A past SlutWalk in Chicago. Photo: Chicago SlutWalk Facebook.
In an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Friday, activist Amanda Berman discussed her new progressive Zionist organization Zioness and its plans to march in this weekend’s feminist SlutWalk in Chicago.
According to Berman, Zioness was organized in response to the recent scandal in which Jewish activists were ejected from the Chicago Dyke March for carrying rainbow flags emblazoned with the Star of David, as well as claims made by anti-Israel Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour that Zionists cannot be feminists.
Zioness hopes to combat this exclusionary tendency by being unapologetically Zionist and progressive.
“It’s been a longtime coming for the community,” Berman said, “for Zionists who feel deeply about social justice issues, who have always been on the frontlines of every social justice movement. And now we’re being excluded from all sorts of different civil rights issues because of who we are and our ethnic identities.”
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She added that the June 24 Dyke March incident was “a watershed moment.”
“I think it was the first moment for a lot of people, not necessarily for me, but for a lot of people, where it was unequivocally antisemitic,” she said. “These were women who identified as queer who wanted to participate in a march to represent themselves and their identities, and they were kicked out for carrying a flag with a Jewish star. It opened up a lot of people’s eyes and it pushed a thing that was happening a lot already into the public consciousness and there was more of an opportunity to take action.”
Berman believes that Sarsour’s comments only enhanced progressive Zionists’ sense of discrimination because of “all the people who support her claims. It was really disheartening to see how many people respond positively to that message, that Zionists can’t be feminists.”
When asked whether she sees this discrimination as fundamentally racist or political, Berman replied, “I think a lot of people don’t know the difference. And I think a lot of people unfortunately don’t know what Zionism is. They don’t know what it means. They don’t understand that it has nothing to do with the policies or the politicians of a foreign government. It is the civil rights movement and the self-determination movement of the Jewish people.”
Jews, she added, need to actively assert their Zionism, because “for us to seize that history within our own community and to use it to help others to fight for civil rights or social justice and human dignity for every human being is totally consistent. And people just don’t understand that. I think we have to work on our messaging in our community, and that’s part of what the Zioness movement is about. It’s to challenge the narrative that we can’t participate in these types of movements because of who we are. We can, we should, and it’s a totally natural alliance.”
Berman said that she did not know how many people would march with Zioness at the SlutWalk on Saturday, but noted, “All I can tell you is that there’s been unbelievable enthusiasm, overwhelming really. We’ve been responding to messages and questions non-stop. Who will show up, I don’t know. I hope, I believe that it will be a lot of people but we’ll see what happens.”
One worry, of course, is that confrontations with anti-Israel activists will occur at the event. Berman was unequivocal on the issue, saying, “We are hoping to not have confrontation. We’re going to the march in solidarity, we’re coming as friends, and we’re coming because we care deeply about the issues that underlie the SlutWalk. We care about victim-blaming and slut-shaming and women’s empowerment and patriarchy and we want to have the opportunity to march for what we believe is right and just. And we hope we’ll be accepted there.”
In a press statement announcing the launch of Zioness, the group stated, “The organizers of the Zioness Movement are currently working to build coalitions of Zionists to support other progressive causes across the country.”
Asked if such coalitions are forming, Berman said, “It’s already happening. I can’t give you too many details, but as I said there’s been just so much excitement and enthusiasm around this already. We only launched on Tuesday and we’re speaking to a lot of different Jewish groups, institutional groups, individuals, leaders, rabbis… People who truly identify as progressives who care about these issues that we’re trying to address and accomplish together, and we want to join a broader coalition and then take this further.”
Berman added that the social media response has been particularly positive. “We’re having people say, ‘Come to the SlutWalk in LA in October, come bring this to San Francisco, we need a Zioness movement in New York,’ so I have a lot of faith that this is going to go far,” she said.
Rabbi Karyn Kedar — senior rabbi of Congregation B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, Illinois and a lifelong civil rights activist — commented on Zioness’ efforts, saying, “I thought we had fought this battle. As a rabbi, I have spent years on the frontlines, among the crowds, and behind the scenes defending the rights and dignity of the marginalized in our society. And here we are again — attacked, excluded and ostracized by the very people we see as our partners. Make no mistake, anti-Zionism is the new antisemitism, and like all hate, must not be tolerated.”
SlutWalk is a feminist march against sexual violence. Recently, the organizers adopted the Dyke March’s policies banning Jewish symbols, but then relented in the face of intense criticism and apologized. However, as Zioness noted, “It also precluded nationalist symbols from being displayed at the march, including Israeli flags. In subsequent social media postings, SlutWalk organizers made clear that they view Palestinian flags as a symbol of ‘resistance’ and not nationalism.”
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