Do Feminists Have to Hate Israel? – Emily Shire/The Daily Beast
The National Women’s Studies Association has voted to cut all ties with Israel and its institutions. How ‘feminist’ is such a dramatic move?
Last week, a group considered the largest academic feminist organization in North America, approved a measure to cut all ties with the state of Israel, including the researchers, teachers, and academics who work in its universities, museums, and cultural centers.
The National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) voted to endorse “the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of economic, military and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel.”
According to the BDS website, this boycott for academics includes mandates such as:
Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions
Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions
The website further stresses that BDS academic supporters should cut ties with those who desire to visit or maintain connections with Israeli institutions, even if they themselves are not affiliated.
It states: “Hosting those who cross our boycott ‘picket lines,’ many Palestinian organizations now recognize, can only undermine the boycott by presenting a ‘false symmetry’ or ‘balance’ between the colonial oppressor and the colonized.”
That NWSA voted to support BDS is not necessarily surprising considering the recent trend in academic institutions. Insider Higher Ed reported that “about half a dozen U.S.-based scholarly associations in the social sciences and humanities have endorsed the BDS movement since 2013.”
What is more curious and alarming is that members of NWSA have framed the BDS support as an expression of feminism.
“As feminist activists, scholars, teachers, and public intellectuals who recognize the interconnectedness of systemic forms of oppression, we cannot overlook the injustice and violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, perpetrated against Palestinians,” the resolution in support of BDS states.
Professor Simona Sharoni of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, who serves as a co-founder of Feminists for Justice in/for Palestinae group, told Inside Higher Ed that the “the vote of almost 90 percent of the members of the National Women’s Studies Association in support of this resolution underscores the fact that boycott, divestment and sanctions can be or is seen by members of our association as an example of expressing feminist solidarity.”
That stat is a little misleading: it is true that 88.4 percent of NWSA voters supported the resolution, but only 35 percent of all members voted. That means around 31 percent of NWSA members actually voted in support.
The Daily Beast spoke with Janet L Freedman, who has been a member of NWSA for decades, and formerly served as the chair of its Jewish Caucus.
She has spoken out against the BDS endorsement, not only because of the resolution’s content but the way in which it was passed.
She attended the NWSA’s annual conference this past November in Milwaukee, where she felt organizers “were emphasizing a single point of view, which deeply troubled me.”
She and three other women held a smaller event to debate the BDS resolution, which only about 20 or 25 people attended, according to Freedman. The NWSA declined to comment on any specific questions from The Daily Beast regarding the BDS vote.
“Having been at the conference, I asked so many people, ‘Have you read the resolution, I would like to discuss this?’ I spoke to few who had even read it,” she said.
Still, Sharoni championed the NWSA’s vote to boycott Israeli institutions as part of “redefining feminism and putting solidarity with Palestine into that definition of what it means to be a feminist.”
The NWSA’s endorsement may, in fact, be a step towards redefining feminism, but it does not take into account the many people who support the right of both Israel and Palestine to exist in two separate states.
Its critics are hardly the realm of right-wingers. Jay Michaelson (a Daily Beast contributing editor) wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward, “BDS rhetoric distorts Israel’s motives, ignores Palestinian violence, singles out Israel unfairly and calls for destroying a society that many people love. Its supporters are often silent about bigotry within their ranks, and duplicitous as to their vision for the future.”
Even those who denounce Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, and ardently support Palestinian self-determination, are outspoken critics.
Maajid Nawaz wrote in The Daily Beast just a few months ago, “I oppose this simplistic, collectively punishing, censorious, and intellectually dishonest BDS movement.”
He cited fears about “free speech, artistic creativity, and cultural expressionism,” while pointing out that BDS “punishes an entire people, due to the actions of a government.”
As a British author, Nawaz wrote, “I would be mortified if my work were censored or affected in any way around the world due to the actions of my government—such as the invasion of Iraq.”
Freedman, who has identified herself as a “progressive, feminist, pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace Jew” felt the BDS movement went against the values of scholarship and academia.
“I think it’s rather draconian,” Freedman said. “The thing to do is to always encourage people to talk to one another. On the simplest level, it is inimical to what scholars should be doing, which is connect in every way they can.”
My colleague Lizzie Crocker pointed out the problem with conflating matters pertaining to Israel and campus rape last week when she wrote about how No Red Tape, a Columbia University anti-sexual assault group, had aligned itself with Students for Justice in Palestine.
“No Red Tape has lost the plot. In trying to be inclusive of other oppressed groups, they’ve alienated victims that their group is dedicated to advocating for,” Crocker wrote.
According to Freedman, since her time as a member of NWSA in the 1970s (she noted she took a brief absence when she was busy with personal family matters but has largely remained a consistent member), she could not recall an analogous boycott involving a specific country and its scholars.
Because the NWSA refused to respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for further commentary, this could not be confirmed.
“Unless you are discussing every unjust condition in the world, I don’t know why [there’s focus on] this one painful, poignant clash, just Israel-Palestine,” Freedman said.
There is also something curious about Israel being singled out by a feminist academic group, considering that the country has a history of leading female politicians and women in military roles.
While that hardly is proof that Israel is some feminist utopia, one wonders why NWSA doesn’t launch boycotts against countries who far more blatantly limit women’s rights, opportunities and safety.
Still, for Freedman, what may be the most disheartening part of the BDS issue at the NWSA conference was that younger members, including graduate students, praised her for speaking out because they were too afraid to object.
“This is not something I would speak out against if I want to move ahead in my career,” she said women told her.
“It’s so chilling and saddening to think people would be stifled and silenced. [Hearing people] say ‘I was courageous’ makes me terribly sad. It shouldn’t take courage to not even speak out but ask questions, raise points of disagreement,” Freedman said.
In this academic and political climate, this reporter asked Freedman if she still saw a place for herself within the NWSA.
“I am going to continue to be a member,” she said. “I feel it’s more important than ever to be there and express my viewpoint.”
*Additional Article on same topic below:
Western Feminists Have Become ‘Stalinized’ and ‘Palestinianized,’ Says Prominent US Women’s Movement Pioneer (INTERVIEW) – Ruthie Blum/Jewish & Israel News Algemeiner.com
“The feminism I helped found was based on women’s rights,” leading American feminist Phyllis Chesler told The Algemeiner on Wednesday, a week after the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) voted to join the anti-Israel BDS movement. “The only activism members of the NWSA engage in aims for the destruction of the Jewish state.”
Chesler, professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island (CUNY) and the author of 14 books – most recently An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir (2013), about her 1961 marriage to an Afghani and her time spent in his harem – said that “Western feminists have become totally Stalinized and Palestinianized.”
Chesler was expanding on her recent article, “The Death Knell for Women’s Studies,” lambasting the NWSA for adopting a resolution to align with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel – a move, she asserted,
is a betrayal of all the girls and women who are being honor killed on the ‘West Bank,’ in Gaza, and in Arab Israel — not by Israelis, but by their own families; a betrayal of all those girls and women who are being forcibly face-veiled, forcibly married as children to their first cousins, forcibly genitally mutilated — not by Israelis, but by their own families.
More important, passing this resolution is a betrayal of all those girls and women — as well as public intellectuals — who are being tortured and murdered by Muslim regimes and by the imposition of Shari’a law in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Indonesia, Nigeria, and in the Gaza Strip under Hamas, and in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority and Fatah.
The resolution in question was sponsored by Feminists for Justice In/For Palestine, an ad hoc group established at the NWSA annual conference in Puerto Rico in 2014.
Indeed, Chesler said, “These so-called ‘feminist’ academics today are more concerned with the occupation of a country that never existed – ‘Palestine’ — than with the occupation of women’s bodies all over the world. They do not understand that they have joined a totalitarian movement that subjects women and girls to honor killings and the rest of it.”
On the one hand, she explained, “They love championing victims. On the other, they are incapable of doing that when the victimizers are men of color, like Arab Muslims.”
Meanwhile, as watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch revealed this week, the Palestinian Authority Minister of Women’s Affairs (a woman) recently praised the “uniqeness” of women in her society for rejoicing over news of the death of their sons killed while committing stabbing and other acts of terrorism against Israeli Jews.
Minister Haifa Al-Agha also praised women and girls in Palestinian society for taking a more active role in the current terror wave, which some have called the “lone-wolf intifada,” by not merely relying on the boys to do the dirty work.
About this particular form of “gender equality” Chesler said that the triumph of Palestinian men is that they have successfully propagandized women to go against nature – to have no normal feelings towards the loss of a child.
“This is only possible in a society that utterly devalues women,” she said. “But this, of course, is not something the post-colonial academy in the West factors in. There’s no room for it, just as there is no room to factor in Palestinians as terrorists. In this Orwellian universe, it matters only if an Israeli kills a Muslim — never mind that it’s in self-defense; it does not matter if a Sunni kills a Shiite or a Hamas member kills someone from Fatah.”
Why, though, does the NWSA, founded in 1977 to “promote and support the production and dissemination of knowledge about women and gender through teaching, learning, research and service in academic and other settings,” concern itself mainly with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and ignore the plight of women in the Middle East?
“I don’t consider these women’s studies people feminists,” Chesler said. “Instead of resolutions condemning Islamist policies that harm girls and women, they condemn Israel.”
This, she argued, “is because they are anti-American and anti-Israel reflexively; they don’t know how to talk about the indigenous nature of barbarism. They can’t allow themselves even to comprehend it, because it defies their paradigm. It’s a case of mass brain-washing. We have to think of it as a cult in academia.”
This is true of what Chesler called the “true believers.” Where other, perhaps less ideologically “pure,” women academics are concerned, Chesler explained their refusal to see and “tell the truth, as I have been doing,” as a form of self-protection against losing tenure, funding and friends.
“They don’t dare risk offending the group-think that holds their lives and reputations hostage,” she said.
Chesler, who published The Death of Feminism in 2005, called this phenomenon “beyond hypocrisy. It is a brazen betrayal of our vision of universal human rights. It is multicultural moral relativism that allows Muslim men to get away with murder.”