We All Lose in the Oppression Olympics

A Progressive Queer Jew’s Thoughts on Israel/Palestine, Antisemitism, and Zionism

Over the last six months, friends and peers have asked unique questions because of my identity and position as a Jewish activist. I straddle two very different worlds – the world of traditional Jewish institutional life and the world of LGBTQ activism. 

I have been asked to explain pro-Palestian protests to my friends in the Jewish community. In queer and activist communities, I have to explain the Jewish perspective and antisemitism.

I’ve noticed there is an unhealthy double standard of language usage on both sides, a disturbing amount of antisemitism from activists, and a lack of empathy for Palestinians from many within the Jewish community (mainly from leaders). Both communities are making mistakes that slow the pursuit of a coalition to promote peace.


The disconnect between activists and the Jewish community primarily comes from a lack of proper inclusive terms to describe our movements. This further divides us and creates a greater lack of empathy. Unity in terminology will be critical in coalition building and finding common ground. 

We cannot create a double standard of language from either end if we want to have strong relationships that can help build peace. If a marginalized community tells you that a term harms their community, it is our job as activists and progressive voices to listen, understand, and abide by those calls.


Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland, and in the contemporary sense means the belief in the right of the state of Israel to exist. 

To many pro-Palestinian activists, the term Zionism means the eradication of the Palestinian people from Israel because of the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians in 1948. 


Anti-Israel or Anti-Zionist is defined by the Jewish community as not believing in Israel’s “right to exist.” According to the American Jewish Committee, 84% of the general public believes that the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is antisemitic. 

Activist groups and pro-Palestinian groups have taken the term Anti-Zionist to mean being against the current state of Israel. There are also pro-Palestinian groups who use anti-Zionism as a call to eradicate Israel. 


Pro-Palestinian means that you support the Palestinian cause, view their current living conditions as unfair, and are fighting for their right to live in peace and equality with Israel. Some pro-Palestinian activists advocate against Israel’s existence. Being pro-Palestinian doesn’t automatically mean someone opposes Israel’s existence or is antisemitic. In my experience, most of the activists identifying with the term now are trying to share their support for innocent civilians and their hardships rather than being against Israel or being antisemitic.


Slogans like “from the river to the sea” and “globalize the intifada” have further divided our communities. 

The phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” has been used by extreme anti-Israel activists to be a call for the genocide of the Jewish people. Ironically, it’s also been used by anti-Palestinian extremists to call for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

I believe that most activists using these phrases do not intend to incite violence against Jews, but the use of language matters. Despite the intent of the speakers being overwhelmingly peaceful, inflammatory language makes Jews less safe.  

City Council Resolutions

City Council Ceasefire resolutions have been sweeping across the country since Oct. 7 and the start of the Israel-Hamas War. The problem was that these resolutions often negated Israel’s right to exist, did not include any language calling for the freeing of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, or acknowledged the trauma and horrors of the October 7th attacks or the rise in antisemitism globally. This leads the broader Jewish community to point out the antisemitism inherent in the methodology of the arguments. Cincinnati was no different.

One Jewish antizionist’s language stood out to me at City Hall. She spoke about being Jewish and how inconceivable it was that Jewish people used religion as a way to “colonize” a country based on religious ideology and how that was rooted in white supremacy. She pointed and screamed at Councilmember Reggie Harris, a gay black man who is married to a Jewish man, “Councilman Harris, please look at me when I’m talking to you,” and then yelled the same thing to Councilman Scotty Johnson, the only other black man on the council. 

That kind of comment takes an incredible level of privilege. She chose to single out the only two black members of the Cincinnati City Council and the only LGBTQ member and yelled at those people over the other nine people on the dais. That is a prime example of white supremacy and racism entering into activism. There is an incredible amount of cognitive dissonance required to call for an end to white supremacy while yelling at the most vulnerable to “look at [you].”

As the anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian speakers spoke, the room was silent. As Jewish people spoke, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian supporters made snide comments and yelled at the speakers about how they were supporting genocide and how it was their fault this conflict was happening. When protestors create an environment that antagonizes the Jewish community for existing and speaking their truth, that is antisemitism. 

Jewish institutions mobilized community members to give a cohesive message to the city council. The message from the Jewish community to the Council was for peace and to request abstention from the Council’s input on the war. We weren’t supposed to talk about a ceasefire.

I felt like I could not speak at the hearing because I wanted to call for a ceasefire resolution that called for the release of the hostages and an end to the war and include all the nuance I was holding space for in myself but couldn’t fit into the room. Many pro-Palestinians were hostile towards the Jewish community, and I felt our community did not show enough empathy for the Palestinian community, but at least we showed respect. 


Lately, at demonstrations that fight for transgender and LGBTQ rights, there has been an intense uptick in the number of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel messages (some of which have crossed into antisemitism). At the Transgender Day of Visibility rally on March 31st, one of the speakers was a transgender woman of color. As she spoke about her identity, she locked eyes with me. She proceeded to scream at the top of her lungs about the suffering of the Palestinian people and the oppression that Israel was partaking in. We had met a few times before, and she knew I was Jewish. 

Why did she think that yelling at me was the way to support the Palestinian cause? What purpose did that serve? It only made me feel alienated, unsafe, and unable to engage with part of my identity. 

Hen Mazzig

As a response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, the Jewish Federation launched the “After Oct. 7 series.”  At the Mayerson Jewish Community Center, 300 people gathered to hear from a speaker, Hen Mazzig. 

Mazzig is an LGBTQ Mizrahi Israeli influencer who posts intentionally inflammatory social media. His posts reflect the broader Jewish community’s push to focus on the trauma of the October attack, only tell the stories of the hostages, and justify the violence Israel is inflicting on Gaza as a proportional response to the attack. 

He projects the broader problem I currently have in Jewish spaces – our leaders give endless empathy and room for Israeli survivors but offer very little comparatively for the innocent lives being impacted in Gaza, as shown by the microphone the Jewish community chose to give to this person.

Young Queer activists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, registered for the event as secret protestors. They made cloth signs that had divisive pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel slogans painted on them. When a protestor stood, a community member or officer tore the sign down, and the police escorted them out of the event. 

This protest endangered the Jewish community. The action was against a public figure with a more marginalized identity (Mizrahi and LGBTQ). It empowered pro-Israel attendees to become more aggressive towards protestors. It caused further security conversations and concerns across the city, including my position in Cincinnati Pride. 

If your activism includes taking a safe space for a marginalized identity and making it unsafe, you’re not actually making a difference for the cause you’re fighting for. 

At the moment, all I knew was that I was no longer safe in a place I considered a sacred community space. I had a panic attack, and a friend had to help me leave. Three of my friends had been involved in the protest and hadn’t considered the consequences of this action. 

Oppression Olympics

There is an activism term called the “Oppression Olympics,” in which communities characterize their marginalization as a competition to determine who is the worst off and most oppressed and who deserves the support of activists, politicians, and broader society. 

Young activists have been taught to find and dismantle oppressive forces to create freedom and liberation. In this conflict, activists have deemed Israel the oppressor. That conclusion is straightforward, plausible, and motivating on its surface. 

This has also led to Jewish communities and Arab/Muslim/Palestinian communities competing in the “Oppression Olympics.” Jews feel that their oppression is being overlooked when antisemitism goes unchecked. Palestinian communities feel their oppression is worse, and this cycle goes on and on.


Undermining Jewish community safety doesn’t advance Palestinian interests. Pro-Palestinian groups that ignored dialogue with Jews and overlooked rising antisemitism at City Hall failed to create meaningful change and alienated potential allies. Community organizing requires both protest and systemic change, which can’t further harm marginalized communities.

But I also want to be clear from the Jewish community perspective that we cannot expect the Pro-Palestinian protests to stop if we do not acknowledge the needs and struggles of Palestinians. We cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people if we want anyone in the activist community to stand with us against antisemitism. 

I am increasingly frustrated and disappointed by the lack of nuance in the conversation and how activists all around me think this issue can be boiled down to a social media post. I am distraught that the most marginalized are still getting the brunt of the onslaught. 

I am tired of being called an oppressor when I have worked my entire adult life to understand and dismantle systems of oppression. I want to be able to experience LGBTQ events without fear of antisemitism. I want to be able to attend Jewish community events while feeling safe, loved, and supported. 

In the game of the Oppression Olympics, there is no coalition or consensus, and peace will never be achieved. But if we stop and listen, respect marginalized community experiences, and lead with empathy, we might find common ground and make systemic change for the better.