The End of Allyship

For many years, in the late 1960s and 1970s, my father was the president of the teachers’ union in Oakland.  Throughout his career, he was an advocate and activist for civil rights.

In 1969, for example, he joined four civil rights activists from the African-American community at an Oakland school board meeting for what was supposed to be a protest of the selection of a new superintendent without community input.  Instead, it became a mêlée: at one point, my father swung his briefcase in a high arc onto the back of a police officer who was baton-choking a young black student caught up in the fracas.  He spent the night in jail, and later became one of the defendants of what local media dubbed the Oakland Five.

By virtue of his position as president of an AFL-CIO local affiliate, my father also served on the Alameda-Contra Costa Central Labor Council.  The CLC’s annual Labor Day picnic was a major political campaign stop for Democrats, where national candidates spoke during presidential election years.  If that wasn’t enough, he also served on the board of our local B’nai Brith chapter.  In bringing together these threads of his activism, my father was an intersectional ally long before the term was coined.

Today, he would be in mourning over the death of allyship.  The aftermath of the October 7 attack in Israel has sheared the supposed Progressive alliance.

In Oakland public schools, on Dec. 6 of this year, teachers defied the warnings of the school district superintendent and conducted a “Teach-In for Palestine,” with a complete curriculum for K through 12 students.  Billed as an effort to give students “counter-narratives” on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the teach-in was initiated by a subset of members of the Oakland Education Association teachers’ union called “OEA for Palestine” and was later endorsed by a vote of the full membership of OEA.  The curriculum makes no mention of the Oct. 7 attacks or Hamas’s role in the conflict.  This is unsurprising, as in November, the OEA passed a resolution that placed full blame for the conflict on Israel.

The fracture lines have deepened over the last several years.  In 2012, QUIT! (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism!) launched a boycott of Cliff’s Variety, an independent local hardware store in San Francisco’s Castro District, over the store’s carrying SodaStream products made by an Israeli company in its West Bank factory.  In Chicago in 2017, the organizers of the 21st Annual Dyke March ejected three marchers carrying “Jewish Pride” flags — rainbow flags with Stars of David in the center — because the flags “made people feel unsafe,” explaining that the march was “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian.”

Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon joined a New York crowd in chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” before telling the group, “There are a lot of people that are afraid, that are afraid of being Jewish at this time, and are getting a taste of what it feels like to be a Muslim in this country.”  The fallout from her remarks included her agency dropping her as a client, after which she issued an apology that implied she simply forgot about the history of anti-Jewish discrimination in the U.S., the Tree of Life synagogue massacre, and the Holocaust.

The fractures have not only shown the hollowness of “allyship” with Jews.  Fissures have caused splits in the LGBT community, the women’s rights movement, and the African-American community.

Andrew Sullivan observed that the gay rights movement has transformed in recent years. 

The movement is now rhetorically as much about race and gender as it is about sexual orientation (“intersectionality”), prefers alternatives to marriage to marriage equality, sees white men as “problematic,” masculinity as toxic, gender as fluid, and race as fundamental. ... Above all, they have advocated transgenderism, an ideology that goes far beyond recognizing the dignity and humanity and civil equality of trans people into a critique of gender, masculinity, femininity, and heterosexuality. “Live and let live” became: “If you don’t believe gender is nonbinary, you’re a bigot.”

Fred Sargeant, who helped organize the first Pride march following the Stonewall Riots in 1969, has since affiliated with the LGB Alliance, which is critical of transgender and queer ideology.  In 2022, he attended a Pride celebration in Burlington, Vt., carrying a sign with the slogan “Gay Not Queer.”  A group of “TQ+” activists stole his placard, knocked him to the ground, and poured coffee on him.  Sargeant told reporters, “The concern I have is that the movement that I knew, the gay liberation movement, has metamorphosized into a gender identity movement that is quite misogynistic, homophobic — values that I can’t share.  I don’t recognize it any longer.”

Women’s rights groups have been similarly impacted.  Transgender ideology has been used to bludgeon women like author J.K. Rowling and swimmer Riley Gaines into silence about the biological aspects of female identity.  Women’s rights activists accepting of transgender ideology denounce feminists who reject the rigidities of that ideology as “TERFs” (trans-exclusionary radical feminists).

Closing the circle to the Oct. 7 attacks, many women’s rights groups in the “intersectional alliance” such as Planned Parenthood, the Women’s March, and National Organization for Women remained largely silent about the sexual atrocities committed by Hamas and its allies against Israeli women and children.  The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or U.N. Women, took two months to notice these crimes.  Even media outlets like BBC News and NBC News waited until after their own “investigations” to say they had “heard evidence” of the rapes or that evidence “suggests” that Hamas committed sexual atrocities, despite the overwhelming evidence the rapists livestreamed to the world during their own acts.

Speaking of the Chicago Dyke March incident, David Shneer, a professor of history and religious studies at the University of Colorado who co-edited the book Queer Jews, told BuzzFeed News, “What runs through my mind is the tension between politics and identity — and the frustration that I have that the progressive community in the US cannot figure out how to create a united front.”

But there isn’t a united front and never has been.  Senator Chuck Schumer recently said on the Senate floor: “Many of the people who have expressed these sentiments in America aren’t neo-Nazis, or card-carrying Klan members, or Islamist extremists.  They are in many cases people that most liberal Jewish Americans felt previously were their ideological fellow travelers.  Not long ago, many of us marched together for Black and Brown lives, we stood against anti-Asian hatred, we protested bigotry against the LGBTQ community, we fought for reproductive justice out of the recognition that injustice against one oppressed group is injustice against all.  But apparently, in the eyes of some, that principle does not extend to the Jewish people.”

The appearance of unity relied on unquestioning conformity and unswerving loyalty to a subset of the groups in the “intersectional alliance,” based less on identity and more on an ideological imperative to remake society in the image of the Progressive ideal.  Many members of the alliance have now woken up to the reality that while they may have been allies to the “woke community,” the community has never been an ally to them.

Image: Lyza via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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