Friday, February 02, 2018

Zioness Has a "Manifesto"

Zioness -- a campaign for progressive Zionists launched in the wake of the Chicago Dyke March fiasco -- has a "manifesto". This perhaps offers an opportunity for me to share my thoughts on Zioness, which I've been observing since its initial inception and towards which I maintain a wary but not wholly antagonistic posture.

Some people think that Zioness is just a false flag operation -- people who don't actually care about progressivism at all trying to infiltrate and kick-up-dust within progressive communities. There are several bases for this assertion. First, critics point out the links between Zioness' leadership and the Lawfare Project, which tends to take a relatively conservative line on Israel advocacy issues.  Hence, they suggest that Zioness is really just a stalking horse for Lawfare's right-wing agenda. Second, some have claimed that Zioness has taken a confrontational posture towards the progressive groups it marches with that, it is alleged, is designed to provoke and sow division. This, the argument goes, militates against the interpretation that all they really want is inclusion.

These arguments don't quite track for me, however. On the first point, there are, for better or for worse, plenty of Jews with non-progressive (even conservative) views on Israel who genuinely care about and support things like reproductive access, gay rights, economic redistribution, and other pillars of the progressive community. I'd be entirely unsurprised if the leaders of the Lawfare Project fit that profile. Call them inconsistent if you like, but I think there is little evidence to suggest they're lying about the cluster of beliefs they hold. And indeed, at least in the social media feed I've been pleasantly surprised at how Zioness has seemed to genuinely pick up and promote progressive causes in a way that feels organic and heartfelt. Groups or commenters that ignore, say, women's rights six days a week and then parachute in to say "what about women in Saudi Arabia?" whenever someone says a bad word about Israel are a dime a dozen. But Zioness has not actually been doing this -- it has promoted progressive causes in ways and in contexts where there is no clear reason to do it other than that they believe in it.

On the second, there's probably something to the claim that Zioness takes on a defiant tone that can be read as hostile. There's also probably something to the claim that people being open and unapologetic about their Zionism in spaces like this will be automatically read as "confrontational." Both of these interpretations, I think, make sense given the genealogy of Zioness as reaction to the expulsion of several Jewish marchers from the Chicago Dyke March for simply holding a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it -- an act which was taken to be sufficient proof of being an outside agitator who wasn't part of the progressive community. One lesson one can take from CDM is that being subdued in one's Jewishness, and adopting a go-along-get-along stance, isn't going to save you -- in fact, it isn't even going to protect you from accusations of tossing "Zionism" in everyone's face. Another lesson is the need to avoid the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose logic where Zionist are told not to be open in their Zionism when engaging in progressive causes (because it's distracting and making it "about us") and then, when progressive activists seek to define Zionists out of the camp it's justified (because where were all the Zionists during all these other campaigns?). So it doesn't surprise that the new tactic will be out-and-proud, taking a more aggressive and less conciliatory stance.

To be clear: this sort of confrontational, disruptive presence is very definitively not my preference. It flies in the face of all my own political instincts. But I've written about how certain modalities of organizing and protesting serve as markers for progressive orientation -- the medium very much being part of the message -- and as much as I hate it there might come a point where it's necessary for more mainstream Jewish groups to pivot towards more confrontational methods of political advocacy that "code" as progressive. Put another way, there's something a bit odd about folks from the IfNotNow wing of Jewish political action complaining that another group is behaving in a disruptive and confrontational manner, and doesn't seem interested in quietly and unobtrusively talking things out without making a big stink in public. To the extent Zioness is confrontational in demanding inclusion, that's wholly consistent with, not in opposition to, speaking in progressive shibboleths.

So those are reasons why I don't join the antagonistic camp. Yet I remain wary. And the main reason is that Zioness utterly refuses to even try to think through what progressive commitments mean with respect to Israel.

If we return to the manifesto, for example, it's pretty vague on what Zioness actually wants to achieve in the world. Indeed, it tries to hold that vagueness out as a virtue: "We will not define your progressivism or your Zionism." But the fact of the matter is it gives very little guidance regarding what it means, in practice, to "dismantle institutionalized racism in our government and our society." What does that commit us to? What policies are and aren't compatible with that ambition?

Most tellingly, Zioness doesn't seem willing to grapple with the fact that progressivism requires certain things out of Zionism. One can believe (and I do) that Zionism and progressivism are compatible while observing the should-be-obvious fact that not all iterations or implementations of Zionism are progressive or consistent with progressivism. Being a progressive Zionist imposes certain obligations with respect to Israel as much as anywhere else; a fact that Zioness seems resolutely uninterested in contending with (and here the link to the Lawfare Project really may do some important explanatory work). So while it claims that it wants to mobilize "progressive Zionists," that term doesn't actually encompass any set of "Zionist" beliefs about Israel so long as the holder is also pro-choice. The progressive Zionist community is already existent in organizations like Ameinu, Partners for a Progressive Israel, and J Street (to name a few), and all of these understand that progressive mobilization around Israel can't be agnostic on matters of Israeli policy or even the best understanding of Zionism. If, as I've often argued, caring about Israel means having opinions about it, these groups care a lot about Israel -- but that manifests precisely because they have particular concepts of what they want Israel to be and an active desire for it to live out a progressive credo.

So ultimately, I remain wary. I've already got a progressive Zionist community that I'm comfortable with; it works through the organizations I've just mentioned and they seem to do it better than Zioness is currently capable of. And while I can't fully join the critique of Zioness for behaving in a confrontational, stand-up-and-notice-me sort of way since that mode of social activism is increasingly de rigueur on the left, I don't like it and I don't have any interest in joining it.

2 comments:

Joe in Australia said...

Zioness appears to be positioned as an oppositional movement that counters the notion that Zionists can be of the Left. As such, it fulfills its purpose just by allowing people to operate under its banner. I'm not saying Zioness should accept every nominally-Zionist group, but the Left has been unwilling to police its anti-Zionist elements to the extent that it has tolerated even actual antisemitism. An oppositional group isn't just needed as an umbrella group for Jewish and Zionist representation, but as opposition to a dangerous ideology infecting the Left. If Zioness defines its basic criteria for admission it should be self-focused, not directed by non-Jewish demands. Silent conformity hasn't worked; apologia haven't worked; it's time to demand respectful interaction on our own terms.

Joe in Australia said...

Oops, I just noticed my typo. I meant to say the exact opposite: "Zioness appears to be positioned as an oppositional movement that counters the notion that Zionists cannot be of the Left."