Editor’s note: Kiera Feldman has an important piece up at Alternet on the BDS movement, flashmobs, and the gender politics of the Palestinian solidarity movement. Excerpts:
The real genius of BDS is its big tent appeal: supporters might choose to stick to boycotts of consumer goods made in settlements (e.g. SodaStream); some might launch divestment campaigns aimed at companies involved in the Occupation; or others might support the “full call,” which asks artists and academics to boycott Israeli institutions (as opposed to individuals) that have not hopped on the BDS bandwagon. Notable full BDS supporters include Pink Floyd, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Judith Butler. “If you only want to boycott an egg, we want you to boycott an egg,” Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, told the Nation, explaining BDS’ grabbag of tactics….
And what is more big tent than a goofy song and dance?
To be sure, it is just one of the tactics that might comprise a larger targeted campaign. CodePink’s Rae Abileah and Colleen Kelly, a Catholic Worker and member of St. Louis Justice in Palestine (of Motorola flash mob fame) are borderline flash mob evangelists, who praised the form’s ability to engage a diverse group of people and build community.
Both Abileah and Kelly grew up choreographing Spice Girls dances at slumber parties; in flash mobs, the teen girl consumer culture they were weaned on meets the “don’t buy that” movement of their adulthood. It is, by and large, a movement dominated by women. “I think that’s everywhere though,” not just BDS, Kelly said. “When women are leaders, men are not as present.”
Dalit Baum, a member of the established Israeli feminist organization Coalition of Women for Peace and the founder of whoprofits.org, agreed. “Women do most of the grassroots organizing,” she said. “Always.” What’s more, she added, they’re disproportionately queer.
But, of course, powerhouse women leading the charge—often with gutsy public actions–does not mean the end of the enduring tale of misogyny on the radical left, especially in the private sphere. “There is still sexism within our movements to combat too,” Abileah wrote in an email, stating the obvious, which can’t be said enough when advocating for the liberation of others. In a recent essay, Amirah Mizrahi, an activist with Jewish Voice for Peace, addressed the darker components of justice in Palestine work—that which is hard to reconcile with spectacles of joyful song and dance. “There is a problem with gender violence in this movement,” Mizrahi wrote. “If we cannot respect something so fundamental—the autonomy of another person over her own body—what are we fighting for?”
Counting myself among the BDS supporters, I too have swapped painful stories with female friends of sexism playing out in the most intimate ways, as if reenacting scenes from the early Women’s Movement days. I have been degraded exactly once in my life—by an Israeli BDS activist, a self-professed male feminist who talked of linked struggles, who knew better but did not act better. Knowledge, I learned in a lesson I will not soon forget or forgive, does not necessarily stop someone from violating women’s physical boundaries. It is a notch on a belt I wish no one owned.
Thankfully, the movement is undergoing a serious reckoning on themes of sexism, sexual violence, and bad consent. I recently learned many women share similar stories about this very same Israeli BDS activist–and that a whole support community has formed to work toward systemic change and individual accountability. Feel free to email kiera dot feldman at gmail dot com to hear what’s in the pipes.