Can a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist be a feminist? Linda Sarsour says “yes”, I say “hell, no!” « Why Evolution Is True
An article in The Nation from March 13 includes an interview with the odious and overrated Linda Sarsour; the title of the piece is “Can you be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No.” As you may recall, Sarsour, a Palestinian-American hijabi who was one if the heads of the anti-Trump Women’s March, is strongly anti-Zionist and pro-BDS, and has had some harsh things to say about Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
In the interview, author Collier Meyerson questions Sarsour closely about the title issue, asking her why it’s incumbent for a feminist to be anti-Zionist (remember that anti-Zionism denies Jews the right to have a homeland). It’s always puzzled me how a hijab-wearing woman who demonizes Israel and strongly praises both Palestine and sharia law can call herself a feminist. After all, sharia law is strongly anti-women, and is largely designed to keep them in their place as per Islamic law. (That law, of course, varies from place to place.)
Likewise, Palestine is no place for liberated women—not to mention gays or nonbelievers. Finally, the hijab itself is a symbol of oppression, and its wearing appears to be mandatory in Gaza (see the Wikipedia article on “Islamism in the Gaza Strip“).
If you do a Google image search of “women Gaza strip”, you get images like these (these are the first six; if you do the search you’ll see why I stopped before #7!). There’s nary an uncovered head to be seen:
The interview is amusing for observing Sarsour twist and turn to show why it’s IMPERATIVE for a feminist to be anti-Zionist. Her point seems to be that Israel has made the women in Palestine poor and oppressed. She doesn’t mention that most of the oppression comes not from Israel, but from their fellow Palestinians as well as the Arab countries that won’t help them out of their poverty. Here are some of her quotes:
When you talk about feminism you’re talking about the rights of all women and their families to live in dignity, peace, and security. It’s about giving women access to health care and other basic rights. And Israel is a country that continues to occupy territories in Palestine, has people under siege at checkpoints—we have women who have babies on checkpoints because they’re not able to get to hospitals [in time]. It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, “Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?” There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it.
As we’ll see below, by Sarsour’s own lights, there’s no room in feminism for women who support Palestine. And if you stand up for the rights of all women, you should be a much stronger critic of Palestine (or Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or Iraq, and so on) than you are of Israel.
Now why is support of BDS (the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that aims at eliminating the Israeli nation) also imperative for feminists? Sarsour responds, but not convincingly:
What’s interesting here is that feminism is a movement and BDS is a tactic.. . . that’s the reason why BDS makes sense within the feminist movement, or really within any social justice movement, be it climate justice or racial justice, or the Palestinian solidarity movement. For example, in the racial-justice movement people have said that we need to divest from private prisons, right? In the climate-justice movement, we need to divest from fossil fuels and companies profiting off of the destruction of our planet. We need to take our money out of banks that are profiting off the Dakota Access Pipeline. [Similarly,] BDS is a tactic and feminism is a movement. And BDS can be used in the feminist movement to demand change and demand more rights for women. BDS has been used as a tactic to raise awareness for Palestinian people, including women and their children.
The real reason Sarsour supports BDS has nothing to do with feminism: she just hates Israel and wants to punish its people. If she really wanted a tactic to promote feminism, she’d be boycotting every country that uses Islam to oppress women, including those named above. You can make the argument that BDS is a tactic to force Israel to a two-state solution (though I’m pretty sure that’s not its goal), but to say that its goal is getting more rights for women is totally misdirected. If the Israeli state disappeared and was replaced by a Muslim country having the gender laws of Palestine, women’s rights would plummet.
Finally, her ultimate hypocrisy:
I would say that anyone who wants to call themselves an activist cannot be selective. There is no country in this world that is immune to violating human rights. You can’t be a feminist in the United States and stand up for the rights of the American woman and then say that you don’t want to stand up for the rights of Palestinian women in Palestine. It’s all connected. Whether you’re talking about Palestinian women, Mexican women, women in Brazil, China, or women in Saudi Arabia—this feminist movement is an international global movement.
But Sarsour is being selective, for she fails to call out the pervasive oppression and misogyny placed upon women by Muslim countries and Islam itself. If you weighed the benefits to women of getting rid of Israel on the one hand, and getting rid of Islam on the other, well, there’s no doubt which would be more salubrious. You will never see Sarsour campaigning against Saudi Arabia or Iran, even though women suffer the deprivation of liberty and opportunity in those countries for reasons far beyond the presence and policies of Israel. Here’s a list of what women face in Gaza:
- Effective sharia law, which includes
- mandatory hijabs
- sharia courts, in which a woman’s testimony is half of a man’s.
- segregation from men in many places, and
- illegality of male teachers for female students, depriving women of some good teachers
- Other stuff includes inability to participate in some sports
- The pervasiveness of legal polygamy and child marriage (often younger than even Palestinian law allows)
- No mixed bathing!
- Ubiquitous teaching in school of gender stereotypes, with women’s place being in the home
- Honor killings (mostly of women, of course)
- Signature of a man required to get passports and other documents
- Requirement that all women must carry ID cards specifying the relationship of a man with whom they’re walking in public
- Severe gender imbalance in divorce issues: men can get a divorce for any reason, women have far more severe requirements
- Punishments for adultery are more severe for women than men
- Much sexual violence inflicted on women, often by relatives
- Curtailed inheritance rights for women, so that women get only half as much as men (e.g., if a woman has a sister and a brother, each woman gets a quarter of the inheritance, while the brother gets half)
None of this is the case (or as severe, for stuff like sexual violence) in the Israel so demonized by Sarsour. Is there any doubt that Palestine oppresses its own women far more than Israel does to its women or Palestinian women? If Israel disappeared, women in Palestine would not be much freer, as they’d still be subject to the draconian and anti-women laws and customs of Palestinian Islam. So why does Sarsour demonize Israel, as opposed to getting her own house in order?
You know the answer.