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Posted in: Feminism, Israel

Published on Sep 12, 2016 by Dipin Damodharan

Written for Organiser

Israel is a modern democracy that protects the religious rights of minorities


Dr. Phyllis Chesler, American writer, psychotherapist, and professor emerita of psychology and women's studies at the College of Staten Island (CUNY), is a feminist psychologist and voice of the modern feminist movement. She is the author of more than 16 books, including the best-seller Women and Madness (1972). Chesler has written on topics such as gender, mental illness, divorce and child custody, surrogacy, second-wave feminism, pornography, prostitution, incest, and violence against women. She has written several works on antisemitism, Islam, and honour killings, in more recent years. Dr. Chesler is a co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology (1969), The National Women's Health Network (1974), and The International Committee for Women of the Wall (1989). She is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at The Middle East Forum, and a fellow at the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP). In an interview with Dipin Damodharan she speaks on her new book 'Living History: On the Front Lines for Israel and the Jews 2003-2015', gender equality, and honour killings in India

Many western media outlets are engaged in branding India as intolerant in the backdrop of some stray incidents. What's your take on this?

On the one hand, Hindu India, far more than any Muslim country, has been documenting, arresting, prosecuting, and jailing honour-killers in a battle between state power and religious councils. The Indian government has also passed strong legislation against such crimes; neighbouring Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan have not done so. On the other hand, both Hindu and Muslim India routinely engage in "eve teasing" —a form of aggressive sexual harassment on the street; and rural and impoverished daughters and wives are routinely and extremely beaten—read my colleague Aruna Papp's book Unworthy Creature. A Punjabi Daughter's Memoir of Honour, Shame, and Love. These are age-old tribal customs that are difficult for a modern government to abolish. Dowry-burnings of brides by mothers-in-law and husbands are common enough so that a special wing for such murderous mother-in-laws exists in a New Delhi jail.

These—and other tribal customs—are not "stray incidents." However, the Indian government and Indian feminists are at least trying hard to document, punish, and abolish them. This means going up against tradition, against the power of the khap panchayats, corrupt and misogynist police officers as well as families.

'Your new book 'Living History: On the Front Lines for Israel and the Jews 2003-2015' explores the growth of anti-Israel campus movement. Could you tell us the relevance of such a book in the present context?

A propaganda campaign against Israel and for Islam has exerted a chilling effect on truth-telling. The only acceptable narrative is a pro-Palestinian fantasy, one in which Jihadic terrorists are innocent victims and Israelis, who are trying to protect themselves from being murdered, are villains. The Western professoriate and intelligentsia have made common cause with Islamist fundamentalism and in so doing, have betrayed those living under Sharia law, especially women, dissidents, and apostates; they have betrayed Western post-Enlightenment ideals; they have betrayed the Jews and Israel. I write about all these subjects in this latest book.

As far as gender equality is concerned, where does Israel stand?

Israel may not be flawless — what society is? — but it's still a modern democracy that protects the religious rights of all its minorities. These rights simply don't exist in the Arab Middle East or in Muslim Central Asia where Hindus risk death and exile, Christians must hide their religious identities, and risk being crucified. By now, the ethnic cleansing of Jews in the Muslim world is almost complete.

By contrast, according to Israeli feminist lawyer Frances Raday, Israel's Declaration of Independence was one of the "earliest constitutional documents in the world to include sex as a group classification within a guarantee of equality in social and political rights." Today, Israeli women not only vote; they're elected to the parliament — right now 23 percent (23%) of Knesset members are women. Women also serve as judges on the Israeli Supreme Court. Women constitute 34 percent (34%) of all soldiers and 57 percent (57%) of all Israel Defense Forces officers. The majority of students studying at universities are women.

In addition, Arab citizens of Israel not only vote, but also serve in the Knesset and as judges on the Supreme Court. Only Jewish Israel shelters Arab homosexuals on the run and Arab girls and women who have fled being honour killed. Only Jewish Israel prosecutes honour killers in Arab Israel.

Israel isn't a feminist paradise. Jewish women (and men) are limited by the ultra-Orthodox control of marriage and divorce, and control of public holy places. However, Jewish women have been successfully fighting for their religious rights in the Israeli Supreme Court. I suspect that were their feminist counterparts to do so in Mecca, Mogadishu, Tehran, Islamabad or Kabul, their fate would consist of being jailed, raped, tortured, beheaded, stoned or murdered in some other way.

Link to Interview


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