It has been a while since I entangled myself in the various -isms of political thought. From a staunch Marxist, I became a Socialist, an Eco-Centrist, a Post-Colonialist, couple other -ists and then I found my ideological home.
Feminist. Aha! An -ism I could actually belong to.
I mean, I would be stupid if I wasn’t on my own team. As a woman, I just had to be a Feminist. For the record, I still identify as one– except some of me is not welcome in the movement. The part of me that supports a home for the Jewish people is not welcome. According to this line of thought, I am a Hasbara activist, complicit in Israel’s brand of Homonationalism (painting itself as LGBT-friendly in order to justify its oppression of homophobic Palestine). But before I go any further, we need to address why I am discussing the Israel-Palestine issue in an article about Feminism.
Today’s Feminism is all about intersectionality. There is intersection between forms of oppression and that has to be understood, acknowledged, and accepted. For instance, if I am a woman of color, I face discrimination as a woman and as a person of color. The instances of discrimination may or may not always be overlapping. But they frequently do, which is why it is important to analyze my experiences with racism as a woman of color as opposed to just a person of color. The same is true for Black women, Muslim women, Transwomen, Queer women, and gender non-conforming persons. Their experiences under other systemic oppressions intersect with their oppression as women in a man-dominated society.
Thanks to this understanding and newfound sensitivity towards the interconnectedness of oppressive power systems, a large number of Feminist movements are also increasingly anti-Racism, anti-Islamophobia, and anti-Capitalism (the American version of it, anyway).
Needless to say, as liberal women on the side of the persecuted, it is our duty to speak truth to power. Fighting for the liberation of all women is necessary and we cannot exclude anyone.
It sounds so simple, so brilliant, so great. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of such a movement?
Well, it is easy when narratives are discussed on the internet and in academic circles where intellectual masturbation is encouraged, rewarded, and praised.
The reality on ground is much uglier. It is messy and not easily compartmentalized into good and bad. And this is where I come back to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
But before we go any further, let me show you something. Linda Sarsour, a prominent Palestinian-American Feminist has made statements like these:-
I am no supporter of Trump but why is it not okay for him to grab women by the p*ussy while it is perfectly okay for Linda Sarsour to want to take away Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s vagina. For those who don’t know, Hirsi Ali is an ex-Muslim Feminist who was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation as a child.
THAT, to me, is a LOT creepier than Zionism, which is just the belief that the Jewish people deserve a homeland. And no, Zionism is not a monolith as Sarsour would have you believe. There are a large number of Zionists who oppose Netanyahu and support the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. A very large number of liberal Zionists are working to improve relations between Palestinians and Israelis. They are also fighting for the human rights and the dignity of the Palestinian people. The only so-called caveat is that they are not calling for their own destruction in order to serve justice.
Also, to understand why anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic, we need to look at the history of Zionism. It was a movement born in the late 1800s as a response to the centuries of rampant anti-Semitism that existed in all of Europe that ultimately culminated into the Holocaust. The early Zionists knew from the 1800s that the Jewish people would need a homeland of their own in order to be safe. And plenty of pogroms, massacres, and structural discrimination had already forced many Jews to emigrate to Palestine.
But they did not anticipate the Holocaust. They did not orchestrate it or make it an “excuse” to push the Zionist agenda like anti-Semites such as Mahmoud Abbas claim.
The story of how Israel ultimately became an independent nation state is complex. Initially, the homeland for the Jews was just supposed to be a sanctuary of the sorts within an Arab state. In fact, in 1936, crumbling under Arab pressure, the British severely restricted the entry of Jewish migrants to Palestine. It should be remembered that this was during the mercurial rise of the Third Reich and just before the World War II which would end with the murder of 6 million Jews.
The Peel Commission of 1936-37 (whose main task was to document the situation of unrest in the mandate) also noted around this time that the immigration of Arabs from southern Syria, Transjordan, and Egypt was also unchecked and therefore, rather high. For instance, according to Tawfiq Bey al-Haurani, the Syrian governor of Haurani, some 30,000 Syrian Arabs migrated to Palestine in search for better economic opportunities within the space of a few months in 1934.
Interestingly, the Palestinian Arabs had no problem with this. Only Jews were not welcome. According to the 1939 White Paper, the British promised the Arabs that Jewish immigration would finally be limited to a total of 75,000 people over the next five years and then stopped altogether in order to create an Arab state. This plan was rejected by the Arab leadership and all Jewish immigration to Palestine was completely banned for the entire duration of the Second World War and the Holocaust. It is also a known fact that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini was close to Hitler and said on record that the Germans and Arabs were natural friends because of their common enmity with the English and the Jews. In addition to spreading anti-Semitic propaganda in the Palestinian Arab community, he was also responsible for garnering popular Muslim support for the Nazis in Europe, the height of which was inciting Bosnian Muslims into joining the Waffen-SS which did much of the same dirty work as the rest of the SS.
The decision to partition Palestine and create Israel would have never been implemented in any other context but because Hitler’s “Final Solution” didn’t entirely work, the victorious Allies had to find an answer to the Jewish question. Some three million Jewish survivors liberated after months and years of captivity in Nazi concentration camps had nowhere to go. Nobody wanted these wretched, penniless survivors and anti-Semitism was still alive and well even after the fall of the Reich. And so, Britain allowed them to go to the only piece of land it could give them, a small part of Palestine– a Home for these stateless refugees who were traumatized beyond comprehension.
And as a part of its systematic decolonization, Britain also divided the remainder of Mandate Palestine (78% of the mandate had already been made into the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan) between the Jews and the Palestinians in order to fulfill their promise to the Jewish people– a promise that was fulfilled too late. 60% of their numbers had already been exterminated by the Nazis. And do I need to point out that among the dead and the living, there were women, queer people, Jews of color, and others that would today be welcome in the intersectional framework of Third-Wave Feminism.
How is it that the biggest genocide in the history of humanity, a genocide that ended only 73 years ago is forgotten so easily? How are its survivors told that their desire for their own homeland is creepy, or worse, that it was a settler-colonial project that used the Holocaust as an excuse to fulfill a white supremacist agenda?
Worded like this, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But take a look at what INCITE (national organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and their communities through direct action, critical dialogue, and grassroots organizing) has to say about Israel and Palestine–
- We follow the lead of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, San Francisco Chapter, who describe Zionism as a racist political, cultural, and economic project that works to remove and exclude indigenous Palestinians from their land.
- “Israel” was created through a process of colonization, massacre, and war by destroying Palestinian villages, taking away Palestinian land and encouraging Palestinians to migrate through the use of violence and fear.
- At every point of its development, and continuing today, the Zionist project was influenced and supported by 19th century European colonialism and its white supremacist racist way of thinking.
- “Israel” is committing genocide. It inflicts physical, economic and psychological violence on Palestinians daily.
- The “U.S.” benefits from supporting “Israel” because “Israel” serves as the “U.S.'” watchdog over the Middle East region and its resources, such as oil, labor, and other valuable resources.
- The Zionist movement and “Israel” are extremely powerful within the “U.S.” They play a major role in the “U.S.” media, education, travel, labor, non-profit industrial complex, etc.
- The Zionist movements and their friends in the “U.S.” government and “U.S.” corporations have hidden the true, racist nature of the “Israeli” state through a propaganda system that distorts history and blames the victims (the Palestinians) and celebrates the victimizer (“Israel”).
- We demand the right of return for the 5.5 million Palestinian refugees who have been displaced by “Israeli” invasion. We call for their safe return to their villages of origin and we demand that they be compensated for their losses.
- We put the words “Israel” and “U.S.” in quotes to question the legitimacy of these “states” and to call out that these “states” were created by colonizers who massacred indigenous people and stole their lands and resources.
Note how these vitriolic points co-opt known inflammatory anti-Semitic discourse (They play a major role in the “U.S.” media, education, travel, labor, non-profit industrial complex, etc.) AND completely ignore the events of the Second World War and the refugee crisis created by it.
They also fail to mention that the Palestinian refugee crisis was a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war which was started by four countries of the Arab League (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria). The Arab armies hoped to finish what Hitler had started and did not expect at all to be defeated so decisively. In the chaos (including instances of violence by Jewish groups like Irgun and Lehi) of the war, some 750,000 people fled their homes and many were unable to return. Today, there are 5.5 million Palestinian refugees because the UNRWA’s definition of refugees includes descendants of male Palestinian refugees and is solely applied to just Palestinians. The UNHCR and other refugee conventions do not grant refugee status to descendants of refugees. As of 2018, some of these Palestinian refugees live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Others live in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Some others also hold citizenship/permanent residence status from countries like the US and Canada. The relations between the two communities have been tense and frustrating for 70 years. Between the two deadly Intifadas, the genocidal rhetoric of the Hamas charter, the countless divisions within Palestinian leadership, the anger against the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and an unrelenting (and often propaganda-fueled) hatred simmering against the Zionist boogeyman, it is naive to think that Israel and Palestine could exist as a single country any time in the near future.
The only answer, albeit difficult, is a two-state solution with a right of return (for the 5.5 million refugees) to the new Palestinian state, not Israel. Any other option would do nothing useful except for punishing the Israeli people collectively by ending the existence of the Jewish State and plunging the region into another nightmare of civil conflict. Of course, if the intent is indeed to punish, then there is no use arguing this point.
However, I do support a fair financial compensation for the refugees and their heirs. It will not change what happened. It is far from ideal. But it is a viable way to move forward.
In another point, INCITE accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians without realizing the gravity of the word ‘Genocide.’
This is the definition of Genocide according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:- The deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.
Interestingly, the population of Palestinians has been growing at a rate of 2.4% per year. The Palestinian birth rate is 33% higher than the Israeli birth rate. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Palestinians was 6.08 million in 2014. According to these statistics, the Palestinians have one of the fastest growing populations in the world. On the other hand, Israel’s Jewish population is also around 6.5 million as of 2017. And only recently the global Jewish population has reached the mark of 13.4 million, a number somewhat close to what their population was before the Holocaust.
So no, even if I am biased, numbers don’t lie. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a lot of things. But genocide is not one of them.
However, when I point this out, I am automatically excluded from the Feminist movement– because as Linda Sarsour said, Zionism is not compatible with Feminism; never mind that as a Zionist, I support a two-state solution where both Israelis and Palestinians can live and prosper peacefully alongside each other.
A criticism that would be leveled against this piece is that I equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
That is true. I do equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism as I’ve said before– because when you say you’re against Zionism, that you don’t support a home for the Jewish people– you are also participating in and contributing to the erasure of history that you so despise. Generations of racial oppression is still seen as affecting the lives of people of color. Generations of colonial oppression is acknowledged and studied by Post-Colonial scholars. Anti-caste activists in India insist vehemently that caste as a multi-generational power structure continues to oppress Dalits.
But when the topic of anti-Semitism (and its centuries-long history) comes up, everyone either falls silent or says brazenly, “But what about Palestine…?” or “Israel is a colonial-settler project… because Jews are white people.”
Ha. Ha. Ha. Very Funny.
Jews come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Many of them are white-passing, not white. Because last I checked, race was NOT a biological category. And Jews come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds (Eg: Mizrachi Jews-Arab, Ashkenazi Jews- European, Sephardic Jews- Hispanic, Bene Israel- South Asian, Beta Israel- Black).
Any privilege accorded to white-passing Jews is cancelled out by the obvious and subtle anti-Semitism that is practiced by both, right-wing neo-Nazis and left-wing crusaders like INCITE.
Though I must admit, like good Left-Liberals, at least they do their lip service against neo-Nazis whenever things like Charlottesville happen. I have a lot more to say. But I will conclude here.
I am a Feminist. And I am disappointed in my own kind.