On Anniversary of Women’s March, Progressive Group to Protest as ‘Staunch’ Zionists
As tens of thousands of people prepare to mark the first anniversary of the Women’s March with worldwide protests this weekend, one group will join the call for social justice with signs not often seen at progressive marches — ones displaying their “unquestionably Zionist” identity.
The Zioness Movement — which views support for Jewish national self-determination as a natural complement to liberal activism — was launched after Jewish women were thrown out of the Chicago Dyke March in June for displaying rainbow flags overlaid with a Star of David. While march organizers claimed the flags were unwelcome as their event was “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian,” many critics condemned the incident as a flagrant example of antisemitism operating under the guise of anti-Zionism.
Zioness emerged to counter such exclusionary elements in the activist community, which pressure Jews to disavow Zionism in order to participate, said co-founder Amanda Berman.
Now the group is preparing to share their message on the anniversary of the record-breaking 2017 Women’s March, which will feature a “Power to the Polls” rally in Las Vegas on Sunday, and sister rallies across the globe the day before. They’ve enlisted some well-known progressive figures to their cause, including Ann Lewis, who served as a White House communications director for former President Bill Clinton and an adviser to former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“The response has been astonishing,” Berman told The Algemeiner on Friday, shortly after she ordered posters for a 17-year-old in Florida who said he was bringing 20 protesters to a local march.
“We have a lot of young people who are incredibly interested in what we stand for,” Berman said, adding that she plans to embark on “a 10-school speaking tour in March.”
This response is natural for a movement “that really speaks to what I think the vast majority of the American Jewish community stands for, which is progressive values and Zionism,” she indicated.
“There’s been a very loud conversation from people — some of whom are in the Jewish community, and of course many who are not — saying that in order to be progressive you have to be anti-Zionist,” a position Berman maintains often manifests as antisemitism.
Yet “Zionism is itself a progressive value,” she contended, as “those who believe in self-determination for the Jewish [people] also believe in self-determination for all other peoples, and equality and human dignity for all.”
“We are really kind of sick of being told that we’re not welcome, or that we have to renounce our own self-determination in order to fight for the civil rights of others,” Berman continued. “Jews and Zionists have always been at the forefront of social justice activism.”
Berman, a New York-based attorney, said she received “a lot of outreach from people who were active in the … civil rights movement in the 60s and 70s,” who told her they left progressive activism because “there was such an antisemitic undertone, and it’s gotten worse and worse.”
Some critics say this same undertone exists in certain progressive movements today, including among Women’s March leaders Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez. As Petra Marquardt-Bigman documented in The Algemeiner, Mallory helped plan the “Justice or Else” rally hosted in 2015 by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has blamed “Satanic Jews” for the 9/11 attacks and trans-Atlantic slave trade. Both Mallory and Perez have posted images on social media praising Farrakhan, whose rally also featured Sarsour, a controversial activist who once claimed that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.”
For Berman, these comments emphasize the importance of engaging as Jews and Zionists in the progressive movement.
“This is a critical moment, and we as Jews and Zionists understand what it’s like to need to fight for social justice and civil rights and equality and racial justice,” she emphasized. “We show up and we’re heard, and if there’s a negative narrative, we present the truth. We cannot let people lie about us and say that we don’t belong.”
Berman argued that “it’s theoretically possible in very limited circumstances” to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic, but said the two are “more often than not” intertwined.
“If you believe there should be a Palestinian state, and not a Jewish state, that’s not anti-Zionism, that’s antisemitism,” she said.
This is a message Zioness seems eager to share both this weekend, and in the future — one Berman thinks her organization will help shape.
After pointing out that most American Jews identify as Democrats — the Pew Research Center found that over 70 percent of Jews supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election — she argued that Zioness represents “what most of us feel on most issues: stanchly Zionist, staunchly supportive of the safety and security of the Jewish state.”
Zioness will empower Jews to channel these beliefs, Berman suggested, as they continue to fight for “social justice and economic justice and racial justice issues in America.”