Fancy Names for Left-Wing Anti-Semitism

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It was a Chicago weekend filled with gay pride events, with friends and families cheering on the marchers. But a dark cloud loomed over one event. When some lesbians showed up at the “Dyke March” with banners that included a Star of David, they were booted out.

The Jewish symbol “made us feel unsafe,” the organizers said.

As the blues-rock singer Delbert McClinton once wrote, “If you can’t lie no better than that, you might as well tell the truth.”

Noxious in its own right, this incident highlights several problems that are now pervasive on the left and increasingly pollute the public sphere. They deserve exposure and censure.

There’s no mistaking the Star of David’s meaning. It’s the universal symbol for Judaism, one seen at every synagogue—and on every “Coexist” bumper sticker. It is the centerpiece of Israel’s flag, marking it as the Jewish state. It was pinned as the mark of Cain on Jews in ghettos and concentration camps.

When the organizers of Chicago’s “Dyke March” prohibited its display, they were saying, “Jews are not welcome here if they display any symbol of their faith or cultural history.”

The irony, of course, is that gays themselves were treated this way for years. They were told to keep their heads down and never say who they really are, much less display their orientation openly, proudly. They are still treated this way in many countries, the very ones embraced by the Dyke March organizers. It’s a bizarre contortion of “progressive ideology,” one they could test by marching through Ramallah or Gaza City.

The organizers were open about why they prohibited the Jewish symbol. They loathe Israel and love Palestinian opposition to it. Of course, you could hold those views and still let others march. But that wasn’t “progressive” enough for them.

Incidents like this are not confined to a few wackos. They occur regularly at leftist protests and on college campuses. For the first time since the 1950s, anti-Semitism is voiced openly, well beyond fringe groups and “restricted” country clubs.

This resurgence of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism has been growing in Europe for more than a decade. On the right, it’s a return to age-old hatreds in an age of globalization and dislocation. On the left, it’s a fashionable way to show solidarity with Muslim immigrants—without actually dealing with the serious (and increasingly lethal) problems of integrating them into modern European life.

Like so many bad ideas, this New Anti-Semitism jumped the pond, landing first in universities and spreading from there. On campus, the vanguard has been Muslim activists from the Middle East and North Africa, especially Palestinians, with little regard for free speech if it conflicts with their political aims. They show up to protest at virtually all pro-Israel events (okay), and routinely disrupt them (not okay).

They have many fellow travelers, as the Dyke March shows. What they share is contempt for the First Amendment. They think views that diverge from theirs should be suppressed. Of course, they alone are allowed to make those decisions.

The Dyke March incident reveals several other disturbing trends, as well. It shows how easily the disparagement of Israel, which is nearly universal on the left, spills over into denigration of all Jews.

Ah, you say, but aren’t many Jews active on the left? Yes, but too few have fought back against their comrades’ scorn of their religion or the Jewish state. Some don’t care because they are thoroughly secular. Judaism may have been their parents’ or grandparents’ religion, but it is not theirs. Others are aggressively anti-Israel. Their presence as Jews (which they highlight) gives political cover to others’ hatred. How could we be anti-Semitic if we welcome these Jews?

We could point to other lessons: the heckler’s veto, where a few voices can prevent others from being heard and still others from listening and engaging. That happened at the march. A few people objected to the Star of David and that was enough for the organizers.

The veto is also a sad reminder of the “blackball” veto at restrictive clubs, where a single negative vote could exclude Catholics, blacks, women, or Jews. On the left today, the black ball is dropped by Palestinians, Muslim student groups, and other anti-Israel activists.

To buttress their political position, they mouth the magic words, “I feel unsafe,” and demand protection. They don’t mean some genuine physical danger or threat of intimidation, which is non-existent. They mean exposure to ideas they don’t like.

How does this odd coalition hang together? Awkwardly. They have few common goals, mostly common enemies—and often not even that. If lesbian marchers were really interested in Middle East affairs, they would know that Israel is by far the most tolerant country in the Middle East for people with varied sexual orientations. The West Bank and Gaza are lethally dangerous.

The left has handled that awkward reality in three ways. First, they ignore it. If they are forced to acknowledge Israel’s tolerance, they resort to a second technique. Instead of praising it as tolerance, they smear it as “pink-washing,” meaning it is whitewashing directed at gays. It is only a ruse, they say, to obscure how awful Israel is in other ways.

The name is clever, but the logic is paranoid. Yet that is exactly how the Dyke March Collective justified banning the Star of David, singling out a Jewish organization for “using Israel's supposed 'LGBTQ tolerance' to pink-wash the violent occupation of Palestine." Notice that even Israel’s tolerance is “supposed.”

Their final card is “intersectionality.” The idea is that progressive politics should grow out of the intersection of different groups: blacks, gays, Palestinians, transgenders, women, and others.

Of course, there are some genuine intersections and common interests, but there are too few to forge a coherent movement around positive goals.

So, they resort to the oldest technique in interest-group politics: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. That’s what “intersectionality” means in practice. You support reparations for slavery, I’ll support a Native American Studies Center on campus. You support transgender bathrooms, I’ll support affirmative action. You support “free Palestine,” I’ll support “gay marriage” (at least in America; I’m not exactly announcing that in Pakistan).

No one openly acknowledges this kind of horse trading. Far better to claim ideological purity, especially if you can give it a fancy name like intersectionality. That’s what the Dyke March Collective meant when they said their march for gay pride was “anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian.”

What kind of coalition are they building? Unfortunately, it is one designed to delegitimize Israel, demonize opponents, and suppress any discordant views, not only about Israel but about a wide range of other issues. It’s intellectual Leninism in the benign guise of emancipation.

It has no place in a tolerant, constitutional democracy. It should have no place at a gay pride march, either.

RCP contributor Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, where he is founding director of PIPES, the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He blogs at ZipDialog.com and can be reached at charles.lipson@gmail.com.

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