This past weekend, the Straight Pride Parade marched through downtown Boston, Massachusetts. The idea for a “straight pride” parade sounds almost like a meme, the actualization of years of poor sex education, blatant homophobia, and the false, yet pervasive conception that giving oppressed people rights somehow entails ignoring that which oppresses them in the first place. It’s funny, in a sick way, to miss the point by so wide a margin.
Still, the most striking symbol of the parade was not the MAGA hats, the Trump slogans, or the alt-right memorabilia: It’s the seemingly out-of-place flag, billowing white and blue in photo after photo. I’m talking, of course, about the Israeli flag.
It’s not surprising that the Right has allied itself with Israel. Indeed, the Netanyahu government represents in Israel similar policies that the Trump government represents in the United States: tightened immigration policies, deregulated capitalism, and threats to democracy. Some highlights: In July, Israeli work crews began the demolition of dozens of Palestinian homes in the West Bank; also in July, the Israeli education minister called intermarriage between American Jews and non-Jews a “second Holocaust”; and just two weeks ago, Netanyahu denied the only two Muslim-American Congresswomen admission to Israel at Trump’s urging, forcing Palestinian Representative Rashida Tlaib to grovel to see her own family in the West Bank. These stories don’t sound unfamiliar, especially when Trump called American Jews “disloyal” to Israel last week for voting for Democrats—something over three-fourths of them do.
This showcases the lie Trump has been trying to sell the American public: that antisemitism is inherent in anti-Zionism, and perhaps more insidiously, that Zionism is all needed to earn the Jewish vote. Trump also assumes a bold claim not supported by data: that Zionism, as a political ideology, indicates unwavering support for the Israeli government rather than an umbrella term for a set of ideological stances that stipulate support for a Jewish state in some form. In essence, Trump stumbled because American Jews didn’t buy his reductionist rhetoric. The thing is—his supporters don’t either, as they too are pro-Israel antisemites.
American right-wing support for Israel is complex because it is rooted in so many competing ideologies. One is Christian Zionism, a belief that the return of Jews to the Holy Land is consistent with Biblical prophecy regarding the Second Coming of Christ—an event which, it is notable, these same Christians do not believe Jews fare well in. This ideology is not outside the mainstream and counts major Republican players as some of its staunchest advocates: Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are all proponents. But much of the Right is not religious; instead, Zionism serves them ideologically because they do support the crimes of the Netanyahu government and the inherently apartheid settler colonialism that characterizes the occupation.
Still, it feels puzzling for this to exist within the context of a Straight Pride Parade. Indeed, one of the strategies used by liberals to justify support for Israel to the far Left is known as “pinkwashing,” a practice in which a state or company presents itself as pro-LGBTQ+ to garner support for its more insidious activities, in this case the blatant violation of Palestinians’ rights in the form of a brutal apartheid regime. For Israel, this is a well-known tactic. (This is ironic, of course, because Israel will not allow same-sex marriages to be performed inside the country.)
However, it is precisely because of these Zionist liberals that the Israeli flag was present at the Straight Pride Parade. Yes, the far Right ideologically supports the Netanyahu government and yes, any opportunity for them to showcase the sheer scope of their horrific beliefs is one they will take. But the alt-right—a movement characterized by sickening antisemitism—is also playing Trump’s game in an effort to incite violence against American Jews. It recognizes that the past 50 years of American political discourse have equated American Jews and Israel, a narrative useful both for right-wing Zionist and mainstream Jewish institutions that together seek to preserve American support for Israel. It’s also useful for antisemites.
The alt-right is flying the Israeli flag and using the narrative that Judaism-equals-Zionism to suggest Jewish support for heinous goals that most Jews would find repulsive. This includes homophobia, as shown by flying it at the Straight Pride Parade. As it stands, Jews are among the most pro-LGBTQ+ demographics in America, with 76% supporting same-sex marriage as of 2012.
The complexity of the effects of this tactic on American Jews emerged on the Left earlier this summer during Pride Month. The Washington, D.C. Dyke March banned the Jewish pride flag, or the pride flag with a Magen David in the center of it for its supposed implicit support of Israel. This is alienating and confusing for queer Jews: the Jewish pride flag is used by the pro-Israel lobby in their pinkwashing campaigns (see the LGBTQ Birthright program) but many queer Jews use it as expressions of identity independent of their stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Of course, both the Jewish pride and Israeli flags have the Star of David in the center of them. But it begs the question: if we associate the Star of David, the most instantly recognizable Jewish symbol, with Israel automatically, then are we not playing into the narrative that Jews are no more than puppets for Israel?
The problem with this narrative, of course, is that Jews are not proxies for Israel, and Judaism is not Zionism. One Gallup poll suggests that 95% of American Jews identify as Zionists in some form, but most American Jews are at least critical of the Israeli government under Netanyahu. The alt-right knows this, but they’re counting on the American public not to.
So, why bother to support the idea that Zionism cannot be removed from Judaism? It’s pretty simple: the alt-right is both violently antisemitic and finds it inconvenient that American Jews serve as one of the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting blocs. They want to paint Jews as homophobes in the hopes that it will incite antisemitic violence from the Left, which has three possible outcomes, all of which are positive for the alt-right: either Jews move right to ally themselves with a unanimously pro-Israel Republican Party, they leave the United States, or they die. Painting the anti-Zionist Left as antisemitic is Trump’s contribution to this process, and questioning Jewish loyalty is the icing on the cake.
This tactic will likely continue. The divide on Palestinian-Israeli relations is a deep one, and some people may be fooled by the Right’s rhetoric. But it also won’t stop until mainstream institutions disentangle “antisemitism” and “anti-Zionism” in the public psyche. This is imperative: the Right uses accusations of antisemitism—an ideology neither unique to the Left nor more present on it than it is on the Right—to appeal to its Zionist base in the hopes that it will alienate Zionist Christians and Jews from the Left. Thus, when mainstream institutions propagate the narrative that the Left is antisemitic for anti-Zionism alone, they simultaneously erode the definition of antisemitism to merely “critical of Israel” and validate the violent, antisemitic Right that uses antisemitism as a red herring to attack left-wing activists so their own antisemitism can go undisturbed. However, while accusations of antisemitism on the Left are used as a red herring, it’s important for us to speak out against it when it happens. The Dyke March was a devastating example of the Left playing into the Right’s rhetoric, something that can only have devastating impacts on American Jews. Antisemitism on the Left and the Right are not equal, but equating Judaism and Zionism only serves to stoke white supremacy and antisemitic violence. It’s working: While people analyzed statements from Tlaib and Representative Ilhan Omar for antisemitism over the past few weeks, three different men were discovered with plans to enact mass violence against Jewish Americans. At least three antisemitic attacks on Jewish Brooklynites occurred last week alone. We need to act as individuals, but more importantly, mainstream institutions need to act.
Until then, however, I will continue to be enchanted by the Jews proving the alt-right wrong, one vote, petition, poll or protest at a time. I will continue to be inspired by the Jews who have disrupted I.C.E. camps and ignited fervor, who have stood up for Palestinians and who have stood up for each other. They could teach Trump a thing or two about loyalty.