This Is a Safe Space. No Jews Allowed.

Why are some American progressives embracing overt anti-Semitism?

An Israeli man waves a rainbow flag bearing the Star of David
An Israeli man waves a rainbow flag bearing the Star of David during a demonstration near the scene of a shooting at a gay youth club in Tel Aviv on Aug. 2, 2009.

Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Are you a Jew in Chicago who’d like to march for LGBTQ rights and gender equality? You’ll have to follow a few rules, helpfully laid out in recent weeks by the Chicago Dyke March and the Chicago SlutWalk.

First, you must not carry any “Zionist displays.” What are Zionist displays? That’s for others to decide. A Star of David might be OK. But if it’s on a rainbow flag, it probably isn’t because “its connections to the oppression enacted by Israel is too strong for it to be neutral.”

Second, you must express solidarity with Palestine. Marching in a parade with a pro-Palestinian stance is not sufficient, nor is advocating for a Palestinian state. As an openly Jewish person, you’ll need to satisfy more heightened scrutiny; other marchers may repeatedly demand that you disavow Israel and swear allegiance to the Palestinian cause. You must comply with these demands or else you will be expelled.

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Third, you must renounce any previous connections you have had with Israel. Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of a group with ties to Israel? Repudiate and repent. Openly Jewish marchers are presumed to be in league with the Israeli government unless they can prove otherwise.

One final note: If you are a journalist who covers the implementation of these rules, you deserve to lose your job.

Listed all at once, these guidelines may sound too blatantly anti-Semitic to be stated openly—yet they are, at present, the operating principles of two widely celebrated progressive movements in Chicago. Both the Dyke March and the SlutWalk allege that these rules are compelled by intersectionality, the theory that all forms of social oppression are linked. In reality, both groups are using intersectionality as a smokescreen for anti-Semitism, creating a litmus test that Jews must pass to be part of these movements. American progressives should reject this perversion of social justice. No coherent vision of equality can command the maltreatment of Jews.

The debate over intersectionality and anti-Semitism jumped into the headlines following last month’s Dyke March, an LGBTQ demonstration that avoids the corporate sponsorships and bland political undertones of mainstream Pride events. During the march, several organizers approached Jewish demonstrators who were carrying rainbow Star of David flags. The organizers asked whether these women held Zionist sympathies, their suspicions reportedly having been aroused when the flag-carriers allegedly replaced the word “Palestine” with “everywhere” in a group chant. (That chant: “From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have got to go.) One woman, Laurel Grauer, reportedly responded, “I do care about the state of Israel but I also believe in a two-state solution and an independent Palestine.” The organizers then ejected the Jewish demonstrators.

During the outcry that followed, the Dyke March’s organizers scrambled to formulate principles that would justify this action. In a series of statements, they explained that “Zionism is an inherently white-supremacist ideology”; that many people “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”; and that only “anti-Zionist” Jews are “welcome at Dyke March.”

Last week, the Chicago SlutWalk, which calls for gender equality and an end to rape culture, endorsed and adopted the Dyke March’s policy regarding “Zionist displays.” Once again, the justification was intersectionality—namely, a belief that Palestinian rights and women’s rights are “inseparable.” The event’s combative Twitter feed retweeted a declaration that any flag featuring a Star of David is an “Israeli flag” with “imagery invoking imperialism.” A later tweet clarified that only individuals “using the flag as a symbol of their agenda” would be ejected from the event, which is scheduled for Aug. 12. How, exactly, would organizers differentiate between benign and malign flags? It’s unclear; the only hint provided is that “context matters.” Organizers will, it seems, make ad hoc judgments about who is and is not allowed to carry a rainbow Star of David flag.

Critics of intersectionality have jumped at the chance to cite these controversies as proof of the theory’s flaws. In a New York Times op-ed, Bari Weiss wrote that “in practice, intersectionality functions as a kind of caste system in which people are judged according to how much their particular caste has suffered throughout history.” Because of the existence of “the Jewish state,” Weiss explained, “which today’s progressives see only as a vehicle for oppression of the Palestinians,” Jews are considered the oppressors, never the oppressed.

Weiss’ critique implies that the organizers of the Dyke March and SlutWalk were lured toward anti-Semitism via intersectionality—that as they studied the Oppression Olympics, they came to view Jews at the real oppressors. I strongly suspect that this has it exactly backward because the articulation of intersectionality provided by the Dyke March and SlutWalk makes no sense. The organizers allege that, because the oppression of queer women and Palestinians is intertwined, marchers must renounce Israel and not express their Jewishness. But how does that follow? The reasoning makes sense only if expressions of Jewishness are tantamount to endorsements of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians. And the belief that all proudly Jewish people support the current subjugation of Palestinians is self-evidently anti-Semitic.

On July 13, the Dyke March provided further proof that its intersectionality functioned as a flimsy pretense for anti-Semitism. A tweet from the group’s Twitter account used the term “Zio,” an anti-Jewish slur popularized by David Duke and his neo-Nazi followers. The Dyke March later sent another tweet apologizing for the insult—and adding, “We meant Zionist/white tears replenish our electrolytes.” Indeed, the group’s bizarre fixation on Jews frequently manifests itself as alt-right–style trolling. This is a mockery of intersectionality, not a defense of it.

It has long been obvious that left-wing anti-Semitism is a problem and that an overwhelming abhorrence of Israel often blurs into a generalized anger toward Jews. Organizers of both the Dyke March and the SlutWalk have not discovered the praxis of intersectionality; they have merely dressed up their bigotry in updated argot. Their anti-Semitism is not academic or novel but almost depressingly familiar, and we do not need to overhaul the progressive worldview to address it. We need only remind ourselves that anyone who would hold Jews to a different, higher standard is anti-Semitic, full stop. Whether it happens at a far-left march or an alt-right convention, the creation of special rules for Jews is irrational and wrong. By creating a stringent litmus test for openly Jewish demonstrators, the Dyke March and SlutWalk did not protect the oppressed. They became the oppressors.