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Posted in: Anti-Semitism, Jihad & Terrorism, Israel

Published on Sep 01, 2002 by Phyllis Chesler

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Now We Are All Israelis

Since September 11, I have learned that we are all Israelis. I have learned that Islamic terrorists do not distinguish between progressive or reactionary human beings; they are not interested in whether or not we oppose imperialism, colonialism, misogyny, or the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The September 11 attacks were a direct hit on Western civilization and the values it upholds, which include democracy, secularity, modernity, individual rights, and women's rights—as well as laissez-faire capitalism, military and governmental arrogance and corruption. Like it or not (and I do not), this is the civilization we live in. Understand it—and weep—but let us also be clear about who is responsible for September 11.

I first learned how different the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic East are when I was living in Afghanistan in the early 1960s. My feminism may have been forged in Kabul living under extreme pre-Taliban gender-apartheid. Afghanistan has never been colonized, so there were no Westerners to blame. It was then that I learned how not to romanticize wily, colorful, third-world tyrants. For years, American feminists were calling for the removal of the Taliban and that is precisely what the Bush administration set out to accomplish. Yet, feminists and leftists opposed the invasion of Afghanistan. Yes, I know that Bush, Sr. and the oil companies also funded the Taliban at one point, but that doesn't mean that the United States should refrain from bringing down the monster it helped to create.

Since September 11, many progressive Westerners have still not learned this and have continued to focus on the moral failures of Israel and America instead of the enemy at our gates—as if demonizing Jews or the American government will keep us safe. (Women do not "cause" sexism, Jews do not "cause" anti-Semitism.) Israel's failure to integrate Arabs into its society as equal citizens is reprehensible, but nothing justifies the systematic terrorization of the Jewish people by terrorists who themselves have repressed and destroyed more Muslim and Arab people than the State of Israel ever has. Since September 11, Israel is increasingly being treated as the symbolic scapegoat for all the crimes committed by both colonial Europe and repressive Arab regimes—a classic position for the Jews in human history.

I am a member of Women of the Wall, and the co-editor of a book about to appear on the subject. We have been suing the State of Israel and the Ministry of Religion on behalf of Jewish women's religious rights. Were we Arab women we might have been beheaded for daring to bring such a lawsuit in an Islamic country. While our struggle is not yet over, we have prevailed in the Israeli Supreme Court. I would like Israel's Jewish critics to remember that we are safer in Israel than in Saudi Arabia.

What I have learned post-September 11 is this: There is no shame in being an American patriot and a Zionist. It is important not to lump all Muslims together, not to take American support for Israel for granted, to seek pro-Israel alliances with people whom I may not agree with on other issues, and to consider every Jew as both an ally and an honorable opponent. We must avoid rhetoric, rage, and self-righteousness, and remember that most Jews focus either on Israeli racism towards Arabs or on the world's continued hatred of the Jews—but we must remember both wrongs at the same time. And, when asked, I must speak my truth, even where other truths are more highly valued.

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