Protesting Israel's barring of Democratic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, feminist icon Gloria Steinem has declared that she won’t travel to Israel – at least not while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is at the helm of the Jewish state.
In an open letter to Netanyahu posted on Twitter, Steinem, an author, activist and founding editor of Ms. Magazine, informed the Israeli leader that “I’m not sure you will see this as a loss, but I just want to say that your denial of entry to my U.S. Congresswomen, Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, is also a welcome sign that I never have to enter any country or place under your authority.”
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In a personal anecdotal swipe, Steinem recounted that a past encounter with the Israeli premier left her unimpressed. The activist wrote that in the 1980s, when Netanyahu served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, she attended a dinner party at his home. Addressing the Israeli prime minister, Steinem wrote Netanyahu: “You were a conversational bully to your guests then, just as you are a bully to these two elected women leaders now.”
She added that U.S. President Donald Trump, who she described as an “accidental occupant of the White House” was “drawn to successful bullies from Russia to Saudi Arabia,” but she had held out hope that Netanyahu “as the leader of a nation dedicated to democracy and free speech” would have stood up for the rights of Omar and Tlaib to visit Israel as “elected leaders.”
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She closed with the warning that “if you and Trump continue to imitate each other, you will eventually be alone together at the table. I could wish both of you no greater punishment than that.”
Her post won her a virtual fist bump from Omar, who retweeted her statement.
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Steinem, whose father was Jewish and mother was Presbyterian, is widely identified as Jewish. She has said that “never in my life have I identified myself as a Christian, but wherever there is anti-Semitism, I identify as a Jew.” She was also, for decades, a participant in a famous women’s Seder held annually by feminist leaders. Discussing the spiritual aspects of the Passover holiday dinner, she said that “when I feel most drawn to Judaism it’s not the law part that attracts me, it’s the mystical part, the Kabbalah ... I do feel socially drawn to Jewish warmth, sensuality, expressiveness.”
In 1975, she joined 60 women leaders in condemning the “Zionism is racism” United Nations resolution, and in 1982, her magazine published Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s seminal article on anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement.
In January, Steinem stood behind the national Women’s March organization in the midst of an anti-Semitism controversy surrounding co-chairs Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory regarding their connection to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. In her speech at the march, Steinem said: “We have everyone, from Jewish Voice for Peace to the Lower East Side Girls Club…I would not be any place else at this moment.”
Her 2015 memoir “My Life on the Road” is the basis of an upcoming feature film “The Glorias,” starring Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander and Bette Midler. She is also featured as a character in a television mini-series coming up in the fall, “Mrs. America,” about the story of the battle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.