Subscribe to Salvage and receive two print issues per year, plus digital access including audio and back issue PDFs

Some of my best enemies are feminists: on Zionist feminism

by | March 8, 2024

This piece appears in print in Salvage 14: Shrouded in Darkness. Issue 14 is available to buy individually here. Our poetry, fiction and art remains exclusive to the print edition, and our subscribers have exclusive access to some online content, including all audio content. New subscriptions can be taken out here, and start with the next issue. Or you can support our work with a digital subscription, and get instant access to all published issues, including issue 14. 

On 7 March 2017, the day before International Women’s Day, the New York Times published an op-ed by the editor of Bustle magazine, Emily Shire, denouncing the anti-Zionism of a socialist-feminist network, the International Women’s Strike. ‘I see no reason I should have to sacrifice my Zionism for the sake of my feminism’, complained Shire of the 8 March feminist call to strike, citing its pro-Palestinian platform. She was particularly exercised about the inclusion of Rasmea Odeh, a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in the strike committee, as well as by the growing popularity of ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ against the state of Israel over its human rights abuses. Supporting BDS ‘has nothing to do with feminism’[1]Emily Shire, ‘Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists?’ New York Times, 7 March 2017., Shire frustratedly asserted. In the minor firestorm that ensued, the Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour explained what makes BDS a feminist tactic[2]Collier Meyerson, ‘Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No’, The Nation, 13 March 2017.; and the Big Bang actor Mayim Bialik hit back, declaring herself a feminist Zionist and adding that she ‘could not tolerate being accused of being “the enemy” like this.’[3]Gil Troy, ‘Mayim Bialik: The making of a heroic feminist Zionist’, Jerusalem Post, 29 March 2017.

Seven years later, International Women’s Day has fallen precisely five months into a US-funded genocide of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Within the span of this unliveable eternity – since Israel’s genocidal reprisals against a Hamas-led assault on Israeli military bases and civilian settlements on 7 October 2023 – the question of Zionist feminism has made itself globally known as never before. A world rising up in outrage against Israel’s atrocities has been met by a media that can barely represent Palestinian personhood at the level of syntax, and which refuses to name the perpetrator of the Gazan cosmicide except, fascinatingly, when the perpetrator can be framed as an attractive, youthful band of lesbians and/or feminists in combat fatigues via puff-features with copious photo-spreads – ‘Lionesses of the Desert: Inside Israel’s all-female tank unit’[4]Nick Pisa, ‘Lionesses of the Desert: Inside Israel’s all-female tank unit taking on Hamas…’, Daily Mail, 1 December 2023. (the Daily Mail); ‘Israeli Women Fight on Front Line in Gaza, a First’[5] ‘Israeli Women Fight on Front Line in Gaza, a First’, New York Times, 19 January 2024. See: Ari Paul, ‘NYT Engages in Front-Page IDF “Womenwashing”’, FAIR, 25 January 2024., (the New York Times), and so on. This year, I wish to offer these notes on an ideology in crisis, as a way of honouring its victims and, hopefully, speeding its collapse.

 

 

Historically speaking, Zionist feminism shares key characteristics of colonial feminisms of the nineteenth century. It arose as an instrument forging a new nationalist modernity – intertwined with bourgeois labour utopianism – carrying a palingenetic ambition for civilisational rebirth, yoked to a transgressive account of its own racial constituency’s destiny as gender-egalitarian. ‘It is not possible’, wrote the Polish feminist and Zionist activist Puah Rakovsky in her 1918 pamphlet The Jewish Woman, ‘that we Jews, who were the first bearers of democratic principles, should in this regard lag behind all civilised peoples and close the way for women to achievement of equal rights’[6]Quoted in: Puah Rakovsky, My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland, transl. Barbara Harshav and Paula Hyman, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002, p.14.. (The British-imperial version of this, which unfolded significantly earlier, had similarly been all about ‘reminding’ the British about a mythic past of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ harmony marked by true equality between the sexes. Recall how Jane Eyre discusses, near the end of the eponymous novel, the world’s spiritual need for independent-minded Englishwomen to emigrate and serve in the colonies as missionaries and teachers? Brontë’s heroine there is emulating the energetic, can-do figure of ‘the new model Englishwoman’, who sallies forth and cleans up various moral messes made by men in Australia, Canada, and India. ‘Miss Jane Bull’, a patriotic avatar, was an 1840s invention of feminists in Langham Place, London, largely meant to encourage and organise this emigration on behalf of the Crown.)

Whether settler-colonial or colonial, Zionist or imperial, elite nineteenth-century European feminisms fanned appetites among restive, stifled women for the vast personal Lebensraum that awaited them abroad if they transplanted to live among indigenes. Zion as a place for women to spread their wings: in the twenty-first century, one can readily hear the echoes of this historic idea in the writing of hasbarists like Amotz Asa-El, a Columbia University fellow. Asa-El routinely revives vintage flavours of ethnonationalist pro-feminism when he writes – erroneously, as it happens – that ‘the Zionist movement gave women the right to vote already in 1897, decades before many Western countries’[7]Amotz Asa-El, ‘The anti-Zionist sex’, Jerusalem Post, 1 December 2023.. (According to the Friends of Zion Museum, a few women did participate in the first Zionist Congress, in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, but they did so without voting rights[8]FOZ Museum, ‘The First Zionist Congress’, 8 March 2015.. The following year, in advance of the second congress, Theodor Herzl announced that women would have voting rights within the institutions of the Yishuv – a testament to his modernising state-building vision[9]Jewish Women’s Archive, ‘Suffrage in Palestine’, 23 June 2021.. But this decision was ignored, until 1917, when suffragists in Ottoman Palestine, like Nehamah Pukhachewsky of Rishon LeTzion, began to remind their fellow settlers of this earlier enfranchisement: ‘We can live no longer without fully equal rights. We who build the settlement together with the men … Give us what is ours’[10]Quoted in: Margalit Shilo, Girls of Liberty: The Struggle for Suffrage in Mandatory Palestine, trans. Haim Watzman, Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2016, p.14..) The actual facts of women’s often embattled condition in what soon became Mandatory Palestine and then, in 1948, Israel – where to this day the ultra-Orthodox oppose equal suffrage – have rarely seemed to dim feminist Zionists’ perception of an excitingly superior outpost of empowered Jewish womanhood amid a sea of Arab and/or Muslim patriarchal backwardness. During an interview with Lilith magazine entitled ‘A Zionist in Spite of Herself’, the nonagenarian feminist Judith Shotten describes moving from Canada to Israel in 1949 and experiencing ‘incredible equality’ in gender terms on the kibbutzim. In the young Judy’s eyes, feminism-wise, Israel was cutting-edge: a colonial gender utopia such that ‘all my anti-nationalism and universalism went out the window’[11]Judith Shotten and Barbara Gingold, ‘A Zionist In Spite of Herself’, Lilith, 34(4): 11-15, 2009, p.13.

Never do Zionist feminists of my acquaintance admit to the ethnonationalism of their gender-emancipation ideology with such refreshing explicitness. However, for approximately a decade, ‘feminism and Zionism are two sides of the same coin’ has been one refrain of organs like the Jerusalem Post. Even ‘social justice’-minded activists with J Street have tried to reason that it is perfectly possible to be ‘a Zionist-feminist’ if we expand ‘our understanding of Zionism to include supporting the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians’[12]Liat Deener-Chodirker, ‘Can You Be a Zionist-Feminist?’ Moment 42(3): 12, 2017., a rather load-bearing ‘if’. At the Israel Forever Foundation, however, a blogger called Forest Rain Marcia made no such concessions to Linda Sarsour in 2017, expostulating that feminism and Zionism are both fundamentally ‘about freedom’ (you can tell, because ‘Zionist men and women came to Israel, plowed fields and built homes together. They fought off enemies, side by side. Together they build a country, together they birthed the Start-Up Nation’[13]Forest Rain Marcia, ‘Unapologetic Zionist Feminist’, Israel Forever Foundation, 20 March 2017.). In a 2020 column, a Y-Net staffer went so far as to say that ‘you can’t be a feminist and not be a Zionist’, the gambit in this case being an analogy between one highly tendentious definition of Zionism’s goal – ‘that Jews become the masters of their own fate’ – and feminism’s: ‘that women too can be masters of their fate’[14]‘You can’t be a feminist and not be a Zionist’, Jerusalem Post, 23 January 2020..

This idiom of self-sovereign mastery perhaps unconsciously conjures a vision of female-nationalism: a platform that was in fact sincerely taken up by Jewish-American lesbian-separatists for a spell in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and defended by Andrea Dworkin, for instance in her book Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation – which calls for a women’s ‘homeland’ along Israeli lines – even into the twenty-first century. Shortly before Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Ms. magazine’s editor Letty Pogrebin declared: ‘Zionism is simply an affirmative action plan on a national scale’[15]Letty Cottin Pogrebin, ‘Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement’, Ms., June 1982, p.65.. The invasion killed an estimated 20,000 civilians and injured five times that many, prompting many feminists of the Jewish diaspora to rise up militantly against the purported wars of national-cum-gender liberation being waged in their name. Some weeks after the beginning of the ‘holocaust’ – to quote Ronald Reagan – of 1982, the feminist magazine Spare Rib interviewed three women’s liberationists: Aliza Khan, an Israeli, and one Palestinian and one Lebanese activist identified only by their first names, Randa and Nidal. Together, all three stated unequivocally the incompatibility of feminism and Zionism. ‘What Israel is doing now is nothing new but an extreme part of its nature’, explained Khan: ‘killing people barbarically, children, women, with poisoned gas and with cluster bombs’. Even Khan’s own mother, who emigrated to Israel from Germany, was now awakening to the truth of Zionism, she said. It was increasingly obvious to Jewish feminists of all generations that ‘women must come out against it because our sisters are being murdered’. And in fact, ‘if a woman calls herself feminist she should consciously call herself anti-Zionist’. An obvious point as far as today’s Women’s Strike is concerned.

At the time of writing, the Ziofeminist camp is riven by defection and chaos, much like ‘liberal Zionism’ as a whole is (or what is left of it). It has felt neatly logical that the ‘mother of Israeli feminism’, Alice Shalvi – a fierce advocate for women’s participation in the occupying military, who founded the bipartisan Israel Women’s Network in 1984 – should happen to die just a few days before the ‘world’s most moral army’ began raining down white phosphorus on the world’s largest open-air prison in the name of, entre autres, rape survivors and women’s rights. Some of the feminists publicly mourning Shalvi have sought out new extremes of fascistic female icon-worship (viz. ‘our’ all-female tank squadrons of ‘Zionesses’™); while some have adopted a stony and presumably shame-ridden silence about the new Nakba underway; and others have merely deepened their commitment to the old philosophy and practice of ‘shoot-and-cry’[16]Ben White, ‘Shoot and cry: Liberal Zionism’s dilemma’, Electronic Intifada, 19 September 2007., for instance, giving thanks that Alice passed away before ‘the shock of Hamas’s 7 October attacks could kill her’[17]Letty Cottin Pogrebin, ‘Rest in Power: Alice Shalvi, the Mother of Israeli Feminism’, Ms., 18 January 2024.. All are having to tolerate being accused of being the enemy – i.e., my enemy, and the enemy of all abolition feminisms – every waking minute, which is as it should be.

 

 

On 5 December, Benjamin Netanyahu began hammering the world’s ‘women’s rights organisations’ for their silence regarding the alleged ‘rape of Israeli women’ two months prior[18]‘Netanyahu says human rights groups are turning a blind eye to alleged rapes by Hamas’, Sky News, 6 December 2023.. Hadn’t we heard about the unspeakable ‘mutilations’ that the Muslim hordes, escaped from their prison, had wreaked on girls and mothers in kibbutzim surrounding Gaza? Breasts cut off with box-cutters[19]Anna Shecter, ‘Their bodies tell their stories. They’re not alive to speak for themselves’, NBC, 5 December 2023.. It was around this time that I started seeing an uptick of slick, instagrammable Zionist-feminist materials on my social feeds: graphic banners enjoining feminists to ‘believe Israeli women’, and hashtags alleging antisemitism, lamenting that ‘it’s #metoo, unless you’re a Jew’[20]Joan Smith, ‘Why are people still denying Hamas’s rapes?’, UnHerd, 7 December 2023.. Actually, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood was a ‘trampling of feminism’s very foundations’[21]Amotz Asa-El, ‘The anti-Zionist sex’, Jerusalem Post, 1 December 2023.. According to the aforementioned Columbia fellow, Professor Asa-El, the events of 7 October have hence infused ‘new relevance to de Beauvoir’s legacy’, writing in that long standing bastion of Simone de Beauvoir fandom and scholarship, the Jerusalem Post. Asa-El’s thesis is that ‘Israeli women vindicated de Beauvoir’s theory’ by, uh, being women whilst machine-gunning down the Al-Qassam brigades as members of the IDF. Breathlessly describing ‘Israel’s women warriors’ – ‘our female warriors’ – in particular, one tank-squadron commander and two other patriotically uniformed combatants, intimately referred to as ‘Inbal, Karni, Tal’ – he says that these individuals were ‘everything’, on that fateful day, that ‘de Beauvoir argued a woman can be, if only given a chance: assertive, resourceful, cool, and brave’. As such, no doubt, the anti-colonial existentialist would have signed off on the genocide of Palestinians as a war of sexual justice.

In this crudely intellectualised anti-intellectual ambience of jingoistic bloodlust, we have heard unusually naked versions of the familiar occidentalist canard about ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ trotted out. According to the former editor of the British Times, Sarah Vine, ‘a new axis of misogynist evil is sweeping the world’[22]Sarah Vine, ‘A new axis of misogynist evil is sweeping the world’, Daily Mail, 16 January 2024.; clearly, those on the side Bibi calls ‘the children of light’ should be proud of their Islamophobia because ‘women’s liberation has been part of the Zionist ideal since its inception’[23]Amotz Asa-El, ‘The anti-Zionist sex’, Jerusalem Post, 1 December 2023.. The American anti-trans feminist Abigail Shrier charges that every ‘leftist’ opponent of Israel’s ‘right to exist’ as a Jewish-supremacist state is a bigoted barbarian driven by hatred for ‘a peaceable civilisation’, the same way that ‘eco-warriors’ who ‘vandalise the Wellington Arch in central London’ clearly ‘despise the civilisation that cradles such treasures’[24]Abigail Shrier, ‘This is not a drill’, Commentary, 15 December 2023.. Gil Troy, a self-described ‘American historian and Zionist thinker’ at McGill University, thundered in Tablet magazine that Hamas, a ‘rape cult’, engineered a ‘mass crime against women’, ergo ‘all civilised people should repudiate so many Palestinians’ and progressives’ delight in sharing these videos and cheering these crimes’[25]Gil Troy, ‘Feminists Are Consenting to Hamas’ Rape Culture’, Tablet, 29 October 2023.. The rhetorical dial was turned to the ‘War-on-Terror’ setting five months ago and remains stuck there. Many pundits probably still believe, even now, that they are speaking the truth when they bellow in vague yet graphic terms about countless, countless rapes endured on 7 October.

Israeli police promised that ‘tens of thousands’ of testimonies of sexual violence committed by Hamas that day were about to materialise. They never did. Nonetheless, many US feminists got behind the genocide-justifying propaganda effort. Ms. magazine posted a reading list on ‘rape as a weapon of war’, inspired by ‘firsthand accounts of what happened in Israel on 7 October.’[26]Rape as a weapon of war: a Ms. reading list’, 6 December 2023. (The resource list begins with unattributed quotes, ostensibly from survivors, anonymously relayed by the Israeli national police, alongside debunked tales of brutality from Israeli army reservists. It has not been amended or updated since.) Sheryl Sandberg, the former chief operating officer at Meta™ and celebrity author of Lean In, spoke publicly about her anger at feminists ‘who stay silent’ vis-à-vis Hamas ‘terrorists’: they perpetrated, she said confidently, ‘premeditated, co-ordinated, multi-location, all-on-one-day, rape and unbelievable sexual violence.’[27]Charlotte Ivers, ‘Sheryl Sandberg on Hamas rapists and those who say nothing’, Times, 28 January 2024. Even the Nation columnist and celebrated left-feminist Katha Pollitt wrote that ‘you have to be a conspiracist or rape denialist’ in order to dismiss Israel’s talk of systematic rape by Hamas as hasbara[28]Katha Pollitt, ‘Why Have Feminists Been So Slow to Condemn the Hamas Rapes?Nation, 15 December 2023.. Helen Lewis wrote in The Atlantic that she could condone, specifically, suffragettes planting bombs in the name of a good cause, but not the methods of the ‘the incursion from Gaza into Israel’.

Jill Filipovic grappled creatively with the absence of proof, assuring us in the NYT opinion section that it is normal during wartime for there to be no corroborated or independently verifiable evidence, while at the same time paradoxically asserting that ‘there is much, much more’[29]Jill Filipovic, ‘Denying the Gender-Based Violence of Oct. 7 Helps No One’, New York Times, 13 December 2023. (evidence). In the past, when writing about wartime rapes, Filipovic said, ‘I … held my tongue and my pen, waiting for substantive reporting and clearer evidence to emerge.’ (After all: ‘accusations of rape are extremely charged, and uncorroborated claims that turn out to be exaggerated or untrue can undermine the public’s trust in journalists and their belief in the veracity of sexual violence claims more broadly.’) But this time, she would not hold her tongue. Echoing so many of the other state stenographers of this moment, styling themselves as ‘journalists’ while parroting Bibi, Filopovic charged, on the contrary, that there were no true feminists among those holding their tongues.

Another piece of this species – addressed to ‘the world’s feminists’, in Slate – claimed shamelessly that ‘solidarity for victims of sexual assault should trump other politics.’ In other words, rape is comparable to genocide. ‘Of all of the horrors coming out’ of the genocidal war on Gaza – opined Dahlia Lithwick, Mimi Rocah, Tamara Sepper, Jennifer Taub, Joyce White Vance, and Julie Zebrak, this being at the end of November, when 15,000 Palestinians were already confirmed killed – ‘among the most horrible are the barbaric murders, rapes, sexual assaults, and kidnappings of women and young girls in Israel during the 7 October attack by Hamas.’[30]Dahlia Lithwick, Mimi Rocah, Tamara Sepper, Jennifer Taub, Joyce White Vance, and Julie Zebrak, ‘The World’s Feminists Need to Show Up for Israeli Victims’, Slate, 30 November 2023.

 

 

On 28 February, The Intercept published an exposé on an exposé. Entitled ‘Between the Hammer and the Anvil’[31]Jeremy Scahill, Ryan Grim, and Daniel Boguslaw, ‘Between the Hammer and the Anvil’, Intercept, 28 February 2024., it thoroughly analyses just one heavy drop of the steady drip of New York Times journalism that has, without question, contributed materially to Israel’s indiscriminate destruction of Gaza (by legitimating it). The debunking is thorough, and makes for devastating reading. The three co-authors are essentially peeling back the forced construction of a femonationalist narrative around Palestinian sexual brutality. Jeremy Scahill, Ryan Grim, and Daniel Boguslaw – all Intercept reporters – demonstrate what can only be described as brazen interference-running: the fabrication of distractions aimed at western feminists like myself during a genocide, designed to try to make us sympathize with colonisers, not the colonised. I’m describing ‘femonationalism’[32]Sara Farris, In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. here, a concept you may remember from the War on Terror, which many of us hoped had run its course.

The femonationalist gambit is the name for a tried-and-true mechanism whereby western feminists are morally browbeaten into supporting an imperial cause, i.e., ‘we must unite in the fight against sexual “barbarism”…‘, via heavy reference to oriental patriarchy. Femonationalism more or less defines, as such, the ‘civilizational’ affect whipped up among denizens of the imperial core during military campaigns of collective punishment that require Islamophobic dehumanisation of the ‘barbarians’ in question; campaigns which actively benefit from the sowing of doubt and hesitation among the allies of the colonised. The lavishly photo-illustrated ‘Screams Without Words’ feature, published in the NYT on 28 December 2023 – by Jeffrey Gettleman, Anat Schwartz and Adam Sella – was a masterclass in the genre.

‘Screams Without Words’ was a sensational account of specifically female Israeli violation and suffering at the hands of rampaging Gazans, published at a crucial time in the genocide. Subtitled ‘How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7’, it was based largely on non-expert and avowedly ‘imaginative’ interpretations of crimes scenes by ZAKA, a private ultra-Orthodox rescue organisation that had already been documented as spreading multiple false stories and mishandling evidence[33]‘ZAKA is not a trustworthy source for allegations of sexual violence on October 7’, Mondoweiss, 30 December 2023.. It relied on alarmingly inconsistent stories told by two soldiers, music festival-goers, hiding in some bushes, about what they saw: namely, special forces veteran Raz Cohen and his comrade Shoam Gueta (who now posts TikToks of himself in uniform picking through the rubble of Gazan homes)[34]Samer Kalaf, ‘The New York Times Ignores Intense Scrutiny Of Its Oct. 7 Report’, Defector, 1 March 2024.. It is the ‘screams without words’ of the one unidentified woman Cohen saw – or perhaps only heard? – being gang-raped by five ‘civilians’ from Gaza, that became the title of the Times piece about ‘Hamas’ (a contradiction in itself, if it was civilians, as the Intercept notes).

Additionally, ‘Screams Without Words’ relies on testimony from Shari Mendes, an American architect who serves as a reservist in a rabbinical unit of the Israel Defense Forces. In October, Mendes told The Daily Mail that ‘a baby was cut out of a pregnant woman and beheaded and then the mother was beheaded’[35]Nick Fagge, ‘Israeli morgue worker says horrors inflicted on Hamas’s victims are “worse than the Holocaust” including decapitated pregnant woman and her beheaded unborn child’, 20 October … Continue reading, but the official Israeli list of those killed includes zero pregnant people. Furthermore, Mendes possesses no forensic or medical qualifications. Yet she has appeared everywhere from the United Nations to major media platforms in the aftermath of 7 October, giving her testimony about the ‘raped’ Israeli corpses she prepared for burial in a morgue. By the time the New York Times reporter, Anat Schwartz, interviewed Mendes, the beheaded-fetus story had sensationally travelled the world and also been conclusively debunked. Yet Mendes, as well as other sources already known to be non-credible, were somehow still included in the exposé’s account of ‘systematic’ use of sexual violence by Hamas. When it came to building this account, clearly the Times was willing to believe individuals ‘with track records of making unreliable claims and lacking forensic credentials’[36]Jeremy Scahill, Ryan Grim, and Daniel Boguslaw, ‘Between the Hammer and the Anvil’, Intercept, 28 February 2024..

What Boguslaw, Grim and Scahill demonstrate – extremely consequentially, given the context of genocidal ‘reprisal’ to the tune of 35,000 confirmed dead – is that ‘Screams Without Words’ falls apart completely under scrutiny. Loved ones of Gal Abdush, ‘the woman in the black dress’ at the heart of the rape story, have actively denied that she was raped. (‘The media invented it’, said one[37]13tv.co.il/item/documentary/worth-a-story/usmj7-903873429. ‘It doesn’t make any sense’, said another[38] ‘Family of key case in New York Times October 7 sexual violence report renounces story, says reporters manipulated them’, Mondoweiss, 3 January 2024..) Most damning of all, the video journalist who filmed Abdush’s body says that she was hounded for access: New York Times reporters ‘called me again and again and explained how important it is to Israeli hasbara.’[39]‘Ynet asks the photographer of “the woman in the black dress” how @nytimes reached her. She explains the rationale of the Israeli journalists Adam Sella & Anat Schwartz: “They called me … Continue reading No wonder that one former public editor at America’s ‘paper of record’ says she hopes a full investigation will be made[40]I sometimes joke “it’s another good day not to be the New York Times public editor” but the organisation could really use one right now to investigate on behalf of the readers. Hundreds of readers have sent ‘unsubscribe’ letters to the editors most responsible for ‘Screams without Words’ (Suzanne Spector, Philip Pan, Joseph Kahn), outlining their reasons along lines suggested in a template prepared by the group Writers Against the War on Gaza. ‘I am deeply perplexed’, runs this template, ‘by the Times’ decision to hire two novices to cover the extremely sensitive issue of sexual violence, especially given that the charge of sexual violence has, in this case, become a pretext for the collective punishment of Gaza.’

 

 

We need more, not less, explicit enmity between feminists, in a context where the destruction of Palestinian life is systematically ‘women-washed’ in our culture. Moreover, we have plenty of precedent: the legacy of feminist enemies on this ‘issue’ – a ‘conflict’ better described as a core node of the imperial capitalist world system – is at least fifty years old. It was in June of 1975 – the year the United Nations dubbed ‘International Women’s Year’ – that a world conference of feminists, held in Mexico, declared ‘the equality of women’ to rest on ‘the elimination of colonialism and neo-colonialism, foreign occupation, Zionism, apartheid, and racial discrimination in all its forms.’[41]See this hostile report from the representative of WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization, at the conference: Evelyn Sommer, ‘Fighting Delegitimization: The United Nation’s … Continue reading This powerful and infamous declaration was of course hotly opposed by the representatives present from WIZO (the Women’s International Zionist Organization) as well as by Betty Friedan, who returned home to the US to join protests against the ‘Zionism is racism’ declaration and help the immense lobbying effort already grinding into motion against its future success.

Yet the motion still went on to be passed, with seventy-two votes to thirty-five, as a resolution on the ‘Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination’ at the UN General Assembly in November 1975[42]United Nations, 10 November 1975, Resolution 3379 (XXX), ‘Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination: Zionism as racism – resolution adopted by the General Assembly.. The countries that sponsored and voted for UN GA Res. 3379 were, as one might expect, overwhelmingly formerly colonised nations. Eventually, in 1991, the document was repealed at the UN, and the opposite, itself antisemitic, resolution that ‘anti-Zionism is anti-semitism’ slowly began to acquire legal force within a number of national and supranational institutions. Zionist feminists have never forgotten, nor have they forgiven, the moment when, forty-nine years ago, seventy-two national representatives at the United Nations formalised a decision reached, in large part, by thousands of anti-imperialist and Communist feminists in Mexico during the summer of International Women’s Year: that Zionism has no place in the people’s movement for gender freedom and sexual justice.

We should not let them steal the memory from us of that fleeting victory. The Islamophobic myth of the Muslim ‘rape cult’ doesn’t fool us any more the older settler-colonies’ ‘myth of the black rapist’ can. As the Palestinian feminist collective Tal’at teaches, there can be ‘no free homeland without free women.’ Though there are feminists on this earth who swear themselves to be the enemies of a free Palestine shared by people of all genders and religions, it was also feminists who first assembled to resolve upon the truth: that treachery to Zionism is loyalty to humanity.

—Sophie Lewis, Philadelphia, 8 March 2024

References
1 Emily Shire, ‘Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists?’ New York Times, 7 March 2017.
2 Collier Meyerson, ‘Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No’, The Nation, 13 March 2017.
3 Gil Troy, ‘Mayim Bialik: The making of a heroic feminist Zionist’, Jerusalem Post, 29 March 2017.
4 Nick Pisa, ‘Lionesses of the Desert: Inside Israel’s all-female tank unit taking on Hamas…’, Daily Mail, 1 December 2023.
5  ‘Israeli Women Fight on Front Line in Gaza, a First’, New York Times, 19 January 2024. See: Ari Paul, ‘NYT Engages in Front-Page IDF “Womenwashing”’, FAIR, 25 January 2024.
6 Quoted in: Puah Rakovsky, My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland, transl. Barbara Harshav and Paula Hyman, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002, p.14.
7, 21, 23 Amotz Asa-El, ‘The anti-Zionist sex’, Jerusalem Post, 1 December 2023.
8 FOZ Museum, ‘The First Zionist Congress’, 8 March 2015.
9 Jewish Women’s Archive, ‘Suffrage in Palestine’, 23 June 2021.
10 Quoted in: Margalit Shilo, Girls of Liberty: The Struggle for Suffrage in Mandatory Palestine, trans. Haim Watzman, Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2016, p.14.
11 Judith Shotten and Barbara Gingold, ‘A Zionist In Spite of Herself’, Lilith, 34(4): 11-15, 2009, p.13
12 Liat Deener-Chodirker, ‘Can You Be a Zionist-Feminist?’ Moment 42(3): 12, 2017.
13 Forest Rain Marcia, ‘Unapologetic Zionist Feminist’, Israel Forever Foundation, 20 March 2017.
14 ‘You can’t be a feminist and not be a Zionist’, Jerusalem Post, 23 January 2020.
15 Letty Cottin Pogrebin, ‘Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement’, Ms., June 1982, p.65.
16 Ben White, ‘Shoot and cry: Liberal Zionism’s dilemma’, Electronic Intifada, 19 September 2007.
17 Letty Cottin Pogrebin, ‘Rest in Power: Alice Shalvi, the Mother of Israeli Feminism’, Ms., 18 January 2024.
18 ‘Netanyahu says human rights groups are turning a blind eye to alleged rapes by Hamas’, Sky News, 6 December 2023.
19 Anna Shecter, ‘Their bodies tell their stories. They’re not alive to speak for themselves’, NBC, 5 December 2023.
20 Joan Smith, ‘Why are people still denying Hamas’s rapes?’, UnHerd, 7 December 2023.
22 Sarah Vine, ‘A new axis of misogynist evil is sweeping the world’, Daily Mail, 16 January 2024.
24 Abigail Shrier, ‘This is not a drill’, Commentary, 15 December 2023.
25 Gil Troy, ‘Feminists Are Consenting to Hamas’ Rape Culture’, Tablet, 29 October 2023.
26 Rape as a weapon of war: a Ms. reading list’, 6 December 2023.
27 Charlotte Ivers, ‘Sheryl Sandberg on Hamas rapists and those who say nothing’, Times, 28 January 2024.
28 Katha Pollitt, ‘Why Have Feminists Been So Slow to Condemn the Hamas Rapes?Nation, 15 December 2023.
29 Jill Filipovic, ‘Denying the Gender-Based Violence of Oct. 7 Helps No One’, New York Times, 13 December 2023.
30 Dahlia Lithwick, Mimi Rocah, Tamara Sepper, Jennifer Taub, Joyce White Vance, and Julie Zebrak, ‘The World’s Feminists Need to Show Up for Israeli Victims’, Slate, 30 November 2023.
31, 36 Jeremy Scahill, Ryan Grim, and Daniel Boguslaw, ‘Between the Hammer and the Anvil’, Intercept, 28 February 2024.
32 Sara Farris, In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.
33 ‘ZAKA is not a trustworthy source for allegations of sexual violence on October 7’, Mondoweiss, 30 December 2023.
34 Samer Kalaf, ‘The New York Times Ignores Intense Scrutiny Of Its Oct. 7 Report’, Defector, 1 March 2024.
35 Nick Fagge, ‘Israeli morgue worker says horrors inflicted on Hamas’s victims are “worse than the Holocaust” including decapitated pregnant woman and her beheaded unborn child’, 20 October 2023.
37 13tv.co.il/item/documentary/worth-a-story/usmj7-903873429
38  ‘Family of key case in New York Times October 7 sexual violence report renounces story, says reporters manipulated them’, Mondoweiss, 3 January 2024.
39 Ynet asks the photographer of “the woman in the black dress” how @nytimes reached her. She explains the rationale of the Israeli journalists Adam Sella & Anat Schwartz: “They called me again and again and explained how important it is to Israeli hasbara.”’
40 I sometimes joke “it’s another good day not to be the New York Times public editor” but the organisation could really use one right now to investigate on behalf of the readers
41 See this hostile report from the representative of WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization, at the conference: Evelyn Sommer, ‘Fighting Delegitimization: The United Nation’s ‘Zionism Is Racism’ Resolution, a Case Study’, World Jewish Congress, 85th Anniversary Forum, 2021.
42 United Nations, 10 November 1975, Resolution 3379 (XXX), ‘Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination: Zionism as racism – resolution adopted by the General Assembly.