Posted in: Culture Wars & Censorship, Israel
Published on Mar 20, 2017 by Eileen F. Toplansky
Mingling with Foes
On November 19, 2003, Phyllis Chesler wrote a searing piece recounting the time when she addressed a women's "networking" conference of "mainly African-American and Hispanic-American womanists and feminists at Barnard College." Her son accompanied her to this conference.
One of the organizers at the event inquired as to what Chesler's latest book was and was told "The New Anti-Semitism," because "Jew-hatred was a form of racism – only it was not being treated as such by anti-racist 'politically correct' people."
The silence that greeted Chesler concerning anti-Semitism should have been the first indication that things might go awry, as she was told that the conference was to be a forum about how "women sabotage each other and remain divided" in an effort to "come together."
At the time, Chesler rationalized that perhaps she was a bit too "obsessed with The Jewish Cause, with Israel," and she reminded herself that she was "also connected to more than one issue."
As she spoke about her other book titled Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, the vibes were good. The audience applauded and nodded in agreement. Things were going well. And then:
A disembodied voice demanded to know where I stood on the question of the women of Palestine. Her tone was forceful, hostile, relentless, and prepared. I could have said: 'The organizers have specifically asked me not to address such questions.' I did not say that. I could also have said: 'I am concerned with the women of Palestine but I am also concerned with the women of Rwanda, Bosnia, Guatemala, who have all been gang-raped by soldiers who used rape as a weapon of war; I am concerned with the poverty and homelessness of women right here in America; I am concerned with the women of Israel who are being blown up in buses, at cafes, in their own bedrooms.' I did not say this.
Instead, I took a deep breath and said that I did not respect people who hijacked airplanes or hijacked conferences or who, at this very moment, were trying to hijack this lecture. I pointed out that the subject of my talk was not Israel or Palestine. I did not want us to lose our focus. She grew even more hostile and demanding. 'Tell this audience what you said on WBAI. I heard you on that program.' Clearly, she wanted to 'unmask' me before this audience as a Jew-lover and an Israel-defender.
I took the question head-on. 'If you're really asking about apartheid, let me talk about it. Contrary to myth and propaganda, Israel is not an apartheid state. The largest practitioner of apartheid in the world is Islam which practices both gender and religious apartheid. In terms of gender apartheid, Palestinian women – and all women who live under Islam – are oppressed by 'honor' killings, in which girls and women who are raped are then killed by family members for the sake of restoring the family 'honor;' forced veiling, segregation, stonings to death for alleged adultery, seclusion/sequestration, female genital mutilation, polygamy, outright slavery, sexual slavery. Women have few civil, legal, or human rights under Islam.
Things became more heated – thus, "the lightning rod of Palestine was enough to turn a very friendly audience quite hostile." As Chesler left the podium, she was approached by a young black woman who claimed to be "hurt" because Chesler had offended a "brown woman," and since Chesler was a "white Jew," this was "proof of a crime."
Although the black women who had invited Chesler were supportive, none of them tried to stop what was happening. They did not try to "disperse the hostility or to address the issue."
The lesson Chesler imparts is that "once the word Palestine is uttered," it is viewed as a "symbol for every downtrodden group of color which is resisting the racist-imperialist American and Zionist Empires." Also, it suddenly becomes a white-versus-brown issue.
As she and her son were leaving the event, he reminded her that "[t]he Jew haters will never allow you into their wider, wonderful world. You can't go back."
This brings me to why I introduced this piece in the first place. A few months ago, I wrote a piece asking why women in the National Council of Jewish Women would even think of sharing the platform with left-wing activists and anti-Semitic Muslims who share the same sentiments as those whom Chesler wrote about 15 years ago.
Daniel Greenfield writes:
The National Council of Jewish Women is one of those organizations whose letterhead keeps showing up on left-wing causes having nothing to do with Jewish issues. Lately it claimed to be concerned about anti-Semitism. Just not [to] the extent of breaking ranks with anti-Semites and refusing to participate in anti-Israel events and events with anti-Israel content.
In response to Linda Sarsour's insistence that there was no room for Zionists in the 'Feminist' camp, the NCJW's response was disgusting and unsurprising.
Nancy Kaufman, chief executive office of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), said that 'while I truly hope women leading change doesn't turn into a cover for Israel bashing … everyone is entitled to freedom of speech.' In terms of future participation, NCJW will 'navigate as we go along.'
'We will continue to have our voices be heard – we're not going to tell anyone else that they can't have their voices be heard,' she said.
Kaufman pointed out that while Sarsour's participation in the Women's March raised some discomfort among Jewish participants, the event maintained a tenor of inclusivity. She also pointed out that the Women's Strike platform decries anti-Semitism in the same paragraph that it singles out Palestine.
Many of these groups were "underwritten by radical currency speculator George Soros who says Communist China's system of government is superior to our own and that the United States is the number one obstacle to world peace." Moreover, Gloria Steinem, feminist writer, activist, and organizer, said, "And remember, the Constitution does not begin with 'I, the president,' It begins with 'We, the people.'" Where the heck was she with Obama and his continual Is peppering every speech?
Martin J. Raffel, who writes for the New Jersey Jewish News, states:
Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour, one of the march's national co-chairs who has a well-known record of anti-Israel activism in New York City, did mention in her remarks that 'most of all, I am my Palestinian grandmother who lives in the occupied territories' wildest dreams. But apart from Sarsour's reference to the 'occupied territories,' the Palestinian issue was not raised in Washington, DC[.]
Although there were reports that Jewish Voice for Peace activists intended to carry signs reading 'Resist Together — From the United States to Palestine,' I haven't heard from anyone who saw one.
This is good news. For those of us defending Israel against a campaign of delegitimization and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), the following sentence in the march's original mission statement had raised a yellow flag: 'We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities (intersectionality).' In principle, intersectionality is not a pernicious concept. It simply refers to the concept that forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, and xenophobia, are interconnected and need to be understood in relationship to one another.
Yet, further in his article, he writes, "Besides Sarsour, Zahra Billoo, San Francisco director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), also spoke at the march. A BDS activist, Billoo is known for sharing extremist material on social media, e.g., 'Blaming Hamas for firing rockets at [Apartheid] Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist.' There were other speakers with a history of problematic statements on Israel, as well."
So which is it? While Raffel acknowledges that "Israel has a problem with Democrats and other progressives" and "antipathy to Trump is pumping renewed energy into the progressive movement, and those hostile to Israel will look for opportunities to advance their agenda," he still maintains that since the Israel-Palestine issue was not actually raised during the Women's March, American Jews "can derive a valuable lesson from this experience. By championing these just causes, [i.e., immigration and refugee policy, criminal justice reform, and the environment], American Jews will also protect Israel."
So if no one brings up the issue, that means that the haters no longer advocate what they repeatedly say in any number of other forums?
How naive and dangerous.
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