As thousands of women, and men, dust off their pink pussy hats ahead of this weekend’s anniversary Women’s March, we are seeing many of the divisions that riddled last year’s rallies surface again. Thankfully, we are also witnessing the emergence of a solid alternative to the shortcomings of imperial feminism.
This is most obvious in Los Angeles, where Scarlett Johansson is scheduled to be a featured speaker. In 2014, Johansson stepped down from her role as an ambassador for the global charity organization Oxfam, which she had represented for eight years, so she would keep endorsing SodaStream, the Israeli sparkling water company with a factory in an illegal West Bank settlement. Johansson, who says she does not regret her decision, had also spoken at last year’s march, in DC, but her presence at this year’s rally, in Los Angeles, is being challenged more vigorously. An Open Letter and petition asking the organizing committee to engage in genuine intersectionality and not erase Palestinian women’s experience has gathered thousands of signatures at the time of this writing and is still going strong as a number of progressive organizations, including the southern California-based PAWA, (the Palestinian American Women’s Association), Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink, and al-Awda: the Palestine Right of Return Organization have endorsed it. The Open Letter invites marchers interested in featuring Palestinian women’s oppression to join the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist International Women’s Strike, scheduled in March on International Women’s Day. PAWA, which had been invited to speak at the Los Angeles march, later issued its own statement explaining that it “cannot in good conscience partner itself with an organization that fails to genuinely and thoughtfully recognize when their speaker selection contradicts their message” of inclusivity “focused on marginalized voices.”
The 2018 Women’s march in Los Angeles has received sponsorship from the National Jewish Women’s Council, whose chief executive officer, Nancy Kaufman, had declared last year she was satisfied with “assurances the  march is not anti-Trump and not anti-Israel.”
Kaufman’s comments are puzzling, to say the least, since the march was certainly meant as a protest against Trump’s overt misogyny—that was the very impetus behind the march, which was timed one day after his inauguration. As to the concern that the march would be anti-Israel, it expresses the awareness, amongst Zionists, that progressives are finally moving away from the unquestioning embrace of the Zionist narrative. (The NWJC identifies “Israel advocacy” as one of its priorities). Ironically, Kaufman is certainly correct in linking opposition to Trump with opposition to Israel, as white supremacy indeed goes hand in hand with Zionism.
Another organizational participant in the march is the “Zioness Movement,” which formed shortly after last year’s Women’s March, primarily in response to the challenge, by many feminists, of the inclusion of Zionism in progressive circles. A “Zioness“, according to that movement’ website, is someone who is proud, progressive, and “stands for justice and fights against all forms of oppression”. Obviously, Zionesses do not view Israel’s seventy years of the violation of Palestinian human rights as a form of oppression.
Indeed, with the rapidly growing global denunciations of Israel’s abuses, the Zioness Movement seems like a desperate attempt to hold on to the glory days, when Zionism went mostly unquestioned as a progressive redemptive movement, and when Feminism (with a capital F) was predominantly about middle class white woman’s concerns. And yet women of color feminism, a fully developed parallel discourse, has always existed alongside Feminism, asking that troublesome question, “Ain’t I a woman?” Today, the question seems to be “and aren’t Ahed and Nariman Tamimi women?” In this light, Zionists who insist that they are feminists are reactionary, holding on to privileges they wish would not be questioned, disrupted by a counter-narrative they had hitherto kept at bay.
“It is both unsurprising and immensely disappointing that the organizers of the women’s march have decided to cover up Israeli apartheid with the banner of women’s liberation,” Tithi Bhattacharya, National Organizer for the International Women’s Strike, wrote me in a private email.
“It is unsurprising because Scarlett Johansson was a speaker for the women’s march last year when millions of people had come out to resist the Trump presidency. In other words, the politics of the organizers have not changed. It is disappointing because nearly 4 million people marched on the historic women’s day march in 2017. I am absolutely sure that the vast majority of them did not march to support Israel’s brutal colonial regime, or to suppress the brilliant history of Palestinian resistance,” Bhattacharya added.
Yet that “brilliant history” is indeed being suppressed, when the oppression of Palestinian women and children is not foregrounded in discussions of systematic abuses by socio-political structures of misogyny. And the fact that Zionists, despite the #MeToo movement and national conversation it has opened up, still cannot acknowledge Israel’s assault on Palestinian women and children—indeed, on the entire Palestinian people–is yet further proof that Zionism and feminism are incompatible. Just as white feminists of the 1950s believed a job outside the house would offer them the fulfillment they lacked, and were oblivious to the misery of women of color who juggled two jobs and could not make ends meet, today’s “Zionist feminists” are utterly oblivious to the oppression of Palestinian women, incapable of comprehending that Zionism hinges on the violently-maintained disenfranchisement of another people.
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, author of the MuslimGirl blog, described the erasure of Palestinian women’s experiences in an Open Letter explaining why she was declining Revlon’s “changemaker award,” which celebrates Israeli actor Gal Gadot’s “live boldly” campaign. Accepting the award, Al-Khatahtbeh writes, “would have been turning a blind eye to the plight of women and girls like Ahed. I’m writing this because I want to make it clear that this is not about you or me. This is about the moral obligation of privileged women like ourselves to rise to the moment of demanding freedom for Ahed and that of countless other girls like her.
“I believe that there are a few things we should all be able to agree on, and standing against the mass incarceration of children feels like it should be an easy one. Regardless of whatever political convictions you may hold, I have to believe that every woman, especially the current face of Wonder Woman, can agree that Israel must free a 16-year-old girl from its prison system and military courts. There must be some lines drawn upon which our humanity can collectively agree,” Al-Khatahtbeh explains.
Gadot, who is proud of her service in the Israeli military, and has expressed support for the Israeli army during its 2014 assault on Gaza, is viewed by mainstream feminists as a role model for many. As Bhattacharya put it: “We need to break this chilling yoking of Zionism with Feminism. Violence, apartheid, the brutalization of women and children—the hallmarks of Zionism—have no space in the feminist movement. If we are to fight for women’s rights we cannot do it selectively so that our politics of liberation stops at the apartheid wall of the West Bank. Indeed, when we organized the International Women’s strike last year, a few weeks after the women’s march, we received tremendous popular support even though we had the decolonization of Palestine as one of our central demands,” Bhattacharya added.
Palestinian women and our allies have long pointed out the erasure of our oppression from mainstream feminist discourse. Hopefully 2018, and the grassroots insistence that Palestine must be included in intersectional struggles for justice, will put an end to that.