Just over two years ago, three women attempted to participate in an annual LGBTQ demonstration against sexual violence in Chicago, carrying LGBTQ pride flags adorned with the Star of David. They were ejected from the march. The Dyke March organizers said the women were advocating for Israel at an anti-Zionist event.
Five months later, a new national organization was launched to provide space for those who are both Zionists and who uphold progressive ideals.
More than 100 Atlantans have already expressed interest in establishing a chapter in this new Zioness Movement.
The first national board meeting was held last month, according to Amanda Berman, Zioness founder and executive director. “We have an actively involved board,” she told the AJT, and there are already 26 chapters linked on the organization’s website. No chapter guidelines have yet been established and Berman remains the only staff person so far. But that hasn’t deterred some enthusiastic Atlanta activists.
One of those is Michal Ilai, an Israeli who coordinates Israel clubs in Atlanta-area high schools. She told the AJT that she has been recruiting people and reaching out to rabbis to talk about a potential chapter in Atlanta. “A lot of us have a deep kesher, connection, to Israel, but we are liberal and progressive and we don’t feel like we have a place in the tent anymore,” she said, referring to comments made by a couple of new Democratic Congresswomen that many describe as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel.
“About five years ago, I published an article about reclaiming the word Zionism. I’m a Zionist and a woman, so someone came up to me last year and asked if I was interested in Zioness,” said Ilai, who added that a meeting was already held earlier this year in Atlanta.
According to its website, Zioness is an initiative to empower and activate Zionists on the progressive left to “stand proudly in social justice spaces as Jews and Zionists.” Berman says the new movement allows Zionist women “a chance to show up without having to check their Zionism at the door.”
With a background as a civil rights attorney, New York-based Berman spearheaded international action against Kuwait Airways for its discrimination against Israeli nationals and fought cases against San Francisco State University for its constitutional and civil rights violations against Jewish and Israeli students and community members. Now she’s focusing exclusively on building the Zioness community. She complains that too often criticism of Israel has become a litmus test among many progressive organizations.
Berman, who launched Zioness with friends across the country, said in August 2017 that her goal was to “turn this into something that can empower Jewish activists in the future in every variety of social justice movement.”