At a recent gay-pride march in Chicago, organizers asked a number of women to leave because they were carrying Jewish Pride flags. The flag—a rainbow with a Jewish star—was deemed “offensive” and made other participants feel “unsafe.” The reason? Besides being about LGBTQ rights, participants were told, the march was also “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian.” This is so wrong on so many fronts. Let me count the ways.
First, the Star of David is a Jewish, not Zionist symbol. It dates back to the third or fourth century CE, and was most famously displayed on Jews’ armbands in Nazi Germany, to single out members of the hated and oppressed (and eventually murdered) ethnic minority. Can you imagine the justified outrage that would have ensued if an organizer of the march—or anyone else—had complained that she found a Muslim crescent, or a Christian cross, or any other religious symbol to be offensive or threatening?
Second, Zionism is an idea, the notion of Jewish sovereignty in the Jews ancestral homeland. Ideas can be debated (more below on this specific debate), and one can agree or disagree with an idea. But only in a totalitarian society can an idea be perceived as a threat.
Third, negating Zionism—Jewish nationalism—is itself an expression of anti-Jewish bigotry. Most progressives accept and even embrace the collective identity and the right to self-determination of other ethnic groups. We respect existing nation-states like Japan and Greece and Norway, and support those striving to establish one, like the Kurds and the Tibetans and, yes, the Palestinians. Rejecting the collective identity and the same right for Jews is an obvious double standard and discrimination. And discrimination against Jews has a long history and a specific name: Antisemitism.
Fourth, Zionism does not negate Arab or Palestinian rights. It is possible to be both a Zionist and pro-Palestinian; progressive Zionists (including me) support the co-existence of two ethnic nation-states in the Land of Israel/Palestine. Only in the world of Israel-haters is Palestinian nationalism incompatible with Jewish sovereignty.
And finally, how can a group campaigning against bigotry and striving for tolerance and acceptance be so bigoted and intolerant toward others? How can people demand rights for one marginalized group, while at the same time actively marginalizing and discriminating against another group—Jews, Zionists, or Israelis?
We have recently heard from anti-Israel/antisemitic bigots that feminists cannot be Zionist, and now that Jews cannot be advocates for LGBTQ rights. These ideas are as wrong-headed as they are offensive—and they completely deny and undermine the progressive ideals of inclusiveness and mutual respect.
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Nevet Basker is the executive director of The Kadima Fund, which supports pro-Israel campus and community activists in promoting a positive image for Israel and countering hateful anti-Israel propaganda and enables activists to connect with and support each other. She also is the founder and director of Broader View, an online resource center about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.