Chicago Dyke March Defends Ban on Jewish Pride Flags: It's 'anti-Zionist but Not anti-Semitic'

A Wider Bridge, a pro-Israel LGBT group whose Midwest director was expelled from march, called on the organizers to 'issue a full public apology'

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People celebrate the 48th annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade on June 25, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois
People celebrate the 48th annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade on June 25, 2017 in Chicago, IllinoisCredit: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP

The Chicago Dyke March Collective, which sparked controversy by expelling participants in Saturday's pride parade who carried “Jewish pride” flags, has doubled down in defense of its actions. The collective says the move reflects its “anti-Zionist” position, and rejects charges that the group is anti-Semitic. The issue driving the decision, they said, was not only the flags the marchers carried, but the fact that they “expressed support for Zionism.”

In a statement issued Sunday, the organization described the flags in question as “Israeli flags superimposed on rainbow flags” and declared that “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.”

>> The Dyke March Preaches Inclusion. So Why Was I Kicked Out for Carrying a Jewish Pride Flag?

The group noted in its statement that the decision to expel the women carrying the flags – featuring a Star of David on a rainbow background – “was made after they repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations with Chicago Dyke March Collective members.”

The collective said: “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 for using Israel’s supposed 'LGBTQ tolerance' to pinkwash the violent occupation of Palestine.”

The statement added 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.”

Iliana Figueroa, a Dyke March Collective member, described the confrontation at the event this weekend to the Chicagoist, explaining that “as a collective we are very much pro-Palestine, and when we see these flags we know a lot of folks who are under attack by Israel see the visuals of the flag as a threat, so we don’t want anything in the [Dyke March] space that can inadvertently or advertently express Zionism."

"So," said Figueroa, "we asked the folks to please leave. We told them people in the space were feeling threatened.”

Laurel Grauer, the Midwest director of A Wider Bridge Midwest, who was referred to in the Dyke March statement and told to leave the march, asserted that her banner was “a flag from my congregation which celebrates my queer, Jewish identity which I have done for over a decade marching in the Dyke March with the same flag.”

A Wider Bridge describes itself as “a movement of pro-Israel LGBTQ people and allies, with strong interest in and commitment to supporting Israel and its LGBTQ community,” and as an organization that believes in “equality in Israel” and “equality for Israel.”

The organization is supported by both private foundations and several regional Jewish federations, including the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.

'Act of hatred'

In the aftermath of the incident over the weekend, A Wider Bridge released its own statement, calling on the Dyke March Collective to “issue a full public apology for dismissing LGBTQ Jews from the march, and affirm that Dyke March hold to their own values as a safe place for all LGBTQ people, including the Jewish community.”

The statement also called for “all of our community partners and allies in the Jewish community and the LGBTQ community who care about the advancement human rights and inclusion, to join us in condemning this act of hate.”

Moreover, the Wider Bridge charged that the collective failed to live up to its goal of “bridging together communities": The fact that the organizers "would choose to dismiss long-time community members for choosing to express their Jewish identity or spirituality runs counter to the very values the Dyke March claims to uphold, and veers down a dangerous path toward anti-Semitism.”

The Jewish group invited the leadership of the Dyke March to meet with them to discuss the events, and have “a constructive dialogue about how anti-Semitism and calls for the disappearance of the Jewish state are creating an unsafe environment for LGBTQ Jews and allies.”

Holding a conversation and building relationships among those who disagree, noted A Wider Bridge, is preferable to “automatically dismissing Jews and any LGBTQ person or ally who cares about Israel out of hand” – an act that “only builds walls between members of our diverse community.”

Grauer and the two other marchers were asked to leave the event on Saturday after being told that their flags “made people feel unsafe,” and that the march was “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Zionist.”

The Chicago Dyke March Collective describes itself as “an anti-racist, anti-violent, volunteer-led, grass-roots effort with a goal to bridge together communities across race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, size, gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, culture, immigrant status, spirituality, and ability.”

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