Star of David Pride Flags Unwelcome at DC Dyke March

June, 06 2019

The June 7 DC Dyke March will prohibit participants from carrying Israeli flags and Pride flags with the Star of David in the middle, according to one of its organizers. Palestinian flags and symbols, however, will be permitted. According to their website, D.C Dyke March supports activism for those often sidelined by mainstream LGBTQ groups, and is a grassroots movement meant to unite all who identify as dykes. This year’s theme, Dykes Against Displacement, aims to raise awareness and support for those affected by homelessness and the affordable housing crisis in Washington, DC.

Rae Gaines, a DC Dyke March organizer, told A.J. Campbell, the former Director of Nice Jewish Girls, and founder of The Jacob’s Tent Project, about the policy on June 4. Campbell asked if the March had any plans to address possible harassment of Jewish marchers holding Israeli flags or Pride flags with the Star of David. In a Facebook conversation viewed by Moment, Gaines told Campbell that “The DC Dyke March is a pro-Muslim and pro-Palestinian space…We do ask that participants not bring pro-Israel paraphernalia in solidarity with our queer Palestinian friends.” This policy is reminiscent of the 2017 controversy at the Chicago Dyke March, when three women carrying Pride flags with the Star of David were removed from the march. A year later, Palestinian flags were permitted and carried at the same event.

While Gaines initially said that only Israeli nationalist symbols were prohibited, Yael Horowitz, a DC Dyke March facilitator, later clarified that the policy applied to nationalist symbols of all nation states. “We don’t want people to bring any nationalist symbols to the March, because it doesn’t align with our vision of queer liberation,” she said. She added that the DC Dyke March encourages participants to display other Jewish symbols, such as signs, yarmulkes and talit. 

Horowitz herself agrees with the policy. “As another queer Jew,” Horowitz said, “I have felt really supported by the non-Jewish organizers of the March in my Judaism and I haven’t had to hide any part of me.”  Although the rainbow flag with the Star of David is not inherently nationalistic, Horowitz said that the policy still applied because of its resemblance to the Israeli flag. “There are so many other symbols of Judaism,” Horowitz said, “but we feel like that one really emulates nationalists symbols, so we would prefer that people don’t bring it, just like we would prefer if people didn’t bring an American flag that replaced the red and white stripes with rainbow stripes.”

On the DC Dyke March’s website, their policy regarding prohibited symbols reads: “We will not tolerate signs with hate speech of any kind. If found, [marchers] will be asked to discard your sign immediately.” Horowitz clarified that the policy against flags is “more of a best practice than a policy,” she said. “If we began listing out all of the things that we didn’t want to be at the March, the list would be endless.” The DC Dyke March will have marshals and de-escalators who “have been trained to have conversations with people if people are bringing signs or flags that don’t really align with the mission and values of the Dyke March,” Horowitz said. Decisions about which signs or flags are considered unacceptable will be at the discretion of the marshals or de-escalators.

According to Horowitz, this policy is nothing new and has “been a part of our conversation from the beginning,” she said. “We came to the decision collectively in order to honor and uplift people with different marginalized identities and make sure that everyone feels safe as possible, and nationalism is something that often doesn’t make people feel very safe.”

In response to this policy, Campbell, along with organizations A Wider Bridge, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, and Zioness wrote a joint statement. While commending the organizers for bringing back the DC Dyke March, the statement also expresses criticism of the Dyke March’s ruling: “We come together to strongly condemn the leadership of the DC Dyke March for their decision to ban the Jewish Star of David on a pride flag and Israeli iconography.” The statement went on to say that “to the extent that organizers intended the ban as a form of protection for queer Palestinians and Arabs, the decision makes queer Jews and Israelis that much more vulnerable at a time of rising anti-Semitism, on the far right and far left.”

The DC Dyke March identifies itself as pro-Jewish and pro-Palestinian according to organizers, and partners with organizations such as the Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow. Horowitz described this collaboration as an “educational partnership.” Jill Raney, a member of IfNotNow DC involved in the March explained that “members of IfNotNow DC are on leadership teams of the Dyke March…working on marketing, content and logistics, accessibility concerns, and other prep work to make the Dyke March happen.” Additionally, Raney said that “several IfNotNow members put together a little booklet that talks about the important difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.” The booklet also “offers thoughts on how Jewish dykes can be mindful of Palestinian dykes and the complexities of how Zionism, which is important to some Jews but not all, causes extraordinary harm to Palestinians so that folks can make informed choices about how they show their Jewish dyke pride.” Raney also stated that IfNotNow DC members promoted and supported the decision to prohibit the Israeli flag and Star of David.

Some members of the queer Jewish Community, however, do not agree that the policy promotes inclusivity. Campbell sees it as exclusionary, and believes that it pushes Jewish people out of queer spaces. Campbell questions the March’s specific policies about the use of alternate Jewish symbols: “Why do they get to say which Jewish symbols we can use?”

James Cohen, Chief Development & Communications Officer at Keshet, a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Judaism, also expressed concerns about this policy’s exclusions of LGBTQ Jews. “The Star of David, while it is on the Israeli flag, is a symbol of the entire Jewish community,” Cohen said. “As LGBTQ folk, we know what exclusion feels like, and we would urge the entire community to say no to anti-Semitism and to welcome LGBTQ jews as we welcome all other folks into this community.”

Regarding the effects this policy may have on Jewish attendance at the March, Cohen said, “Everyone’s going to have to make their own decision.” He said that he hopes “that, if this policy is an actual policy, that it be changed such that LGBTQ Jews would know that they are welcome.” Horowitz said that she hopes members of the Jewish LGBTQ community who disagree with the policy still come to the March.

Campbell is still planning on attending the March—and carrying a Pride flag with the Star of David. “As a queer Jew,” she said, “I didn’t come out of the queer closet to have to hide in a Jewish one.”

—with additional reporting by Dana Gerber

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