Monday, June 10, 2019

The Role of Jewish Activists at the DC Dyke March

One thing that's been bandied about in the controversy about the DC Dyke March's decision to ban Jewish Pride flags (for being allegedly too similar to an Israeli flag) is the role that Jewish members of the DCDM played in proposing the policy, defending it public, and later in enforcing it, as part of the group of bouncers seeking to keep Jewish counterprotesters outside of the event.

But "role" is a vague term, and I'm curious about the specifics. Specifically, I can imagine three potential roles the Jewish members could have played in bringing about the Jewish Pride flag.

  1. The policy banning Jewish Pride flags was proposed by other members, and the Jewish members agreed to it, ratified it, or otherwise signaled it was permissible.
  2. Some policy regarding Jewish symbols was proposed by other members, and the Jewish members modified or modulated it -- possibly to make it more limited (i.e., initially it was a ban on all Jewish symbols), or possibly to make it more expansive (i.e. initially it was solely a ban on the Israeli flag, as such).
  3. The Jewish members proposed this policy sua sponte -- it was their idea to have a policy whereby Jewish Pride flags were banned; DCDM wasn't really considering having a policy regarding Jewish Pride flags until the Jewish members brought it up.
In all of these, to one extent or another, the Jewish members might be thought of as having "set up" the DCDM, at least to the extent they presented the policy as a valid compromise that would be viewed as permissible within the Jewish community when anyone could have known it would provoke a furious backlash. But in some they have considerably more agency than others.

On that note, though, the third possibility -- or the "more expansive" iteration of the second -- is the most interesting, because it raises the possibility that the DCDM as a whole viewed itself as deferring to its Jewish members and might have even been taken aback by the strength of the broader communal response. That's hard to process because it's so obvious to us the way in which a policy like this is harmful to Jews, polices Jews, and gatekeeps Jews. But I have to remind myself that most non-Jews don't know that much about Jews, and in particular don't know enough to necessarily realize that the Jews in their little circle who are assuring them "this is fine, this is okay, if anyone gets upset it's just the usual right-wing rabble-rousers" aren't actually representative.

And likewise, remembering that Jews generally pay more attention to Jewish issues than non-Jews means the Jewish DCDM members were among the most likely to have vivid memories of Chicago, and most likely to have strong opinions about what the Jewish Pride flag represents. It strikes me as entirely plausible that they leveraged their "insider knowledge" to present a narrative where this flag was the banner of the infiltrators and the pinkwashers -- a threat that they knew of and were doing the service of warning DCDM about in advance. From their vantage, they were dissipating a threat to Palestinian or Arab safety at the march that otherwise might have gone unnoticed -- like someone who knows a subtle "insider" gesture of White supremacy that, precisely because of its superficial banality, can normally be made in public settings without challenge.

Or maybe not. The Jewish members could have been in reactive role, agreeing with a proposal made by others, and had little to do with placing this issue on their agenda. Most obviously, this could have been a position spearheaded by Palestinian members (or people who identify strongly as "pro-Palestinian" -- though the latter group, of course, overlaps significantly with the Jewish members). As I said, the particular role that the Jewish members played in promulgating this policy is opaque -- other than that they stood (literally) on the front lines to defend it.

But I don't think that it's implausible that their role was a relatively active one -- that at least in part this happened because they wanted it to happen. It is an interesting fact about what I call "dissident minorities" that they often have a material interest in not making the spaces they occupy inclusive to the broader membership of their minority group. A DCDM where more Jews feel comfortable marching is a DCDM where these Jews, in particular, are less influential and less powerful. And so, far from being the brake that prevents the space from going to far, often times they're the accelerator pushing it forward and the bouncers standing between their "compatriots" at the entrance (as was quite literally the case here).

So it's reasonable to wonder if that's what was going on here -- anti-Zionist Jews, in a sense, egging the march on, trying to maneuver it into an antagonistic position towards the broader Jewish community while simultaneously using their own identities to ratify the legitimacy of the posture.

1 comment:

LWE said...

Dissident minorities also do a nice job of turning the "listen to minorities!" aka "listen to Jews/Syrians/Black people/etc" to an instrument for some exquisite, multi-sided demagoguery.