September 18, 2018

Amanda Berman: Can progressives also be Zionists?

Amanda Berman, founder of the Zioness movement, discusses the opposition liberal Zionists have faced within the progressive movement, and how her new movement is working to change that.

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Zioness Movement Joins Women’s March

Photo courtesy of zioness.org

With the second annual Women’s March scheduled for Jan. 20, the 5-month-old Zioness movement has rallied an impressive roster of national feminist leaders to bring progressive Zionists to marches around the country.

Zioness was established in August 2017, after a group of 20 progressive Zionists banded together to participate in the Chicago SlutWalk. However, as had occurred in the same city just three months earlier at the Dyke March, the group was banned for waving a Star of David flag because it was deemed a Zionist symbol of nationalism and oppression.

Civil rights attorney and Zioness co-founder and CEO Amanda Berman is spearheading the Zioness march in New York. She told the Journal that Zioness’ goal is “to activate and empower progressive Zionists — Jews on the left who believe not only in self-determination of the Jewish people but of all communities. We care deeply about social justice and economic justice. Jews and Zionists have always been on the forefront of these movements.”

But in the wake of episodes like those in Chicago, Berman said, “Our community has been staying home because we have been feeling unwelcome and unwanted.”

“Zioness is about showing up and saying anyone who would tell Jews and Zionists to go home and to not empower their own and other communities to fight for equality is not sincerely progressive.” — Amanda Berman

By bringing together powerful, progressive Zionist women to lead marches around the country this year, Berman said she believes up to 1,000 people will march under the Zioness banner.

Berman said she has received emails from around the world, with many saying they were active in the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and ’70s but pulled away because of the anti-Semitism they encountered on the left.

“People were saying, ‘I’ve been waiting decades for people like you to stand up and say I am a proud, progressive Zionist and I’m not going to check my Zionism or Jewish identity at the door to engage,’ ” Berman said.

Ann Lewis, who served as White House director of communications for President Bill Clinton and as a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, will head the Zioness contingent at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

“I am proud to march with the young people of Zioness,” Lewis said in a statement. “Zioness is inspiring and empowering our country’s next generation of progressive leaders to wear their Zionist identities proudly, as they fight for human rights and women’s rights, health care, education, compassionate immigration reform, equal pay and equal dignity.”

Mimi Bergman, a member of the Women’s March’s Host Planning Committee and the Behavioral Health Committee for the League of Women Voters, will lead hundreds of Zioness members at the Jan. 21 Power to the Polls march in Las Vegas.

In an official statement, Bergman said, “I’m proud to be a part of the Zioness Movement, which is an exciting new initiative that is re-energizing passionate Jewish activists to fight for equality and justice as they always have.”

Pushing back against those who have tried to turn away progressive Zionists from marches and demonstrations by stating they are not anti-Semitic, merely anti-Zionist, Berman said, “I think it’s possible to be anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, but, unfortunately, anti-Zionism very often manifests itself as anti-Semitism. But that conversation has no place in a march for women’s empowerment or a march for the LGBTQ community.”

During the first Women’s March last year, a great deal of attention was paid to Linda Sarsour, who helped spearhead the event and whose views on Zionism have been a flashpoint for many on the progressive left.

“I see a lot of discussion about Sarsour on Zioness’ social media,” Berman said, “and while we find her views reprehensible, I don’t think it’s productive for us to focus any of our energy on this one individual. The productive response is to show directly what she says about our community is wrong and hurtful and, frankly, discriminatory. Zioness is about showing up and saying anyone who would tell Jews and Zionists to go home and to not empower their own and other communities to fight for equality is not sincerely progressive.”

Progressive Zionism, social justice and tikkun olam are very much part and parcel of Taylor Nicole Stern’s raison d’être. The Jewish educator, who is organizing the Los Angeles march, first met Berman in college. Raised in Chicago, Stern spent several years as a Jewish educator at Milken Community High School and said when she heard about what Berman was doing to create Zioness, “it spoke to a void I didn’t even realize was forming.”

Reading about how Jews were being excluded from progressive and resistance movements since President Donald Trump took office galvanized her into becoming deeply involved with Zioness.

Zioness will meet up at 8 a.m. Jan. 20 at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at 7th and Flower before walking to the march. For more information, visit zioness.org