It used to be that PEP was a safe place: Progressive Except Palestine. But since Trump’s election and the wave of activism to create a coalition of liberals, lefties, progressives, radicals, Zionism is having a rougher time in leftwing spaces.
This important ideological argument has been going on openly among feminists since the Women’s Day Strike of March 8 issued its platform, which targeted “decades of neoliberalism” for the conditions that produced Trump. Among the causes the women took up was Palestine:
[M]ovements 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.
Last week Emily Shire, the politics editor at Bustle, responded to the platform in a New York Times op-ed titled, “Does Feminism Have Room for Zionism?” Shire said Yes, but the piece was remarkable for its defensiveness. Shire was getting the cold shoulder from a lot of lefties, she reported.
As a proud and outspoken feminist who champions reproductive rights, equal pay, increased female representation in all levels of government and policies to combat violence against women, I would like to feel there is a place for me in the strike.
However, as someone who is also a Zionist, I am not certain there is.
…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…
More and more frequently, my identity as a Zionist places me in conflict with the feminist movement of 2017.
I know about Zionism from my own relationship with it. I had some serious unlearning to do. When I was younger, I, too, identified as a Zionist (a “socialist feminist Zionist”) until I realized that my image of Zionism as the Jewish national liberation movement was seriously misguided. Instead, I learned that what had been done and was still being done to Palestinians in the name of Zionism was theft of land and denial of a people’s right to freedom and national liberation. It was about the privileging of those who were Jewish over Palestinians. ..
In Israel, as well as in the U.S., the Nakba is often disregarded or denied altogether. Instead, the focus is on the creation of Israel as a haven for Jews, completely ignoring the mass dispossession of the Palestinian people.
Nevel went on to challenge Shire on the incompatibility of Zionism and feminism at a time of left awakening:
Instead of asking whether Zionists have a place in the feminist movement, perhaps the question that Shire should be asking is: How can someone who considers herself a supporter of feminism, which is a movement for justice and liberation that challenges patriarchal power and all forms of oppression, also consider herself a supporter of Zionism, a movement that denies the basic values of equality and fairness.
The women’s day strike was intentionally and critically rooted in an anti-colonial feminism that is liberatory and multidimensional and that has as its foundation a deep commitment to social transformation and to resisting “the decades long economic inequality, racial and sexual violence, and imperial wars abroad.” If Shire has an interest in being part of such an inspiring movement, rather than supporting Zionism, she might want to stand with the Palestinian-led grassroots movement for justice and with the growing number of women around the globe who are committed to equal rights for all peoples living in Palestine and Israel. What could be more feminist than that?
Yesterday, Collier Meyerson published an interview in the Nation with a leader of the January 21 Women’s March in Washington. “Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No.” Sarsour says:
I was quite surprised and disturbed by [Shire’s] piece. When you talk about feminism you’re talking about the rights of all women and their families to live in dignity, peace, and security. It’s about giving women access to health care and other basic rights. And Israel is a country that continues to occupy territories in Palestine, has people under siege at checkpoints—we have women who have babies on checkpoints because they’re not able to get to hospitals [in time]. 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.
Meyerson and Sarsour agreed that the discourse is rapidly changing on the issue, though Sarsour said that many Palestinian women can’t put their heads up.
Meyerson: A colleague here at The Nation pointed out that many Palestinian-American women have had key roles in the Women’s March, the International Women’s Strike, and other post-election feminist mobilizations. You, Lamis Deek, Rasmea Odeh, among others. Do Palestinian-American women have a unique position in the fight against oppression given the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict?
Sarsour: It’s been a little surprising to the [right-wing Zionists] to see [Palestinian-American] women in leadership roles in social-justice movements because [they are realizing] it means that the Palestinian Liberation Movement and the Palestinian Solidarity Movement are gaining traction among young people and people of color in the United States. And I will say this, yours seems like a short list. The fact of the matter is that there are hundreds of Palestinian women organizing, but not all of them are visible. And I’ll tell you why. You’ve probably seen that any visible Palestinian-American woman who is at the forefront of any social-justice movement is an immediate target of the right wing and right-wing Zionists. They will go to any extreme to criminalize us and to engage in alternative facts, to sew together a narrative that does not exist. So, fortunately, we’re still in a moment in our country where we have the freedom of speech and the right to organize, but we have another layer as Palestinian American women, where we have to deal with threats, slander, and libel in mainstream and right-wing media. This work that we do is not easy, but I feel hopeful we are part of a movement now. One with young people, and people of color in particular, who are really taking on the cause and really embracing us as Palestinian, American, Muslim women.
Finally, I’d point to Devyn Springer’s piece calling out Shire on our site: “There is no space for Zionism in any movement which seeks to alleviate even an iota of oppression from marginalized people.”
It’s unfortunate that the mainstream discussion has so far been limited to feminist circles. I don’t think it can be contained there. The contradictions are too glaring. At the recent J Street conference, many people were organizing against Trump; but I noted several occasions on which speakers said that the Zionist dream was alive only so long as there is a Jewish majority in the land, and so long as Israel builds that wall (on Palestinian land). Lately I have pressed Seffi Kogen of the American Jewish Committee and Josh Marshall of TPM on the hypocrisy of decrying expressions of white nationalism in our country while supporting the ideology of Jewish nationalism in a country overseas. Both have ignored me.