For the past few weeks, a storm has been brewing between women who call themselves “Zionist feminists” and the organizers of the U.S.-affiliate of the International Women’s Strike. It began with a NY Times op-ed by Emily Shire, described as the political editor of a women’s website, Bustle. She decried the supposed lack of inclusivity in the platform for U.S. Women’s Strike because it contained statements hostile to Israel. Here is the “offending” passage:
For an Antiracist and Anti-imperialist Feminism
Against the open white supremacists in the current government and the far right and anti-Semites they have given confidence to, we stand for an uncompromising anti-racist and anti-colonial feminism. This means that movements such as Black Lives Matter, the struggle against police brutality and mass incarceration, the demand for open borders and for immigrant rights and for the decolonization of Palestine are for us the beating heart of this new feminist movement. We want to dismantle all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.
Shire also objects to the inclusion amongst the organizers of the project, Rasmea Yousef Odeh, a Palestinian-American activist convicted by an Israeli court of a 41 year-old bombing which killed several Israelis. The Palestinian activist’s ancient affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine serves as evidence to support the claim: once a terrorist, always a terrorist.
Shire seems oblivious to the fact that Israel has had two prime ministers guilty of mounting terror attacks against Palestinians, which killed far more people than the bombing which Odeh is purported to have carried out.
There is a larger strategy behind Shire’s op-ed. It is part of the Israel Lobby’s attempt to divide the U.S. progressive movement so that hostility toward Israeli policies is rendered treif. In that way, the Lobby believes it can deprive the anti-Occupation movement of support from Black Lives Matters and the LGBT rights community, among others. That’s why human rights activists, in turn, fight so hard against hasbara efforts like pinkwashing, Blackwashing, greenwashing, and femwashing.
Shire attempts to render the Woman’s Day program treif by painting herself as both a liberal feminist and liberal Zionist:
Although I hope for a two-state solution and am critical of certain Israeli government policies, I identify as a Zionist because I support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Increasingly, I worry that my support for Israel will bar me from the feminist movement that, in aiming to be inclusive, has come to insist that feminism is connected to a wide variety of political causes.
…I am happy to debate Middle East politics or listen to critiques of Israeli policies. But why should criticism of Israel be key to feminism in 2017?
Why indeed? Because many, if not most feminists believe it to be so. Just as the Black Lives Matter has declared solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. It’s the height of chutzpah that a privileged white Jewish woman tells all of America’s feminists that the cause of Palestinian women shouldn’t be their business.
She objects to the feminist movement dividing its energy by embracing causes not central to issues facing women. This is the same argument that African-American men made when African-American women embraced the feminist movement in the early 1970s. They argued that Black women were diluting the power of the civil rights struggle by diverging from the purity of its original agenda. Martin Luther King was assaulted with similar arguments when he first announced his opposition to the Vietnam War. Eventually, all the naysayers were proven wrong. All such movements need to be broad-based and inclusive. If you cut yourself off from surrounding political struggles, you deprive your own movement of new energy and motivation.
In arguing that Palestine isn’t central to the feminist movement, Shire appears to be wearing a thick set of Zio-blinders: Palestinian women certainly wouldn’t see the Palestinian cause as peripheral to their own struggle as women living under Israeli Occupation. Further, she appears to believe that by supporting a two-state solution and being critical of “certain” Israeli policies she’s established her bona fides as a truly liberal individual. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu can both claim to support a two-state solution while supporting the building of settlements and continuation of Occupation, the term has lost any real value.
In this passage, Shire further illustrates her moral obtuseness:
Implying that mass incarceration is analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is analogous to Donald Trump’s desire to build a wall along the Mexican border is simplistic at best.
What is the suffering of Gaza under siege if not “mass incarceration? What is Israel’s apartheid wall if not an apt equivalent to Trump’s border wall? Simplistic? Not at all.
Shire can’t even seem to spare a single kind word for her Palestinian sisters. Instead, she heaps them with scorn and derision. Rasmea is little more than a terrorist, which makes the Women’s Day organizers little more than accessories to her alleged crimes.
Shire acknowledges Odeh’s claim that her confession was elicited under torture, which she then dismisses, noting a perfunctory Israeli denial of torture. She neglects to mention that Israel’s secret police are well-known for their extensive use of torture in eliciting confessions. Further, intelligence of any sort gained through torture is notoriously unreliable, as would be her confession.
The Shabak have even murdered terror suspects after they were captured and neutralized. So why is it such a surprise to think Odeh might be innocent and her confession obtained under duress? Could it be that Shire’s Zionism trumps her sisterly solidarity with Odeh? If so, it seems a betrayal of the very feminist values she claims to hold dear.
Finally, Shire manages to drag BDS into the debate, even though it isn’t mentioned in the Women’s Strike statement:
It is strange to see academic groups supporting the B.D.S. movement, which stifles the free flow of knowledge. But regardless of your opinion on the B.D.S. issue, it has nothing to do with feminism.
Who is stifling the free flow of knowledge? Israel. It prevents Palestinian graduate students from leaving their homes to study abroad. It threatens activists who support BDS with deportation if they try to enter Israel. It offers legal penalties against those who mention the Palestinian Nakba. Its security forces even prevent Israeli academic conferences from hosting talks by Israeli professors who are deemed “hostile” to the security state. As for whether BDS has anything to do with feminism: as I mentioned the Women’s Strike made no reference to BDS, so Shire is engaging with a chimera. But if it did, why wouldn’t the suffering of Palestinian women be a legitimate subject both for BDS and the Women’s Strike? In fact, Israeli wars against Palestinians unduly impact the women who are often left vulnerable in their homes as they seek to protect their children. The numbers of dead are always much higher for women and children than men, under Israeli military assault.
Linda Sarsour, another leader of the Women’s Strike, added her own critique of Shire’s piece with an interview in The Nation.
In closing, Shire posits a tired, cliche-ridden version of Zionism. She even proudly notes in her Twitter profile that her high school yearbook featured prominently quotes from Golda Meir and Carrie Bradshaw (!). In this post, I am criticizing this nostalgic, retro-Zionism. But not a more progressive form of Zionism which can embrace the principles of BDS and transforming Israel into a state for all its citizens.