ז׳ בסיון ה׳תשע״ז (June 1, 2017) OP-ED: I Don’t Have To Choose Between My Zionism and My Feminism

“Those who identify as Zionist cannot be feminist because they are ignoring the rights of Palestinian women” said Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist and organizer of last January’s Women’s March on Washington in an interview with The Nation.

As represented by Sarsour’s statement, there are an increasing number of feminists attempting to exclude those who also identify as Zionists.  The International Women’s Strike (IWS) that took place on March 8, 2017 was ‘the beginning of a new international feminist movement,’ according to its platform, which called for the decolonization of Palestine and to ‘dismantle all walls, from prison walls, to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.’

In today’s day and age, we all define ourselves by different “-isms”. These “-isms” create who we are as people. They help us identify our beliefs and thoughts about who we are and how we believe the world should be. Recently, a growing number of women are being told to choose between their feminism and Zionism.  I don’t accept this. I strongly identify as both a Zionist and a feminist and am proof and a thriving example that someone can embody both these identities at the same time.

I am a Zionist. Living in Israel for four months takes a significant passion for Zionism, and a love for Israel,. Zionism by definition is the belief in the right of self-determination of the Jewish people to create and sustain a Jewish state. I have always identified as a Zionist. My Jewish preschool upbringing instilled a love for Israel in my heart and mind from an extremely young age. Being a Zionist in today’s modern world involves defending your beliefs and is a constant uphill battle.

With the recent US election, I was able to finally put a word and a movement to my belief in equality for men and women. Although I always felt that men and women should be treated equally, I only recently identified as a feminist. Feminism is by definition the belief in and advocacy for women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.

My identification with feminism and Zionism is integrated into my life on a daily basis. It affects how I see the world and influences the choices I make about the communities I choose to place myself within. I stand up against injustices that obstruct the mission of both movements. I have so far kept my feminism and Zionism separate because I have not yet encountered a situation where either of them have been challenged or compromised due to my championing both.

Israel is in no way perfect. However, it should not be held to a different standard than any other country. ­­­­The platform of the IWS clearly singles out Israel while ignoring many other countries that violate women’s rights. There is no mention of Yemen, where according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), women must have permission from their male guardian to marry, and do not have equal divorce rights, equal inheritance rights or child custody rights. Other countries such as Lebanon and India, according to HWR, are in contravention of many fundamental principles of the IWS. However, these countries are not condemned by the powerful organization.

The IWS is not the first feminist organization to take an anti-Israel stand. In 2015, the National Women’s Study Association (NWSA), which aims to support and promote the dissemination and production of knowledge about women through learning, teaching, research, and service, voted to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) Movement. According to the NWSA website, only 35% of members voted on the issue but of the 35% who voted, 88.4% voted in favor of supporting the BDS movement. This vote demonstrated yet another feminist organization forcing the choice between feminism and Zionism.

In many places on the IWS website, it states the word “all”. The inclusive message of this movement is contradicted by the anti-Zionist rhetoric presented by the organization’s leaders and platform. When stating that all women should have things such as reproductive rights, labor rights, freedom from gender violence and more, it can be questioned if Zionist women are included in this “all.” By singling out Zionists, exclusivity becomes the message—a hypocritical stance for an organization that labels itself as inclusive. By excluding Zionists, feminists weaken their movement and risk losing supporters who refuse to make a forced choice between the two movements and identities.

To be sure, feminists may argue that Palestinian women (who make up roughly 48% of the Palestinian population according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics) are oppressed by the Israeli occupation. This is the reason why they may see Zionism as contradictory to feminism. But this argument doesn’t hold, because one can be a Zionist and believe in the self-determination of the Jewish people, and also be opposed to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Zionism is not synonymous with occupation or oppression.

The argument of several feminist organizations that their supporters must choose between feminism and Zionism presents a difficult challenge for those such as myself who identify as both. One can support Zionism while still being left wing and not supporting the occupation or the idea of oppressing the Palestinians, and specifically Palestinian women. The exclusive message promulgated by some feminists fails to recognize the wide variety of beliefs within the Zionist movement itself. Restricting people from feminism due to their belief in Zionism stands in opposition to the inclusive message of this movement. It divides women, instead of uniting them for the common cause of equality.

LIBBY FERN

 

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