“Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists?” The New York Times headline asked. Less than three months ago, many of us proudly joined in the National Women’s March, part of a coalition that included a number of Jewish organizations, with signs sprinkled throughout the crowd that proclaimed our Jewish identity. So how should feminist Zionists react to an international women’s strike whose platform calls for “the decolonization of Palestine,” and whose signers include a woman convicted of anti-Israel terrorism?
Perhaps we should not be too concerned. After all, that problematic language was not well publicized, while the participation by Rasmeah Odeh, now awaiting trial for having lied about her terrorist activities, was posted in a web-only publication with limited circulation. Neither seems to have been included in the associated American program, a “Day Without Women,” which is what reached most American women.
This is important: For almost all the women who chose to take action on National Women’s Day, the motivation was evident: not anti-Israel code words, but the economic and social barriers that handicap women’s full participation in society, the persistent dangers of gender-based violence, the obstacles that continue to restrict our daughters’ futures. Those are real issues, and I was glad to see the attention they received. We need to keep it up — on symbolic days and every day. We also need to keep in mind that the larger the coalition, the more likely we are to be effective.
So who decides who is in the coalition? Are we magnifying a problem that is better ignored?
I don’t think so. I believe we must object when any individual or group attempts to co-opt successful, broad-based actions like the National Women’s March with a narrow, anti-Israel agenda. We cannot look away from efforts to misuse the networks we have built to advocate for women’s rights and social justice, by those who want to appropriate them as platforms for their own divisive policies.
Let’s be clear: what is at stake here is not the right to speak critically about policy decisions by Israel or any other country. Given the range of opinions just from people I know, that would be neither helpful nor possible. Many of the organizations concerned by this debate have themselves expressed differing opinions on a range of Israeli policies, and will go on doing so.
What we do object to is a pattern of double standards and demonization targeting Israel. The State Department defines anti-Semitism as related to Israel to include “double standards” and “multilateral organizations focusing only on Israel for peace or human rights investigations.” In other words, in a world with so many areas of concern, why was Palestine, and thus by definition Israel, the only one to be singled out?
Why would an “international” platform have room to discuss only one international topic? Why would a group claiming to be concerned with women’s rights focus on one country in the Mideast in which women’s rights actually are considered human rights — and mention no concerns about its neighbors ?
The question is not whether there is room for Zionism in feminism — the participation by Zionist women and men in supporting women’s rights is an important part of our history, from the fight for women’s suffrage 100 years ago to the fight for reproductive choice today.
The question is whether we allow ourselves to be silenced by divisive rhetoric, or retreat to the sidelines, when issues we have fought for all our lives are at stake.
Our answer must be to speak out on for all our principles, for a world in which women’s lives are valued and respected, and a Jewish homeland is safe and secure. If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? When we are fully for ourselves, we are best able to be leaders for the change we believe in.
Ann F. Lewis is a feminist, a Zionist and president of the Joint Action Committee Educational Foundation.