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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Ahed Tamimi Exposes the Refusal of Western Feminism to Come to Terms with Zionism and Imperialism

Aren’t Ahed and Nariman Tamimi women too?


A few weeks ago I wrote an article Feminist silence over Ahed Tamimi exposes the racist consensus at the heart of western feminism.  Little did I realise when I wrote it that it would be the most popular post in the decade since this blog began.  It has received, as of today, nearly 105,000 hits compared to 51,000 for the second most popular post Israeli Shop Sodastream (Ecostream) Opens in Brighton to Large Picket on the beginnings of the successful Brighton campaign to close 
Sodastream.  

Why is this so?  Perhaps it is the guilty conscience of many western feminists who understand their own oppression as women but fail to see the interconnections with the oppression of other women for whom gender oppression is not the totality of their oppression.  Today this is often called 'intersectionality'.  

Western feminism operates on the basis that there is an all-encompassing system of oppression called patriarchy, an  oppression of women by men.  By definition it fails to account for the division of women by class, race, ethnicity, colour etc. Women living under the heel of imperialism or colonialism are thus not only oppressed as women but as racial or ethnic minorities.
The article that caused a split in the British women's movement between supporters and opponents of imperialism
For women such as Ahed Tamimi or her mother Nariman, the primary oppression they experience is not that from the males in their family circle but from Israeli soldiers, regardless of their sex. 

Spare Rib and associated controversies in British Feminism

Who for example could doubt that for Rohinga women the experience of being driven out of Burma, often with Israeli arms, is more immediate than their relationships with men?  One is literally a matter of life and death.  Or for example that the primary experience of Jewish women in the camps of Nazi Germany was not the oppression of Jewish men but the Nazi state and its guards, regardless of their sex?  There is no evidence I have seen that female Nazi guards shared any sisterhood with Jewish women.

The relationship between feminism, racism and imperialism has been a vexed one for over 30 years.  When the issue of Zionism first manifested itself in the pages of Spare Rib, the magazine of Women's Liberation, at the time of the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, it split the editorial collective in two. An article ‘Women Speak Out Against Zionism’ caused an explosion of fury amongst Zionist feminists who asserted that support for the Palestinians and Lebanese was ‘anti-Semitism’ (shades of the Labour Party today!). 
The issue of Spare Rib that led to a debate that divided the British feminist movement
Outwrite - the paper of Women of Colour was formed in response to the racism of the majority of the Spare Rib collective
Roisin, an Irish Republican woman, interviewed 3 women for the article – an Israeli anti-Zionist, a Palestinian and Lebanese. 

On one side of the Spare Rib debate there were virtually all the white members of the collective, bar Roisin Boyd, the sole Irish member of the collective, and on the other side the Women of Colour.  The divide in Spare Rib led to the founding in 1982 of Outwrite a paper for Women of Colour which lasted until 1988.  A good history of this conflict is Bernice Hausman’s Anti-Semitism in Feminism:  Rethinking Identity Politics:

The debate has not gone away and never will go away for the simple reason that not only do different women experience different forms of oppression as women but women too are the oppressors of women by virtue of their race and class.  On a simple level think of Harriet Harman, the quintessential Labour Party feminist MP.  It was Harman who, when New Labour won in 1997 was  appointed Secretary of State for Social Security.  What was Harman's first act?  To cut single parent's benefit which was paid primarily to women.  Labour feminists like for example Caroline Flint and Jess Phillips are noted for their hostility to working class women.  Class for them trumps sex.

Whilst gender oppression will be felt most acutely by women who are least oppressed by virtue of class or race, it is just an additional burden for women for whom their status as an ethnic or racial minority in a colonial situation is primary.
The last issue of Outwrite
Can anyone doubt that in Israel, like Apartheid South Africa, Israeli Jewish women identify first and foremost with the system of racial oppression they were born into, that is Apartheid and Zionism?  Racial oppression cuts across gender.  Thus for example in the United States a majority of White women voted for Donald Trump despite his overt misogyny.  They identified with his attacks on Mexicans and Latinos over and above his overt sexism.  Indeed it was only among white college graduates and above that there was a majority for the arch-imperialist Clinton.  Admittedly it wasn't much of a choice!

Below is an excellent article from Mondoweiss on some of the issues that have been raised in the United States by the imprisonment of Ahed and Nariman Tamimi.  Imperialism and racism has clearly split the women's movement, a movement which is essentially concerned with democratic rights for women within capitalism.  It is a divide between those who understand the interconnections between women’s oppression, race and class, with all that that entails and those who wish to confine women’s issues to those within western capitalism – be it child care, sexuality, abortion or inter-personal relationships.
Although the womens movement has been absent from demonstrations in support of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestine solidarity campaign has taken it up
Typical of some of the comments my previous article attracted were those of Marian:
The movement for Palestinian rights is led by men, as are all social justice movements. A young female celebrity making a political stance is not feminism. She is a humane person challenging occupation and imperialism. She is not making a feminist decision.
Apart from dismissing the contribution of women and girls like Ahed to the Palestinian struggle, Ahed was just a ‘female celebrity’  Marian argued that someone challenging the occupation and imperialism ‘is not making a feminist decision’ thus begging the question – what is a feminist decision? Does feminism have any connection with wider oppressions or is it solely concerned with inter-personal oppression and related issues?

Marian went on to state that ‘Feminism does not exist to fight imperialism or occupation.’ thus demonstrating how narrow is the remit of western feminism.  Marian elaborated on this by saying that ‘The specific ways that colonialism bears down on women are feminist issues, but NOT colonialism itself.   So a system of oppression which has killed millions of women (& of course men and children) is apparently not a women's issue.  The fact that Israel's system of apartheid and occupation is the main form of oppression for Palestinian women is irrelevant.  Of course, as a consequence of Israeli rule, the oppression of Palestinian men is also reinforced because imperialism and colonialism has always reinforced patriarchy, often consciously.

The argument of Marian, which is not atypical is not going to be resolved easily because under capitalism the oppression of women as women takes different forms and depends on other variables.  

Tony Greenstein

Marchers in the Women's March in New York City on January 21st, 2017. (Photo: Karla Cote/Flickr)
Nada Elia on January 19, 2018

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 argument that you can be a supporter of Zionism, racism and feminism has resounded over the past 35 years and shows no signs of going away - it is an argument of class and in particular the privileged position of middle-class Jewish women
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 [2017] 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.
The American Zioness movement, formed to defend the position of women who proclaim their own oppression whilst celebrating that of Palestinian women.  Ironically the woman second from the left, was lifted from another publication and 'whitened' - presumably Zionesses don't come in any colour but White
The original image which was a bit too Black was Whitened to be acceptable to the 'progressive' Zionesses
Another organizational participant in the march is the “Zioness Movement,” which formed shortly after last January's Women’s March on Washington and the following June's Slutwalk in Chicago where women took exception to the participation of racist and Zionist women.  In short the Zioness group was formed primarily in response to the challenge, by many feminists, of the inclusion of Zionism in progressive circles. [see A Zioness Battle For The Soul Of The Left]


The Black South African rapper whose image was appropriated by the Zionesses dissociates herself from these American racists

The Israeli Embassy sponsored Zionesses 'explain' that the images they appropriated were only 'representational' - presumably the image of a Black woman didn't represent them!
Zioness“, according to the group's 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.
To Zionist feminists the heroes in this picture are the Black and Misrahi women who are Ahed's gaolers, whereas to them Ahed is White.  This demonstrates that colour is an indicator, a symbol not something inherent in itself
Indeed, with the rapidly growing global denunciations of Israel’s abuses, the Zioness Movement seems like a desperate attempt throwback, an 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.

See A Zioness Battle For The Soul Of The Left 


“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.
Ma'ariv columnist Ben Caspit, a Zionist 'liberal', who wrote inviting the rape and sexual attack on Ahed Tamimi:  “In the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras” 
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.

About Nada Elia

Nada Elia is a Palestinian scholar-activist, writer, and grassroots organizer, currently completing a book on Palestinian Diaspora activism

[I have added some information to the article by way of background to the Zioness group - Tony Greenstein]  People can see the original on Mondoweiss]

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