Zionism and feminism are incompatible, leftwing voices say

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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.

Donna Nevel (Photo: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice)

Shire’s piece has elicited several strong criticisms. At Huffington Post, Donna Nevel says that she used to be a Zionist, till she understood that Israel’s need to maintain a “Jewish state” on what had been others’ lands has required “apartheid” directed at Palestinian families. In “Zionism, the Nakba and Feminism,” Nevel directly addresses these conditions:

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.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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27 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    March 15, 2017, 12:02 pm

    Phil: “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.”

    Well, well, and dear, dear. What else could you expect?

    The position of opposing white-nationalism (in the USA) or opposing non-discrimination (in Israel) are both ideologies, that is to say, are both positions one takes without regard to facts. (After all, if either were the result of logical conclusions from facts, one could merely assert the facts rather than the conclusions.)

    I oppose white-supremacism in the USA (and white separatism, which, in principle, is different) because white folks are (and for a while will remain) top-dogs in the USA, and privilege for top-dogs offends me. Jewish-supremacism in Israel has the same problem (for me) and, in addition, the problem that Israel discriminates against a LARGER people (numerically the Palestinians, if you include all the refugees/exiles of 1948 and later, are, I believe a good deal more numerous than Jewish Israelis).

    Seffi Kogen and Josh Marshall are only hypocrites because they are sufficiently principled to feel as a blemish their contradictory stands against white-supremacism and for Jewish-supremacism in Israel.

    If they were as thick-skinned (or in my view badly brought up) as many Israelis politicians are that they could without moral qualms say, “I believe that ‘all men are created equal’ is true in America and false in Israel” then they would not have ignored Phil.

  2. ckg
    March 15, 2017, 1:23 pm

    “[T]he Zionist dream was alive only so long as there is a Jewish majority in the land”

    Let’s call this the Steve King argument.

  3. Keith
    March 15, 2017, 7:08 pm

    “When you talk about feminism you’re talking about the rights of all women and their families to live in dignity, peace, and security.” (Linda Sarsour)

    Talk is cheap. Imperial “feminists” criticizing Zionist “feminists”? The “feminist” movement in the US is basically an imperial feminist movement designed to shatter the glass ceiling preventing women from taking leadership roles in the empire to show that women have the cajanes (female cojones) necessary to murder and subjugate Third World women and their families thereby preventing them from living in dignity, peace, and security. Also, the women and their families of the 99%. Any feminism worthy of the name will seek to transform society from a militaristic, power-seeking society into a peaceful, non-exploitative sustainable community. Feminism and Zionism mutually exclusive? Absolutely! But so is feminism and imperialism.

  4. yonah fredman
    March 15, 2017, 8:36 pm

    Fighting trump comes naturally to most left wing jews. Disowning israel does not. Show that photo of leonard cohen near ariel sharon 50 more times, you think that will win hearts and minds? Do I relish the thought of being on the same side as cornel west? Not really, although it always amuses me to hear academic jargon used for non-academic purposes. But I ain’t that far left anymore.
    I don’t know how to defeat trump in 2020, nor how to keep enough demo in the Senate in 2018 . The preponderance of white votes for Republican since 1968 is disturbing and indicates a lack of solidity in the American electorate. So these are my worries rather than picking a Palestinian bomber of civilians as hostess of a march. It doesn’t bother me. Neither do I think that the left knows how to talk to identity valuing jews.

    • oldgeezer
      March 15, 2017, 11:10 pm

      @yonah

      Why should it bother you yonah? These white racists and supremacists are merely wanting to emulate the Israeli success story. Aren’t white racists entitled to the same rights and benefits as Jewish racists? Pick your side. Humanity or tribe. I will take the former thanks.

      Oh and by the way, despite our severe differences my humanity would include you.

      Frankly it would include all Israelis too. They just wouldn’t be entitled to disenfranchise others which is what they have done for well over half a century.

      You regularly post in support of that society while occassionally pretending to not be fully in agreement with it.

      The most comical things are postings like dabakr’s claiming Jewish support for equality for blacks is subject to Jewish interests. Complete with warnings if they don’t adhere to that.

      Dabakr is not an outlier. He is Israeli society. Even Rivlin sees it. And while it can’t be compared to nazis it is equally vile and evil.

      I don’t see you in that group but I do think the degree of difference is tiny.

      • yonah fredman
        March 16, 2017, 5:58 pm

        I accept the existence of dietary advice. Happy?

        I’ve been listening a lot to malcolm x recently. Lot of stuff available on youtube, besides of course the essential documentary “Make it Plain”. I envy that his post mecca humanism was not at all contradicted by his tribalism. Jewish tribalism which was certainly righteous in 1944 is much less so today.

        The turmoil of the Arab world makes utopians, in a bad sense, out of humanist advocates in israel palestine.

      • gamal
        March 16, 2017, 6:22 pm

        “The turmoil of the Arab world makes utopians, in a bad sense, out of humanist advocates in israel palestine”

        i know what you mean i was going to be a humanist, but have you met people, what an absolute shower,

        or to put it another way i could have had religion, but do you know what, my little girl, little girl mind you, wouldn’t let me pray

        in extenuation it was the case that

        “if not for the lock of your hair,
        auburn as the nectar of carob,
        and soft as the scent of silk
        that was here before,
        dozing like Arabian jasmine,
        shimmering like the gleam of dawn,
        pulsing like a star –
        I, if not for that lock of camphor,
        would feel not a thing
        linking me
        to this land.

        This land is a traitor
        and can’t be trusted.
        This land doesn’t remember love.
        This land is a whore
        holding out a hand to the years,
        as it manages a ballroom
        on the harbor pier –
        it laughs in every language”

        Muhammad Taha Ali (who is in the news from the grave i see, ahlaaaan ya muhammad ahlan wahsahlan, fadlyasidi)( its from “ambergis”)

        our travails Yonah excuse you not at all quite the opposite in fact.

      • Mooser
        March 16, 2017, 6:57 pm

        “I’ve been listening a lot to malcolm x recently.”

        Right on, “Yonah”!

      • oldgeezer
        March 16, 2017, 11:12 pm

        @yonah

        Oh yes the turmoil in the Arab world. Let’s ignore the turmoil caused by israel. Let’s ignore the boots of the idf thugs onn their heads grrinding them into the dirt. It is the Arabs i tell you! The arabs!

        Pathetic of you yonah. You could choose humanity and strive for equality for all. Instead you seek to deflect away from extremely grave crimes against humanity. The extreme and overt racism shows the serious nature of the situation. And yes the racism does go both ways. But yes the oppressor is held to a higher degree of responsibility.

        Arabs have their problems. All groups do. None of them excuse us from trying to change things for the betterment of all. And we can multitask. It doesn’t justify a we aren’t as bad as type of defense. It takes a morally bankrupt person to defend such a system.

      • oldgeezer
        March 17, 2017, 12:35 am

        @yonah

        Since you accept dietary advive exists you must be a moderator now. Since my posts along those lines were either moderated out of existance or edited.

        Interesting. And annie is out now.

        Makes it very interesting.

        Will this make it through?

      • yonah fredman
        March 17, 2017, 6:31 pm

        Oldgeezer, maybe you seek to communicate with the moderator and I should not confuse your words as communicating with me.

        I meant specifically that your cryptic message was surmised at, and let’s put cryptic talk behind us.

      • oldgeezer
        March 17, 2017, 9:57 pm

        @yonah

        Behind it is. Great choice of words haha

      • Mooser
        March 17, 2017, 10:37 pm

        “and let’s put cryptic talk behind us.”

        Oh, wow, “Yonah”! You have been “listening a lot to malcolm x recently”.
        Burns, baby, Burns! And Allen.

      • DaBakr
        March 18, 2017, 4:38 pm

        @og

        . Too stupid to understand that the group of people’s you are so concerned about are more tribalist then anything you even imagine or dream Israelis engage in. In fact the type of leftists engaged I the so called ‘feminist’ March are just like you, too stupid, thinking their education makes their cause more credible and also ignoring exactly how tribal are most Arab societies while focusing on Jewish tribalism as some kind of threat to the world.
        . Also, your quasi-affectionate appreciation of the commenter, yf is dripping with conceit. You obviously have no respect or tolerance for anybody that doesn’t adhere to your tribal leftist leanings and bylaws for what you believe to be universal rights. But listen, it’s ok if you want to sit in your little chair and decide who you would allow in your ‘tolerant’ world and under what circumstances you would impose I have a couple of million first nations people to introduce you to as well as at least a couple hundred assorted tribes around the world who would be wildly entertained by your disdain for tribes in the first place and why you feel superior for rejecting tribalism as what,? Primitive? Get a mirror dude and take a long hard look at a tribalist of the first order.

        Oh, btw, thank you so much for stating that you do not believe my nation can be compared to Nazis but is equally as “vile”. Such nuanced views as I have never heard before in my life. there is a term to describe the true believer mindset you seem to possess. You can read all about it on your internet-computer thingy and have a good laugh at the same time.

      • oldgeezer
        March 18, 2017, 9:07 pm

        @dabakr

        Take your inane drivel up with your fellow middle school grads.

        Yes Israel is equally as vile. Yes you are a hardcore racist.

        Didn’t waste my time reading further. You represent such an absolute waste of oxygen.

      • oldgeezer
        March 18, 2017, 10:50 pm

        @dohbaker

        Lol you are a riot. Between shows so i won’t address everything

        As a mathematician and computer scientist with over a half century of hands on experience I would love for you to explain this computer internet thingie to me. It would be enlightening. (I also have significant accounting and auditing experience)

        Yes some Arab societies are tribalistic. No that does not justify Israel denying Palestinian rights. Get your boots off their necks you tribalistic racist thugs.

        I looked. I am not tribalistic. I am not a leftist although such simplistic groupings must appeal to simple minds.

        Yes you are a racist. Yes it is equally vile. Worth repeating for sure..

        You still sit in a chair to use a computing device? Luddite.

      • Mooser
        March 19, 2017, 12:24 pm

        “Yes some Arab societies are tribalistic.”

        Gee, you know, it’s been a year, maybe more, since any Zionist even tried to compare Israel favorably with Western societies. The new fallback position is ‘not as bad as the worst things we can find in “Arab societies”‘.

    • oldgeezer
      March 15, 2017, 11:13 pm

      As i have been moderated for doing so twice so far i havr echoed your dietary advice. Not sure if it is due to illiteracy or different mods.

    • Mooser
      March 16, 2017, 3:30 pm

      “Neither do I think that the left knows how to talk to identity valuing jews.”

      “Identity valuing Jews”?

  5. sparrow
    March 16, 2017, 6:51 pm

    This particular argument in Mondoweiss and all of the comments referred to, both in the article itself and in the comments section above are conspicuous in the absence of the voices of Palestinian women. They are mentioned but their voices are absent. This is characteristic of any such debate. Opening myself to the criticism of being “antisemitic’ (as does any substantive criticism of Zionism), we are left with Jews debating Jews about feminism.
    This didn’t begin “…since the Women’s Day Strike of March 8 issued its platform”. Keith F. Feldman in his “A Shadow over Palestine, The Imperial Life of Race in America” (University of Minnesota Press 2015) devoted an entire chapter to the chasm between Zionism and feminism. Letty Cottin Pogrebin defended Zionism vis-à-vis feminism in “Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement” (Ms. Magazine, June, 1982), a response to the 1980 Copenhagen UN Mid-Decade Conference on Women which included in its official report a paragraph on the “…struggle to eliminate imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, Zionism, racism, racial discrimination, apartheid, hegemonism, and foreign occupation, domination, and oppression.”. The entire chapter 5, indeed throughout his entire book, Feldman expands on the relationship between race in America and Palestinians under the hegemonic influence of Zionism.
    Israel has been successful in setting the agenda for the debate around Zionism, Israel, Palestine, and American response. It is more than simple “gatekeeping”. Their success in channeling criticism through Jewish and Jewish dominated institutions such as JVP and USCPR whose resources dominate the field, and their ability to select straw men (and women) for the expenditure of time and energy, is only equaled by their success in giving legitimacy to impotent, easily manipulated compradors selected as representatives to pursue their goals.
    Palestinian voices become filtered or misinterpreted by those inimical to their interests. Jewish exceptionalism is given greater credibility in Palestinian matters, similar to that given Christian exceptionalism in Islamic debate. We all become complicit by acquiescing to this path rather than pursuing the effort needed to elicit and defend the right of Palestinians to determine their own anti-colonialist strategies.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 17, 2017, 12:42 am

      conspicuous in the absence of the voices of Palestinian women. They are mentioned but their voices are absent.

      sparrow, Linda Sarsour was quoted extensively. for your review:

      “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.

      ====

      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.

    • DaBakr
      March 18, 2017, 4:53 pm

      A “whole chapter” on the relationship between African Americans and Palestinians and their distinct histories in relation to their status now(2015). Wow. That must be some chapter. I wonder if it delves into the Arab involvemrnt in the slave trade that brought the Africans by force to the Americas and elsewhere. And from that point on I am sure the similarities keep pouring in by the dozens until it gets to ww2 and the rebirth of modern Israel.

      • talknic
        March 19, 2017, 7:10 am

        @ DaBakr March 18, 2017, 4:53 pm

        “I wonder if it delves into the Arab involvemrnt in the slave trade that brought the Africans by force to the Americas and elsewhere”

        The Arabs weren’t the only ones involved

  6. JoeSmack
    March 16, 2017, 10:03 pm

    @Phil and @Mondo,

    This is a great article, but is there a reason you basically left out Lamis Deek, who issued a powerful 6 minute condemnation of Zionism on the stage at the Women’s Strike, with a Palestinian flag fluttering behind her?

    The only mention of Lamis is in passing: “You, Lamis Deek, Rasmea Odeh, among others…”

    I would suggest actually publishing the video and perhaps including it in the article: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLh21pm4GMs

  7. iResistDe4iAm
    March 19, 2017, 6:31 am

    “I identify as a Zionist because I support Israelis right to exist as a Jewish state.” ~ Emily Shire

    I identify as an Afrikaner because I support South Africans right to exist as a White state.

    I identify as an Abahutu because I support Rwandans right to exist as a Hutu state.

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