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EXCLUSIVE: Dayenu to participate in Mardi Gras despite hostility

Leading Jewish LGBTQ+ group Dayenu has decided to participate in this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, despite rising safety concerns stemming from pro-Palestinian activists.
Ruby Kraner-Tucci
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Two people draped in rainbow flags with the Star of David

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Published: 11 January 2024

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Leading Jewish LGBTQ+ group Dayenu has decided to participate in this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, despite rising safety concerns stemming from pro-Palestinian activists.

The decision was reached by Dayenu’s executive committee in a meeting held last night, after hostility from pro-Palestine activists prompted Dayenu to reconsider its 24-year involvement in the famous pride celebrations.

A grassroots political group called Pride in Protest plans to use the Mardi Gras parade to “demand a free Palestine”. It will march with a “Trans Pride, Not Genocide” themed float, which will include Palestinian flags and messages of solidarity in support of the “people of Palestine [and] against the colonial Zionist occupation”. Some members of the group are on the Mardi Gras board.

Speaking exclusively with The Jewish Independent, Dayenu president David Klarnett is concerned Dayenu could be subject to abuse but says the committee decided to go ahead out of “a determination not to be put down” by the “hostile” and “ongoing” anti-Israel campaign.

“Our primary concern is that Pride in Protest will attract people on their float with quite extreme views and opinions who are going to be very vocal,” Klarnett added.

“You can’t control the public and there has always been someone in the crowd who has felt [the parade] is the best platform to be racist or say something nasty. Overall we have previously found Mardi Gras to be a safe and inclusive space for Dayenu.”

Members of Sydney LGBTQ+ group, Dayenu. Image: Toby Evans/Dayenu Facebook.
Members of Sydney LGBTQ+ group, Dayenu. Image: Toby Evans/Dayenu Facebook.

Klarnett says Dayenu will meet with Mardi Gras’ leadership next week to discuss the safe involvement of LGBTQ+ Jews in the parade.

He cites the support of the wider Jewish community in being essential to the group’s decision not to withdraw from the event. “It has never been more important for us to step up and take pride in our Jewish heritage, take pride in our queer identity and celebrate our unique place in the Mardi Gras family, supported by our Jewish community who are standing strong by our sides with love,” Klarnett said. 

Emanuel Synagogue, Sydney Jewish Museum, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and Executive Council of Australian Jewry have also offered support.

Pride in Protest’s rhetoric

Anti-Israel rhetoric has been used widely across Pride in Protest’s social media accounts, which publicly endorse statements from its members labelling the Israeli occupation as “apartheid” and blaming Israel for using the LGBTQ+ community to “pinkwash genocide”. 

The group was also behind a push to boycott partnerships with or donations from Israel and organisations with ties to the country at the Sydney Mardi Gras 2023 AGM.

"Pride in Protest and other radical left LGBTQI groups’ persistent aggression... had many of us questioning whether Mardi Gras can... protect our right to march peacefully."

Ofra Ronen, founder of Jewish-Israeli Pride Australia

Responding to Dayenu’s accusation of racism, Pride in Protest told the Star Observer that it clearly separates Judaism from Zionism – which it called a “right-wing extremist ideology”.

“When someone claims that being Jewish and being Zionist are the same thing, then they are claiming all Jews are complicit in this massacre. This assertion is deeply antisemitic and false,” the statement read. 

“If you are Jewish, and wish to march in Mardi Gras without being pressured by Zionists to support genocide, then we welcome you to march with Pride in Protest.”

Mardi Gras’ open letter

Jewish members of the LGBTQ+ community are also seeking to address the impact of Mardi Gras’ open letter on the Israel-Hamas War, which was not made in consultation with the Australian Jewish community or Jewish LGBTQ+ groups, and caused an outpouring of concern.

"There seems to be a lack of consideration for the valid concerns and isolation queer Jewish individuals are currently experiencing."

LGBTQ+ activist Speedy Shatari

The letter, issued by Mardi Gras CEO Gil Beckwith to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese early this year, called for an “immediate and enduring ceasefire in Gaza” without mentioning Hamas or the October 7 attacks.

Veteran Jewish gay rights campaigners Kerryn Phelps and Jackie Stricker-Phelps said they were both “shocked that the Mardi Gras organisation would make this statement without reference to the October 7 atrocities that triggered Israel’s response”.

“As far as we are aware, Mardi Gras has never written open letters or expressed concern about life for the LGBTQIA+ community in Gaza under Hamas. Nor have they made any previous comment about the dire situation for LGBTQIA+ people facing persecution, violence and in some cases the death penalty in other parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” Phelps said.

This sentiment was echoed by broadcaster and LGBTQ+ leader Julie McCrossin, who says she is “deeply disappointed” by the Mardi Gras letter, and its “egregious” failure to mention the violence towards gay people within Gaza and the West Bank.

Ofra Ronen, who founded the new national group Jewish-Israeli Pride Australia to address rising antisemitism post-October 7, says the actions of Mardi Gras’ leadership “felt like a betrayal” and the open letter presented a “one-sided narrative”.  

“The letter has, in general, failed to address the intricacies of the region and to consider the potential repercussions it might have on the sense of security for the LGBTQI Jewish community, a dedicated participant in Mardi Gras for many years.”

She also says the actions of Pride in Protest have created a barrier to a positive and safe experience at Mardi Gras for queer Jews.

“Pride in Protest and other radical left LGBTQI groups’ persistent aggression on the streets, on social media, in LGBTQI events and in AGM halls, had many of us questioning whether Mardi Gras can work with us to contain this aggression and protect our right to march peacefully,” she told The Jewish Independent.

Choosing identities

LGBTQ+ activist Speedy Shatari says young queer Jews are torn between “proudly and publicly” celebrating their identities while also prioritising their safety, with some even voicing a desire for a smaller “internal celebration” to minimise risk at Mardi Gras this year.

“There seems to be a lack of consideration for the valid concerns and isolation queer Jewish individuals are currently experiencing. There's a genuine fear about potential harm during a celebration designed for all LGBTQ+ communities – communities that haven't consistently supported their queer and trans members,” Shatari told The Jewish Independent.

While Shatari’s desire to participate in Mardi Gras this year “remains strong”, they say October 7 has caused a “significant change in how Australians perceive the Jewish diaspora”, which has impacted the way many queer Jews are outwardly presenting themselves.

“I'm aware of friends who identify as queer and trans facing public harassment simply for expressing their faith, whether by wearing a kippah or Star of David necklace,” they said. “It is a sad but true reality that I feel safer disclosing to others that I am queer than Jewish; and much like sexuality and gender identity, it isn't a matter of 'picking a side’.” 

Response from Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 

Mardi Gras organisers have released the following statement in response to the concerns expressed by Jewish members of their community.

“Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has always stood for peace, inclusivity, and the right of all individuals, including both Israeli and Palestinian LGBTQIA+ communities, to live without fear and free from persecution.

“The wellbeing of all members of our community, irrespective of their background, is of paramount importance to us. The letter expressed concern for both the Israeli and Palestinian LGBTQIA+ people affected by the ongoing conflict. We are equally supportive of our Jewish and Palestinian community members, and our commitment is to always advocate for peace and safe spaces.

“We understand the complexities and sensitivities of such issues and the impact they can have on individuals within our community. It is not our intention to cause distress or feelings of unsafety. We value the voices of all our members and are committed to ensuring that every individual feels safe, respected, and represented in our events.”

Read the full statement here.

The Jewish Independent has contacted Pride in Protest for a comment and will include it when received.


Mardi Gras ‘no longer safe’ for gay Jews (The Australian, paywall)

‘Reckless’ Mardi Gras letter angers Phelps (The Australian, paywall)

About the author

Ruby Kraner-Tucci

Ruby Kraner-Tucci is a journalist and assistant editor of TJI. Her writing has appeared in The Age, Time Out, Law Society Journal and Dumbo Feather Magazine. She previously reported on the charity sector as a journalist for Pro Bono News and undertook internships at The Australian Jewish News and Broadsheet Media.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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