Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists?

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On March 8 women around the world will be abstaining from work and rallying in the streets as part of the International Women’s Strike, with the aim of starting an “international feminist movement” that challenges the sexual, physical and economic exploitation of women. The organizers of the wildly successful Women’s March have thrown their support behind the strike, and there are more than 40 rallies, walkouts and events planned across the United States that are affiliated with the international demonstration.

As a proud and outspoken feminist who champions reproductive rights, equal pay, increased female representation in all levels of government and policies to combat violence against women, I would like to feel there is a place for me in the strike.

However, as someone who is also a Zionist, I am not certain there is.

Although I hope for a two-state solution and am critical of certain Israeli government policies, I identify as a Zionist because I support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Increasingly, I worry that my support for Israel will bar me from the feminist movement that, in aiming to be inclusive, has come to insist that feminism is connected to a wide variety of political causes.

This insistence can alienate feminists, like myself, who don’t support all the causes others believe should be part of feminism. For example, some who identify as feminists may not agree with the organizers of the International Women’s Strike when they call for a $15 minimum wage. Nor do all feminists necessarily join the strike organizers in supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.

For my part, I am troubled by the portion of the International Women’s Strike platform that calls for a “decolonization of Palestine” as part of “the beating heart of this new feminist movement.” The platform also states: “We want to dismantle all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.”

Implying that mass incarceration is analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is analogous to Donald Trump’s desire to build a wall along the Mexican border is simplistic at best.

But my prime concern is not that people hold this view of Israel. Rather, I find it troubling that embracing such a view is considered an essential part of an event that is supposed to unite feminists. I am happy to debate Middle East politics or listen to critiques of Israeli policies. But why should criticism of Israel be key to feminism in 2017?

One of the organizers behind the March 8 strikes should also be concerning to Zionist feminists.

The strike was announced in an op-ed at The Guardian, with eight signatories, including Rasmea Yousef Odeh. Today, Ms. Odeh is considered an immigrants’ and women’s rights activist, but before taking on these roles, she was convicted for her involvement in a 1969 bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket that killed two Hebrew University students and an attempted bombing of the British consulate.


Rasmea Odeh in 2015. Credit Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The organizers of the International Women’s Strike are not the first feminist group to position opposition to Israel as part of the feminist movement.

That same year, the National Women’s Studies Association (N.W.S.A.), one of the largest academic feminist organization in North America, voted to endorse the boycott, divestment and sanctions (B.D.S.) movement against Israel, in part as an expression of feminism. That meant refraining from “economic, military and cultural entities and projects” that were sponsored by Israel, as well as academic partnerships and collaboration with professors or researchers at Israeli institutes. It is strange to see academic groups supporting the B.D.S. movement, which stifles the free flow of knowledge. But regardless of your opinion on the B.D.S. issue, it has nothing to do with feminism.

More and more frequently, my identity as a Zionist places me in conflict with the feminist movement of 2017. I will remain a proud feminist, but I see no reason I should have to sacrifice my Zionism for the sake of my feminism.

Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists?

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