Even SlutWalk Leaders in Israel Agree Zionist Symbols Have No Place in Marches

The goal, after all, is to protect 'safe spaces for women.' If all national flags are kept at home, that seems fair, they say

A SlutWalk in Jerusalem, June 2, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

NEW YORK — It’s been one of the controversies of the summer: whether a Dyke March or SlutWalk should allow Zionist and Jewish symbols. After the controversy with the Chicago Dyke March — the banning of women flying the Gay Pride flag with the Star of David at the center — SlutWalk Chicago says it’s allowing such banners at its August 12 event, it’s just asking marchers to leave national flags at home.

Yet while many Jewish-American LGBT and feminist activists considered SlutWalk Chicago’s initial position anti-Semitic, their anger failed to spread to their sisters in Israel.

An organizer of SlutWalk Jerusalem, Anna Kleiman, notes that her branch of the group takes a similar approach as a way of preserving fragile unity.

“Our SlutWalk is in Jerusalem, the Israeli capital, so it’s a microcosm of all the tensions that can be found in Israel, or occupied Palestine, however you want to call it,” she told Haaretz. “In all six years of SlutWalk Jerusalem, we’ve taken care to avoid Zionist, anti-Zionist, anti-Palestinian and pro-Palestinian things, and we also ask people affiliated with political parties to refrain from bringing party symbols.”

Kleiman says SlutWalk Jerusalem would thus ask participants to take down unwelcome banners but wouldn’t go so far as to request that they leave the protest. “All in all, the SlutWalk is a radical initiative; it’s hard to take part,” she says. “Women who show up pay a social price. I assume it’s similar all over the world.”

Kleiman is glad SlutWalk Chicago is no longer singling out one particular group.

A SlutWalk in Jerusalem, May 12, 2016.
Emil Salman

“On the one hand, we agree with the request to avoid Zionist symbols, but in the same way we would ask to avoid anti-Zionist symbols. The SlutWalk is an international initiative that crosses geographic and ethnic boundaries,” she says.

“Above all, our goal is to make the SlutWalk a safe space for women to protest the rape culture and victim-blaming. Jewish women, Muslim women, Israeli women and Palestinian women experience rape culture. You can’t ban one group from the protest against rape culture.”

Kleiman also supports SlutWalk Chicago’s new policy of allowing the Star of David but banning national flags.“The new compromise sounds wonderful to me,” she says. “The phrasing and the values behind it allow all the factions a safe space, considering the gray area of the Star of David as either a religious or a national symbol. We’re proud of the organizers, and we wish them success at crushing the patriarchy on the Chicago front.”

Bracha Barad, the organizer of SlutWalk Tel Aviv, is also sympathetic to SlutWalk Chicago’s dilemma this year, but for different reasons. While Barad’s group doesn’t ban any national or ethnic symbols, she has a hard time understanding why anyone would want to show up with the Star of David at a SlutWalk in Chicago.

“I don’t really see the connection between Zionist symbols and a protest against rape culture. True, I know that some people bring the Star of David Pride flag to the Pride parade, but it seems less relevant to a SlutWalk,” Barad says.

“If I were abroad, I wouldn’t feel any need to show up at a SlutWalk with an Israeli flag. If I were a feminist woman protesting the patriarchy abroad, I’d be aligned with the sentiment” of a SlutWalk being pro-Palestinian. “As a feminist, it seems reasonable,” she adds.

“Here at SlutWalk Tel Aviv we won’t banish anyone who shows up with a Star of David or a Palestinian flag. If someone showed up with a racist message, I’d feel that it had no place at the rally. But as a general rule, we don’t interfere with the messages of the participants.”

Still, Barad doesn’t deny that SlutWalk Tel Aviv could face a dilemma similar to SlutWalk Chicago’s as the Tel Aviv event expands. “I can tell you that during the Pride parade in Israel, there’s more discussion surrounding these issues,” she says.

“When people walk around with the Pride flag with the Star of David on it, others are opposed to it because Palestinians also take part in the march. And when the anti-occupation crowd marches, there’s criticism against that as well. At SlutWalk, I guess we’re not there yet; I suppose it could become an issue if we’re ever as big as the Pride parade.”

On a personal note, Barad says she understands SlutWalk’s original attempt to take a stand against the occupation by banning Zionist symbols.

“I grew up in Gush Etzion in the occupied territories, and the occupation bothers me on a personal level. This is one of the reasons I wouldn’t want to remain in Israel, because my taxes are funding this. So it’s very hard for me to criticize an organizer who’s using her platform to take a stand against the occupation,” she says.

“I believe that international pressure will only benefit us, since we alone can’t end the occupation, which is bad for us and for them. So again, on a personal note, if I were a feminist living outside Israel, I’d probably use the platform to point out this injustice.”