Women, Sex and Power


This address was delivered by Karen Lehrman Bloch at the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Guild Symposium 2018: “21st Century Woman.”

So who is the “21st Century woman”? I think she’s strong, independent and spirited; unafraid of both her femininity and her sexuality; fiercely brave, confident and, of course, feminist.

But wait, how can she be both feminine and brave? Sexual and remain a feminist?

The truth is, those words were never meant to be contradictory. They became contradictory because of an essential misunderstanding of the original meaning of feminism.

What I’d like to do today is briefly touch on this misunderstanding and offer a vision for a deeper, more authentic feminism — a feminism that honors the original meaning.

I also think women will be a lot happier when we begin to understand that we don’t have to give up parts of ourselves for feminism. That, in fact, those parts are what make us stronger.

So let’s start over. Let’s talk about what feminism really is and how it was supposed to empower women. And let’s deal in the realms of facts and reality.

Feminism is not about following a set of rules or politics imposed by other women.

Feminism is not about voting for a woman just because she’s a woman.

Feminism is not about legislating equal numbers of judges or CEOs.

Feminism is not about exploiting your sexuality when it’s useful.

Feminism is not about destroying a man’s career because of a compliment.

Feminism is not about empowering women through victimhood — or shutting down voices of disagreement.

What is feminism?

I. Feminism can be summed up in three words: freedom, responsibility and individuality.

Freedom for women to vote, be educated, have careers — or stay home with our children. Freedom for women to wear miniskirts if we want, freedom to flirt, both in the office and out, to get involved with a co-worker — or to abstain from all sexual relations until marriage.

Freedom for women to become the unique individuals that we are.

Third Wave feminism, which began in the ’80s, was, in my opinion, a huge setback for women. Third Wave feminists actually restricted women’s freedom by adding onto feminism a set of politics, a list of behaviors, even fashion choices. Third Wave feminist leaders attempted to tell women what to think, how to behave, who to vote for.

None of this was part of the original meaning of feminism.

Now we have a Fourth Wave of feminism. Intersectional feminists are adding onto feminism another layer of do’s and don’ts.

Women, say intersectional feminists, must hate masculinity, privilege victimhood and, most important for many, continuously attack Israel. How interesting that a movement that started out 100 years ago as a way to free women from societal restrictions became a movement that urges women to hate Israel, one of the most feminist countries in the world.

II. Feminism also means personal responsibility — taking control of your life.

For feminist leaders in the past three decades, “personal responsibility” were dirty words. Why? Because focusing on a woman’s responsibility, they said, would take the focus off “the patriarchy.”

But just like with true liberalism, you can’t have freedom without responsibility. Why? Well, who else should take responsibility for our lives? The government? Our husbands? Our dates?

I think we’ve had some rather bizarre #MeToo moments precisely because of the lack of emphasis on women’s responsibility. Like “Grace,” the young woman who publicly humiliated Aziz Ansari because … why? She didn’t like the way the date was going but made no effort to tell him that? Or to simply go home?

In fact, the underlying premise of many of the non-assault #MeToo cases is actually quite unfeminist: It is based on the false notion that all women become helpless in difficult situations.

Sadly, many women do. But that’s not the fault of “the patriarchy.” It is largely the fault of the feminist establishment for, essentially, ignoring women’s personal growth.

Real assault cases are, of course, horrific, and right now we’re watching one of the worst: Dr. Larry Nassar, the doctor to the young gymnasts. This is a case of complete institutional failure and, as a result, at least 265 victims were subjected to pure evil.

But denying that sexual tension, even in the workplace, is not complex, that women don’t have responsibilities — that life isn’t perfect — doesn’t serve anyone’s interests.

Right now, any woman can destroy a man within seconds by merely describing an awkward pass. Is this empowerment  or is it the same passive-aggressiveness we’ve spent a half-century trying to overcome?

III. We don’t live in a patriarchy.

Anyone who seriously thinks we still live in a patriarchy — where men control and oppress us — needs to visit countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, this is another great irony of today’s feminist leaders: They have virtually ignored the women in Iran who have been protesting the wearing of compulsory hijab.

So far, 30 Iranian women have been arrested and tortured for this. This should be at the top of Western feminists’ priority list. Instead, it hardly gets mentioned.

But we do have oppressors here — what I have come to call the Gender Industrial Complex. The Gender Industrial Complex tells women who to vote for, which careers are preferable, who to like, who to hate, which ideas to regurgitate, what color to wear, which pronouns to use, which films to see, which films not to see — and most important of all: how to shut down anyone who disagrees with you.

The Gender Industrial Complex is our new oppressor. And if you call yourself a feminist, you need to fight back against it, just as our grandmothers fought against the patriarchy.

Real feminists don’t follow orders — even from other women.

IV. Women are different from men.

Contrary to “gender theory,” this stems mostly from biology, not culture. More important, it’s actually a positive, producing things like babies and making life much more fun and interesting.

Women and men are not the same, and we also don’t exist along a gender spectrum. Social scientists use bell curves to show our biologically based differences. Take aggression. The bell curves for males and females look very different. But there will always be a small group of women who are naturally more aggressive than a small group of men.

What else does this mean? It should be assumed that women think about sex differently from men. This doesn’t mean that women don’t think about sex. This doesn’t mean that women don’t love sex as much as men do. What it means is that women are evolutionarily built to connect our emotions to sex.

Probably the worst thing that feminist academics did in the past three decades was to make women feel ashamed of our femininity and sexuality.

So, while many women have no problem with today’s hook-up culture — where sex is typically expected — many other women, as hard as they try, can’t do it without feeling lousy afterward. Instead of seeing this as a special aspect of being a woman, feminists today blame this lousy feeling on men — either on a particular man or again on “the patriarchy.”

Many of today’s non-assault #MeToo cases could have been avoided, in fact, if feminists had explained all of this to women. If they had taught women that we each need to know what works for us and act accordingly.

V. Femininity and sexuality.

Probably the worst thing that feminist academics did in the past three decades was to make women feel ashamed of our femininity and sexuality — to neuter women. Leaving aside the fact that feminism had no interest in neutering women, a neutered woman is by definition a less empowered woman.

Being at one with our femininity and sexuality is an integral aspect of our strength and self-esteem. Just look at Gal Gadot.

Gal is so unabashedly feminine and sexy that when “Wonder Woman” first came out, some feminists went ballistic. They had been taught that showing our femininity or sexuality was a sign of weakness.

A hundred years ago, that was true. But we went through this thing called the sexual revolution in the ’60s, and one of the positives was that women took ownership of their sexuality.

And by taking ownership — by feeling it and knowing that it doesn’t undermine our ability to run a company or fly a plane — women were made whole in a way that we hadn’t been since hunter-gatherer times.

But it’s a responsible sexuality: It’s not about sleeping our way to the top; going to a man’s hotel room and then claiming victimhood; wearing scanty clothes at inappropriate times.

Sexuality, true sexuality, comes from within.

VI. Beauty.

Being at one with our femininity and sexuality also helps with the other issue Third Wave feminists got wrong: beauty. Beauty is not a myth; it’s not a cultural construct. It’s a harsh reality that only gets harsher with age. But as French and Israeli women know better than anyone: When you’re feeling at one with your sexuality, when you truly own it, it doesn’t matter how old you are.

VII. What about men?

Don’t men have any responsibility here?

Of course. Just because we don’t live in a patriarchy doesn’t mean that men, as individuals, don’t have a lot of work to do. I’m always amused when I read conservatives talk about returning to the ’50s and the Era of the Gentleman.

Sure, many men in the ’50s had good manners in public, and I would love to see those manners return. But we are all too aware of what often went on inside the home or inside the office.

We want men to treat women with respect — not just to keep up appearances. We want men to treat women with respect because it’s the right thing to do.

But here’s the thing: We don’t need to dump masculinity to make this happen. Masculinity is not toxic. Uncivilized masculinity is toxic. Civilized masculinity ends wars. Civilized masculinity moves mountains. Civilized masculinity is, well, sexy.

Another great irony of today’s feminism: the effort to defeminize women and feminize men. So that we’re all gender-neutral robots. No thanks, and again, this was never the intent of the original feminists.

But how do we make sure masculinity is civilized? Parents, especially fathers, need to teach their sons to be proud of their strengths and abilities — but to always have manners and respect. It’s not easy (I have a high-testosterone 8-year-old son; I am well aware). But it’s doable. All of us know men who are both gentlemen and quite masculine.

But also, women — as friends, girlfriends and wives — have a role here. We have the not particularly fun job of helping to civilize men. Actually, I take that back. Imagine how Gal had civilized her early boyfriends. I have no doubt she had a great deal of fun and success — or they were out the door very quickly.

VIII. So what’s the bottom line?

The goal of feminism was to unshackle women, to be able to engage in the world as strong, fully formed adults who know what works for us and what doesn’t.

It’s time to teach women again that we are fully in control of our bodies and our destinies — to reach deep inside of ourselves to find our unique identities.

And so I propose the beginning of a new, Fifth Wave of feminism. We can call it rational feminism or independent feminism or noncomformist feminism. Or, we can just call it feminism, because it would be bringing feminism back to its original meaning.

The key components again would be freedom, personal responsibility and individuality. Taking back our lives from those who wish to control us, both women and men.

That, and only that, is the true meaning of feminism and empowerment. That is the 21st century woman.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

The flag in question looked like this. Via WikiCommons

On anti-Semitism at Chicago Dyke March


I am a queer Israeli Jew of Arab and North African descent. I’m no stranger to oppression in many forms. My family escaped Iraq in the early 1950s as anti-Semitism in Iraq reached a peak. I grew up in an underprivileged neighborhood in Israel and struggled to make my way out of it. I served in the Israeli army as an openly queer commander for five years, and had to endure many battles on the path for acceptance. Yet I cannot wrap my head around the bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism coming from my LGBT community.

On June 24, the final red line was crossed at the Chicago Dyke March. What was supposed to be a march for equal rights for an oppressed minority turned into a hate-fest targeting Jewish people — yes anti-Semitism in the guise of LGBT rights. Three LGBT Jewish participants were forced out of the parade for holding a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it. For the organizers, it was unacceptable to have a Jewish symbol at the parade. While you might think that they would try to apologize after this shameful act, they didn’t. The organizers took to Twitter and argued: “Queer and Trans anti-Zionist Jewish folks are welcome here …” In other words, some Jews can join, but they will decide which ones.

It is not a political stand; we all know it is not. If this were political, why are they not targeting the countless countries that ban homosexuality and target LGBT people on a daily basis? Would they be removing Iranians from the parade for holding a flag with crescent on it? In Iran, they hang gays every day. Why not Gaza, where they throw gays off of rooftops? Or Chechnya? It is not political, it is ideological, an ideology called intersectionality. The problem with intersectionality is that it doesn’t even adhere to its original meaning: All struggles for rights are inherently connected. It has now become a tool to be used against not only Israel, but Jews in general, who are accused of “white privilege” even though we’re not white.

What does the support of Zionism (the movement to liberate the Jewish people in their ancient homeland) have to do with your LGBT identity? What does your religion have to do with it? Even if you are critical of Israel’s politics and policies, as I am and many Israelis are, why are the organizers supporting only “anti-Zionists”? The only meaning of anti-Zionism is the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish state. For the organizers of the parade to support anti-Zionism can mean only that they support the end of Israel, destroying the Jewish state. Iran’s leaders, ISIS, and many terrorist groups hold similar views to the organizers of the Dyke March. It can be defined only as anti-Semitic.

We are witnessing a trend among many in the progressive camp, a camp of which I am a part, that is losing its true identity and being used by campaigners and strategists manipulating them. Some queer groups and other minority groups are being used as tools to promote hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. They are being told to use their identity, be it their race, gender or religion, to fight Israel for a cause they have no connection to. These groups must ask themselves, before taking a stand about Israel, when was the last time they took a stand about another conflict around the world? When was the last time they’ve judged a participant in an event based on his ethnicity or religion? Why is it only with Israel and Jews that they feel that they have the liberty to boycott, to discriminate and to hate?

The signs are clear and this type of hateful incident is a red flag for the LGBT community. What is this community if not a community that is fighting for equality and justice, for our community and for all? Although it is not popular to stand up for the Jewish people and the Jewish state, we must remember the lessons of history. It might start with us but it never ends with us.

Also, everything can change very quickly. The just thing to do is to stand up to this type of hatred and call it what it is, nothing more or less than anti-Semitism.


Hen Mazzig is an Israeli writer, speaker and social activist from Tel Aviv. You can follow him @HenMazzig.

 

Photo via WikiCommons

We need a poverty summit


If we can land a man on the moon, we can end poverty. The Jewish community has been grappling with the issue of the impoverished, the other, for thousands of years. We are taught that “There shall be no poor among you” and “Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

Communal service networks have helped knit together organized Jewish communities for generations. Our ancestors, whether escaping Russian pogroms or surviving Nazi death camps, came to the United States in conditions of abject poverty, carrying our legacies with them. Social service efforts have helped hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of our own.

If any community has the history to help launch a “moon landing” to defeat poverty, it is ours. We can’t do it alone, nor should we, but we can convene our neighbors, our friends, our hearts and our intentions to do something unprecedented. We can bring together the minds and the expertise to craft a comprehensive plan to end poverty as has never been done before. We can harness the minds, the will and the resources that resulted in “one giant leap for mankind,” thereby marshaling the tools needed to affect the lives of the poor in the most far-reaching and profound way imaginable.

We must call a summit. The United States Poverty Summit would devote attention and resources unseen since Neil Armstrong made an entire country believe in itself when he stepped on the moon. Approaching the issue of poverty from a variety of disciplines, led by an array of experts, the summit will launch a national dialogue that can lead to a comprehensive plan to attack this suffering in all the many ways that are needed.

There is no single path into or out of poverty. Assembling experts from different fields who can talk to one another, interact with one another and make symbiotic their disparate approaches, is the way forward. The tools are there, the programs exist and the people with the knowledge are available.

We, as a community, can supply the key, otherwise missing, ingredient: the will. We can help cast aside gridlock. There is too much at stake, too many lives on the edge, to avoid the opportunity that can lead, together, to a historic societal change.

What shape would a weeklong poverty summit take? On Day One, an agenda will be set.  Days Two and Three will be spent in intensive group discussions, led by designated experts, with invited representatives from each represented community. On Day Four, each group will draft its own 10-point plan that can be implemented to alleviate the trauma of poverty from its perspective, and then, on Day Five, all of the groups will reconvene for a general convocation at which all of the plans will be reviewed and integrated. The result will be a week to define the concrete steps that will change the lives of the poor in a way never before attempted.

A number of key components need to be amassed. With apologies to all those inadvertently omitted, the summit has to begin with a community ready to lead and a designated leader to help bring so many diverse experts together. We are that community. 

The leader

For a generation, former Sen. and Vice President Joe Biden has been the conscience of our government’s policies affecting the most vulnerable. He authored the Violence Against Women Act, he championed numerous access-to-justice initiatives for the poor, and he oversaw the launch and growth of the national IMPACT Project, an unprecedented national pro bono program that has brought heightened legal services to the poor in 11 cities around the country. His experience, his insight, his moderation and his ability to reach across party lines make him the moderator, leader and voice of this effort.

The legal community

Acknowledging that lawyers are the unsung heroes in the battle against poverty, understanding that only the justice system can address the immediate needs of those most vulnerable, a number of key attorneys must be at the poverty summit. Expert attorneys in civil rights, poverty law, government funding, homelessness prevention and the pro bono delivery of legal services need to be part of the summit.

The advocacy community 

Understanding that without forceful and skilled advocates, no plan would be complete, several key voices need to lead one of the most crucial discussions. Leaders in children’s rights, authors addressing race and poverty, homeless community advocates, senior protection organizations, those involved in advancing the cause of affordable housing, and experts in making the welfare system work efficiently all need to be invited. 

The economics of poverty

Leading economists and academics have devoted their considerable scholarship to the economics of poverty. Tax experts, those who have worked around the world on issues of extreme poverty, and political leaders who have devoted significant thought and legislative efforts to combating poverty can be assembled to attend and advise. Professors, governors and lawmakers will bring a perspective and expertise needed to move forward with proficiency and influence. 

Politicians and the political system 

Not many elected officials have dared to discuss poverty and make it a critical part of our national discourse. The late Robert Kennedy, who served as a U.S. senator and attorney general, was the prototype but, sadly, few have claimed his mantle. Others, however, at various levels of government actively have tried to bring the issue into our political dialogue. Particular mayors, city attorneys, state legislators, governors, senators and Cabinet members have initiated legislation, used their bully pulpits, encouraged anti-poverty development, and should be a key part of this discussion. 

Homelessness advocates 

In various communities around the country, there are advocates who have devoted their lives to being immediate with those whose situations have forced them into life on the streets. These advocates take to the streets, literally, to know and understand the people who are living in this kind of poverty. They and others have launched on-the-ground projects that are feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and clothing and training the job-seekers. Invited to join these dedicated leaders will be representatives from the most effective on-the-ground organizations in the country, those who actively are engaged in innovative anti-poverty programming.

Literature   

Addressing the intersection of race and poverty has been assessed directly by a number of authors, to one degree or another. Their examinations and experiences will add to the summit discussion. They have addressed the impact that increased incarceration followed by difficult parole policies have on the cycle of poverty. They work with former convicts who find re-entry to be increasingly difficult as they are denied jobs, housing and voting rights. Others have written about the need for our communities to create more ways for the poor to earn decent wages. Still others have lived among the poor and written about the precarious poverty precipice over which families fall when they lose their homes.

Foundations/philanthropists

Well-funded private foundations, led by influential nonprofit and business pacesetters, have provided billions of dollars in grant-funding, goods and services to combat the trauma of poverty. A national network of community foundations is impacting low-income neighborhoods and programming on a daily basis. Bringing together private foundations, with collective resources and missions meant to make an impact, will be a part of this particular group. 

The business community

Individual philanthropists from the business community offer important leadership. Representatives from the banking, real estate, investment and entertainment industries bring a perspective, as well as resources and gravitas, needed to overcome the ways that established systems sometimes work against the interests of the poor. Bringing a business sensibility, an industrious approach to uplifting the needy, and crafting a strategy for private industry to pursue will be a critical part of the plan to be drafted.

Faith communities

Throughout the history of the United States, communities of faith have been the primary line of defense for the poor. The Jewish Federations of North America bring together a vast network of Jewish communal organizations that have been serving the poor on a nonsectarian basis for more than a century. Other religious groups have done similarly admirable work. They all need to be at this table and they all need to bring their constituencies with them. They collectively would bring to the summit a wide swath of experience and a deep pool of experts and volunteers.

Food insecurity

More than 42 million people in the U.S. live in households that are food insecure. (That figure is from the 2016 report from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.) Organizations across the country are working and advocating for effective anti-hunger measures.

Education

Poverty is awash in generational cycles. Education is the single most important weapon in breaking through a historical, cyclical morass of lost hope. Secretaries of education, on the state and federal Cabinet levels, can lead this part of the discussion. Innovative educators from universities, public grade schools, support organizations and private funders would bring great experience and wisdom to the discussion. Leaders of teachers unions, private school professionals and carefully chosen elected school board representatives need to round out the list of participants.

There are many other groups whose participation and experience would be valuable additions to the summit. Union leaders, job-creation organizations, local governments, housing departments, builders, welfare advocates, mental health professionals, environmentalists who focus on the degradation of our low-income communities, medical personnel and community health organizations would be important contributors. The bottom line is that we have an occasion to address the overriding issue of our generation.

As leaders of a Jewish community that for generations has argued about, debated and taken action to help the impoverished among us, we have the will to address issues of poverty as never before. With the right people in the room, one week of uninterrupted focus is all we ask. It could change our nation forever. 


David A. Lash is the managing counsel of pro bono and public interest services at O’Melveny & Myers LLP. To join him in this effort, email PovertyCon@jewishjournal.com.

Crossing the line: When criticism of Israel becomes anti-Semitic


In the wake of a protest against a reception featuring an Israeli community group at a recent LGBTQ conference, there has been widespread controversy. We have read blog posts and articles, watched videos of the protest, and heard from friends and allies who were present at the demonstration.

Yet, what was perhaps most painful for many of us is that we value and embrace much of the good work of these activists and organizers.  They are some of our nation’s leading advocates, working to secure justice and fair treatment to all. Often they stand as allies in our work for justice and equality.

Unfortunately, though, this fissure is not a new experience.  Since starting as the CEO of ADL last summer, I personally have heard from many college students that their Jewish faith renders them pariahs on their campuses – unless and until they affirmatively denounce Israel.

Campus Hillels and other Jewish organizations that have long worked with LGBTQ campus groups, student of color organizations, and other progressive clubs on campus to host film festivals, panels, and other events increasingly are being shut out, rejected from participating, even when Israel is not on the agenda. Where other students are not being subjected to a litmus test on their views on Israel, Jewish students have been singled out and questioned about their objectivity and position on the issue.

As racial tensions flared across the country the past few years, we heard anecdotes from Jewish racial justice advocates that they were called “kikes” or targeted with other anti-Jewish slurs. When they tried to address the epithets, they were told they need to understand that “it’s because of Israel.”

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not. It’s anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear. No government is immune from criticism. Surely neither the U.S. government nor the government of Israel nor any other.  Indeed, we have criticized policies and practices of Israeli leadership when we felt appropriate to do so. 

We recognize that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists will condemn Israel. That is a reality. That is their right. We disagree – vigorously – with their accusations of pinkwashing, with claims that Israel is an apartheid state, and with other efforts to demonize Israel.  And we will speak out, challenge their mischaracterizations, and dismantle their indictments with facts and truths, as is our right. 

But when that criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, we will condemn it. It is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated anywhere, especially not in social justice circles.

To be specific, when a person conflates Jews, Israelis, and the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When all Jews and all Israelis are held responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When Jews would be denied the right to self-determination accorded to all other peoples, it is anti-Semitic.  

And when protesters chant “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” it is appropriately interpreted by most people as a call for the erasure of Israel – and it is anti-Semitic. Giving protestors the benefit of the doubt, it is unlikely that most intend their message to be anti-Semitic. However, regardless of the intent of the protest, the impact matters.

Yet, too often, when students, individuals, or organizations raise the specter of anti-Semitism it is quickly rejected, disregarded, or written off. Israel’s critics literally have written best-selling booksdecrying their so-called inability to criticize Israel. 

But President Obama himself noted that anti-Semitism is on the rise. And, as he eloquently reminded, “When any Jews anywhere is targeted just for being Jewish, we all have to respond.. 'We are all Jews.' “

Indeed, we know that women are best positioned to define sexism, people of color to define racism, and LGBTQ people to define homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism. But, does this mean that all women must reach consensus on what offends them? All people of color? Everyone in LGBTQ communities? Hardly. 

So too, we Jews are best situated to define anti-Semitism, even if all of us may not likely reach consensus on the definition. Our millennial experience with intolerance demands the same acknowledgement as other forms of bigotry. Indeed, it is the collective responsibility of activists and organizers across the ideological spectrum to stop and listen when someone says,  “You’ve crossed the line.” 

Standing up for rights of disempowered people is a job for us all. ADL has been doing it for more than 100 years. But marginalizing and wounding others in the process helps no one. Rather, it divides us and impedes our ability to find common ground in places where our collective strength could do so much good.

Jonathan Greenblatt is the National Director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

Gay community must build a tent large enough to include pro-Israel voices


The central prayer of our people, the Shema, is often interpreted as a message of unity and the interconnectedness of all things. This can be a powerful force for bringing people together, for helping us to see the common humanity and the spark of the divine that unites us, whatever our seeming differences may be.

But last week we saw something else, how a claim of interconnectedness can be used as a wedge to drive us apart, to turn people who might be allies on many issues into bitter enemies because of disagreement on others.

Last week, A Wider Bridge was set to sponsor a program at Creating Change, the nation’s largest conference of LGBTQ leaders, presented by the National LGBTQ Task Force. The mission of A Wider Bridge is to build connections between the LGBTQ communities of Israel and North America, and our guests were two leaders of The Jerusalem Open House, an essential organization that works to build LGBTQ community in Jerusalem in a challenging and diverse environment.

Jerusalem Open House has spent the past six months helping its community recover and heal from the horrific violence at last summer’s Jerusalem Pride Parade, which resulted in the murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki and the serious wounding of several others. Leaders of Jerusalem Open House came here expecting to be embraced and supported by the LGBTQ community at the conference.

Instead, our program was disrupted by protesters, a threatening atmosphere of hate and intimidation was created, and the Jerusalem Open House leaders were not permitted to speak. Many of the Jewish participants at the conference were truly shaken by the ferocity of the protest, especially the anti-Semitism that was on display in some parts – including the chant of “from the river to the sea, all of Palestine must be free.”

What we came up against was “intersectionality,” a theory which includes the axiom that all oppression is rooted in the same causes, that struggles that might seem distinct from one another are really the same and must be fought together.

At its core, we find a truth here that is helpful – we are not elevated if we can only see our own pain, our own struggle, and if we lack empathy for the oppression of others. But in practice, intersectionality often leads to rigidity and dogma, the abandonment of critical thinking and the demonization of people who might otherwise be allies.

Israel is a complicated topic, about which there is no consensus in the LGBTQ community. But intersectionality is used to suggest that there must be consensus, that “good queers” should know they obviously need to hate Israel, and that there is no room for conversation or hearing other viewpoints. Case closed.

Arthur Slepian, second from right, and other Jewish activists at the Creating Change conference in Chicago. (A Wider Bridge)Arthur Slepian, second from right, and other Jewish activists at the Creating Change conference in Chicago. Photo courtesy of A Wider Bridge

Throughout the week we heard over and over, including from speakers at plenary sessions, that “there is no place at this conference” for any discussion of Israel that is anything but a complete condemnation. When African-American queer feminists spoke of the connection of their movement to the anti-Israel cause, the canard of the “forced sterilization” of Ethiopian women in Israel was repeated on several occasions. Some people believe that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth.

(I will add that those who say it is “obvious” that LGBTQ people should support Israel reflexively simply because Israel has a relatively positive record on LGBTQ rights are also being simplistic.)

The bottom line is that movements advance by building broad coalitions, often with people with whom they disagree about certain things. The successes in the struggle for LGBTQ rights that we have had here in the United States are a prime example of this kind of broad coalition building. A movement that devolves into an ideological echo chamber with demands for rigid adherence to one agenda is not likely to grow and flourish.

Clearly we have work to do inside the LGBTQ community.

What lessons can this episode bring to the Jewish community? As Jews, we are often great at arguing and debating with one another while remaining in solidarity. The Talmud itself gives us a tradition of civilized discourse. And we are a people whose wisdom teaches us that “both these and these are the words of the living God” – that is, opposing viewpoints can both be reflections of the divine imperative.

But of late, we too are prone to say that those who hold to certain views have no place in the Jewish community – or, worse, are anti-Semitic. I can think of many examples, including last summer’s overheated debate on the Iran nuclear deal.

So as we offer our critique of the LGBTQ community for not having a tent large enough to safely include the voices of those who care about Israel, let us also look with some introspection at how we are managing the tent of the Jewish community. Once again, Jews and queers have a lot to learn from each other’s experience and wisdom.

Arthur Slepian is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

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