Following two weeks of controversy and criticism surrounding SlutWalk Chicago's announcement that Zionist displays would not be allowed at the August 12 event, organizers are retracting their statement, and welcoming all participants who wish to protest rape culture and patriarchy.
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Following a meeting meant to solidify the message of SlutWalk Chicago, an organizer, Red, told Haaretz that the event is welcoming to everyone, including those carrying Jewish or Zionist symbols, and added that the collective needs to make amends to the Jewish community for its previous statements.
“We are not banning any symbols or any kind of ethnic or heritage flags,” Red said, explaining SlutWalk Chicago's new policy. “Those are welcome, everyone is welcome to express themselves as they see fit at SlutWalk. And we encourage people to bring signs and symbols that represent fighting sexism, patriarchy, rape culture, and that takes a lot of different forms for different people, and we support them in how they decide to show up for SlutWalk.”
On July 16, SlutWalk Chicago announced that it will ban Zionist Symbols from upcoming events. “We still stand behind @DykeMarchChi's decision to remove the Zionist contingent from their event, [and] we won't allow Zionist displays at ours,” read the official statement on Twitter, referring to an incident in June when three women were asked to leave the Chicago Dyke March for carrying rainbow flags with the Star of David. When asked about protection for Jewish participants, SlutWalk also tweeted that “all participants will be well protected, so [people] making Zionist or any other similarly nationalist, imperialist displays will be ejected.”
Red said on Friday that these statements shouldn't have been made. “That came out of a very rash tweet that we sent out, that we are banning Zionist symbols that we should not have sent out, as a result of a particular social media team responding very urgently, without talking to the collective,” they said.
According to Red, SlutWalk has since reached out to the Jewish and Muslim communities in Chicago to show that the event is inclusive and offers a safe space to all participants. On Thursday, the organizers of SlutWalk held a meeting to “solidify their message” and discuss how to better listen to the two communities while remaining an “anti-imperialistic, anti-war feminist group."
“As a feminist person myself, I feel very strongly about Palestinian liberation and radical Jewish resistance," Red said. "I care very deeply about those concerns, but I do think that at SlutWalk Chicago we have some apologizing to do around the confusion with some of our tweets.”
Following the controversy at the Chicago Dyke March in June, a conversation erupted around what constitutes a Zionist symbol. Prominent voices in the American Jewish community have argued that the Star of David is a Jewish symbol, not a Zionist symbol. The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement condemning the Chicago Dyke March. “It is outrageous that while celebrating LGBTQ pride, Jewish participants carrying a rainbow Star of David flag were asked to leave the Chicago Dyke March. The community of LGBTQ supporters is diverse and that is part of its tremendous strength,” said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt. “Both the act and the explanation were anti-Semitic, plain and simple."
According to its new policy, SlutWalk Chicago will not only allow participants to display the Star of David, but also won't ban other symbols widely seen as Zionist.
Asked if someone would be banned from SlutWalk Chicago for bringing an Israeli flag, Red said firmly that they would not be. “No one would be asked to leave," they said. “The only time people were asked to leave in the past, or check their behaviors, was if they became hostile to physically or verbally abusive towards other participants”.
SlutWalk Chicago prides itself on being one of the oldest continuous events of its kind in the U.S. In the past, the event attracted far-right Christian and men’s rights protesters. Last year, anti-abortion activists tried to touch participants at the march. Over the past two weeks, following the tweets about banning Zionist symbols,the organizers have been receiving death threats. “We have received death threats, rape threats, racist and sexist threats, it has been truly overwhelming," Red said.
“Because of all the online harassment, we were afraid to address the legitimate concerns from people who were not attacking us, who were just trying to understand what was happening, and I think that got lost in the shuffle," Red said. “That is something we are incredibly apologetic for and we want to be accountable for, we should have done better."
Many in the Jewish community have accused both the Dyke March and SlutWalk Chicago of anti-Semitism, and Red agrees that there is validity to the criticism. “I think the concerns of a community that has faced persecution are valid concerns. If I was a part of an ethnic or faith community that has faced persecution and perceived that there is going to be banning or some hate of the people I belong to I would be rightfully angry as well. I do think that there were a lot of people online who were attacking us as a collective who were conflating their identity as Jewish people completely with Zionism and vice versa. And I know that to not be true because I have worked with radical Jewish people in Chicago for some time who do not believe that and see their Jewish faith as not a party of the Zionist project. So there are lots of different people that we needed to address and we didn’t."
In recent months, the American left has grappled with the question of whether Zionism can be a part of progressive movements. Women’s March Organizer and prominent Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour has famously said that Zionism and Feminism cannot go together. While the willingness to accept anti-Zionist Jews at a radical feminist event may be expected, the statement that Zionist Jews will not be banned from the SlutWalk is not trivial.
Asked whether Zionist Jews truly have a place at SlutWalk Chicago, Red said: “I think the SlutWalk is a movement against rape culture, slut shaming, homophobia, a movement that is trying to fundamentally change the way we are looking at sexual violence in our world. As a non-binary fem who is anti-Zionist myself, my body can be violated just as the body who is a Zionist can be violated. And so I think we all have a much expressed cause of ending rape culture and violence against people’s bodies."
“However, I would have to say, and this is me personally speaking,” Red added, “I think we have to acknowledge that when there are occupying forces in certain areas, and subjugation of people we have to look to people who are being marginalized and oppressed in every society and acknowledge that their bodies and minds and families deserve rights and protection and liberation."
"I don’t think I myself can become a free person unless black folks in America or people in Palestine are free. So I would urge people who might have a limited conception of what our project is to really expand how they see the fight against rape culture, because I do think that we have to look at the folks who are most marginalized, and we have to center their voices."