Feminists’ blind selection policy
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