September 23, 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

New group for progressive Zionists to march in Chicago SlutWalk

Calling themselves progressive and Zionist, about a dozen activists plan on marching in a Chicago demonstration against sexual violence to promote the idea thaZionism and liberal values are compatible.

Members of the Zioness initiative, which launched Tuesday, will march together on Saturday at SlutWalk Chicago, a women’s rights demonstration against sexual violence. Zioness members will be marching with banners and T-shirts featuring a design of a woman wearing a Star of David necklace.

Organizers of the SlutWalk initially said that they would ban Stars of David from the event, but later altered their policy to allow religious symbols but not national flags.

The SlutWalk policy came in the wake of a controversy over the Chicago Dyke March in June, when three Jewish participants at the LGBTQ demonstration were ejected for carrying LGBTQ Pride flags adorned with the Star of David. Dyke March organizers said the women were advocating for Israel at an anti-Zionist event.

The Dyke March incident served as “a watershed moment,” said Zioness organizer Amanda Berman.

“It was really a moment where everyone in the community said, ‘This is unacceptable, the line has been crossed, and there’s no way we can walk back from it now because no one can claim this is just opposition to a political party or a policy 10,000 miles away. It’s now about Jews,’” she told JTA.

The Dyke March incident was widely condemned by the Jewish community, and Jews who are pro-Israel have complained that they often do not feel comfortable expressing their religious identity openly at LGBTQ events and settings.

Berman, the New York-based director of legal affairs at The Lawfare Project — which calls itself the “legal arm of the pro-Israel community” — will travel to Chicago for Saturday’s march. She formed Zioness with around a dozen friends from across the country.

“When SlutWalk said, ‘We stand in solidarity with the organizers of the Chicago Dyke March,’ and said ‘We will also ban Zionist symbols, including Jewish stars,’ it became an opportunity to challenge the narrative that Jews and Zionists can’t participate in progressive movements,” she added.

Although SlutWalk Chicago said it would welcome religious symbols, on Thursday it denounced the Zioness initiative for using the march to promote a “nationalist agenda.”

“SlutWalk Chicago does not support the ‘Zioness progressives’ planning on coming to the walk Saturday. We at SlutWalk Chicago stand with Jewish people, just as we stand for Palestinian human rights. Those two ideologies can exist in the same realm, and taking a stance against anti-Semitism is not an affirmation of support for the state of Israel and its occupation of Palestine,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

“We oppose all oppressive governments whether they be the United States or Israel, as we recognize these regimes often disproportionately oppress women and femmes. We find it disgusting that any group would appropriate a day dedicated to survivors fighting rape culture in order to promote their own nationalist agenda,” SlutWalk Chicago continued.

Demonstrators at a Slutwalk march through downtown Chicago, Sept. 7, 2013. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Meanwhile, Berman said the response from the Jewish community has been positive. Though the group was presently focused on Saturday’s march, organizers also have larger aspirations, Berman said.

“We do have broader goals in terms of how to turn this into something that can empower Jewish activists in the future in every variety of social justice movement, that’s certainly the goal,” she said. “Right now we’re very focused on Saturday — that’s the way that this group came to be, to challenge this narrative on Saturday by establishing a new movement and creating the opportunity for people to come and stand in solidarity.”