There is no space for Zionism in any movement which seeks to alleviate even an iota of oppression from marginalized people. There is no space, no room should be made, no platform to be held, for Zionism, which is diametrically opposed to intersectional feminism, both in theory and praxis.
Zionism has oft been used as a tool by the white supremacist bourgeoisie to stifle and critique liberation movements, but over the past three years, we’ve seen a rise in this tactic, coinciding with the rise of the Movement for Black Lives. The tactic is divisive and impactful because the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a contemporary political event that is rarely taught, and when it is it tends to come from biased, falsified sources.
On July 8, 2016, of last year, an article by Rabbi Dan Dortch, “As a Rabbi, I Can’t Support Black Lives Matter When They Call to Boycott ‘Apartheid’ Israel” was published, blasting the Movement for Black Lives. Specifically, the article was pointed at ATLisReady, a collective of Atlanta organizers who fight for local racial justice, for including solidarity to the Palestinian struggle in their demands. In the ATLisReady demands, it states:
“The people demand a complete overhaul of Atlanta Police Department’s (APD) training institutions, and instead utilize models based on de-escalation rather than militarized tactics that aid or perpetuate mass incarceration. We demand a termination to APD’s involvement in the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program, that trains our officers in Apartheid Israel.”
This portion of the demands is in reference to the specific occurrence of Atlanta police officers being trained by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). However, it fits into a larger context of demands by the national Movement for Black Lives Matter calling attention to Israeli Apartheid. This shows a rebirth in the trend of Black and Palestinian solidarity, which is rooted in a historical solidarity over many decades.
At the crux of Rabbi Dortch’s article he states, “Black Lives Matter demonstrated an incredible ignorance of history and present circumstance that dictates that these conflicts should not be linked whatsoever.” Not only is this statement rooted in notions of anti-Blackness which assume Black organizers lack historical substance and context on the subject of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it also minimizes the struggles of Black people internationally—including those living in Israel.
Recognizing the patterns of racial discrimination, land occupation, and displacement throughout the Black diaspora in history, we as a collective of Black organizers also understand how the current placement of Israel and its actions stand as a historical continuum of apartheid epistemology. This apartheid epistemology—or apartheid “thought structure’ and perception— perpetuates a hierarchy/superiority based on systemic segregation and discrimination based on race and/or ethnicity. This epistemological framework is violent, and allows for the justification of violence against the Palestinian people, as similar epistemologies allowed for the justification of Jim Crow laws.
As Black activists and organizers, we lend solidarity and support to the Indigenous communities of this country, to those who face gendered violence in the Congo, to the humans disappeared by the Mexican government, and to all oppressed abroad. It is in this same vein of international solidarity that we give our support to the Palestinian people, and recognize Zionism as antithetical to our own liberation.
“What I experienced there I have never experienced before,” said Nelini Stamp, one of the many Black activists who have gone on delegations to Palestine. “On the streets of Hebron, there were small metal canisters everywhere. I picked up one and immediately recognized the familiar ‘CSI’ logo [Combined Systems, Inc.]. This name was very familiar to me because [of] my time in the streets of Ferguson after the large clashes with police there, the same canisters with the same ‘CSI’ logo attached were everywhere. I was immediately thrown back into remembering Ferguson, Baltimore, and New York, and all of the places in my country where mass amounts of Black people have been hit with pepper spray, tear gassed, and thrown into jail – all for simply demanding our rights.”
You see, these experiences are all too common for us and cannot be ignored. Black activists have been extending solidarity towards Palestine for decades, as James Baldwin famously stated that Israel “was created for the salvation of the Western interests.” When we were protesting throughout Ferguson, it was Palestinians who innovatively used social media to give us tips for combatting the militarized police state. When Nelson Mandela spoke of collective struggles, he spoke of the Palestinian struggle, stating “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Angela Davis states in her latest book “Freedom Is A Constant Struggle,” “Just as we say ‘never again” to the fascism that produced the Holocaust, we should also say ‘never again’ with respect to apartheid in South Africa, and in the Southern U.S. That means, first and foremost, that we will have to expand and deepen our solidarity with the people of Palestine.”
In Rabbi Dortch’s original article, he attempts to weaponize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a device to attempt to silence Black perspectives on Palestine, stating: “Unfortunately, the Black Lives Matter Movement’s misguided steps have proven that their way is not the way of Dr. King,” however, we understand the lack of historical clarity in which Rabbi Dortch speaks. Conveniently ignoring Dr. King’s strong stance against militarism, both domestically and abroad, Dortch again assumes Black organizers lack knowledge of one of our own civil rights heroes by attempting to implore him as a respectability tactic.
Not only does this attempt to weaponize Dr. King expose the anti-Blackness inherent to Zionism, it exposes Dortch’s own lack of perception of Dr. King. In 1967 Dr. King stated, “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” Surely, one can see Israel’s racial profiling of Arabs as inherently racist, and their contempt for Palestinian lives based on the violently militarized occupation zones as extreme materialism and militarism intertwined.
Several people within the Jewish community have claimed to support Black lives, yet hold solidarity over our heads as a wavering privilege. That we as Black people cannot speak on or act against injustices in the world without being threatened by the removal of allyship; that whenever Black people rally against inherently racist systems we have one of greatest liberators, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., poorly weaponized against us, is anti-Blackness masquerading around as conditional solidarity.
Recently, the use of Zionism to tactically stifle liberation movements was implored when the New York Times published an article titled, “Does Feminism Have Room For Zionism?” The piece, written by journalist Emily Shire, boasts about being a “proud feminist” who should not have to ”sacrifice my Zionism for the sake of my feminism”– an interestingly oxymoronic statement which ignores the reality that Zionism is directly antithetical to feminism. If we are to have an international feminist movement, one that is inclusive of intersectional politics that fully reject white supremacy, how can one call for the inclusion of a political position which advocates for and enacts violence against Palestinian women?
Shire’s article comes just one day before International Women’s Day and the International Women’s Strike aimed at targeting the ways in which white supremacist capitalism exploit women was set to take place. The placement of this article in the New York Times, one of the largest platforms in the world, as well as a day before the International Women’s Strike is tactically decisive. As the article continues, Shire lays the groundwork for a feminist politic rooted in white feminism, one that is conditional in its solidarity and centered on securing her own privileges of liberation of all women.
She states: “This insistence can alienate feminists, like myself, who don’t support all of the causes others believe should be part of feminism. For example, some who identify as feminists may not agree with the organizers of the International Women’s Strike when they call for a $15 minimum wage. Nor do all feminists necessarily join the strike organizers in supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.”
This passage is important in order to recognize a weaponizing tactic Shire employs throughout the entire article: she equates feminism solely to an identity, rather than a political theory and mode of being rooted in the liberation of women. The title “feminist” is not a mere identity or title to be worn for societal appreciation, rather a framework of theoretical praxis concerned with achieving the “social, political and economic equality of the sexes,” according to feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Any self-proclaimed “feminists” who do not align in solidarity with women’s call for a $15 minimum wage increase and an end to the settler-colonial violence occurring at Standing Rock are strung on an intoxicatingly white strand of feminism, one that ignores the material realities of Black, Latino, and Indigenous women who make the lowest wages in this country and are actively having their land stolen.
Similar to the positioning of Dr. King that Dortch attempted to use against the Movement for Black Lives, Shire’s attempt to conflate Zionism to an identity similar to Blackness, or immigrant status, or any other oppressed-identity descriptor is not accidental. In ignoring the reality that her Zionist politic is by choice, perpetuating the notion that it is inherent to her being, she draws upon the sympathy of those who rest on identity politics as a cardinal framework for resistance. This, again, is tactical.
An interesting passage of Shire’s article is the criminalization of Rasmea Odeh, in which Shire falls into Islamophobic tropes, using buzzwords like “terrorist,” “concern,” and “criminal”—all within the same paragraph. Unsurprisingly, Shire uses the U.S. State Department as a metric of terrorist-validity, stating that Rasmea Odeh is a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which they list as a terrorist organization. However, using the U.S. as a metric of validity and morality falls flat when you consider that the people like Black Panther Party, Nelson Mandela, and feminist icon herself Angela Davis have all been placed on the State Department’s terrorist lists. One exposes their own limits in relation to the history of anti-racism movements to assume pleading with the same morality as the U.S. is a point worth making.
Regarding the question of if there is space within different liberation movements for Zionism, we must take into account what Zionism brings with it. We must take into account that if we are to build a Movement for Black Lives which is anti-imperialist, anti-settler colonialist, anti-racist, and pro-feminist, we have to eliminate the very concept of Zionism from our spaces. And if we are to really understand feminism as an interwoven political theory of anti-oppression, one that synthesizes the struggles of women from the Congo to Compton, from Iraq to Ramallah, then we can then understand Zionism as antithetical to feminism. Zionism, which encompasses the white supremacist, Islamophobic, and Queerphobic ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people, is diametrically opposed to any movement rooted in feminism or liberation for Black lives.