My old friend and political ally from our days in New Jewish Agenda, Clare Kinberg, edits Bridges Journal. She asked me and a number of others to comment on Ms Magazine’s recent rejection of an ad submitted by the American Jewish Congress. This latest pro-Israel tempest in a teapot has been stirred up by Jack Rosen’s AJC, whose ad was ostensibly meant to sing the praises of Israeli women. The ad featured rather unflattering images of Supreme Court justice Dorit Beinisch, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima), and foreign minister Tzipi Livni (Kadima) alongside the rousing caption: “This is Israel.” This is typical pro-Israel PR fluff and signifies hardly anything worth talking about.
However, Ms decided that it was being used by AJC to do special pleading for Israel and refused to run the ad. Now, there is a PR war going on between the two and AJC has essentially won it before it started. It gets to frame the argument as: “we wanted to highlight Israeli feminism and you rejected us. In doing so you rejected all Israeli women AND violated our free speech rights.” AJC gets to claim Ms rejected the ad because it is “hostile to Israel.” All of which is utter dreck.
If I were Ms’ editor I would’ve happily taken the money. If Jack Rosen wants to pump money into Ms why should the magazine refuse it? But I would’ve told the AJC that I planned on either writing an editorial or commissioning an article that would’ve examined the premises of the ad and looked beyond it at the real status of women in Israeli society in the context of the ad’s flackery. I’ll bet the AJC would’ve withdrawn the ad in a heartbeat.
It’s important to know something about AJC before judging the evidence in this case. It used to be one of the nation’s premier liberal Jewish organizations. Henry Siegman was once its national president. Then it fell into decline and financial difficulty. A white knight named Jack Rosen came along and offered it a life preserver in the form of financial subsidy. In return, Rosen took it over and turned it into a domestic version of AIPAC. Now, it is almost an arm of the Republican Jewish Coalition, with which Rosen is also affiliated. AJC’s politics are neocon through and through.
Clare Kinberg also points out that the AJC staff member behind the ad is Harriet Kurlander. Prior to working for AJC, she was Southeast regional director for AIPAC. All of which points to the fact that this ad has almost nothing to do with Israeli women or feminism and everything to do with pro-Israel politics. I can’t say whether Kurlander “set up” Ms and the magazine rather inartfully fell into the trap set for it; or a series of unfortunate actions and reactions led to this disaster for Ms and PR gold mine for AJC.
Another element entirely missing from the ad is any awareness of the real challenges faced by Israeli women. Just because three Israeli women hold position of legal or political prominence doesn’t mean that all’s well in this feminist paradise. Israel is a male-dominated society. As recently as a decade ago or so it was illegal for a woman to work at any job after dark. The incidence of rape and battering is quite high. In an armed forces that prides itself on democratically representing the society from which it originates, women play largely secondary roles. That being said, I have no problem with highlighting gains women have made as long as the full picture of women’s status is portrayed. And this the AJC had no interest in showing. All it wanted was to score propaganda points.
Ms has said in its defense that it does not promote political points of view and the fact that two of the pictured women were Kadima operatives made the ad politically partisan. That’s a hard one to swallow. Of course the ad IS partisan, but not in terms of party politics.
What AJC hopes to do is peel off some of the progressive elements of the feminist movement to attack Ms. This in turn, divides the progressive Jewish movement at a time when it is important that it stay focused on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict AND bettering conditions for women within Israeli society. The AJC ad is a side show to all of this. I would plead with any progressive speaking out for AJC that they consider some of the issues I’ve raised before doing so.
No doubt, Ms could’ve handled this better. But that doesn’t mean that anything the AJC is saying has any merit whatsoever.