The next National Women’s Studies Association annual meeting will take place in San Juan, Puerto Rico on November 13-16, 2014 and is aptly named “Feminist Transgressions.” Indeed, the conference itself is “transgressive” in that it minimizes the cause of women to focus, yet again, on the cause of Palestine, aka the destruction of Israel.
This is only the latest, among many other examples, of the way in which Women’s Studies—an idea which I pioneered so long ago--has been Stalinized and Palestinianized. I wonder whether the forces of evil will try to pass a resolution in favor of boycott, divestment, and sanctions—not against Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, or Russia—but against Israel only.
The Association’s line-up of professorial and celebrity talent is 100% politically correct; the speakers are mainly African-American, African-Hispanic, and African/Asian Caribbean. While I may not agree with some of their views, e.g. the pro-sex “work” agenda which is being presented at this conference, I recognize that these speakers--my old friend bell hooks, Ana-Maurine Lara, Ana Irma Lassen, and Kamala Kempadoo--are all genuinely feminist.
However, not so the Plenary session speakers. The Plenary is titled: “The Imperial Politics of Nation-States: U.S., Israel, and Palestine.” The speakers are Brandeis graduate Angela Davis, the well-known (former) communist, former associate of the Black Panther Party, and recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize. In 1970, Davis purchased the firearms that Jonathan Jackson, the brother of the imprisoned George Jackson, used in the kidnapping of a judge, prosecutor, jurors, and two or three African-American prisoners in open court. A police shoot-out ensued which led to the death of the judge and of three African-American men. Davis made the FBI Most Wanted List, was jailed, tried, and found innocent by an all-white jury. Support for her was tremendous. She visited Cuba and found it an anti-racist paradise, she visited Soviet Russia to receive the Lenin Peace Prize, and she ran for vice-president of the American Communist Party.
Next up at the Plenary is Dr. Islah Jad of Birzeit University. Dr. Jad may be a true feminist, but she is mainly dedicated to the development of Palestinian women and Palestinian nationalism. She does not study or advocate for non-Arab or non-Muslim women in the region. Further, her work does not seem to focus on honor killings, honor related violence, forced marriage, forced face veiling, polygamy, arranged marriage, feminist development under an Islamist totalitarian and apartheid regime—all burning issues on the West Bank and in Gaza. Instead, some of her articles are titled: “The Conundrums of Post-Oslo Palestine: Gendering Palestinian Citizenship” and “Islamist Women of Hamas: Between Nationalism and Feminism.”
Finally, we come to none other than Rebecca Wilkomerson, who is the executive director of the infamous anti-Israel “peace” group, the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). This is a U.S. based organization which views itself as the “Jewish wing” of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement. According to the NGO Monitor, the JVP has “actively promoted the central dimensions of the political warfare strategy against Israel which was adopted at the 2001 Durban NGO Forum. This ‘Durban strategy’ includes the tactics of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), a sustained campaign of demonization such as accusations of ‘apartheid’ and ‘racism,’ and support of a ‘Palestinian right of return’ with the ultimate goal of dismantling Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” Board members of JVP include Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Tony Kushner. In 2013, even the Anti-Defamation League declared the JVP “one of the top ten anti-Israel groups,” along with CODEPINK (with whom JVP works), and the Students for Justice in Palestine.
These three speakers--Davis, Jad, and Wilkomerson--and their organizations are not interested in women, per se, nor are they interested in real gender and religious apartheid as practiced in the Arab and Muslim world. They are not really interested in racism, at least not if anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are also considered racism, which they surely are.
For years, my people--the Women’s Studies professors, students, and programs--have been more concerned with the alleged occupation of Palestine than with the occupation, world-wide, of women’s bodies. Israel has been falsely accused, non-stop, of precisely those crimes that are endemic to the Arab and Muslim worlds: barbaric misogyny, gender and religious apartheid, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and a host of other crimes.
When feminist and anti-Islamist hero Ayaan Hirsi Ali had to leave Holland, not a single Women’s Studies program offered her a perch. Only the conservative American Enterprise Institute did so. Most recently, the drive to dis-invite Hirsi Ali at Brandeis was spearheaded by the Women’s and Gender Studies Department.
Many feminists have claimed they are pacifists and have always condemned the United States for its violent invasions of other countries, including Afghanistan; oddly enough, these same feminists rarely oppose the murderous terrorism of the Palestinian liberation movement and Hamas, members of which they consider to be “freedom fighters.”
For some time some, feminist marchers have waved the Palestinian flag and worn Arab headdresses in various demonstrations. (They don’t have it right, though, because they wear Arab male keffiyahs. Were they marching anywhere between Cairo and Kabul, they’d be wearing burqas, headscarves, veils.) Feminists have signed petitions in favor of boycotting Israel, including the boycott of Israeli academics, many of whom are also feminist academics, and many of whom are also anti-Zionists.
American feminists have condemned one nationalist struggle (the one being waged by Jews) and backed another (the one being waged by the Arab Palestinian people), and they have done so as feminists. Like everyone else, academic and intellectual feminists have not seemed reluctant to render passionate opinions on matters about which they have no special expertise.
From 2000 on, every feminist listserv group that I’ve been on has been inundated with petitions against Israel and with anti-Zionist propaganda. The Internet atmosphere has been highly charged, tense, hostile, and heart-breaking, and the discussions have been decidedly unfriendly toward anyone who dares to question this exact party line. It’s almost as if the feminist world has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the PLO.
These very same feminists (so keenly aware of Palestinian suffering) have failed to condemn the terrorist attacks against Jewish civilians in Europe and Israel—not even when nearly half the dead and wounded have been women and children; nor have they condemned the physical violence against and intimidation of Jews on various American campuses. International feminists have not organized contingents of human shields to ride the buses in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or to live in endangered “politically correct” kibbutzim whose historic and current priority is peaceful coexistence with their Palestinian neighbors.
What some American feminists have done is to misapply feminist concepts in the service of demonizing Israel. For example, my friend, Andrea Dworkin, whom I personally had funded to join me on her first-ever trip to Israel and whose work I have in the past championed, wrote the book Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation in which she made the analogy between Israelis and “pimps” and “johns” who treat the Palestinians as the “prostitutes” of the world. (I could not make this up, and it gives me no joy to share this information with you.)
In 2002, a lifetime ago, a feminist conference on women, war, and peace in Palestine-Israel featured a keynote speaker which fully equaled Dworkin’s metaphoric hyperbole. Ruchama Marton, an Israeli Jewish psychiatrist, likened Israelis to “batterers” in a marriage. Guess who is the “battered wife”? None other than the Palestinians.
Are the Israelis and Palestinians married? Is the feminist view of marriage that it is like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? When one says this, one is both misusing hard-won feminist knowledge and rendering the specifics of both Israeli and Arab Palestinian suffering invisible. Such an inflammatory and vulgar misuse of ideas is worthy of Joseph Goebbels, not of supposedly independent-minded feminists.
This is indeed the problem. Like so many other academics, feminists are no longer independent-minded. They have also become the spawn of Edward Said’s thinking about post-colonialism and Palestinian nationalism. Worse yet, they are also, along with all the rest of the herd, die-hard Lacanians and post modernists, and one cannot understand a word that they write—except when they are clearly, cravenly, attacking Israel and Zionism.
‘Tis a pity…