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General Articles
Antisemitism and Pro-Palestinian Activism Dressed as Scholarship: Sigrid Vertommen of King's College London as a Case in Point

Editorial Note

IAM noted before how Palestinian academics recruit Western academics to advance the Palestinian narrative. Here is another example of the trend.
The IAM post concerning Dr. Sigrid Vertommen of King's College London, "'Israeli Sexual Violence and Aggression... Inherent to the Zionist Settler Colonial Project' According to a London Scholar," of January 25, 2018, prompted her to respond. But she failed to answer the allegations of antisemitism. Tellingly, however, she removed her antisemitic post from academia.edureferring to it as "an op-ed piece that I wrote (and that was never published as an article) during the 2014 Gaza War." She does not explain why it was ok to be antisemitic during the Gaza War. Whatever her explanation, until IAM accused her of antisemitism it was posted on a platform serving academics for four years. 

IAM totally agrees with Vertommen that criticism of Israel is part of academic freedom. However, antisemitism is not.  King's College London, where she is a Marie Curie fellow, has recently adopted the IHRA Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, to make sure this distinction is observed.

Vertommen stressed in her response to IAM that "I emphatically oppose any kind of antisemitism." She also considers the IAM accusation defamatory.  To recall, IAM posted the following antisemitic citations by Vertommen: 
  • "Israeli Sexual Violence and Aggression... Inherent to the Zionist Settler Colonial Project." 
  • For Israel, Gazan women "deserve to be annihilated simply because of their threatening ability to reproduce the next generation and to assure the continuance of the Palestinian people." 
  • "the dominant Israeli discourse is urging the Israeli army to collectively eliminate the Palestinian population in Gaza." 
  • "Gazans and Palestinians in general are being encouraged to die as quickly and massively as possible."
Her scholarship deals with medically assisted production of babies. In a recent blog post under the headline of "Researching Assisted Reproduction in Israel/Palestine: A Fertile Ground for Mayhem – by Dr Sigrid Vertommen," she wrote about being invited to lecture in Warwick University on 17 January 2018 and was accused of anti-Semitism by the Jewish community. In her post Vertommen failed to admit her citations are antisemitic and instead she claimed Israel's "racist" policies should be targeted. "The strategy of delegitimising critical inquiries of Israeli policies by falsely labelling them as anti-Semitic is not new. Yet, since the recent proposal by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to adopt a new working definition of anti-Semitism, which includes targeting the State of Israel for its racist policies, this strategy has become even more rampant." 

At times Vertommen contradicts herself. On the one hand, "My main argument is that Israel’s (in)famously pronatalist assisted reproductive policies have been co-produced within a Zionist demographic logic of elimination... by containing Palestinian fertility." But, on the other hand she says the opposite, "The Israeli government subsidises every citizen in the country – regardless of religious or marital status –for an unlimited number of IVF cycles."

An examination of her scholarship shows that while she claims to be researching Palestine/Israel, she only focuses on the Israeli government policy towards assisted reproduction and does not question Palestinian Authority policies towards it.  She focuses on Palestinian prisoners sperm smuggling from Israeli prisons, but doesn't look at Palestinian prisoners in Palestinian prisons. She compares only one Israeli prisoner case in Israeli prison, that is of Yigal Amir, which she described as living in a "Splendid Isolation," to the many Palestinian prisoner cases. She refers to Jewish baby production and how it is perceived in the torah, yet she doesn't research what Islamic production means in the Quran. More puzzling is, she finds the centrality of reproduction in Judaism "myopic focus". This, again, is antisemitic when one doesn't judge other religions. 

She also refers to an Israeli "gay collective opposing commercial surrogacy," but declines to refer to Palestinian gay community approach to commercial surrogacy. Neither does she question Hamas's. 

Without having to explain her assumption that Israel is a settler colonial state, she accuses Israel of controlling population growth of the Palestinians. "Framing the Zionist project in Palestine/Israel as a settler colonial practice rather than a “mere” nationalist ideology, as is often the case, fundamentally affects the analysis of the role, function, and goals of population management. A settler colonial analysis presumes a demographic "zero sum game" in which the settler population can only be enlarged at the expense of the natives." Vertommen is wrong, there is enough demographic data showing the Palestinian population is on the rise since 1948. 

All these peculiar assertions by Vertommen have one explanation, Vertommen is in fact a political activist working for the Palestinian cause, dressed in an academic garb. 

In 2015 she participated and helped organize a conference hosted in Ramallah, Palestine, the "International Conference of Critical Geography." Readers should note that the term "critical" in these conferences means: a) there are no facts but polemics; and, b) there is no criticism of anything Palestinian. The conference organizers invited "progressive academics," to learn about an area "shaped by a long century of European settler colonialism and US imperialism".

In 2013 she signed, among Palestinian and pro-Palestinian academics, a letter by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) addressing Lady Catherine Ashton, then head of the foreign affairs and security policy of the European Union, stating "We are writing to you with regard to the guidelines published recently by the EU on the eligibility of Israeli bodies for EU financial support which are designed to prevent projects in illegal Israeli settlements from receiving funding from the European Research Council and the forthcoming Horizon 2020 EU research funding programme. The guidelines were widely welcomed by researchers and citizens who had been deeply concerned that the EU was encouraging and funding collaboration between European universities and Israeli companies such as Ahava that operate in illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law and their continued existence and expansion lead to severe violations of the human rights of Palestinians."

In 2010 Vertommen spoke in an event "Jerusalem: occupied city" in Leuven, Belgium, organized by Palestine Solidarity groups.  She talked about the "history of the country, with its occupation and violent confrontations, exposes the roots of the conflict in Jerusalem. Thus the Zionists, the mandate of the British, the occupation and the annexation of East Jerusalem... Israel continues to extend its city limits unilaterally in the area. The Jewish objective is to make Jerusalem as Jewish as possible by encouraging Jewish Israelis to live in Jerusalem. The life of the Palestinians is made unbearable in the area."   

In recent years Palestinian academics from Western universities recruit non-Palestinian scholars to spread the Palestinian narrative.  In this case, Vertommen abuses her position as a researcher of fertility and assisted production in order to advance her pro-Palestinian activism while espousing antisemitic tropes. King's College London should be aware of such phenomenon. 



Blog-post by Dr Sigrid Vertommen

On 17 January I was invited to Warwick University for a lecture on reproductive politics and resistance in Israel/Palestine. The talk addressed the variegated ways in which Palestinians and Israelis are protesting Israel’s (assisted) reproductive politics. I discussed two case studies that emerged from my fieldwork in Israel/Palestine: Palestinian political prisoners who are smuggling their sperm out of prison to make babies, and an Israeli gay collective opposing commercial surrogacy. The talk was very well received by the audience, consisting of 20-odd students and staff members from Warwick University, and was followed by an engaging and insightful discussion.

After the lecture I was informed by the organisers that three people were not allowed to attend the talk, which was for Warwick students and staff only. One of these individuals wrote a blogpost about the event, accusing me and the organisers of anti-Semitism. While everybody who heard my talk (including the members from JISOC, Warwick University’s Jewish Israeli Society) agreed that there was absolutely nothing anti-Semitic about the event, the story was picked up by Israeli and other newspapers who repeated the same ill-founded allegations. Only one (the Jewish Chronicle) sought to contact me and added my comments before the story went live. This negative campaign against me resulted in people sending me (and the organisers) hateful and threatening emails, politically motivated individuals contacting my employers and funders to attempt to defame me and internet trolls repeating the same unsubstantiated comments on blogs and social media.

The strategy of delegitimising critical inquiries of Israeli policies by falsely labelling them as anti-Semitic is not new. Yet, since the recent proposal by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to adopt a new working definition of anti-Semitism, which includes targeting the State of Israel for its racist policies, this strategy has become even more rampant. Beyond the current politicised struggles over its definition, anti-Semitism is a grave crime. The mere idea of being suspected of condoning or supporting hatred and violence against Jews, individually or collectively, is therefore shocking to me. All my work is motivated by a commitment to promote social and political justice, and anti-Semitism (like all forms of racism) is utterly repugnant to me. I want to take this episode as an opportunity to write a self-reflective piece on the theoretical, empirical and political validity of my (and other people’s) research on reproductive politics in Israel/Palestine.

I have been conducting qualitative research on Israel’s reproductive policies since 2010, with a particular interest in assisted reproductive technologies including IVF, egg donation and surrogacy, first as part of my doctoral research on the political economy of assisted reproduction in Israel/Palestine at Ghent University, and now as part of a Marie Curie Fellowship on global fertility chains at King’s College London – which looks at a wider range of countries but also includes Israel/Palestine.

Why would anyone be interested in doing research on reproductive politics in Israel/Palestine?

Israel’s assisted reproductive policies are known to be pronatalist (i.e. promoting child-bearing and reproduction). This has been thoroughly described in sociological and feminist scholarship, including in the work of many well-respected and internationally recognised social scientists (Yuval-Davis, 1995, 1997; Portuguese, 1998; Kahn, 2000; Weiss, 2002; Kanaaneh, 2002; Birenbaum-Carmeli, 2004, 2010; Prainsack, 2006; Hashiloni-Dolev, 2006; Gooldin, 2013; Nahman, 2006, 2008a, 2008b, 2013; Remennick, 2006; Hashash, 2010; Shalev, 2010, 2011). Israel has more fertility clinics per capita than any other country in the world, i.e. 25 public units for a population of eight and a half million people. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), surrogacy, egg donation, egg freezing and prenatal genetic diagnosis (PGD) are widely accepted and popular in Israel. Measured by the number of IVF treatment cycles per capita, Israelis are by far the biggest consumers  of IVF in the world. For example, in 2005 there were 3.575 IVF cycles per million in Israel, i.e. eight times the international average and three times the EU average (ICMART, 2013; Shalev and Felmayer, 2012; Gooldin, 2013). Like in other pronatalist countries, many of these reproductive technologies are sponsored by the state. The Israeli government subsidises every citizen in the country – regardless of religious or marital status –for an unlimited number of IVF cycles until the live births of two children within the current relationship (Shalev & Felmayer, 2012).

When analysing Israel’s remarkable reproductive policies, I use a broad variety of theoretical perspectives and conceptual tools, including cultural-religious, settler colonial, feminist techno-scientific and biocapitalist perspectives that other scholars have fruitfully used to analyse this issue in the United States (Roberts, 1998; Weinbaum, 2004; Berend, 2017), India (Pande, 2014; Rudrappa, 2015), Spain (Pavone and Arias, 2012), the United Kingdom (Franklin, 2013) or Puerto Rico (Briggs, 2003). Applied to the Israeli case specifically, this means that I take into account 1) the centrality of reproduction and fertility in Jewish culture and tradition; 2) the history of violence against Jews in tsarist Russia and Europe, culminating in the Shoah, which increasingly  transformed individual procreation into a matter of collective survival; 3) Zionist settler colonial ambitions of creating and consolidating a Jewish demographic majority in a Jewish state in Israel/Palestine; 4) Israel’s position in global health and research markets with fertility treatments being a highly profitable industry; and 5) the special role of women in this fertility regime, both as reproducers of the nation and producers of bio-value (Waldby, 2002).

From all these paradigms, it is the settler colonial approach that has triggered worries, concern and even outrage among certain people and organisations who feel they must defend Israeli policies against critical analysis, including scholarly ones.

Settler colonialism is an old scholarly paradigm that has recently been picked up again by researchers from all over the world who want to understand the political, economic, social and cultural past and present of settler societies, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Algeria. Nira Yuval Davis and Daiva Stasiulis (1995:3) have defined settler colonialism as “a specific type of European expansion that resulted not in overseas empires but in societies in which Europeans have settled, where their descendants have become  and remained politically dominant over indigenous peoples and where a heterogeneous society has developed in class, ethnic, racial and gendered terms”. According to Patrick Wolfe’s structuralist approach (2006, 2007), settler polities have two defining features, 1) territorial expansion and the maximum accumulation of indigenous land and 2) the transfer of the settler population to the newly acquired lands. He argued that this double movement of territorial accumulation and demographic settlement is undergirded by a societal logic of replacement of the native population and their claims to their land, culture and history.

Since the mid-2000s scholars have analysed (again) whether the settler colonial academic paradigm is also applicable to Israel/Palestine. My own research follows this growing trend by studying the particular ways in which (assisted) reproductive policies, practices, markets and forms of resistance take shape in settler colonial societies, with Israel/Palestine as a case study.  This approach does not, as my accusers claim, single out or problematise the State of Israel as a “collective of Jews”. On the contrary, the settler colonial approach ‘de-exceptionalises’ reproductive policies and practices in Israel/Palestine, by drawing historical connections and global comparisons with other countries with a similar population economy. In my previous work, for instance, I conducted some comparative research between controversial practices of child removals in Israel (“Stolen Mizrahi Jewish children”) and Australia (“Stolen Generations”). In my current research I am looking into the political economy of transnational surrogacy between Israel and Georgia.

Also contrary to what I have been accused of, I have not called Israeli’s reproductive policies “eugenic”. Although many scholars who conduct research on global practices and policies of assisted reproduction, do use the term “eugenics” or “neo-eugenics” (Pande, 2014; Schurr, 2017; Daar, 2017), I always preferred Shellee Colen’s (1995) concept of stratified reproduction to analyse how the capacity to reproduce or to be reproduced is unequally distributed in society and is subjected to regimes of class, race, gender, ability, age and sexual preferences. While eugenics refers to 19th and early 20th century policies to improve the genetic and racial quality of human population, I argue that the term stratified reproduction better addresses the intersected power dynamics (race, class and gender) that are at play in reproductive politics.

Throughout my work, I have always emphasised that the State of Israel never developed antinatalist policies against Palestinians (unlike other settler societies). What I do argue is that Israel’s pronatalist stance on reproductive technologies is primarily benefiting its Jewish Israeli citizens. Although legally speaking Palestinian citizens of Israel are entitled to the same fertility treatments as their Jewish compatriots, cultural and religious restrictions and colonial realities often restrain them from exercising their reproductive rights equally. In 2010 for example, the Israeli Knesset voted in favour of a controversial law to allow egg cell donations. One of the amendments in the Law on Egg Donation stipulated that the donor and the recipient of the egg cell are required to share the same religion which makes it impossible for a Jewish woman to donate an egg cell to a Muslim, Christian or Druze couple and vice versa without the approval of an Exception Committee. Since in practice, Palestinian women rarely donate egg cells in Israel, this amendment ensured that they will also be unlikely to benefit from an egg cell donation (Nahman 2006, 2008, 2013; Vertommen, 2016). The same logic is applied in Israel’s surrogacy law. The intending mother and the surrogate mother are required to have the same religion, meaning that a Jewish Israeli woman cannot gestate the baby for a Muslim or Christian Palestinian woman.

Not only have I never termed Israeli policies eugenic, but neither have I called for eugenic resistance against Israel. I use Marxist feminist perspectives to analyse how biological and social reproduction can materialise as powerful spheres of resistance against oppressive policies, including (settler)colonial ones (Roberts, 1997; Mies, 1998; Federici, 2012; Weinbaum, 2013, TallBear, 2013). During my talk at Warwick University, I described two examples of such forms of reproductive resistance or “sabotage”: Palestinian political prisoners who are smuggling their sperm out of Israeli prisons to impregnate their wives through donor insemination or in vitro fertilisation, and a queer collective of Israeli Gays Against Surrogacy who are opposing transnational commercial surrogacy. This is not calling for “eugenic resistance” against the State of Israel. It is conceptualising how Palestinians and Israelis are “seizing their means of reproduction” to oppose hegemonic reproductive policies, in similar fashion as women worldwide have been resisting forced sterilisation, criminalisation of abortion, limited access to contraceptives, expensive childcare, welfare cuts or obstetric violence.

Analysing a country’s policies from a settler colonial perspective is not an ideological crusade to undermine its legitimacy, as Ilan Pappé (2017) rightly stated. It is an academic endeavour to better understand socio-political power dynamics, and to offer conceptual tools that could help shape political processes of justice and reconciliation. It would create a dangerous precedent if scholars are being vilified or silenced for teaching and conducting research on Israel/Palestine from a settler colonial perspective. Extremist groups should not be allowed to delegitimise critical academic inquiry of Israeli-Palestinian politics by falsely labelling it as anti-Semitic.

Fortunately, I have been supported by numerous colleagues, my supervisor, academic networks, friends and family members who helped me counter these false allegations. I do hope that universities, unions, research funding agencies and policy makers take a strong stance to protect the freedom of speech and political opinion of their students and staff.

Sigrid Vertommen, 09/03/2018

Department of Global Health and Social Medicine – King’s College London

Key References

  • Birenbaum-Carmeli, Daphna and Yoram Carmeli (eds.). 2010. Kin Gene, Community: reproductive technologies among Jewish Israelis. New York: Berghahn Book.
  • Colen, Shellee. 1995. “Like a Mother to Them: Stratified Reproduction and West Indian Childcare Workers and Employers in New York”. In: Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp (eds.), Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction, 78-102. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Federici, Silvia. 2012. Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. Oakland: PM Press.
  • Kanaaneh Rhoda. 2002. Birthing the nation: strategies of Palestinian women in Israel. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Nahman, Michal. 2006.“Materializing Israeliness: difference and mixture in transnational ova donation.” Science as Culture. 15(3): pp. 199-213.
  • Portuguese, Jacqueline. 1998. Fertility policy in Israel: the politics of religion,
  • Shalev, Carmel. 2010. “From woe to woe: Egg donation in Israel.” International Women’s and Gender Studies in Lower Saxony 6: pp. 71-90.
  • Wolfe, Patrick. 2007. “Palestine, Project Europe and the (un-)making of the new Jew. In memory of Edward Said”. In: Curthoys, Ned and Debjani Ganguly (eds.). Edward Said: the legacy of a public intellectual. Carlton: Melbourne University Press pp. 313-337
  • Yuval-Davis, Nira and Daiva Stasiulis. 1995. Unsettling Settler Societies: Articulations of Gender, Race, Ethnicity and Class. London: Sage Publication.

Statement by the Head of Department, Global Health and Social Medicine

The Department of Global Health & Social Medicine is strongly committed to equality, diversity and inclusion with a recognition and respect for other cultures.  As Head of Department, I was deeply concerned to learn of the level of harassment and intimidation Dr. Vertommen was subjected to.  We investigated the allegations brought against Dr. Vertommen and found no evidence of anti-Semitism and we continue to be very supportive of her work.  As a Department, we speak out against this sort of defamation and bullying, as it is a threat to the freedom of academic research and cannot be tolerated. I do hope that Dr. Vertommen’s strength and courage in standing up to her accusers will provide a valuable lesson to other early career researchers working on sensitive or controversial topics.


On Sun, 28 Jan 2018 12:50:54 +0000, "Vertommen, Sigrid" wrote:

Thanks for your message, and for asking me to comment.

I emphatically oppose any kind of antisemitism, and I consider your accusation that my work falls within any category/working definition of antisemitism as defamatory. 

During my latest talk at Warwick University, I offered a descriptive analysis of instances of protest inside Israel/Palestine against Israel's reproductive health policies. I used the term 'reproductive sabotage' to describe what some of these protesters see themselves as doing. I did not call for sabotage on my part. Nor did I say that Israeli reproductive policies are sabotaging Palestinians. A person who did not attend my talk (due to reasons that were beyond my control, and that I was not even aware of at the time of giving my talk) wrote a blog post containing false allegations that were picked up by some media without fact checks. Those media that did check the facts reported that students from the Jewish Israeli student association (JISOC) at Warwick who attended the talk confirmed that: "As such, a couple of our members attended the event, which had a turnout of 10 to 15 people, and found that the speaker and her content were not antisemitic, and therefore, not worthy of further comment.” https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/jewish-activists-barred-from-public-campus-talk-by-pro-palestinian-academic-1.457026

I am very concerned about the apparent willingness of some people to defame academic research without giving due consideration to the facts. Unfortunately this concern is fuelled also by your stringing together of quotes out of context from an op-ed piece that I wrote (and that was never published as an article) during the 2014 Gaza War. Using a settler colonial framework to understand reproductive policies does not single out Israel as a 'collective of Jews'. It rather offers conceptual tools to compare - in this case - Israeli policies with other settler colonial projects, including the United States, Australia, etc. This theoretical paradigm does not stem from "the large number of scholars coming from Arab and Muslim countries who influence students - aimed at debunking Israel's achievement", as you write. It was introduced by European and Australian scholars such as Patrick Wolfe and Lorenzo Veracini. 

Thank you for adding these comments to your piece.

Best regards
Sigrid Vertommen

Dr Sigrid Vertommen -  Marie Curie Fellow 
Department of Global Health & Social Medicine
Room 3.1, East Wing
King’s College London
Strand Campus
London WC2R 2LS
Mobile UK: +44 (0)7518889160
Mobile Belgium: +32 (0)478542386


Edited By Merete Lie, Nina Lykke

Chapter  15
Babies from Behind Bars: Stratified Assisted Reproduction in Palestine/Israel

It was easy to congratulate the mother, who was sitting on the hospital bed, beaming with pride. Majd’s father, however, was only present through his absence. Twelve years ago, Abdul Kareem Al-Rimawi was sentenced to 25 years in prison for shooting at Israeli soldiers. Being denied conjugal visits, the only contact he and his wife have had over the last 12 years has been through a glass window. Although the Holy Land is famous for its miraculous conceptions, Majd’s case was particularly astounding. He was conceived through IVF after his father successfully smuggled his sperm out of the Israeli prison where he is being detained. The Rimawis are not the first couple to undertake this spectacular reproductive endeavor. In 2006, Yigal Amir, the convicted murderer of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was caught smuggling his sperm out of jail before being officially granted the right by the Israeli Supreme Court to conjugal visits with his wife Larissa Trembovler, which resulted in the birth of their son in 2007. This rather sensational story raises fundamental questions about the right to give birth and the right to be born in Palestine/Israel. Drawing on Shellee Colen’s (1995) concept of stratified reproduction to indicate that the capacity to control one’s reproductive abilities is stratified along gendered, sexualized, racialized, and classed fault lines, Michelle Murphy (2011) introduced the term distributed reproduction as a way to upscale the analysis of reproduction beyond

the strict microbiological space of the female body to more extensive macroinfrastructures such as state, military, agricultural, and economic infrastructures, which are often unevenly distributed in time and space and accordingly assist, rearrange, foreclose, or harm one’s reproductive capacities. This is particularly true for hyper-divided settler colonial societies such as Palestine/Israel, which was founded on the structural removal and replacement of the Palestinian population through the arrival of a new Jewish settler body (Wolfe 2007). My main argument is that Israel’s (in)famously pronatalist assisted reproductive policies have been co-produced within a Zionist demographic logic of elimination which aims to create and consolidate a “Jewish majority in a Jewish state” by containing Palestinian fertility. This argument will be gradually developed. First, I will contextualize Yigal Amir’s right to father a child within Israel’s pronatalist reproductive-demographic climate. Second, I will elucidate the stratified character of Israel’s pronatalism by illustrating how its ART policies have been imagined and deployed to promote Jewish fertility, while simultaneously attempting to control Palestinian fertility. In the final part, I argue that assisted reproduction has not only emerged as a biopolitical site for settler colonial control, but has also been appropriated as a tool of contestation by Palestinians. Drawing on Begoñia Artexaga’s work on the embodied resistance of Irish political prisoners, I will compare Yigal Amir’s quest for parenthood with that of Palestinian political prisoners.


“Gaza stripping” Sexualizing Israel’s latest military onslaught on Palestinians
Siggie Vertommen, 31/07/2014

In times of war, don’t forget to have sex”, "Going down to the bomb shelter at night? Not a good reason to look bad". These are just a few of the headlines of articles one can encounter in mainstream Israeli newspapers and social media websites these days.
As one friend aptly phrased it: it seems that Israeli society is getting quite excited and aroused in these “hard” times of war.
In a recently created Facebook group called “Standing with the IDF” Israeli women are posting pictures of themselves while stripping for Gaza in support of Israeli soldiers. In the initial description of the Facebook group, the creators wrote:

“Dear soldiers, we are here to show that we appreciate you and that you do not need to wait for the afterlife to get 72 virgins, but the beautiful Israeli women are waiting for you here, just come back to us, our heroes. Think of these pictures at any difficult time and remember what you are fighting for and what is waiting for you when you come home.”

The sexual and reproductive bodies of women – both Palestinian and Jewish Israeli - have always been important tools of settler colonial control and resistance in Palestine/Israel. Yet, Israel’s recent military incursions to the West Bank and Gaza have shown to be particularly gendered and sexualized ones in which discourses of war, sex and reproduction are tightly intertwined. These extremely militarized episodes of Israeli sexual violence and aggression towards Palestinians magnify tendencies that are always present in Palestine/Israel and that are inherent to the Zionist settler colonial project. I see two main rationales behind this intensified use of gendered discourses of sex and reproduction in Israel’s current onslaught on Gaza and Palestine in general.

The first motivation is a “classical” Orientalist one, in which Zionist discourse objectifies the entire Gazan population into feminine, sensual and weak Others that deserve to be penetrated and conquered. This strategy of feminizing the Orient in order to legitimate its occupation has been repeatedly used by other European colonial powers during the 19th and early 20th century. In the case of Zionist colonialism, the threat of sexual violence is deployed in such a way to articulate the patriarchal subjugation of Gaza’s Palestinian population. One telling example is that of an image on Facebook that was posted by a group of Israeli “citizens in favor of a ground assault” on July 16th, the 8th  day of the air offensive of Operation Protective Edge and two days before the launch of the ground troop offensive. The image showed a seductively looking, veiled woman labeled “Gaza” who was dressing a conservative Muslim dress from the waist up, but was naked from the waist down. The Hebrew text accompanying the image reads: “Bibi, finish inside this time! Signed, citizens in  favor of a ground assault.” 
 In his excellent article on “Israel’s War Against Gaza’s Women & Their Bodies” David Sheen explained that the Hebrew word that was used was “tigmor” which means both finishing and ejaculating in Hebrew. He sees this jeu de mots as a way to promote war while alluding to rape.

Another significant story in Israel’s latest military assault on Palestinians is that of Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli professor at Bar-Ilan University and a scholar of Arabic literature with an expertise in the Palestinian population. On July 1st, during Israel’s Operation Brothers Keepers in the West Bank, he declared during a radio-interview that raping the wives and mothers of Palestinian combatants is the only way to deter terrorist attacks.
The only way to deter terrorist is when they know that their sisters or mothers will be raped if captured... they will go back home to protect their sisters' honor.. this is the Middles East.. this is the culture we live in.” 
Instead of firing Professor Kedar for inciting war crimes, Bar-llan University defended him with the following statement:
Dr. Kedar did not call to fight terror but with legal and moral means.. in his words he wanted to illustrate that there is no way to fight terrorism and gave rape as an exaggerated example. Dr Kedar described the bitter reality of the Middle East and the lack of means of a modern and liberal state to fight terror and suiciders.

A second important rational behind the remarkable usage of reproductive and sexual discourses during Israel’s latest military operations is demography. By defining itself as a Jewish state, Israel has always been greatly concerned by the demographic balance between its Jewish settler and non-Jewish indigenous population. The demographic “problem”  has gained an almost metaphysical status in Israel, and is being meticulously monitored and widely discussed by demographers, politicians and policy makers who fear to be demographically “outnumbered”. The prevailing demographic anxiety is further fuelled by the fact that Palestinians in general still have higher birth rates than Jewish Israelis (although there are important differences among Jewish Israelis), a trend which is often framed as a velvet holocaust or a demographic intifada in Israeli discourse. In its ongoing attempt to consolidate a Jewish majority in a Jewish state, Israel has adopted wide variety of notoriously pronatalist policies and discourses that are meant to encourage its Jewish settler population to be fruitful and multiply” - the first commandment in the Torah - while simultaneously attempting to reduce the indigenous Palestinians and particularly their reproductive capacities. In times of intensified military confrontations these reproductive binaries become extremely outspoken in Israeli discourse. In 2008, after the military attack on the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers designed t-shirts portraying a pregnant Palestinian woman in the crosshairs of a gun, accompanied by the slogan: “One shot, two kills”.

Now again, during Operation Protective Edge, Gazan women are increasingly being depicted as hyper fertile, premodern and irresponsible breeders that deserve to be annihilated simply because of their threatening ability to reproduce the next generation and to assure the continuance of the Palestinian people. On July 1st, while the Israeli troops were raiding the West Bank and collectively punishing its Palestinian population in search of the three missing settler youths, Member of Knesset and leading Israel politician Ayelet Shaked posted the following quote on her Facebook page:

Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.” 
Shaked’s quote has been perceived as a call for genocide, and a quite prophetic one seen the fact that a sizeable number of the up to now 1380 Palestinian casualties caused by Israeli attacks on Gaza are women and children.
In the meantime, videos of Israeli demonstrators cheering for “Gaza’s empty schools” are appearing on Facebook.
During a support demonstration for Israel’s attack on Gaza on July 26th in Tel Aviv, Israeli youths were chanting

Tomorrow there’s no school in Gaza. 
They don’t have any children left 
In Gaza there’s no studying
No children are left there Olé, olé, olé-olé-olé.” 
While the dominant Israeli discourse is urging the Israeli army to collectively eliminate the Palestinian population in Gaza, it is encouraging Israeli Jews to be as fertile as possible. On July 16th, the Israeli sex doctor Ruth Westheimer gave a lecture in Tel Aviv, advising Israelis to dedicate enough time for sex in times of war. On July 12th, the 4th day of the Gaza onslaught, the popular Israeli family rights organization New Family dedicated its monthly newsletter to the promotion of a biological will for soldiers leaving for Gaza. The Biological Will is a legal invention by New Family Organization that legalizes the posthumous retrieval of a man's sperm or a woman's egg cells for the purpose of creating a genetic offspring. In the words of New Family’s founder Irit Rosenblum “the Biological Will“ synthesizes the desire for a biological legacy with the opportunity provided by reproductive technologies into a genetic and demographic insurance policy. In 2011 Rosenblum was legally responsible for the delivery of the world’s first and only child to be born of posthumous maternity by Biological Will. Thanks to Rosenblum the parents of  Sergeant Keivan Cohen, who died in combat in Gaza in 2002, won the right to designate a woman to conceive with their son’s posthumously extracted sperm after proving in court that he wished to father children. Although the Biological Will is not exclusively designed for soldiers, it is particularly popular among them. During the 2006 invasion of Lebanon more than 100 Israeli soldiers had filled out a biological will before going into combat against Hezbollah. Since then she has been lobbying to establish a sperm bank specially designated for the Israel Defense Forces soldiers. In the latest newsletters she urges soldiers to particularly take into consideration the differential in population growth between Palestinians (3% per year) and Israelis (1.5% per year) before going to war in Gaza. As such, the Biological Will represents the ultimate symbol of Israel’s militarized pronatalism. It represents the intimate connection between war, demography and reproduction in Israel/Palestine and symbolizes the Israeli urge to reproduce the nation through soldiers. While Israelis are being encouraged to be fruitful and multiply, Gazans and Palestinians in general are being encouraged to die as quickly and massively as possible. This demographic duality has been particularly outspoken during Israel’s latest military attacks on Gaza, but even in times of so called peace it is inherently ingrained in the Zionist settler colonial reality in Palestine/Israel.


Siggie Vertommen is an assistant at the Middle East and North Africa Research Group of the Department of Conflict and Development Studies at the Ghent University in Belgium. She is conducting doctoral research on “The political economy of assisted reproduction in Israel/Palestine”. Within her research she focuses on the ways in which assisted reproductive technologies have emerged as a crucial site of settler colonial bio-politics and bio-economics in Israel/Palestine.


The sexual and reproductive bodies of women – both Palestinian and Jewish Israeli - have always been important tools of settler colonial control and resistance in Palestine/Israel. Yet, Israel’s recent military incursions to the West Bank and Gaza have shown to be particularly gendered and sexualized ones in which discourses of war, sex and reproduction are tightly intertwined.



11 September 2013
The Rt. Hon. The Baroness Ashton of Upholland
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
European Union
Dear Lady Ashton
Reports in the media that you are thinking of softening or postponing the 
implementation of the EU Guidelines on Israeli Settlements have shocked 
academic opinion across Europe and beyond.
The Guidelines which you announced in July indicated that the EU would insist 
upon the application of its long-held position which, to quote your own 
documents, “[conforms] with international law on the non-recognition by the EU 
of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since 1967,” and that 
henceforth cooperation with Israel would be “based on respect for human rights 
and democratic principles” and in particular on respect for international law. The 
promulgation of the Guidelines sent Israel a clear message that its continued 
occupation of these territories and illegal settlement-building have consequences, 
and has given it an incentive to think again. 
We, and the nearly five hundred European academics who have signed the 
attached petition in the last 48 hours, applaud your Guidelines, and urge you not 
to weaken or abandon them at the first sign that Israel, or the United States, takes 
objection to them. Principles are principles. Please stick to yours.
Ivar Ekeland
Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en 
Palestine (AURDIP)
Jonathan Rosenhead
British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP)
Please reply to: BRICUP, BM BRICUP, London WC1N3XX
cc José Manuel Barroso, President of the EU Commission
Herman Van Rompuy, President of the EU Council
Martin Schulz, President of the EU Parliament
Dalia Grybauscaite, President of Lithuania, President of the Council of the 
European Union 
European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine
Please reply to: BRICUP, BM BRICUP, London WC1N3XX
11 September 2013
Dear Catherine Ashton
cc: Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn
We are writing to you with regard to the guidelines published recently by the EU on the 
eligibility of Israeli bodies for EU financial support which are designed to prevent 
projects in illegal Israeli settlements from receiving funding from the European Research 
Council and the forthcoming Horizon 2020 EU research funding programme. 
The guidelines were widely welcomed by researchers and citizens who had been deeply 
concerned that the EU was encouraging and funding collaboration between European 
universities and Israeli companies such as Ahava that operate in illegal Israeli 
settlements. Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under 
international law and their continued existence and expansion lead to severe violations of 
the human rights of Palestinians. 
We understand that negotiations on Israel’s participation in the Horizon 2020 program 
will begin on Thursday, and we have read that you hope to find ways to implement the 
new guidelines "sensitively". We have also read that US Secretary of State John Kerry is 
pressuring the EU to repeal the new guidelines.
As academic researchers, many of whom have been in receipt of EU research funding, we 
call upon the EU to implement its new guidelines in full and to ensure that projects, 
companies and institutions located in illegal Israeli settlements are not eligible for EU 
research funding. 

Yours sincerely, 

Miss Sigrid Vertommen, Ghent University, Belgium  


Translated from Dutch by Google


On Wednesday December 1, the information evening "Jerusalem: occupied city" took place in Leuven. Intal-Leuven, together with LAP (Leuven Action Group Palestine), Vrouwen in't Zwart, Pax Christi Leuven and Palestine Solidarity, put East Jerusalem in the spotlight. The great added value of this information evening was direct communication with Jerusalem via videoconferencing.

This training was part of the Leuven-Zuid initiative. This is an initiative in which North-South organizations try to bring the South to Leuven. In that design they actually succeeded last Wednesday by setting up a live videoconference with East Jerusalem. There was a direct communication with Dawood, researcher of the "stop the wall" campaign.

Despite the bad weather - Pierre, Bruno and Christophe did not come from Brussels in Leuven with the film they made together with the youths of the intal partner Health Work Committees - 65 people turned up in the "Lovanium", the hall of the ACW in Leuven. The evening was deployed with a concise historical narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by Sigrid Vertommen, who is currently investigating judaism in East Jerusalem. The history of the country, with its occupation and violent confrontations, exposes the roots of the conflict in Jerusalem. Thus the Zionists, the mandate of the British, the occupation and the annexation of East Jerusalem were discussed.

Vertommen ended her argument with the current impasse in East Jerusalem. Israel continues to extend its city limits unilaterally in the area. The Jewish objective is to make Jerusalem as Jewish as possible by encouraging Jewish Israelis to live in Jerusalem. The life of the Palestinians is made unbearable in the area. Vertommen put it like this: "The difference between West and East Jerusalem is like the difference between the first and the third world."

Live from Jerusalem
In the second part of the evening we made a trip to Palestine via videoconferencing. The power of the image personified communication and brought (East) Jerusalem closer to the public. The man who spoke to us from Jerusalem was Dawood Hammoudeh. Hammoudeh told about the 'Apartheid Wall' and about the battle in Jerusalem. He went deeper into the ethnic cleansing and the judging process in East Jerusalem. The powerpoint he used as an illustration can be downloaded here.

After Dawood's presentation, the public was allowed to ask questions to gain even more insight into the situation. Various topics were discussed during the question round. In this way, Dexia's influence in the conflict was discussed and the current situation in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, two neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that were severely affected by the occupation.

Furthermore, the role of tourism in the conflict was raised. Tourism to Israel continues to grow and in response to this, the Jewish state is currently building a purely tourist colony. It serves as a temporary home for Christians who want to visit the sacred attractions in occupied Palestinian territory. In this way, tourists are exposed as little as possible to the daily reality of the Palestinians.

Finally, some interesting calls followed for action. The LAP mobilized for the BDS flash mob on Saturday 4 December (watch a short video here) and intal-Leuven put its' citizens' initiative 'in the spotlight for a Dexia motion. They are aiming at 900 signatures from Leuven residents to bring this motion to the municipal council. If you want to collect signatures, you can download the petition list here.


Woensdag 1 december vond de infoavond “Jeruzalem: bezette stad” plaats te Leuven. Hierbij zette Intal-Leuven samen met LAP (Leuvense Actiegroep Palestina), Vrouwen in't Zwart, Pax Christi Leuven en Palestina Solidariteit, Oost-Jeruzalem in de kijker. De grote meerwaarde van deze infoavond was de rechtstreekse communicatie met Jeruzalem via videoconferencing.

Deze vorming kaderde in het Leuven-Zuid initiatief. Dit is een initiatief waarbij Noord-Zuidorganisaties het Zuiden naar Leuven trachten te brengen. In dat opzet zijn ze afgelopen woensdag daadwerkelijk geslaagd door een live videoconferentie op poten te zetten met Oost-Jeruzalem. Er werd rechtstreeks gecommuniceerd met Dawood, onderzoeker van de “stop the wall”-campagne.

Ondanks het slechte weer - Pierre, Bruno en Christophe geraakten vanuit Brussel niet in Leuven met de film die ze samen met de jongeren van intal-partner de Health Work Committees maakten -, daagden 65 mensen op in de "Lovanium", de zaal van het ACW in Leuven. De avond werd ingezet met een beknopte historische vertelling van het Israëlisch-Palestijns conflict door Sigrid Vertommen die momenteel onderzoek verricht naar judaisering in Oost-Jeruzalem. De geschiedenis van het land, met zijn bezetting en geweldadige confrontaties, legt immers de wortels bloot van het conflict in Jeruzalem. Zo kwamen de zionisten, het mandaat van de Britten, de bezetting en de annexatie van Oost-Jeruzalem aan bod.

Vertommen eindigde haar betoog met de huidige impasse in Oost-Jeruzalem. Israël blijft zijn stadsgrenzen éénzijdig uitbreiden in het gebied. Het Joods objectief bestaat erin Jeruzalem zo Joods mogelijk te maken door Joodse Israeli te stimuleren in Jeruzalem te gaan wonen. Het leven van de Palestijnen wordt ondraaglijk gemaakt in het gebied. Vertommen verwoordde het als volgt: “Het verschil tussen West- en Oost-Jeruzalem, is zoals het verschil tussen de eerste en de derde wereld.”

Live uit Jeruzalem
In het tweede gedeelte van de avond maakten we via videoconferencing een reis naar Palestina. De kracht van het beeld verpersoonlijkte de communicatie en bracht (Oost)-Jeruzalem dichter bij het publiek. De man die ons vanuit Jeruzalem te woord stond, was Dawood Hammoudeh. Hammoudeh vertelde over de 'Apartheidsmuur' en over de strijd in Jeruzalem. Hij ging daarbij dieper in op de etnische zuivering en het judaiseringsproces in Oost-Jeruzalem. De powerpoint die hij als illustratie gebruikte kan je hier downloaden.

Na Dawood's presentatie mocht het publiek vragen stellen om nog meer inzicht te verwerven in de situatie. Er kwamen verschillende onderwerpen aan bod tijdens de vragenronde. Zo werd Dexia's invloed in het conflict besproken en de huidige situatie in Silwan en Sheikh Jarrah, twee buurten in Oost-Jeruzalem die zwaar te lijden hebben onder de bezetting.

Verder werd de rol van toerisme in het conflict aangekaart. Het toerisme naar Israël blijft immers groeien en als antwoord hierop is de Joodse staat momenteel een louter toeristische kolonie aan het uitbouwen. Het dient als tijdelijke thuisbasis voor christenen die de heilige trekpleisters willen bezoeken in bezet Palestijns gebied. Op die manier worden toeristen zo min mogelijk blootgesteld aan de dagelijkse realiteit van de Palestijnen.

Tot slot van deze interessante avond volgden er nog enkele oproepen tot actie. Het LAP mobiliseerde voor de BDS-flashmob van zaterdag 4 december (bekijk hier een kort filmpje) en intal-Leuven zette zijn 'burgerinitiatief' voor een Dexia-motie in de kijker. Ze mikken op 900 handtekeningen van Leuvenaars om deze motie op de gemeenteraad te brengen. Als je mee handtekeningen wil verzamelen kan je hier de petitielijst downloaden.

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