Linda Sarsour (center) leads during a ‘Day Without a Woman’ march on International Women’s Day in New York, earlier this month.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As a head-covering Jewish woman, long committed to both Zionism and feminism, the assertion that you can’t be both pro-women’s rights and pro-Israel is absurd and exasperating.
I mention the head covering only because so many women at demonstrations seem to be wearing hats. Non-Muslims were actually wearing hijabs as an expression of feminist solidarity.
Not that I have anything against hijabs. In a crowded hospital elevator last week, every one of us women was wearing some kind of head covering: wig, scarf, hat, hijab. Several of the women were doctors and nurses. This is daily life in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. I’m proud to be living in a free country where we can go to work, school or pool wearing any head covering that we fancy.
I would hate to live where women are not allowed to wear ethnic garb or, conversely, where women are forced to cover up. Please note that last month, Georgian- American chess champion Nazi (pronounced NazEE) Paikidze refused to compete in Iran, where she would be forced to play in a hijab, which she sees as a symbol of oppression.
I also understand the motivation of Palestinian women who are trying to hijack the women’s movement to serve their political purposes. They want to use the tactics that have succeeded in the past. International women’s conferences – as far back at least as the first UN Decade for Women designated in Mexico City in 1975 – were derailed to become attacks on Israel. Academic gatherings, including the annual meeting of the National Women’s Studies Association, have deteriorated into Israel- bashing fests. Why not ride the wave of political discontent and uncertainty in the United States to push American women worried about women’s rights into the anti-Israel/anti-Jewish camp? Most of the media responses to Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association in New York, who was one of the organizers of the large Women’s March in January, have focused on the irony of her attacking the Middle Eastern country where women have the most rights. We can assume that Sarsour knows how well Israel stacks up against Arab states on the Sharansky standard for freedom: being able to stand in a public square and shout out your opinion.
Sarsour’s trotting out the old canard about pregnant women being stopped from entering Israel – long ago proven to be an urban legend – was a giveaway that she’s peddling fake news. Even though she lives in Brooklyn, she must know from relatives that no day goes by without thousands of Palestinians being treated in Israeli hospitals by Jewish and Arab staff.
In last week’s “Why people believe provably false things,” New York Times journalists Amanda Taub and Brendan Nyhan confirmed that “even when myths are dispelled, their effect lingers.”
Decades of fables and accusations against Israel have had their impact in eroding Israel’s good name. Note the previously unthinkable tolerance for having a convicted terrorist murderer – also convicted in the United States of immigration fraud – as a leader of a national women’s action. Rasmea Odeh, who confessed to murdering two Hebrew University students by placing a bomb in a coffee can in a Jerusalem supermarket, led the American Women’s Strike on March 8. She proudly belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which claimed the bombing as its own, together with an earlier attack on El Al flight 432 in Zurich. After serving 10 years of a life sentence, Odeh was among the 76 prisoners exchanged for an Israeli soldier who’d crossed into Lebanon. In a reversal of feminism, women are often released earlier than male terrorists. Odeh somehow got “the decolonization of Palestine” on a feminist platform.
These women cannot define feminism for me.
We Jews, ever conscious of our slavery in Egypt, are proudly among the first to advocate for freedom. Both in the Civil Rights Movement and in the feminist movement, Jewish women have played important roles. A pantheon of Jewish women, among them Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, Susan Faludi, Gloria Steinem, Carol Gilligan and Phyllis Chesler qualify for the feminist hall of fame.
Chesler, an emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at City University of New York and the author of 14 books (among them her memoir An American Bride in Kabul) has been the most vocal in identifying the anti-Israel elements growing in what she calls “faux-feminism.” She has paid a high price for sounding the alarm. Ostracized by former comrades and ironically called antisemitic for her willingness to speak out in politically incorrect forums, she continues to face down those who support boycotts of Israel and who claim they are saving Israel’s soul by educating all of us who live here and vote in our government.
I am grateful for her courage.
Bending over backward “to see the other side” is our favorite exercise, but even gymnasts can fall. No matter our political party affiliation, we cannot give in to the hijacking of feminism. It’s the responsibility of all of us Israel-faithful women of all faiths, whatever our hair covering or lack of hair covering, to strike down this venomous manipulation of women’s ongoing struggle for equality.
■ The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.