Tony Greenstein | 06 November 2023 | Post Views:

Radical feminism gives cover to Israel’s brutal colonial oppression

Guest post by Anita Patel 


This is a guest post by Anita Patel. It describes the inability of British and Western Feminism to come to terms with imperialist violence and Israeli settler colonialism. Western feminism has been co-opted into supporting imperialism and Islamaphobia in particular. Radical feminism ignores the fact that some women willingly adopt the role of the oppressor and are complicit in the subjugation and oppression of other women.

Zionist feminists were active in undermining opposition to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Nothing angered them more  than the statement by Aliza Khan, the Israeli woman in Women Speak Out Against Zionism in Spare Rib 121 of August 1982 than her assertion that

 ‘if a woman calls herself feminist she should consciously call herself anti-Zionist.’

See How Identity Politics Turned the Victims of Sabra & Chatilla into the Antisemitic Oppressors of Zionist Feminists – A Reply to Erica Burman.

Erica Burman – the protagonist of Zionist feminism, now an academic at Manchester University

In Israel the main demand of Jewish women is their equal right to participate in the oppression of the Palestinians. They have no quarrel with the racism of Zionism and its othering of Palestinians. Their only disagreements are on their subordinate role in the oppression of the Palestinians. They demand the right to serve in combat troops.

Unfortunately many Jewish women in the British women’s movement, in particular the Jewish Feminist Group, waged in 1982 a battle against Spare Rib which had dared to print articles by Palestinian, Lebanese and Jewish anti-Zionist women opposed to Israel’s brutal invasion of Lebanon.

During the battles at Spare Rib over Zionism, Outwrite, a paper produced by Women of Colour appeared

The mythical ‘anti-Semitism’ that Jewish women in Britain said they faced was counterposed to support for the Palestinians against the genocidal violence of Israel. Unfortunately the role of A Womans Place UK today in being ‘even handed’ between the Israeli settler colonial state and Palestinians demonstrates that the heritage of racism and imperialism within the British women’s movement is not dead.

As Jenny Bourne wrote in Jewish Feminism and Identity Politics:

feminism allowed us to: conflate the political and the personal, the objective and the subjective, the material and the metaphysical; and escape into Identity Politics. And the New Marxism gave’it refuge. (p.4)

The personal was held to be political rather than the political being personal. What this meant was that every woman’s personal experience was equally valid. They could be fascist women, Zionist women or just very rich, they were still women, despite the fact that they participated in the oppression of Black and third world women.

The Zioness Zionist feminist group just could not help their racism – the Black woman left (who had nothing to with them) was included in the poster (right) and was ‘whitened’ to fit in

There was no understanding of how women’s oppression is magnified by class and race. The real enemy for middle class feminists was patriarchy, which men had created, an overarching ideological framework which subsumed race and class. The answer of western feminists was an all-encompassing sisterhood. What this left out was the fact that women can also be the exploiters and oppressors of other women. Issues such as race and class were seen as divisive, a threat to women’s unity. 

I am therefore pleased to carry this article by Anita Patel.

radical feminism gives cover to Israel’s brutal colonial oppression

Women’s Place UK (WPUK) put out a statement on 28th October titled “Israel & Palestine – Peace, Equality, Freedom, Justice”.  The statement came out the day after Israel had begun the ground attack on Gaza, had heightened its relentless bombing of the previous three weeks, and had inflicted an extended communications black-out to cover its tracks.

The statement does make a welcome call for all governments and parties “to do all they can to bring about [..] an immediate ceasefire”.  However, in all other respects the statement is an evasive and impossible fudge, between advocates of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and genocide on the one hand, and a people who are fighting for their survival on the other.  The statement frames the attack on Gaza as a conflict between two equivalent hostile parties, failing to distinguish the oppressor and the oppressed, and making the same demands of both those parties, on the grounds that all the women involved share the same experience of war.  It is as though Israeli women were not part of the oppressor and Palestinian women were not part of the oppressed people.  In fudging this fundamental distinction, the statement effectively betrays the people of Palestine and lends credence to the Zionist onslaught. 

WPUK’s statement does say that they are horrified by the Palestinian deaths, but in order not to take sides it fails to acknowledge that these deaths were the result of relentless bombing of people held in what is effectively a concentration camp.  A camp that has been violently besieged by Israel for 17 years.  No mention that in a 75-year-long colonial occupation, Palestinians have been persecuted, ethnically cleansed and expelled from their land.  Nor any mention of the massive disparity in capabilities between the Israeli armed forces and the Palestinian resistance movement.

These omissions enable the statement to avoid condemning Israel. Instead, it just calls on all parties to abide by international law.

As a result, the statement is something of a whitewash for Zionism, manipulating pseudo-feminist language to this end.  An abstract allusion to how “war disproportionately affects women” becomes a sleight of hand to distract from the reality that Israel’s siege and bombardment of Gaza is not a war between two states, let alone between two equals.  In reality, this so called ‘war’ disproportionately affects Palestinian women, and many Israeli women are active proponents and participants in their state’s oppression of those Palestinian women.

The statement continues that “feminists in the UK hold a range of diverse and opposing views,” demands that all “must have the right to respectfully express opinions [..] without fear of misrepresentation or reprisal,” and calls somewhat pompously for “respectful and evidence-based discussion.”  We have to ask what this really means, when the space for expression of views is constantly provided to one side, whilst denied to the other, by a highly partisan media and by powerful politicians.

Have WPUK not watched Tzipi Hotovely (the Israeli ambassador) on TV & social media over the last week: a woman who has been given wall-to-wall mainstream media coverage to openly and unashamedly urge support for the genocide? It was Hotovely who cited the figure of 600,000 Germans allegedly killed by British bombing of Dresden and other German cities to imply that it would be acceptable to kill 600,000 Palestinians, in the process branding all Palestinians as Nazis.

Hotovely has consistently fought any and all calls for a ceasefire, for humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza and to restore the supply of water and electricity.  Her colleagues in Israel, including Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, have made statementsthat Palestinians (including women) are “human animals”. She and her government are backed by the might of Western imperialism, and she speaks for women in Israel just as much as she speaks for Israeli men.

This was a week in which social media was flooded with heart-breaking scenes of death and of traumatised survivors in Gaza, including countless grieving women. A week in which the Al Ahli hospital was deliberately targeted by the Israeli bombers. A week in which young ‘influencers’ in Israel were putting out posts on social media celebrating the killing of Palestinian women and children, and mocking the women in Gaza struggling without water and electricity.

The statement glosses over such vitriol against Palestinians but again simply makes an abstract call for all sides to engage in “respectful and evidence-based discussion.”  This can only be read as another pseudo-feminist sleight of hand to cast the pro-Palestine mobilisations as disrespectful and irrational. Is the statement implying that calling for an end to apartheid is disrespectful, or the call for Palestine to be free?  Suella Braverman is denouncing all mobilisations for a ceasefire as “hate marches”, and attacking those of us making a stand against genocide for being “anti-semitic”. This is the reality of what’s going on.  WPUK’s statement, with its exaggerated avoidance of the issue, is effectively legitimising the weaponization of anti-semitism.  To be clear, anti-Zionism is not anti-semitism.

Any feminist who has participated in the mobilisations across the UK would feel compelled to celebrate such a massive coming together of women – hundreds of thousands of young and old, of mums, grannies, aunties, and sisters from all ethnic backgrounds (including a large Jewish contingent) out on the streets, taking a stand against genocide. It is clear that WPUK have put out their statement without any “evidence-based discussion” of their own.

WPUK’s statement says that “in every conflict, it is women who have most successfully led peace and conflict resolution movements and it is vital that these voices are heard now.”  That is precisely what the millions of women marching across the world in solidarity with Palestine have been doing!  They have come together on the side of the oppressed against a brutal occupation, for peace, freedom, equality and justice.  We have seen millions of working class women speaking for themselves.  They do not deserve lectures on how to conduct discussions, and they deserve more than two-side-ism from a women’s organisation.  This is a statement that fails to identify where the power lies in this conflict.  Nor does it address the determination of Western imperialism to weaponise anti-semitism by conflating it with anti-Zionism.  The minimum that we can expect of a women’s organisation is to have the courage to speak truth to power.

There is a long and dishonourable history of liberal women in imperialist countries giving feminist cover to colonial oppression.

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Tony Greenstein

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