People hold placards during an anti-Israel protest in central Berlin in July 2014. The placard reads ‘Women murderers = Israel.’.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti-Israel protests and propaganda are appearing more and more in the guise of feminism.
Jewish American women have been active in the feminist movement in America since the early days of the Suffragettes, to the Second Wave of Feminism and up to and including the present day. Now, a new form of antisemitism is arising which would require a feminist to renounce her support of the Jewish homeland in Israel.
March 8, 2017, the day of the international women’s strike, was supposed to symbolize the unity of women and was a call for feminists to unite. However, the platform for this day included the statement: “Ending neo colonization of Palestine is the beating heart of feminism.” This was not the first conflation of feminism and pro-Palestinianism, and, unfortunately, will probably not be the last.
I have considered myself a feminist for many years. For example, I taught the first Women and the Law course in an American law school, in 1969, the description of which was included in the book Sisterhood is Powerful. I also co-authored the book Abortion Rap with my good friend the late Florynce Kennedy, who was a leader in the black civil rights struggle and the founder of the Feminist Party. Flo was not in any way anti-Israel, let alone antisemitic. Am I now being asked to choose between my feminism and my support for Jewish self-determination? This serious dilemma was expressed recently by Emily Shire in her excellent piece in The New York Times online, “Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists?” Feminism seeks to achieve political, economic, personal and social rights for women. However, now when feminists rally they are joined by people pursuing a distinctly different agenda, an anti-Israel agenda. This is most unfortunate. Feminists who are also supportive of Israel are being driven away.
The State of Israel has had a sensitivity to women’s rights and to women’s contributions since its founding. Historically, and today, women have occupied the highest echelons of Israel’s government. Israel, with Golda Meir, was one of the earliest nations to have a woman as its head of government.
Israel was a pioneer in the fight for women’s rights. Not just in the past. Today, for example 27.5% of the Knesset is comprised of women, a higher percent than in either the US Senate or US House of Representatives. Major political parties in Israel have developed internal guidelines for ensuring participation of women. More than 44% of all lawyers are women; nearly 51% of all magistrates and district court judges are women. The current chief judge of the Israeli Supreme Court is a woman, and she is not the first one. The Israeli government has made a concerted effort to encourage women to enter the fields of science and technology by promoting their achievements. Women are making strides in these fields as well as in medicine, business, academics, the arts and journalism.
A dangerous pattern is emerging within other social justice movements in America, whereby cynical efforts by pro-Palestinian activists are requiring fealty to their agenda. This false intersectionality has been condemned by Alan Dershowitz among many others. In a similar vein, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the UK, has said, “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel is dangerously wrong because beneath the surface it’s an attempt to delegitimize Israel as a prelude to its elimination.”
Opposing Jewish self-determination in the form of anti-Israel protests and propaganda is a form of antisemitism. We must be vigilant to expose this bigotry in all its forms, be it from the Right or the Left and including when it is disguised as a struggle for women’s rights. In these days of renewed antisemitism sweeping through Europe and now even in the US, with Jewish communities experiencing threats against community centers, synagogues and vandalism in Jewish cemeteries, we cannot stand idly by. And we should not allow the feminist cause to be hijacked.
The author is a lawyer and real estate broker who created and taught the first Women and the Law course in an American law school.