Fem­i­nists’ blind se­lec­tion pol­icy

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Alona Fer­ber

THE DAY after Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, mil­lions took part in women’s marches protest­ing against the new pres­i­dent. It was re­port­edly the largest day of demon­stra­tions in US his­tory, and oth­ers joined in sol­i­dar­ity across the globe. Here in Lon­don, 100,000 turned out with their oh-so-English, tongue-in-cheek ban­ners. Nearly two months later, on In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, women in more than 50 coun­tries ral­lied and ab­stained from work for an In­ter­na­tional Women’s Strike. The aim of this, the strike’s plat­form ex­plained, was to kick-start an “in­ter­na­tional fem­i­nist move­ment that or­gan­ises re­sis­tance not just against Trump and his misog­y­nist poli­cies, but also against the con­di­tions that pro­duced Trump.”

The mass mo­bil­i­sa­tions that have fol­lowed the di­vi­sive pres­i­dent’s elec­tion — from the women’s marches to the sight of thou­sands at air­ports protest­ing against the US travel ban -— have been hailed by sym­pa­this­ers as cause for op­ti­mism, proof that peo­ple care enough to stand up for what they be­lieve in. How­ever, a re­cent de­bate around the ever-thorny is­sue of Zion­ism in this resur­gent fem­i­nist move­ment gives cause for pes­simism.

In a New York Times op-ed ahead of the strike, Bus­tle edi­tor Emily Shire asked whether, as a Zion­ist, she is wel­comed in fem­i­nism. The rea­son for her con­cern was the strike’s plat­form, which states that, among other is­sues, “the de­coloni­sa­tion of Pales­tine” should be part of “the beat­ing heart” of the new move­ment. “Why should crit­i­cism of Is­rael be key to fem­i­nism in 2017,” she asked.

This week, Pales­tinian-Amer­i­can ac­tivist Lisa Sar­sour re­sponded to Shire. Far from reach­ing out to her fel­low fem­i­nist, she re­it­er­ated in an in­ter­view to The Na­tion that in­deed, Zion­ism has no place in this re­newed push for gen­der equal­ity.

Sar­sour’s ar­gu­ment boiled down to the fol­low­ing: Is­rael’s Oc­cu­pa­tion op­presses women, ergo, Zion­ism and fem­i­nism are mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. “Any­one who wants to call them­selves an ac­tivist can­not be se­lec­tive,” she said. But Sar­sour is be­ing se­lec­tive her­self. She ig­nores any dis­crim­i­na­tion Pales­tinian women may face in Pales­tinian so­ci­ety, and she ig­nores any dis­crim­i­na­tion Is­raeli women, in­clud­ing Pales­tinian cit­i­zens, may face within the coun­try. And she seems to dis­count the fact that some fem­i­nists might just be­lieve in the right of Jews to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Of course, she doesn’t see it that way. She thinks she is be­ing in­clu­sive. “When you talk about fem­i­nism, you’re talk­ing about the rights of all women and their fam­i­lies to live in dig­nity, peace, and se­cu­rity. It’s about giv­ing women ac­cess to health care and other ba­sic rights,” she says. “Is­rael is a coun­try that con­tin­ues to oc­cupy ter­ri­to­ries in Pales­tine, has peo­ple un­der siege at check­points — we have women who have ba­bies on check­points be­cause they’re not able to get to hos­pi­tals [in time]… You ei­ther stand up for the rights of all women, in­clud­ing Pales­tini­ans, or none. There’s just no way around it.”

The Oc­cu­pa­tion in­deed vi­o­lates the rights of Pales­tini­ans. Its detri­men­tal ef­fects are felt in myr­iad ways across Pales­tinian — and Is­raeli — so­ci­ety. But Sar­sour rel­e­gates other prob­lems faced by Pales­tinian — and Is­raeli — women to the bot­tom of the pri­or­ity-list based on a di­vi­sive po­lit­i­cal agenda.

Not only that, she ex­tin­guishes any po­ten­tial for fem­i­nists who find them­selves on op­po­site sides of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict to find com­mon ground and, who knows, per­haps work to­gether to re­solve the in­tractable blood­shed.

Sar­sour ad­vo­cates a frac­tured fem­i­nism, but the strug­gle for women’s rights should unite women (and men) against com­mon prob­lems for a bet­ter fu­ture. It should not be con­di­tional on tak­ing a par­tic­u­lar po­si­tion on Is­rael and Pales­tine. That is not some­thing we should be se­lec­tive about.

Why should crit­i­cism of Is­rael be key to fem­i­nism in 2017?

Alona Fer­ber is deputy manag­ing edi­tor of the Cen­tre on Re­li­gion & Geopol­i­tics

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