10 April 2017

Why Zionist Feminism is an Oxymoron

Zionism is inherently patriarchal
Below are two excellent posts from Richard Silverstein on the attacks by Zionist feminists and Emily Shire in particular on Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian woman who was tortured, raped and otherwise abused by Israeli security forces for being a ‘terrorist’.  Richard shows how Zionist feminism operates within its own intersectionality.  Loyalty to kith and kin, the colonial definition of what it means to be Jewish trumps any loyalty to Palestinian women.

Of course feminism has often been the route by which many Jewish women came to an anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian stance.  But others, usually from the radical feminist wing, see their loyalty to the western imperial consensus, of which Israel is an integral part, as being more important than to any abstract notion of women’s unity.

Part of the problem lies with the whole concept of feminism, the idea of a solid women’s block against patriarchy or men.  It ignores that women too are divided by class or race.  That for most women in Israel, feminist demands mean in practice the demand for equality as an oppressor.  We can see this in the demand that women be allowed to serve in front-line units.
In western society feminism often means an identification with the oppressor rather than the oppressed and often the seeing of underdeveloped societies as being inherently patriarchal.  One can see this racist feminism as being represented by far-right movements such as Gert Wilders in The Netherlands or Marine Le Pen in France.

In Britain this Zionist feminist current came out into the open in the wake of Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 1982 when 20,000 people were killed and 70,000 were injured.  It resulted in a major split in the magazine of the feminist movement Spare Rib when one of the collective Linda Bellos resigned claiming that her sense of Jewishness (although she was also Black) was offended by an article supporting Palestinian women.  Before long there was a massive split in the editorial collective between women of colour and the one Irish woman and the white women.

It was in this atmosphere that Outwrite a paper of Women of Colour was formed which was explicitly anti-racist and anti-imperialist unlike the rather comfortable, middle class feminism of the all-white Spare Rib.

In the United States the Zionist feminist wing has been particularly strong.  It is well represented by people like Emily Shire, who has articulated her politics in a recent op-Ed in the New York Times Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists?  This article deserves attention because it displays, in all its sickening hypocrisy the position of Zionist feminism, which in some ways, is similar to a Zionist socialism which was built on the exclusion of Arabs from their ‘socialist kibbutzim’.

Shire writes that she is:

troubled by the portion of the International Women’s Strike platform that calls for a “decolonization of Palestine” as part of “the beating heart of this new feminist movement.” The platform also states: “We want to dismantle all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.”

It says a lot for this racist that the idea of dismantling the Apartheid Wall which confiscates Palestinian land behind the rubric of ‘security’ and which creates ghettos such as Bethlehem, disturbs her.  Perhaps she might recollect one or two Jewish ghettos in the Europe of the past.  Or maybe it is the decolonisation bit which disturbs her.  The idea of no longer demolishing Arab villages or confiscating their land or just attacking peaceful farmers or fishermen which worries her?

Shire launches an attack on Rasmea Yousef Odeh. She writes that Ms. Odeh, an immigrants’ and women’s rights activist, ‘was convicted for her involvement in a 1969 bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket that killed two Hebrew University students and an attempted bombing of the British consulate.’  Perhaps she was, but the context is one of occupation and Ms Shire is a supporter of Israeli colonisation by her own admission.  What Ms Odeh was convicted of, in a colonial court, was an act of resistance.

Rasmea Odeh in 2015. Credit Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Shire acknowledges that ‘the fairness of Ms. Odeh’s conviction is debated, the fact that she was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was categorized as a terrorist organization by the State Department, is not. The Anti-Defamation League referred to Ms. Odeh as a terrorist and raised concern that in recent years, “activism has been a tool for the legitimization of Rasmea Odeh, despite her criminal record in Israel.”

And here you see, in all its naked glory, the ‘feminism’ of Shire.  He accepts the right of the State Department to label someone as a ‘terrorist’ without question.  The fact that anyone opposing the US invasion of Iraq was labelled a terrorist doesn’t seem to disturb this little ‘feminist’ Zionist.  As for being a member of the PFLP, it is a Marxist group in Palestine and should be the object of support by socialists in this country and the USA, but this little racist prefers to rely on the ADL and the State Department.

Of course it is not only Shire.  Other white privileged American Jewesses, unless they are able to break out from their conditioning, exhibit the same political manifestations under the label of Zionist feminism.  Another such is Phoebe Maltz Bovy writing in the Forward.  Her article Zionist Feminist: Not An Oxymoron is another protest at the idea that the liberation of women can be achieved by trampling over the rights of Palestinian women.

Bovy writes about what she perceives as ‘an intersectional obstacle to feminist activism’.  In other words, she wants to fight for her own liberation by ignoring the oppression of others.  Which is Zionist Feminism summed up in a nutshell.

Tony Greenstein

Rasmea Odeh participates in Detroit Black Lives Matter rally
Yesterday, I wrote a critique of Emily Shire’s diatribe against the Women’s Strike Day USA protest.  She especially singled out platform statements supporting Palestinian rights.  Shire, a professed Zionist feminist, dismissed the criticisms of Israeli Occupation contained in the event platform as irrelevant to the issue of women’s rights.  Then she launched into an attack on one of the conveners of the Strike Day, Rasmea Odeh.  Shire alleges that Odeh is a convicted terrorist and former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S. designated terror group.

A comment Deir Yassin published yesterday here got me to thinking further about this issue.  I researched Rasmea’s case and the torture she endured.  My view is this is precisely the sort of case and individual any women’s movement should embrace.  Here is a summary of the facts of the case.   In 1969, a cell of the PFLP planted bombs at a Jerusalem Super-Sol.  They exploded, killing two Hebrew University students.

Demonstration by B’Tselem of forms of Shabak torture
Afterward, security forces arrested Odeh and jailed her without charges or access to counsel.  She was tortured, by her account, for 45 days.  Here is how she described her treatment in testimony to a UN commission on torture in Geneva:

…”They beat me with sticks, plastic sticks, and with a metal bar. They beat me on the head and I fainted as a result of these beatings. They woke me up several times by throwing cold water in my face and then started all over again.”

In addition to this physical torture, Odeh also faced sexual torture. Her father, a U.S. citizen, was also arrested and beaten, “and once they brought in my father and tried to force him under blows to take off his clothes and have sexual relations with me.” Later, interrogators “tore my clothes off me while my hands were still tied behind my back. They threw me to the ground completely naked and the room was full of a dozen or so interrogators and soldiers who looked at me and laughed sarcastically as if they were looking at a comedy or a film. Obviously they started touching my body.” In her father’s presence, interrogators threatened to “violate me” and “tried to introduce a stick to break my maidenhead [hymen].” Shackled naked from the ceiling, interrogators “tied my legs, which were spread-eagled, and they started to beat me with their hands and also with cudgels.”

Every method described in her account is known from previous descriptions of the treatment of Arab terror suspects.  We know, for example, that Doron Zahavi, an IDF AMAN officer, raped Mustafa Dirani in Prison 504.  The beatings and positions she describes are also previously described in testimony by the Public Committee to Prevent Torture in Israel.  Therefore, it’s not just conceivable that Rasmea endured the treatment she claims, it’s almost a certainty.  Especially given that two Israelis were killed in the bombing.

In summary, the Shin Bet tried to force her father to rape her.  The interrogators themselves raped her and further degraded her sexually.  And her father was tortured as a means of compelling her to confess.  If this isn’t a perfect portrait of a cause that all feminists should embrace, I don’t know what is.  So when Shire claims that Palestine is the farthest thing from what Women’s Strike Day’s mission should be, she’s engaging in willful blindness to the plight of another woman.  A woman who happens to be Palestinian.

Rasmea was tried and convicted in an Israeli military court, which features military judges and prosecutors using rules that favor the prosecution and shackle the hands of the defense.  It can rule any evidence secret and so prevent the defense from seeing it, let alone rebutting it.  Such a conviction could never withstand scrutiny under U.S. criminal procedures or even Israeli civilian courts.

Further, Shire justifies her denunciation of Odeh by noting that Israel denies torturing Rasmea.  So you have an Israeli security apparatus which is well-known for lying when evidence against it is damning.  And you have Rasmea’s testimony, supported by scores of accounts by other security prisoners as to their treatment under similar circumstances.  It reminds me of the story of the husband who returns home to find his wife in bed with another man.  The man jumps out of bed and says: “Hey, this isn’t what this looks like.  Nothing happened.  I swear it.  Who are you going to believe?  Me, or your lyin’ eyes?”  Emily Shire prefers to believe the agency that lies to her with a straight face.  In doing so, she shows that she is a Zionist first and foremost; and a feminist second, if at all.
As for the citizenship application infractions which the Justice Department is exploiting in order to expel her from the U.S.: she had been tortured once by Israel.  Her decision to hide her previous conviction was surely founded on a fear that she might be deported once again back to Israel or Jordan (where Israel had sent her after her release from prison).  The Jordanian security apparatus collaborates closely with Israeli intelligence.  The former is quite handy with torture itself.  Further, the U.S. judge in her first trial prohibited her attorney from raising torture as part of her defense.  Her second trial will explicitly permit such testimony.  Though I’m not privy to the defense strategy, I hope it will demand that a Shabak officer who participated in her interrogation testify at trial.  And if his testimony diverges from the truth, I hope there is means to document this and hold him accountable.  It would be one of the first times such an agent would be held accountable legally either inside or outside Israel.

In the attacks against Rasmea, it’s certainly reasonable to bring up her participation in an act of terrorism: as long as you also examine the entire case against her.  She admitted participation in the attack.  But she denied placing the bomb in the supermarket.  Despite her denial, this was the crime for which she was convicted.  Further, Rasmea was released after serving ten years as part of a prisoner exchange.  If Israel saw fit to release her, what is the point of using her alleged past crime against her today?

As for her membership in a terror organization, she has long since left the militant movement.  Her civic activism is solely non-violent these days.  Further, virtually every leader of Israel for the first few decades of its existence either participated directly in, or ordered acts of terror against either British or Palestinian targets.  Why do we grant to Israel what we deny to Palestinians?

It may be no accident that two days before Shire’s broadside against the U.S. feminist movement (and Rasmea) in the NY Times, the Chicago Tribune published another hit-piece against her.  The latter was credited to a retired Chicago professor.  Her bio neglected to mention that she is also a Breitbart contributor who is the local co√∂rdinator for StandWithUs.  This sin of omission attests either to editorial slacking or a deliberate attempt to conceal relevant biographical details which would permit readers to judge the content of the op-ed in proper context.

The Tribune op-ed denounces Jewish Voice for Peace’s invitation to Rasmea to address its annual conference in Chicago later this month.  As I wrote in last night’s post, what truly irks the Israel Lobby is the growing sense of solidarity among feminist, Jewish, Palestinian, Black and LGBT human rights organizations.  Its response is to divide by sowing fear, doubt and lies in the media.  The two op-eds in the Times and Tribute are stellar examples of the genre and indicate a coordinated campaign against what they deride as intersectionality.
March 14, 2017 By Richard Silverstein

For the past few weeks, a storm has been brewing between women who call themselves “Zionist feminists” and the organizers of the U.S.-affiliate of the International Women’s Strike.  It began with a NY Times op-ed by Emily Shire, described as the political editor of a women’s website, Bustle.  She decried the supposed lack of inclusivity in the platform for U.S. Women’s Strike because it contained statements hostile to Israel.  Here is the “offending” passage:

For an Antiracist and Anti-imperialist Feminism

Against the open white supremacists in the current government and the far right and anti-Semites they have given confidence to, we stand for an uncompromising anti-racist and anti-colonial feminism. This means that movements such as Black Lives Matter, the struggle against police brutality and mass incarceration, the demand for open borders and for immigrant rights and for the decolonization of Palestine are for us the beating heart of this new feminist movement. We want to dismantle all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.

Emily Shire, valiant defender of Zion against ravages of feminism and intersectionality
Shire also objects to the inclusion amongst the organizers of the project, Rasmea Yousef Odeh, a Palestinian-American activist convicted by an Israeli court of a 41 year-old bombing which killed several Israelis.  The Palestinian activist’s ancient affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine serves as evidence to support the claim: once a terrorist, always a terrorist.

Shire seems oblivious to the fact that Israel has had two prime ministers guilty of mounting terror attacks against Palestinians, which killed far more people than the bombing which Odeh is purported to have carried out.

There is a larger strategy behind Shire’s op-ed.  It is part of the Israel Lobby’s attempt to divide the U.S. progressive movement so that hostility toward Israeli policies is rendered treif.  In that way, the Lobby believes it can deprive the anti-Occupation movement of support from Black Lives Matters and the LGBT rights community, among others.  That’s why human rights activists, in turn, fight so hard against hasbara efforts like pinkwashing, Blackwashing, greenwashing, and femwashing.
Shire attempts to render the Woman’s Day program treif by painting herself as both a liberal feminist and liberal Zionist:

Although I hope for a two-state solution and am critical of certain Israeli government policies, I identify as a Zionist because I support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Increasingly, I worry that my support for Israel will bar me from the feminist movement that, in aiming to be inclusive, has come to insist that feminism is connected to a wide variety of political causes.

…I am happy to debate Middle East politics or listen to critiques of Israeli policies. But why should criticism of Israel be key to feminism in 2017?

Why indeed?  Because many, if not most feminists believe it to be so.  Just as the Black Lives Matter has declared solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.  It’s the height of chutzpah that a privileged white Jewish woman tells all of America’s feminists that the cause of Palestinian women shouldn’t be their business.

She objects to the feminist movement dividing its energy by embracing causes not central to issues facing women.  This is the same argument that African-American men made when African-American women embraced the feminist movement in the early 1970s.  They argued that Black women were diluting the power of the civil rights struggle by diverging from the purity of its original agenda. 
Martin Luther King was assaulted with similar arguments when he first announced his opposition to the Vietnam War.  Eventually, all the naysayers were proven wrong.  All such movements need to be broad-based and inclusive.  If you cut yourself off from surrounding political struggles, you deprive your own movement of new energy and motivation.

In arguing that Palestine isn’t central to the feminist movement, Shire appears to be wearing a thick set of Zio-blinders: Palestinian women certainly wouldn’t see the Palestinian cause as peripheral to their own struggle as women living under Israeli Occupation.  Further, she appears to believe that by supporting a two-state solution and being critical of “certain” Israeli policies she’s established her bona fides as a truly liberal individual.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  When Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu can both claim to support a two-state solution while supporting the building of settlements and continuation of Occupation, the term has lost any real value.
In this passage, Shire further illustrates her moral obtuseness:

Implying that mass incarceration is analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is analogous to Donald Trump’s desire to build a wall along the Mexican border is simplistic at best.

What is the suffering of Gaza under siege if not “mass incarceration?  What is Israel’s apartheid wall if not an apt equivalent to Trump’s border wall?  Simplistic?  Not at all.

Shire can’t even seem to spare a single kind word for her Palestinian sisters.  Instead, she heaps them with scorn and derision.  Rasmea is little more than a terrorist, which makes the Women’s Day organizers little more than accessories to her alleged crimes.

Shire acknowledges Odeh’s claim that her confession was elicited under torture, which she then dismisses, noting a perfunctory Israeli denial of torture.  She neglects to mention that Israel’s secret police are well-known for their extensive use of torture in eliciting confessions.   Further, intelligence of any sort gained through torture is notoriously unreliable, as would be her confession.

The Shabak have even murdered terror suspects after they were captured and neutralized.  So why is it such a surprise to think Odeh might be innocent and her confession obtained under duress?  Could it be that Shire’s Zionism trumps her sisterly solidarity with Odeh?  If so, it seems a betrayal of the very feminist values she claims to hold dear.

Finally, Shire manages to drag BDS into the debate, even though it isn’t mentioned in the Women’s Strike statement:

It is strange to see academic groups supporting the B.D.S. movement, which stifles the free flow of knowledge. But regardless of your opinion on the B.D.S. issue, it has nothing to do with feminism.
Who is stifling the free flow of knowledge?  Israel.  It prevents Palestinian graduate students from leaving their homes to study abroad.  It threatens activists who support BDS with deportation if they try to enter Israel.  It offers legal penalties against those who mention the Palestinian Nakba.  Its security forces even prevent Israeli academic conferences from hosting talks by Israeli professors who are deemed “hostile” to the security state.  As for whether BDS has anything to do with feminism: as I mentioned the Women’s Strike made no reference to BDS, so Shire is engaging with a chimera.  But if it did, why wouldn’t the suffering of Palestinian women be a legitimate subject both for BDS and the Women’s Strike?  In fact, Israeli wars against Palestinians unduly impact the women who are often left vulnerable in their homes as they seek to protect their children.  The numbers of dead are always much higher for women and children than men, under Israeli military assault.
Linda Sarsour, another leader of the Women’s Strike, added her own critique of Shire’s piece with an interview in The Nation.

In closing, Shire posits a tired, cliche-ridden version of Zionism.  She even proudly notes in her Twitter profile that her high school yearbook featured prominently quotes from Golda Meir and Carrie Bradshaw (!).  In this post, I am criticizing this nostalgic, retro-Zionism.  But not a more progressive form of Zionism which can embrace the principles of BDS and transforming Israel into a state for all its citizens.

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