A recent series of articles about Palestinian-American political activist Linda Sarsour startled many in feminist and Jewish circles, me being one of them. In these articles, Sarsour states that feminism and Zionism are incompatible. I responded on Facebook, but I also wanted to write out my thoughts here.
Sarsour said, “There is no country in this world that is immune to violating human rights. You can’t be a feminist in the United States and stand up for the rights of the American woman and then say that you don’t want to stand up for the rights of Palestinian women in Palestine.” (Check out this interview with Sarsour in The Nation.)
I don’t know that I am even the authority to speak to this on an international level, but here’s what I have on a personal level. Feelings.
Why am I upset?
Zionism is the belief in the right of the Jewish people to have an autonomous state in Israel. I am a Zionist. Feminism is the belief that a woman-driven movement can bring about race, class and gender equality and that women deserve all of the rights and privileges afforded to men. I am a feminist. There are Zionists who are critical of certain Israeli policies and those who are not; there are Zionists who are anti-occupation and there are Zionists who are pro-settlement; and there are Zionists who fall between these extremes. The definitions of Zionism and feminism are not in conflict with each other. At all.
Are there things that happen in Israel and the Palestinian territories which cause pain and suffering to women? Absolutely. And being a Zionist doesn’t mean a definitional indifference to this suffering, especially of Palestinian women and children. The question is this: Many countries — many Muslim countries, in fact — perpetrate atrocities against women that include: female genital mutilation, forced marriages, child brides, systematic abuse of women by the justice system, revenge rape and honor killing. Why is Israel held to a standard none of these other countries — whose offenses are, arguably more extreme — are held to? And why is belief in the State of Israel something that should exclude women — or men, for that matter — from identifying as feminists?
Accusing Zionism of being incompatible with feminism is exceptionally short-sighted. It smarts of a broad-stroke bias against the entire Jewish people for the violations that occur in a state that was founded on the principles of Zionism. That’s not good. Bad things happen when we paint with such a broad brush. It’s bigotry.
Ultimately, for a feminist activist — or any activist — to place the blame for policies made by a few people on the entire entity of Zionism and all who are committed to the idea of a Jewish state is irresponsible. It’s disgusting, it’s insulting, and it’s wrong. It creates fragmentation in a movement that needs cohesion, needs to stand together for equality, domestically and internationally.
As a feminist Zionist, I can’t believe I am being asked to choose or even defend my religious, historical and cultural identity. The “left” needs to reexamine the microscope they use to look at Israel, and we all need to take a step back and remember we are stronger together: women, men, lovers of peace, and lovers of freedom and justice.