you asked.
But your “five points” are also wrong, and here is why.
"1. It suggests that anti-Zionism is separate from antisemitism. Well, it’s not. And if that was truly the case, why was the Jewish pride flag banned? It was NOT an Israeli flag that was banned. It was a gay pride flag that happened to have the same Jewish symbol as the flag of the Jewish state. "
Anti-Zionism is separate from anti-semitism. There is no question that the two overlap in very uncomfortable ways on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. But unless you equate being a Zionist with being a Jew (and vice-versa), then they are separate matters. I happen to be both, and they are intertwined in my identity. But because I listen to people who understand Zionism not as a philosophy but as a practice by the government of a state, I understand that they do not hate me for disagreeing with them and they do not hate me for my birthright. They are passionately opposed to a political entity, and I disagree with them entirely. You diminish the important distinctions of both Zionism and Judaism when you conflate them.
"2. It suggests that Israel is ‘oppressing’ Palestinians, which, in my humble opinion, is a bunch of BDS B.S., but I’m open to this argument as long as you bring facts (and alternative facts don't count @kellyanneconway). "
Ashley, Israel is oppressing Palestinians. By absolutely every measure of the life of a Jewish Israeli, Palestinians fare worse. That’s oppression. Some Israelis (and others) believe it is justified and others do not. But nobody denies that by the same standards – income, freedom of movement, education, medical care, civil services – Palestinians fare worse. That was true before there was such a thing as BDS or alternative facts.
"3. It suggests that Jews don’t fall under the category of ‘oppressed people’. Tell that to my great-grandfather’s family. Oh wait, you can’t; they were all killed by Hitler. "
And now I will express great umbrage. How dare you exploit the unconscionable murder of your family in this silly Suffering Olympics competition! There are certainly poor and marginalized Jews in the United States, but they did not grow up in Buffalo Grove. Victims of the Nazis died in concentration camps. You summered at Camp Chi. The Holocaust is not a trump card to be played when you want to claim moral reparations.
"4. Flags with Muslim symbolism WERE allowed at the same march, but don’t worry, no one has ever been known to ‘oppress’ others in the name of Islam… *she wrote with heavy sarcasm* "
There are arguments to be made about transgressive behavior in Muslim countries, but invoking Islam in this argument in the same way you object to others invoking Judaism makes you every bit as bigoted.
"5. Show me a country in the Middle East besides Israel where you can be openly gay without the risk of persecution. I'll wait... "
There is no other country in the Middle East where one can be openly gay, so you can stop waiting. I don’t evaluate any policy on the basis of how much worse it could be. When it comes to Israel, my standard is not Saudi Arabia. It is Israel. Marriage in Israel is in the hands of a theocratic and regressive rabbinate that teaches that homosexuality is a sin. As a non-orthodox rabbi, I am embarrassed by the language my hareidi colleagues use and the repressive policies they impose. You can be openly gay in Tel Aviv, but not in B’nei B’rak. You can’t get married in either place.
I do not blame Ashley O’Brien for making these arguments. She did not invent them; she was taught every one of these arguments. The absence of nuance in the way Jewish community leaders and educators can express their positions, combined with the intolerant stances of vocal and well-funded right-wing organizations make Ashley’s “five points” familiar fodder. We – that is, my generation – have not taught her – that is, young committed Jews – that both Jewish belief and the State of Israel are strong enough to stand up to the truth. We do not need to succumb to the sloganeering, deflection and derogation that is directed at us, and we certainly do not need to imitate it.
Most of all, we need to make the distinction between answering the hyperbole of our critics and engaging in it in a game of one-upmanship. Jews are not perfect. Israel is not perfect. And I hope it goes without saying that the Chicago Dyke March Collective is not perfect.
Those Jewish lesbians who brought the rainbow flag with a giant Jewish star are guilty only of naivete. A big six-pointed star in the middle of a flag is not just a symbol of Judaism any more than a crucifix is just a piece of jewelry. Israel worked hard to brand itself with that star, and I hope everyone in the world knows.
The expulsion of the Jewish marchers was intolerant, bigoted and a violation of the principles of inclusiveness. It doesn’t matter to me whether the marchers were being banned for being Zionists or for being Jews or if, as happens too often, both being both. It was wrong.
Ashley O’Brien may or may not have been right to call out the Jews of Chicagoland for their perceived silence. But on the rest of it, she was wrong, too.