Hijacking the feminist cause

Hijacking the feminist cause

Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour

Did you know that Zionists cannot be feminists?

That’s the position of the U.S. affiliate of the grassroots group, International Women’s Strike, whose platform calls for “the decolonization of Palestine” and dismantling “all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.”

One of the movement’s high-profile leaders is Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour, a BDS activist who asserts that Zionism and feminism are mutually exclusive. Sarsour was also one of the national organizers of January’s Women’s March on Washington. She told The Nation in an interview: “It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it.”

Such attitudes are a prime example of how intersectionality — the notion that various forms of oppression, based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disabilities, etc., are dependent on each other — has been exploited, marginalizing supporters of Israel from affiliating with other minority groups. A prime example is the Black Lives Matter movement, whose platform, released last summer, singled out Israel as guilty of “genocide,” leaving Zionists opposed to racism feeling frustrated, angry, and isolated.

This form of anti-Israel bias is felt most acutely on campus today among Jewish students who say they have been rejected in their efforts to identify with groups opposing the discrimination of blacks, gays, and other minorities.

Women leaders in the Jewish community are expressing various degrees of frustration in response to the anti-Israel position taken by spokespersons for the emerging feminist movement speaking out against policies of the Trump administration. 

Yael Reisman, director of outreach and engagement for the progressive National Council of Jewish Women in New York, noted: “The tendency to subsume all these causes together is unfair. It’s like a Venn diagram,” she said. “It’s harder and harder to find a place where the Zionist circle and the ‘progressive’ circle overlap.”

Emily Shire, a journalist, penned an essay in The New York Times last week titled, “Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists?” She insisted it did, but the response she received was alarming. She told The New York Jewish Week she was called a racist, a white supremacist, and worse; it was “unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”

Perhaps most disturbing is that one of the names publicly identified with the women’s strike is Rasmea Odeh, a former member of the terror group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who was convicted and jailed for two bombings, including one in 1969 that killed two Israelis. 

For her to be the symbol of an organization seeking equality and championing human rights is self-defeating for the movement and insulting to all. Similarly, for Sarsour to advocate for women’s rights by demonizing Israel while ignoring how Palestinian women are treated as second-class citizens in their own society is dishonest and deceitful.

The fact that many in the Jewish community applauded Sarsour’s efforts, despite her BDS activism, to raise funds to restore the St. Louis cemetery where Jewish headstones were defaced is proof that intersectionality is a falsehood. Appreciating Sarsour’s good deed does not absolve her from her anti-Israel animus, just as one’s support for Israel must not prevent him or her from speaking out for oppressed minorities. 

To insist otherwise is to promote a rigid ideological outlook that ignores the complexities — indeed the humanity — within each of us.

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