When Bustle editor Emily Shire asked “Does Feminism have Room for Zionists?” on the eve of International Women’s Day, Linda Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March, replied “no” a few days later. She added that “the decolonization of Palestine is the beating heart of this new movement".
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The singling out of Israel is disturbing and raises important questions: why not rally against the slaughter and slavery of women in Syria, the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time? Or focus on the 10 worst countries in the world for women, as noted by the World Economic Forum?
Back in January, the organizers of the Women’s March succeeded in stifling their conflicting agendas for the common goal of fighting for women’s rights under Trump. Since then, there has been no such attempt.
In a carefully coded letter Women's Strike organizers that included Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh, convicted of the murder of two students in a Jerusalem supermarket bombing, railed against “lean-In feminism” and urged women to strike against “the violence of the market, of debt, of capitalist property relations, and of the state.”
Try not to choke that a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist group funded by Gulf oil money, responsible for suicide bombs, hijackings and brutal civilian murders, has rebranded herself a socialist peacenik.
Last week, a speaker at the Washington Square Park Women’s Strike charged Israel with being “the fourth largest killing machine in the world” and “the global exporter of oppression... [who also] train[s] the NYPD to spy on us.”
How could any Jewish woman, whether she supports the current Israeli government or not, feel safe in a crowd whipped up by such unhinged rage at the Jewish state—and at a time when Jewish women are the primary targets of bomb threats at JCCs because they’re the ones who drop their children off or work at their daycare centers?
How is shouting “Palestinian girls are lynched by European and Zionist settlers who take selfies with their stillborn dead bodies” any different from accusing Jews of the blood libel?
The speaker, a Palestinian American attorney and activist, described Zionism as “a racist, settler colonialismcemented by the murder of over 50,000 Palestinians and the exile of 75% of the population while the rest was subjected to a 69-year pattern of massacre and ethnic cleansing." This sounds like a revisionist co-option of the language of the Holocaust.
Ethnic cleansing is a particularly offensive term to me. My mother spent 4.5 years in an all-women’s Nazi slave labor camp, part of a large network where Jewish teenagers, the same age as the Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, were exploited, barely surviving years of degrading servitude. Many were “ethnically cleansed” on a brutal death march.
As Dr. Mehnaz Afridi notes in her new book, “The Shoah Through Muslim Eyes,” the Arab world resisted accepting the magnitude of the Holocaust, as part of their refusal to accept the legitimacy of Zionism and Israel. Genocide often starts with the abduction of young women because they represent the future of their race. It’s this pattern that links the Holocaust to the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also to stories of heroism, of Muslim women helping Jews and Jewish women helping Muslim women in places like Sarajevo and Albania.
It’s in sharing our personal histories as women that we stand a chance of linking and lifting each other up. But it won’t happen if the leaders of the anti-Trump women's movement obsessively slander Zionism while refusing to recognize how it rehabilitated a nation from the ashes, enabling my mother to rebuild her life and home, while also accommodating the near one million Jews expelled from Arab countries in 1948.
And when all Zionists are labeled "European imperialists", it might be worth noting we're also black and brown, driven from Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Iraq, Libya, and we're still living in India, Mexico, Morocco and the Caribbean. My Polish-born mother didn’t arrive in Palestine with guns blazing. She was a stowaway on an illegal fishing boat because the real imperialists – the British – weren’t allowing war refugees in.
My mother, imprisoned in the British prison in Atlit upon her arrival, fought in the Israeli underground and army, and often spoke of hearing the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Al-Husseini (a Nazi ally who groomed PLO leaderYasserArafat), on the radio, calling on Arabs to leave their homes to let Arab armies “push the Jews into the sea.” That genocidal slogan is what I think of when I hear the BDS chorus of “From the river to the sea.” For the life of me I can't understand why such a refrain has a place at an American women’s rally to oppose Donald Trump’s sexist and racist policies.
We must have no room for infighting and certainly none for prejudice. We should confidently condemn Holocaust revisionism when it comes from the alt-right, as well as when it comes from the alt-left. When we honor a terrorist whose attacks on Zionism are rooted in Holocaust revisionism, we lose all credibility advancing a platform to fight for equality and against bigotry.
There are enough issues American women must now face. We will lose Trump’s war against women here if we allow ourselves to be divided by issues that have nothing to the daily assault we face as women under Trump, like LGBTQ, immigration, healthcare or reproductive rights.
If we want to move forward as a credible movement, we must recognize the commonality of our wounds and resolve to empower each other. We must stand united against hate, whether it’s decimating graves in St. Louis or burning down a mosque in Texas, posting flyers on college campuses that read “Ending white privilege starts with ending Jewish privilege”, or chanting “Where there is Zionism there is racism.”
In this Trumpian age of alternative facts and divisive rhetoric, it’s urgent that we, American women, should seek consensus over the issues that unite us, rather than allowing hateful biases and unrelated issues alienate supporters and diminish our resistance.
Marisa Fox-Bevilacqua is a New York based freelance writer and editor for the New York Times, Haaretz, Elle, and is working on a book and documentary about her mother’s hidden Holocaust past called "By A Thread". Follow her on Twitter: @MarisaFox