OSU group questions campus presentation of an Israeli soldier as a ‘feminist role model’

Rebecca Stoil

Rebecca Stoil

The Campaign for BDS at Ohio State issued this statement last week, about an event on the Columbus, Ohio, campus. The title of the press release was “The campaign for BDS at Ohio State stands against the pinkwashing of the IDF.” Pinkwashing is the practice by Israel supporters of touting advances in gender-related issues as a means of excusing human rights violations against Palestinians.  –Ed. 

COLUMBUS, OHIO — The Campaign for BDS at OSU was disturbed to see the event “Food for Thought: What is it like to be a Woman in Uniform? A Woman in a Man’s Shoes–How does it Work?” hosted by OSU Hillel and cosponsored by the Multicultural Center on March 18. The event featured [former] Israeli Defense Force soldier Rebecca Stoil [now a speaker for the Jewish National Fund and grad student and reporter], who “talked her way into the IDF, despite being told that she was ‘too old,’ and then talked her way out of serving as a secretary and into a combat unit.” On a campus that encourages critical thinking and claims to work to advance “the global community through the creation and dissemination of knowledge,” an event like this calls for an analysis of the power relations and structural inequalities that privilege some people over others, and make invisible the lives and perspectives of indigenous people.

Events that set up IDF soldiers as feminist role models simultaneously make invisible the actual nature of the IDF and the people it most affects. In a neutral framework, to be a woman in the military may be an accomplishment, yet one cannot separate Stoil’s story from the reality that she fought to be a part of a military that has devastated Palestine and the Palestinian people. To be a soldier in the Israeli military means to defend occupation, destroy lives and livelihoods, secure checkpoints in occupied Palestine that inhibit basic movement for arbitrary reasons, torture as a regular part of interrogations, and control access to basic resources in Gaza.

The call for BDS, or, the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and ends the occupation of Palestine, originated in Palestinian civil society, and is supported by several organizations committed to gender and sexual equality, such as Palestinian Queers for BDS and the Palestinian Federation of Women’s Action Committee. Feminist scholars like Angela Davis, Judith Butler, and Jasbir Puar have spoken out in favor of BDS. What draws such figures to join the movement against the Israeli state’s continued occupation is their mutual recognition that BDS is in line with an anti-colonialist politics that should be inseparable from any feminist politics. As Andrea Smith has shown, sexism and sexist violence are tools of colonialism and occupation. Amnesty International reports that, “Palestinian women have borne the brunt of the suffering but their plight has been largely ignored. The multiple violations committed by Israeli forces in the Occupied Territories have had grave and long-term consequences for the Palestinian population and a particularly negative impact on women.” Opposing occupation is a feminist stance.

In the past year, several academic organizations, including the Association for Asian American Studies, the American Studies Association, the Modern Language Association, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association have adopted resolutions that, to different degrees, condemn Israeli aggression and call for greater attention to the plight of Palestinian people. At Ohio State, a BDS campaign has been reignited after the OSU administration wrote a letter condemning the ASA vote for a BDS resolution. For those who wish to sign our petition that responds to the OSU statement and supports the ASA decision, we have linked to it here. We also wanted to include some text from it, which recognizes whose voices are heard and whose neglected without such a movement:

“These [boycotting] organizations recognize that rather than inhibiting the free flow of ideas, boycotts effectively broaden the scope of academic dialogue and exchange by asserting that Palestinians, too, are endowed with the same fundamental rights to freedom, equality, and self-determination as everyone else—that they have the right to engage in the same dialogue about their academic freedoms as their Israeli counterparts. The boycott is a stand for justice, a stand for Palestinian academics and students who all too frequently find their schools arbitrarily closed and their ability to travel to classes, meetings, and conferences severely curtailed.”

The Israeli state and its defenders use women’s rights to distract from the suffering the IDF creates. We must respond by heeding the request Palestinian organizations made to the delegation of indigenous and women of color feminists on their visit in 2011:

“We are not asking you for heroic action or to form freedom brigades. We are simply asking you not to be complicit in perpetuating the crimes of the Israeli state.”

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