Opinion

Not Even Israel’s Great Leftist Columnist Should Grade the Feminist Struggle

A protest against violence against women at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square. The sign reads: "Who's next in line?" October 12, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

In his column Thursday, "No #MeToo for These Palestinian Women Imprisoned in Israel," Gideon Levy’s frustration is justified, but he directs it at scapegoats rather than presenting the reality: Israelis aren’t interested in Palestinian prisoners. Levy sits alone in the courtroom and seethes because “the women’s organizations” aren’t there with him in a show of solidarity with Palestinian women. He says it’s because these women are thought of as “terrorists,” not as women.

The truth is, in his way of seeing things, these women really are women above all else – his great anger shows how aghast he is that the sins of the occupation also hurt women. This derives from the age-old outlook held by men who feel that feminine fragility and delicacy mean a different standard: Men go to war, women stay home.

It’s true that Levy is consistent in his criticism of the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people, but to him, when women are arrested and tortured, it’s even worse. This is the same conception that has kept women excluded from the police force and military in many countries (lest they, God forbid, fall prisoner and who knows what might be done to them). It’s the same conception that makes it almost okay to take men prisoner and torture them, to send them to the front as cannon fodder in a fight over a piece of land or God.

It’s also the conception that accepts with understanding violent male behavior on the home front, too, because “boys will be boys.” A guy who beats up a woman is scorned, but if he beats up another man? Then he has shown himself to be a real man.

Here’s the real truth: The suffering of all Palestinian detainees and prisoners should appall us equally, regardless of their gender. And another truth: The occupation, oppression, torture and detention without trial of Palestinian men and women stirs only apathy among most Israeli men and women.

Levy calls us the “lionesses of #MeToo,” a cute nickname that’s certainly preferable to bloodthirsty wolves, feminist jihad or feminazis, as we’re called all the time. But this nickname also points out the shallowness of the arguments. #MeToo is a campaign about sexual violence, which has nothing to do with the cases Levy describes in his column.

But what difference does it make? A feminist is a feminist, if you’ve seen one women’s organization you’ve seen them all. It’s all the same and there’s no need to bother with nuances when you’re busy creating an enemy. As it is, the struggle for gender equality is the most despised and battered of all the social justice causes, so let’s go ahead and blame it for the occupation too and take comfort in absolving ourselves of responsibility.

Let it be clear, the central argument in Levy’s column is also mistaken. For many of us, feminism is entirely intertwined with the struggle against all kinds of oppression. Sexual violence is connected to state violence, and the occupation is one of the Israeli patriarchy’s most profound sins. We live by the light of the idea that was expressed so perfectly by Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any women is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Looking at the struggle against oppression of the poor, of communities of color, of the LGBTQ community, of animals and natural resources, our feminism is about removing all power structures, not replacing them. As a result, feminist solidarity with the Palestinian people is alive and well, there are joint Israeli-Palestinian feminist efforts, and we don’t feel the need to make headlines out of every bit of activism.

The idea that rows of activists in pink “pussy hats” should fill every military courtroom where a Palestinian woman is on trial is stupid. Our feminism addresses ending the occupation, defending prisoners’ human rights and, God help us, achieving equal opportunity in different fields.

The feminist struggle doesn’t need men scrutinizing it from the outside, criticizing us and ranking for us what’s more and less important in their imaginary hierarchy. Hierarchies are an idea of the patriarchy; they sow division and weakness. All organizations and activists decide for themselves what to focus their limited resources on, and what to support in different ways. Most of us would like to be everywhere all the time, shouting at the top of our lungs without wearing out our vocal cords. If you think it’s a worthy cause, be an ally.

Keren Greenblatt is a feminist lawyer and entrepreneur.