It started with an innocuous question. A friend asked if I was going to attend the upcoming Chicago Dyke March. This gave me pause. I have attended virtually every Chicago Dyke March for the past 20 years. I was regretfully out of town last year when my friend Laurie Grauer was asked to leave for carrying a pride flag emblazoned with the Star of David.
I own the same Jewish pride flag as Laurie. Mine was a gift for volunteering at the Jerusalem Open House LGBTQ Center. It reminds me of the LGBTQ communities in Israel who are fighting against intense, sometimes deadly homophobia. The flag also symbolizes a proud merging of my queer, Jewish and Israeli identities. In the past, I have brought my flag to Chicago Pride, refusing to hide any one of my identities – not even thinking that I needed to, especially at Pride, a time when we celebrate our whole selves. So last year, I was stunned when the Dyke March organizers told Laurie and two other Jewish lesbians to leave, to essentially crawl back into the closet.
I support the intersectional goals of the Dyke March. I agree with the choice to hold the march again in Little Village, and think it is immensely important to highlight the struggles of brown, black and indigenous peoples. I believe that addressing issues of police brutality, immigration, and the displacement of people of color from city centers is equally as important as marriage equality. But, for intersections to truly be meaningful, no one should be asked to hide part of their identity, whether Palestinian, pro-Israel or any other piece of themselves.
I echo the sentiments of Dahlia St. Knives, a black Jewish trans woman who wrote of last year’s controversy, “this event shone a light on a very troubling trend within leftist circles. Jewish people are more or less required to be subjected to a purity test with regard to their stance on the Occupation in Palestine…We must openly, loudly, and continuously disavow Israel, or we will be forcibly removed from any space that we share with progressives.”
I am increasingly disturbed by the polarization on the left, the categorizing of “good” anti-Zionist Jews vs. “bad” Zionist Jews. Many LGBTQ Jews are terrified to voice support for Israel, for fear they’ll be shut down, shamed and relegated to this “bad Jew” status.
Many of us, myself included, support a two-state solution and are at times critical of the Israeli government. At the same time, we believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. But we cannot safely state this in public without being vilified. As the organizers have demonstrated, the Chicago Dyke March and other progressive spaces are no longer safe for the entire breadth of our communities. Perhaps the organizers see this as a victory. I say, at what cost? What is the ultimate price for exclusion?
I work for an organization called A Wider Bridge, whose mission is to build bridges between LGBTQ communities in Israel and North America. We believe that full equality and inclusion of LGBTQ people is only possible if everyone is at the table. It is our hope that there can be room to come together and dialogue. We may not all agree, but there is power in finding commonalities and learning from our differences.
So, will I be marching this year? This remains to be seen. I certainly don’t feel welcome. But I know the importance of making my voice heard, especially considering the many Jews and allies who feel silenced. I want our voices, like the voices of all others, to be included as we stand against oppression and celebrate our whole selves.
Ronit Bezalel is Communications Director of A Wider Bridge. She is also an award-winning filmmaker, photographer, and journalist.