The Liberal Zionists1
Esther Broner, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Phyllis Chesler grew up in middle-class, Ashkenazi, Zionist families in the U.S. around the time of the Holocaust. By the 1970s, they were fully involved in the women’s movement. Broner (1927-2011) was a feminist writer and playwright, Pogrebin (b 1939) co-founded Ms. Magazine, and Chesler (b 1940) was a psychotherapist, writer, and founder of the Association for Women in Psychology. Pogrebin grew up in Jamaica, New York and Chesler in Brooklyn, while Broner grew up in Detroit. By the time they started their activism in Jewish and feminist circles in the seventies, Zionism, understood broadly as the political ideal of Israel as the sovereign state of the Jewish people, had won the hearts and minds of most American Jews.2 The rise of Hitler in the 1930s and the Holocaust in the 1940s convinced European and American Jews that Jewish self-determination within a sovereign Jewish nation-state in mandatory Palestine was the only viable answer to persecution and anti-Semitism and was absolutely necessary for the safety of Jewish people.3
Although American Jews had never suffered state-sanctioned persecution or anything like the European anti-Semitism that was always liable to erupt in violence, they did experience significant anti-Semitism of their own, especially in the interwar period (1917-1939).4 In the first half of the twentieth century, American Jews faced discrimination in employment and real estate and were excluded from social clubs. Many anti-Jewish attitudes were related to more general forms of racism, for example the rise in white supremacist sentiments that accompanied the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The enactment of the Immigration Act of 1924 restricted immigration from various countries, including European countries with large Jewish populations, in the interest of ethnic homogeneity.5
Like most Jews growing up in the 1930s and 1940s in the shadow of the Holocaust, Pogrebin, Broner and Chesler were deeply affected by this reality. Their identification with the Zionist project and its realization in the Jewish State was informed by fear of anti-Semitism. As Jews, they enjoyed the privilege of being entitled to move to Israel (make aliyah) and become Israeli citizens almost automatically.6 This effectively provided any American Jew with an insurance policy against persecution: should they ever be threatened by anti-Semitism, they had the option to move to Israel and become citizens.
Young women in 1948, my protagonists and their families, witnessed the dramatic establishment of the Jewish state of Israel, under the motto “meShoa letkuma” (“From Holocaust to revival”). Consciousness of the project’s detrimental implications for the indigenous Palestinian population was scant. Judging from the mainstream media of the time, one would almost believe the foundational myth of the empty land (Palestine as a land without people for a people without a land).7 The Israeli government, like the founding fathers of Zionism, was always aware of the need to persuade the world of the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism as it was being implemented through the policies of the new Jewish State—the propaganda mission that Israel euphemistically called “hasbara,” literally: explanation. Implicit here is the idea that Israeli policies are so obviously justified that all that their advocate has to do in the face of criticism is simply explain the policy to the objector, who must be operating under some misunderstanding of the policy — itself an example of Israeli chutzpah (brazenness).
Though not all Jewish people embraced Zionism, all major U.S. Jewish institutions did. In fact, they have come to view their role as fostering identification with the Jewish state.8 In 1967 when Israel defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan in six days and conquered an area three and a half times larger than Israel itself, the Jewish world reacted enthusiastically. In Israel itself, existential anxiety was replaced, almost overnight, by euphoria, a sense of superiority vis-à-vis the neighboring nations. Most consequentially, the Labor government soon began implementing the Alon Plan for absorbing the territories within Israel, creating accomplished facts—faits accompli—on the grounds (above §2). In the Jewish diaspora, the victory was celebrated as a show of Jewish muscularity.
Yet shortly after the war, an international sentiment began to galvanize, firstly that Israel’s occupation itself, let alone the settlements of Jewish Israelis in the territories, was contrary to international law and unjust, and secondly, that the Palestinian population must be allowed to enjoy national self-determination in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, in the form of a Palestinian state on the pre-June 1967 borders—alongside Israel(the two-state solution -§2.4). The international consensus was often expressed through the decisions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly.
The international consensus with its objection to Israel’s occupation and support of Palestinian self-determination was not universal. As we have also seen in §2.4, the United States provided Israel with the military, financial and diplomatic aid necessary to maintain the expansionist policies and quash any attempt at Palestinian nationalism or independence. When the international community sought to express itself in a meaningful way through constructive resolutions of the UN Security Council and General Assembly or through internationally supported peace initiatives, the United States stood alone with Israel and vetoed the resolution.
Feminists confronted Israel’s expansionist Zionist policies and the growing international criticism thereof in three UN conferences during the “women’s decade” in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985). In general, the state delegates of Third World delegations (Palestine, the Arab states) as well as the Soviet bloc supported censuring Israel on account of its treatment of Palestinians, by proposing declarations that equated Zionism with racism and apartheid. The delegates of the U.S. and some other, mostly Western countries opposed them. In Mexico City and Copenhagen, these proposals had enough support to pass. Liberal Jewish feminists experienced the passing of these critical declarations as an assault on their identity.9 They also took it personally and felt betrayed by their sisters. Bitter from their experience, some of them resolved to strike back, vowing to unite and ensure a different outcome in Nairobi.
In her keynote speech at the International Conference on Politics and Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement: The Road to Nairobi, held in Paris in 1984, Esther Broner asked, “Who is not in the Women’s Movement?” and immediately answered:
Those who move to disrupt, deflect from this shared purpose, who use national borders to separate from universal concerns, who think of women in different lands, classes, races as “the other,” who extol the virtues of war and would forget that we are the bearers of life and the preservers of it. They, I say, are not in the Women’s Movement.10
Broner’s audience had no trouble identifying the “they”—those women who deflect from, and hence do not belong to, the Movement—as the pro-Palestinian critics of Israel, and in particular those female delegates of Third World countries who wished to denounce Zionism as akin to racism and apartheid. Indeed, the entire 1984 Paris conference was designed to allow Jewish women to regroup after the humiliation in Mexico City and Copenhagen and prepare for the next clash in Nairobi the following year. Broner played a key role in this preparation, which was organized by two unapologetically pro-Israel organizations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Bnai Brith Women, and brought together over 17 international Jewish women’s organizations.11 “You will be learning during this conference invaluable tactics, sadly necessary for the belligerence we will encounter in Nairobi,” Broner declared. “You will learn attack and counter-attack, a karate approach to diplomacy. We are preparing to meet the enemy.”
Broner was no stranger to Jewish politics and Zionist public relations. Her father, Paul Masserman, was the public relations director of the local Israel bond organization for 12 years, secretary and vice president of their conservative synagogue, and worked for Bnai Brith and the Jewish National Fund—which used the charitable donations coming mostly from American Zionists in ways which it deemed “directly or indirectly beneficial to persons of Jewish religion, race or origin” (§2.1). Her mother, Beatrice Masserman, a former actress in Yiddish theatre in Poland, was involved in the American Jewish Congress and the Israel bond campaign since its inception.12 When Broner was very young, her father was her Sunday school teacher, an experience she would later describe both as a source of embarrassment and as a great piece of luck. The tragic and sentimental Yiddish tales that he translated in Sunday school for Broner and her restless peers made a serious impression on her, later inspiring her first play “Summer is a Foreign Land.”
Broner’s sense of Jewishness was informed by fear of anti-Semitism. Although she never reports being directly attacked or insulted on the grounds of her ethnicity, it is absolutely clear that she suffered the helplessness, fear, and humiliation that came with awareness of the anti-Semitic sentiment in her Detroit environment and of the Nazi atrocities in Europe. At a National Women’s Studies Conference panel in Storrs, Connecticut in 1981, Broner spoke about the experience of “growing up a stranger in a strange land, growing up Jewish in Detroit.” She reflected, “I want to talk about the words that swarmed and stung me, and about my parents.” She recalled that Jews did not buy a Ford because Henry Ford had started The Dearborn Independent, a Detroit publication that regularly published articles titled “The International Jew,” “The Fight of the New York Stock Exchange Against Jewish Domination,” and “Jewish Influence During the Great War,” for example.13
Broner remembered listening, as a young child, to William Pelley, head of the fascist organization the Silver Shirts, warning that Jews could bring all governments to ruin. And she recalled, in detail, the experience of listening with her aunts, uncles, and cousins to radio speeches of Father Coughlin, whose segment would come on the radio right after the Sunday radio opera. The Catholic priest would remind his listeners that the U.S. was a Christian nation and that it was being infiltrated by international Jews. “My parents would weep and I would see myself mirrored in their tears, and I would become the shape of the tear, large-nosed, tiny-eyed, a caricature of a Jew.” Her father worked for the Detroit Times, a job through which he learned about concentration camps in Europe before the general public. “We knew, our family, that they were killing us in Europe and attacking and fighting us everywhere, even in my city, even in our 4-family flat.”
In the 1970s, in her 50s, Broner worked with other feminists to transform Jewish rituals that excluded women. In 1976 she published the “Women’s Haggadah” in Ms. Magazine, which recast the Passover Seder from a feminist vantage point.14 Broner remarked in an interview for Lilith magazine:
I have to connect myself to some kind of passion which is beyond the bed and anger. But if our religion would like to kick us out of it, I think that we have to carefully elbow our way back in and make a new tradition. Rewrite ourselves and correct that tradition….15
Broner led the New York Feminist Seder for the next 36 years with a group of Jewish women, including Jewish feminists Gloria Steinem, Phyllis Chesler, and Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Broner and Pogrebin became good friends in the early years of the New York Feminist Seder. After the Copenhagen conference, Broner would strategize with Pogrebin, Chesler and others to unify the American and European delegations in opposition to any planned action items condemning Zionism in Nairobi.16
Back to the politics of the international women’s conferences, the liberal Zionists argued that attempts to condemn Israel deviated from the purpose of these conferences, which, in their view, was confined to “women’s issues.” The Palestinian question was not a “women issue,” so raising it in the conferences amounted to undue “politicization” of the supposedly apolitical feminist agenda. A classic example of this strategy is the incident between Betty Friedan (1921-2006) and Nawaal El-Saadawi in Nairobi. Friedan, a prominent American second-wave feminist, approached Dr. Saadawi, an Egyptian physician and feminist, as the latter was about to speak: “Please do not bring up Palestine in your speech,” she whispered to Saadawi, “This is a women’s conference not a political conference.” Ten years earlier, Friedan complained in her memoir that the Mexico City conference had turned into a debate over geopolitics.17 In an influential article for Ms. that I will presently discuss, Pogrebin complained that in declaring Zionism a form of racism during the Copenhagen conference five years later, Third World and Soviet bloc state delegates “cynically co-opted a feminist event for anti-Israel activity.”18
The assumption behind all this is that women’s issues are limited to concerns that affect women exclusively or at least primarily, issues such as abortion, rape, domestic violence, childcare, and equal pay. This rather narrow and typically Western conception of what should count as women’s issues excludes such topics as ethnic discrimination and national liberation, problems that are closely and uncomfortably associated with Western imperialism and neo-colonialism and that are naturally emphasized by Third World—and most relevantly Arab and Palestinian—feminists. Israel’s expansionist and exclusivist Zionist policies do not afflict women exclusively or primarily; they affect Palestinian women and men alike. The fundamental assumption behind the politicization gambit is that “women’s issues” is not a political concept, that what counts as a women’s issue does not require taking a political stance.
A corollary assumption here is that feminism itself is a kind of expertise, similar to medicine or law. If this is basically right, then in the face of disagreement over whether some topic qualifies as a genuine women’s issue, one should let the experts decide. Being authoritative experts in the field, they will be able to resolve the conflict, like neutral referees calling balls and strikes, without relying on their or anyone else’s political views. And who are the experts on women’s issues? Well, presumably they are self-styled feminists, women who edit leading feminist magazines such as Ms. and Lilith, write classic, explicitly feminist texts such as The Feminine Mystique or Sexual Politics and run feminist institutions such as the National Organization for Women and The National Women’s Studies Association—the Pogrebins, Friedans and Steinems of the world. Surely, Palestinian women who fight alongside their men against the occupation are no experts on feminism since they never described themselves or their activism in the language of feminism, and might not have read Simone de Beauvoir.
The issue of what women should discuss at international women’s conferences is of course an inherently political issue. And the views in the political debate over what constituted women’s issues in these conferences were split along geopolitical (or global socio-economic) lines. The Arab and African countries along with the Soviet bloc saw Israel’s post-1967 expansionist and exclusivist polities as a straightforward case of Western imperialism. They clearly saw it as a “women’s issue” for the purposes of the conference, an issue that not only affected the well-being of women (Palestinian women in this case) but also gave rise to women’s political activism. Why leave it to “their men” to represent the nation on the international stage? Why should they not use what international platform they have available to them to speak out on the issues that bother them most? Upon reflection, the idea that women participating in an international women’s conference should restrict themselves to issues such as domestic violence and reproductive rights is insulting.
So liberal Zionists accused their sisters from the Third World and Soviet bloc of undue politicization, but that does not mean they saw them as fully responsible for their actions.19 In fact, they questioned their agency. “Women were used in Copenhagen for male political purpose,” wrote Phyllis Chesler. “Women were the victims of this non-conference.”20 And Broner prepared the Jewish delegates to Nairobi to demand “that women not be used as pawns in hunger politics.”21 The underlying assumptions about the norms of Palestinian society implicit in these suggestions are clear. To the mind of the liberal Jewish feminists, the possibility that Third World women would stand with the Palestinians against Israel of their own volition was remote. Unlike the independent-minded Jewish feminists, whose Zionist convictions simply happened to coincide with those of their men, Third World women must have been puppets. What could possibly motivate their desire to speak out as the oppressed, other than male-chauvinistic pressure and manipulation?
In insisting on the importance of economic and political issues such as imperialism, colonialism, fascism, and Zionism, Third World women revealed the limitations of western feminism. Indeed, a group of Third World women at Mexico City denounced North American feminism as a “defence of selfish vested interests of western women…not of true interest to women in the Third World.”22
The primary strategy of the American Zionist group was not to engage in an open and rational debate with the Palestinian and other Third World delegation over Israel’s Zionist polices and their harm to Palestinians—such a debate would require them to listen and take seriously objections they were intent on dismissing. As Broner’s words in the preparatory conference make abundantly clear, the plan was to use “attack and counter-attack, a karate approach to diplomacy” to mobilize enough of the other Western countries to defeat “the enemy.” As had become customary in UN institutions and events, the main challenge for the U.S. representatives was to find a way to frustrate the emerging international consensus around Israel-Palestine by overcoming the democratic process, where the principle of majority rule tended to favor the Palestinians. This could only be done by making the conference adopt the American, expert opinion on what constituted a women’s issue, a definition that conveniently put the U.S.-backed Israeli oppressive policies beyond critical reach.
The liberal feminists’ charge of politicization was by no means original. The same complaint was made in the liberal media in Israel and the United States. “International Women’s Year is Politicized,” ran the headline in Haaretz (the Israeli New York Times equivalent) reporting on the Mexico City conference. Apart from the declaration linking Zionism and racism, the article highlighted the symbolic protest of the Arab and some African delegations who walked out of the assembly hall when Leah Rabin (the wife of Israel’s Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin) began to speak.23 (That reaction was hardly irrational; recall in this context Rabin’s adamant rejection of Palestinian statehood and refusal to meet the PLO other than on the battlefield – §2.4). Reporting on the Copenhagen conference five years later for the New York Times, Frank Prial reported that “protracted parliamentary battles over issues such as Zionism and racism obscured the true purpose of the meeting—the discussion of women’s issues—in clouds of political rhetoric.”24 In the eyes of Israel’s and America’s Papers of Record, the “true purpose” of an international women’s conference could not possibly be to let women speak out on what they deemed politically important.
Rhetoric of apolitical true purposes aside, the Zionist feminists were working with the U.S. government all along . When it came to international women’s conferences, the perceived American interest had little to do with the rights and well-being of women around the world. Rather, the perceived interest of the United States was to focus the feminist agenda on problems that seem to afflict women in eastern or Third World countries due to “traditional” norms, such as clitoridectomy, illiteracy, the veil, and lack of reproductive rights, and divert attention away from imperialistic policies of the United States and its client states that deprive women (and men) of national and political rights and undermine their well-being in those same Eastern or Third World countries. Before Copenhagen, the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives asked the new Secretary of State, Edmond Muskie, to ensure that the U.S. delegation opposed any politicized resolutions, stating that politicization of the conference “does not serve U.S. interests, nor serve the interests of the majority of states participating”—one might think the U.S. Foreign Affairs Committee was a neutral judge of the interests of most participating states.25 Muskie informed the committee that the U.S. delegates were instructed to ensure the conference stayed focused on women’s issues, and that they should encourage other countries’ delegations to do the same.26 Above all, the gender-neutral topic on everyone’s mind—the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation and settlements in the territories—was to be avoided, in spite of its obvious implications for the political rights and well-being of Palestinian women and the outrage it caused in the international women’s community.
This concerted effort by the U.S. and Israel to reject the plan of action to denounce Israel failed in Mexico City and Copenhagen, with both conferences adopting a resolution that treated Zionism, along with apartheid, as a form of racism. However, the failure, which was experienced by leading liberal Jewish feminists as an attack on all Jews, and therefore on themselves (the “rude awakening,” as Pogrebin would put it – below §3.2) energized the American Zionist camp of the women’s movement like never before.27 As the efforts of Broner, Pogrebin and Chesler over the next five years leading to the Nairobi conference would show, improved coordination among themselves and especially between the Israeli and American governments could overcome the terrible public relations problem created by the oppression and exploitation of Palestinians under Israel’s unlawful occupation and settlement project. After all, if the root problem was not U.S.-backed Israeli policies and their deleterious effects on the Palestinians, which were the ostensible target of the Arab and other Third World delegations in Mexico City and Copenhagen, but rather anti-Semitism, or just naïve misunderstanding of the complex situation (mostly due to ignorance of, or insensitivity to, the interests of Jewish people), then the answer was better hasbara.
As we have seen in §2, Israel’s effort to integrate the occupied territories and crush Palestinian nationalism and culture was in full swing during the International UN Women’s Decade (1975-85), especially after the reelection of the right-wing Likud party in 1981. The settlement project in the territories was accelerated, and the brutality of the occupation heightened, maturing into a system of daily humiliation that included harassment, collective punishment, mass imprisonment without trial, torture, and daily humiliation rituals (making prisoners write their ID numbers on their wrists or sing Hatikva was not uncommon). Then came the Lebanon war of 1982-85, waged to disperse the refugee camps and crush the only organization recognized by the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians in Israel-Palestine and the diaspora as their sole representative.
In June 1982, as Israel was shelling the virtually defenseless city of Beirut, terrorizing its civilian population, destroying the refugee camps and dispersing their Palestinian inhabitants (those not killed or imprisoned), and crushing the PLO, all while dehumanizing the enemy as “terrorists,” Letty Cottin Pogrebin sought in the pages of the prestigious feminist magazine Ms. which she had co-founded to expose “the hidden disease of the [women’s] movement:”anti-Semitism.28 Recall that Pogrebin was among the Zionist feminists who experienced a shock in the Mexico City and Copenhagen conferences of 1975 and 1980. She was shocked by the sense of outrage at Israel’s U.S.-backed policies expressed by the delegates of Arab and other Third world countries. Above all, she was shocked by the passing of resolutions denouncing Zionism alongside racism and apartheid. To Pogrebin, it “was a rude awakening,” one that made her conjure up an unpleasant hypothesis and set up a research project:
I asked myself why U.N. sponsorship brought out the worst in Third World women. At the same time, there was no avoiding the fact that a number of American women had either participated in the attacks or failed to intervene on the Jews’ behalf. Could it be that anti-Semitism was the dirty little secret of the U.S. sisterhood? To check it out, I undertook a large data-gathering project.29
Pogrebin presupposes that the outrage she witnessed was an expression of anti-Semitism of “Third World women” (Palestinian, Arab, African, etc.). Her only question was whether this “disease” had spread to the Land of the Free. Pogrebin’s hypothesis was that it had—a thought she seemed reluctant but duty-bound to entertain. Here is how she described the way she tested her hypothesis, the methodology of the project undertaken (“my anti-Semitism survey”) in her autobiography: “For hundreds of hours, I talked with Jewish-American feminists to find out if they had ever suffered as Jews within the women’s movement.”
I started working on the piece in the fall of 1980, in response to the anti-Semitic incidents that had besmirched the United Nation conference in Copenhagen. … I wanted to discover whether those outbursts were peculiar to women operating in an international context, or whether some comparable form of anti-Semitism existed among feminists in the United States. So, I spent eighteen months doing in-depth interviews with more than eighty women from all parts of the country and writing the piece entitled “Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement” that eventually appeared on eleven pages in the June 1982 issue of Ms.30
The results confirmed the hypothesis: anti-Semitism was, in fact, a major problem in the women’s movement—its “hidden disease.” There were “two raging storms” in America: “anti-Semitism from the Right” and “anti-Semitism from the Left,” although the former (basically, white supremacy) was largely irrelevant, as the women’s movement was broadly lefty. And indeed, Pogrebin spent about ten of the eleven pages on the “raging storm” from the Left. The problem, she told her readers, was on the rise. The evidence marshalled for this hypothesis (turned thesis) was questionable. Much of the evidence consisted of stories, told by liberal Zionist women (Pogrebin included) about interactions in which they, or other Jewish women, felt offended, marginalized, or ashamed on the grounds of their ethnicity or culture.
A large number of the stories related the experience of Jewish women in the face of “anti-Zionism.” One story, told by the author herself, involved the subjective experience of a bad joke.
After the great outcry against Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, I heard a woman joke, “Israel is Hitler’s last laugh on the Jews”—as if Menachem Begin’s ultra-nationalism would ultimately destroy the Jewish people better than Hitler could. I do not think that criticism of Begin is automatically anti-Semitic any more than criticism of Ronald Reagan is anti-American. However, such criticism, often under the rubric of “anti-Zionism,” is sometimes a politically “respectable” cover for anti-Semitism. Jews learn to call it as we feel it. I felt the woman’s “joke” was anti-Semitic.31
In fact, the kind of joke at issue was common among Israeli doves in the 1970s and 1980s, quite regardless of the identity of the Prime Minister or coalition government. The message in the half-joke was that Israeli expansionist and repressive policies would “ultimately destroy” not so much “the Jewish people” but the Jewish State—and not necessarily in the physical sense (although that too was entirely possible, in the long run), but in the sense of bringing an end to the Zionist project, by undermining the Jewish nature of the state. Some critics made similar remarks to express a somewhat different predicament, the worry that the policies in question would “ultimately destroy” the moral character of Israeli society, turning Israel into a pariah state.32 But Pogrebin felt the joke was anti-Semitic, and one cannot argue with feelings.
Another personal story concerned Pogrebin’s experience just before the Copenhagen conference. She asked “a black friend to sign a petition against PLO exploitation of the event for anti-Zionist purposes.” Her friend refused to sign, politely, explaining that “an anti-apartheid resolution might be passed in return for American blacks’ compliance on a Palestinian agenda item.”33 It is not entirely surprising to find out that black women were considerably more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and critical of U.S.-backed Israeli policies than their white sisters—indeed this has been increasingly the case since 1967. Nor, given their collective experience, is it difficult to see why. But Pogrebin viewed her friend’s disagreement with her over the question of Palestine, and what the conference delegates should do about it, as ungrateful to Jewish women, “large numbers” of whom, “far out of proportion to our percentage in the population, have worked for civil rights . . . – issues that did not necessarily directly affect our own lives.” What Pogrebin did “not understand is how much we must live through before our non-Jewish sisters [such as the black friend who refused to sign her petition] can ‘afford’ to make anti-Semitism their concern.”34
Pogrebin did not define anti-Semitism, but it is clear that her conception of the phenomenon was exceptionally broad, almost indiscriminate. A mere negative attitude towards Jews—any prejudice, unflattering stereotype, or insult (what we would now call a microaggression) would suffice; there was no need to show serious harm, plan of action, or organization.35 Pauline Bark of Chicago told of how her “Jewish qualities are discriminated against in the lesbian movement as a height requirement would discriminate against Puerto Ricans in the fire department.” The problem was that “the model for the ideal dyke is an adolescent, working-class Gentile male—right down to the body build, the cap, and the butch jacket. There is no way I can fill that role.”36 Andrea Dworkin remarked: “I kept quiet at meetings more than I should because I don’t like feeling singled out as the Jew with the words . . . Even though I was a girl, my family encouraged me to become literate. And now, in the Women’s Movement, I am made to feel self-conscious about being ‘an intellectual.’”37
Pogrebin’s conception of anti-Semitism extended still further. She dedicated a section of the article to “internalized oppression”—to her a form of anti-Semitism afflicting women such as the “German Communist leader” Rosa Luxemburg who once said she could not “find a special corner in [her] heart for the ghetto,” but also ordinary American Jewish women who attended a Bay Area conference on “Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Community,” confessing how they hated their “Jewish nose” and had it “fixed,” straightened their “despised, kinky Jewish hair,” or allowed themselves “to be mistaken for Italian or Puerto Rican.”38
Missing in the account were the experiences of the women whose behavior was said to express anti-Semitic attitudes, for example the American or indeed non-American women who expressed “anti-Zionist” views at the women conferences. Taken at face value, their passionate opposition—even hatred—was directed in the first instance at Israel and the United States, not at Jews as such. The omission is not surprising, as Pogrebin’s “anti-Semitism survey” was meant to be a victim survey, asking mostly Jewish women to report their experience of anti-Semitism. No questionnaires were distributed to alleged offenders.
Pogrebin’s interest was not in anti-Semitism per se but rather in what she called “anti-Semitism from the left,” an idea that had become familiar in the Zionist community (sometimes called “the new Anti-Semitism” or “the real anti-Semitism”) in the seventies and eighties. The key to understanding left anti-Semitism is “anti-Zionism”:
In the absence of peace initiatives and open sisterhood, I am left to assume (according to PLO sentiments expressed in Copenhagen) that the average Palestinian woman would wish me dead. Until this changes, I have no tolerance for anti-Zionists even if they are feminists. Again, like many Jews, I have come to consider anti-Zionism tantamount to anti-Semitism because the political reality is that its bottom line is an end to the Jews.39
This passage makes several interesting claims. The first sentence reveals Pogrebin’s assumption that no “peace initiative” had been offered by the time she was writing. By 1982, several proposals along the lines of the emerging international consensus around the idea of a two-state solution were accepted by the PLO. These viable peace proposals were all rejected by Israel and the United States, sometimes with disastrous results.40
The opening sentence of the passage is revealing in another way. From the “[pro]-PLO sentiments expressed in Copenhagen” (together with the absence of peace initiatives and open sisterhood) she inferred that “the average Palestinian women would wish me dead”—a wildly uncharitable inference. Even if it were true that the PLO were committed to armed struggle and adamantly opposed to peaceful settlement (contrary to what the actual record shows), surely any such struggle would be directed against the Jewish state (and only insofar as it prevented Palestinian statehood), not world Jewry.
So, anti-Semitism amounts to anti-Zionism, but now the new question is how to understand “anti-Zionism.” Pogrebin did not define the term, but as I noted she seemed to be using the word in the generalized sense in which it was used in the Zionist community, meaning any serious criticism of Israel’s basic Zionist policies, one that targets systematic policies of the Jewish state itself (as opposed to those of just the right-wing Likud government), especially after 1967, and regards the policies as wrong in principle (not just mistaken or not “good for the Jews”). Under this definition, most Palestinian critics of Israel are anti-Zionists and hence (left) anti-Semites.
The closing sentence of the passage also suggests an answer to the infamous why-do-they-hate-us question. Pogrebin’s reason for viewing anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism was that the former’s “bottom line is an end to the Jews.” Serious and outspoken critics of Israel’s Zionist policies would not admit to the charge, of course. In the first two or so decades after 1967, they had directed their criticism primarily at Israel’s harsh occupation and settlement project in the territories, the assault on the Palestinian national leadership and people in Lebanon, and the radical discrimination against the Arab population in Israel proper (discussed in §2). But realists such as Pogrebin would have none of it; they could not bring themselves to believe that ending these harsh and unjust policies would satisfy the greedy “anti-Zionists.” Surely the goals of establishing a Palestinian nation-state on the pre-1967 borders, peace in Lebanon, and equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens were not exciting enough to explain the passion for their cause and anger (perhaps hatred) for Israel and the U.S.—and indeed for their uncritical supporters in America. To close the explanatory gap, we must assume genocidal intent.
You might expect Pogrebin to temper this collective character assassination with at least some sympathy for the Palestinians, who were at that time being assaulted simultaneously in Lebanon, where Israeli warplanes, warships and tanks were decimating their neighborhoods and dispersing their camps, as well as in the occupied territories under the yoke of the Sharon-Milson “civil administration,” where they were being shot, beaten, and arrested as a matter of course, and occasionally also made to commemorate the Holocaust by writing their ID numbers on their wrists or show their loyalty to the occupier by singing Hatikvah.41 But you could not really mention such grim facts in passing, without expressing at least some concern about Israeli crimes? And given Pogrebin’s loose use of language, that would probably be anti-Zionist and therefore anti-Semitic in her dictionary. Hence it is best to avoid the issue altogether.
Like Prime Minster Golda Meir, whom Pogrebin described in her autobiography as one of her two “foremothers,” Pogrebin did not seem to believe in a genuine Palestinian nation seeking national liberation. “Israel is supposed to commit suicide for the sake of Palestinian ‘liberation.’” Surely “liberation” is not liberation. How was Israel supposed to commit suicide for the sake of Palestinian “liberation”? By ending its illegal occupation and reversing the “accomplished facts” of the settlements? Presumably Pogrebin implicitly answered the question by assuming the commonly held view, accepted by Israel and the U.S. but rejected by the Palestinians, that the PLO was not a political organization that genuinely represented the national aspirations of the Palestinians but a terrorist organization that aimed at the physical destruction of Israel, and as such negotiating with the PLO, as opposed to attempting to crush it by force, was suicidal. The article did not offer any evidence for this demonic characterization.
As we have seen in §2.4, the PLO was regarded by the overwhelming majority of Palestinians in Israel-Palestine and the diaspora as their sole political representative, and recognized as such by the international community. Israel and the U.S. were aware of its progressive move towards reconciliation—a move that caused panic in Israel and was met with accelerated settlement in the territories and the invasion of Lebanon. These trends did not fit the Zionist narrative, of course. In the fairytale told by the Israeli and the U.S. governments (whether Labor or Likud, Republican or Democrat), uncritically repeated by the American press, and, perhaps most disturbingly, relentlessly defended by American doves such as the liberal Zionist feminists of the 1970s and 1980s, the Palestinians were simply wrong to view the PLO as their political representative. The PLO and its Palestinian supporters were hopeless rejectionists who (paraphrasing Israel’s Foreign Minster Aba Eban’s 1973 remark about the Arab states) “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to make peace with the generous and accommodating Jewish State.42
Talk of surveys and in-depth interviews aside, Pogrebin’s tactic of smearing outspoken pro-Palestinian critics of Israel as anti-Semites had a history. It had become standard after 1967, when Israel’s policies became harder and harder to defend.43 The classic example is a clinic run by Abba Eban, then Israel’s ambassador to the UN in 1972, on how any good Zionist should handle “anti-Zionist” (serious, outspoken) criticism of Israel: if the critic is a Gentile, accuse them of anti-Semitism; otherwise, saddle them with Jewish self-hatred (internalized anti-Semitism).44 The organized Jewish community in the U.S. did not fail to respond. The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Birth (ADL)—once a genuine human rights organization concerned with racial hatred directed at Jews and non-Jews alike—had in the seventies and eighties progressively morphed into a loyal protector of Israel’s image.45 In 1974, the League’s national leaders Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein published a book propagating the doctrine of “the new anti-Semitism,” the idea that the kind of anti-Semitism that has its natural home in extreme right-wing chauvinistic groups (the Klan, new-Nazis, etc.) was on the decline, but a new form of anti-Semitism was on the rise in left-wing circles (the New Left, including the Anti-war and Black Power movements). In a way, this form of anti-Semitism was even more dangerous than its classic predecessor, as it typically masqueraded as criticism of Israel.46
The ADL identified the “new anti-Semites” with those protesters who extended their anti-war objection from Vietnam to Israel’s post-1967 occupation, viewing Israel’s action with full U.S. backing as a case of Western imperialism and neocolonialism. These “new anti-Semites” stood in solidarity with the essentially powerless Palestinians, insisting that they, too, should be able to enjoy national self-determination in their ancestral land—and, in the meantime, choose their own representatives.
By the time Pogrebin published her article, the doctrine had become the ADL’s specialty. In 1982, Nathan Perlmutter, the National Director of the ADL, and his wife Ruth Perlmutter, also a Zionist leader, published their study The Real Anti-Semitism in America.47 The Perlmutters cited studies showing that whereas anti-Semitism “was once virulent” in the U.S., today there is little support for discrimination against Jews; there may be dislike of Jews and anti-Jewish attitudes, but then much the same is true with regard to ethnic and religious groups quite generally. The “the real anti-Semitism,” which was still rampant, lay in the actions of “peacemakers of Vietnam vintage, transmuters of swords into plowshares, championing the terrorist PLO.” The Perlmutters feared that “nowadays war is getting a bad name and peace too favorable a press.” Throughout, the argument is that Israel’s interests, understood as the interests of a Greater Israel that denies Palestinian rights, are the “Jewish interests,” so that anyone who threatened these interests by recognizing Palestinian national rights, for example, was anti-Semitic.
I conclude that far from providing her readers with confirmation of her falsifiable hypothesis about anti-Semitism in the women’s movement, which would require an independent study that went well-beyond a collection of stories based on the subjective experience of Pogrebin and her like-minded liberal Jewish sisters, her influential piece in Ms. supplied ideological cover for her two states, the United States and Israel. Remember that, in its laws and policies, the Jewish state of Israel is a state of all Jews, including those who live outside of Israel (§2.1). She did so moreover by employing a standard device which was never persuasive but was convenient. If serious and outspoken criticism of Israeli or U.S. policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians amounted to anti-Semitism, then there would be little need for an argument. The device was also effective in preventing open and rational discussion of the question of Palestine in the mainstream press and liberal circles, in a way that favored the powerful state actors and disfavored the stateless and essentially defenseless Palestinians.
The timing of Pogrebin’s piece could not have been better—from Israel’s perspective. As Pogrebin discussed the “raging storm” of “anti-Semitism from the Left,” portraying the PLO as a hopelessly terrorist organization, and saddling the “average Palestinian woman” with a desire to have her dead, Israel was invading Lebanon, bombing Beirut from air, sea and land, and destroying the Palestinian camps. While the piece, which omits to mention Lebanon, included no input from Arabs in the women’s movement, it is worth asking how North American Arab feminists were doing in the summer of 1982.
Here is how Lebanese American Aziza al-Hibri, a professor at the University of Richmond Law School, described the helplessness Arab feminists experienced in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, their appeal to institutional feminist solidarity in the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA), and the response they received:
In 1982, I was due to deliver a paper at NWSA’s annual conference. Israel was bombing Beirut and I was not sure whether my elderly father was safe, or whether he was hungry, thirsty and bleeding in the rubble under the scorching summer sun of Beirut. But I went to the conference and shared my anxiety with American feminists. I asked for a resolution, in line with other NWSA resolutions, calling for peace and denouncing the bombing of the civilian population in Beirut. The Third World Caucus unanimously recommended such a resolution to the delegates, who were overwhelmingly white, but the delegates rejected it.48
Lebanese American feminist Carol Haddad attended the same NWSA conference. She noted that when Israel invaded Lebanon, there was a “noticeable silence from the left, and from feminist and lesbian communities.” She corroborated al-Hibri’s testimony, elaborating on the failure of the organized feminist community to stand up to state power when Israel invaded Lebanon, highlighting the role of some liberal Zionist feminists.
Approximately one week after the invasion had begun, I found myself at [the aforementioned NWSA conference]. The Third World Caucus brought forth a resolution condemning the invasion. We were not prepared for the hostility and parliamentary maneuvering we would encounter from a handful of Zionist attendees, and the resolution was watered down and effectively defeated.49
One of these hostile Zionist attendees was Esther Broner (probably not realizing that Haddad too grew up in Detroit, experiencing similar alienation from the white Christian environment). The title of Haddad’s lecture at the conference, “Arab-Americans: The Forgotten Minority in Feminist Circles,” speaks for itself. She related how Arab women belonging to Feminist Arab American Network (FAN) understood what Pogrebin was doing in her anti-Semitism article, and how Ms. responded to their critical letters:
[Pogrebin’s article] insulted Arabs and progressive Jewish and non-Jewish feminists by suggesting that critics of Zionism and Israeli aggression are “anti-Semitic,” a curious term to level at Jews and Arabs, who are, in fact, all Semites. Although none of the critical letters sent to Ms. By FAN members were printed, some letters from non-Arabs were published. We were outraged, but not surprised. It was common practice for Arab feminists to be denied a public forum, or to be featured in an article or panel discussion only when the Arab viewpoint was “balanced” by a Jewish one.50
This raises another hypothesis about racism in the women’s movement, one that Pogrebin did not consider in her article but for which her article did provide at least some indirect support: Arabs were one ethnic group still suffering from racism and bigotry in the women’s movement, as well as in American society generally in my target period and beyond. To bring a sense of proportion to the discussion, compare the microaggressions that Pogrebin collected from some of her Jewish comrades to those reported by a single Palestinian American feminist, Lisa Suhair Majaj, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan:
At some point [after arriving in the U.S. and realizing the perception of the Middle East and Arab culture in American society] I began to feel anger. At the jokes about Kalashnikovs in my backpack, grenades in my purse. At the sheer amazement of a woman who asked my mother, “But why did you marry a terrorist?” At an acquaintance’s incredulous look when I spoke of Arab feminism. At the comments that it must be dangerous to live in Jordan “because of all the terrorism.” At the college professor who did not believe that Arabs could be Christians. At the knowledge that when I posted announcements of Arab cultural events on campus they would be torn down moments later. At the look of shock and dismay, quickly masked, on the face of a new acquaintance just learning of my Palestinian background. At the startled response of someone who, having assumed my Arab name to be my spouse’s, learned that I chose to keep an Arab name. At the conversations in which I am forced to explain that Palestinians do indeed exist; that they claim a long history in Palestine.
And with the anger has come fear. Of the unknown person in my apartment building who intercepted packages I had ordered from an Arab-American organization, strewing their contents, defaced with obscenities, at my door. Of the hostility of airport security personnel once they know my destination or origin point: the overly thorough searches, the insistent questions. Of the anonymous person who dialed my home after I was interviewed by my local paper, shouting “Death to Palestinians!” Of the unsigned, racist mail. Of the mysterious hit-and-run driver who smashed my car as it was parked on a quiet residential street, a Palestine emblem clearly visible through the window of the car door.51
These experiences shed some light on what it was like to be a Palestinian Arab in America during my target period and beyond. To my mind, they are more direct, pervasive, and pernicious than the kind of prejudices Pogrebin cited in her article. Unlike the occasional misconception of Jewish women as too intellectual, too outspoken, too sexual—in short, as “too Jewish” in one way or another, prejudice against Arabs tended to be rather uniform, negative, and potentially harmful. The “portrayal of the Middle East as a chaotic realm outside the boundaries of rational Western comprehension,”52 and the dehumanization of Palestinians in particular as prone to terrorism and irrationally averse to peaceful resolution had and continues to have real consequences: it is part of what allows the U.S. government to continue supporting Israel’s effort to crush Palestinian nationalism and culture in the occupied territories—and, when Pogrebin was writing, in Lebanon. If there was one form of ethno-cultural racism that was still regarded as legitimate in American and Israeli societies—as was commonly evidenced by the sheer failure to notice its manifestations—it was not anti-Semitism or anti-Jewish racism but anti-Arab racism.53
Israel was the second national home of American Zionists. In its basic laws and policies, it defines itself as belonging to the Jewish people as a whole—and so in a way to every person belonging to that ethno-cultural group, including in the diaspora. It gives American Jews the valuable option of moving to Israel and becoming citizens whenever they wish. The relationship between American Zionists and Israel is deep and is distinct from the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel. The very existence and boundaries of the ethno-cultural nation to which the State of Israel belongs—the “Jewish people”—depends on the cultural, political, and economic interaction between the Jewish State and its constituency in the diaspora, especially the United States, due to its superpower status and the famous special relationship between the two states. Since its birth in 1948, interaction with Israel has played a major, constitutive role in the personal identity of American Zionists. This has become particularly pronounced in the case of secular, non-practicing Jews. To them, Israel has increasingly become a source of meaning.
Faced with growing criticism of Israel in the wake of the creeping, de facto annexation of the territories and the Lebanon War, the Zionist feminists faced an unpleasant predicament. As liberals who challenge entrenched power structures on feminist and other issues, they could be expected to oppose U.S.-backed Israeli aggression and stand squarely on the side of the oppressed and defenseless—the Palestinians. But they also felt comfortable as members of the American feminist and Zionist establishments and wanted to remain close to these sources of power. They wanted to continue cultivating their valuable relationship with Israel, their national home away from home. There is an obvious tension between the two goals, but the liberal Zionists were not prepared to give up on either. The liberal Zionist feminists’ solution was similar to the one chosen by the liberal press: Keep endorsing Israel’s version of history and proffered justification of its policies (self-defense, security, self-determination, etc.) and reject nontrivial and principled criticisms, but pay lip service to the progressive causes underlying their commitment to women’s liberation and equality by vocally dissociating themselves from Israel’s right-wing parties (which were meanwhile growing larger and more powerful partly thanks to the standing carte blanche from America) and occasionally condemn Israel’s tactical errors (or indeed unjust policies towards liberal Jewish groups), while never quite touching on Israel’s deliberate and systematic land grabs, harassment, torture, collective punishment, and humiliation rituals.
The liberal Zionists could not accept, that, like every other state, the U.S. and Israel always acted out of their perceived self-interest, and not abstract notions of justice, democracy, or liberty. They chose to engage in self-deception, persuading themselves and their peers that the Jewish state and its Zionist policies were incarnations of this fight for justice, that Israel would be a light unto the nations. For them, Zionism became a sort of secular religion. This formula allowed them to ignore the contradictions inherent to these policies: the Jewish versus democratic nature of Israel, how a state motivated largely out of a desire to escape persecution in Europe could deny basic rights to millions of indigenous Palestinians living under its control.
One way that Zionist feminists sought to resolve the tension between their identification with a universalist feminist vision of liberty and justice for all and their staunch commitment to Israel as a Jewish state was to argue that Zionism and feminism were complimentary struggles. Zionism and feminism, so they thought, shared the same underlying rationale. This strategy was practiced by self-described “radical feminist,” psychotherapist and women’s studies professor Phyllis Chesler. In an interview for Lilith in 1976, a new magazine founded the same year under the motto “independent, Jewish and frankly feminist,” Chesler claimed that women would soon need a “shelter,” a feminist state “analogous in function to what the State of Israel is for Jews,” in order for women to live free of the threat of rape, sterilization, forced pregnancy, and surgical mutilation.” She remarked that “Woman-as-Jew or Jew-as-Woman is a fruitful analogy” because both women and Jews go “back 5,000 years of being without land, in exile, without any means of self-defense or self-support—outside the Family of Man.”54 Pogrebin and Broner employed the same analogy between Jews and women. Recalling those UN resolutions linking Zionism to racism, Pogrebin wrote in her autobiography that “Zionism and feminism are directly analogous in that both movements are fueled by the fires of self-determination. Calling Zionism racism makes Jewish self-determination sound like an attack on non-Jews, which is comparable to calling feminism ‘anti-male.’’’55 Broner harmonized feminism and Zionism in her speech in Paris (the one organized by the ADL and Bnai Brith Women), charging that the words “feminist” and “Jew” had been used interchangeably in Copenhagen to which she presumed that “perhaps it was the woman, the scapegoat-the Jew, refusing to be banished into the desert yet one more time.”56
A committed Zionist from the age of eight, Chesler joined the socialist Zionist youth organization Hashomer Hatzair in 1948, the year Israel was established, against the advice of her parents and rabbi. Growing up in a working-class Orthodox family in Boro Park, Brooklyn, Chesler made a point of learning Hebrew and not Yiddish (“When my parents wanted to put me into Workmen’s Circle, when I was 7, I said that I didn’t want to learn the slave language.”). By 1951, at the age of 11, she was packing machine gun parts to go to Israel. This early attraction to the Jewish state was only reinforced by her first visit in 1973. In Israel, Chesler felt
At home. Alive. Vibrant. Lighter. I was not carrying the invisible burden of anti-Semitism in Jerusalem, or rather, I now had (collectively speaking) an army, navy and air force to fight anti-Semitism. In America, I don’t have this. Only Israel rescued Jews from Entebbe. No other nation on earth did so.
Not everyone would find the qualities that attracted her to Israel (strong army, navy, air force) as attractive, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Like her good friends Esther Broner and Letty Pogrebin, Chesler felt ambivalent and at times disconnected from Judaism, as she simultaneously grew alienated from the religion’s patriarchal traditions and threw herself into the cause of women’s liberation.57 Between 1967 and 1975, Chesler became active in the liberal feminist National Organization of Women (N.O.W.) and taught one of the first Women’s Studies classes in the United States at the City University of New York (CUNY). She fought on behalf of the university’s female students, helping to establish services like self-defense classes, a rape crisis center, and a childcare center. She co-founded the Association for Women in Psychology and The National Women’s Health Network, and delivered a widely publicized speech in front of the American Psychological Association demanding reparations for the women who had been misdiagnosed, pathologized, drugged and institutionalized by the psychological and psychiatric professions. Her writings on this subject eventually turned into her first book in 1971, Women and Madness (which received a favorable, front-page New York Times review by feminist poet Adrienne Rich).
Feminism eventually facilitated her re-engagement with Jewish ritual, and in 1975, Chesler helped organize the first New York Feminist Seder. The “Seder Sisters,” as they were called, crowded into Chesler’s Upper West Side apartment and recited from Broner’s Women’s Haggadah. While Chesler’s relationship to Jewish ritual and law vacillated throughout the 1960s and 1970s, her commitment to Israel remained steady. But her identification with and defense of Israel grew increasingly fervent as the American left and many of her feminist colleagues began to incorporate the question of Palestine into their progressive politics, critically examining Israeli state power and interrogating the standard attempts to justify its Zionist policies. Long before Pogrebin’s 1982 article, Chesler had been sounding the alarm about anti-Zionism (which she instinctively equated with anti-Semitism) among lesbian and radical feminists in the early 1970s. This feeling of being unwelcome as a Zionist from the left and as a Jew from the right only made Chesler want to embrace both aspects of her identity even more. She began wearing a large Jewish star necklace and “came out as a Zionist” to her colleagues at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in 1981.58 For Chesler and her liberal Zionist contemporaries, these public avowals of their Jewish identity amounted to acts of resistance.
To understand why liberal Zionist feminists felt defensive in the face of serious criticism of Israel, and tended to jump to doomsday conclusions about the intention of the Palestinians (Israel’s suicide, Second Holocaust, anti-Semitism from the left), we need to compare their operating picture of Zionism with that of their perceived opponents. To them, Zionism was a political ideal embedded in the pre-state period. As I have noted in the introduction (§1) and the previous section (§2), Zionism before the 1940s was a rather pluralist movement; the only unifying theme was the idea of national Jewish self-determination (many supported a binational, Jewish-Palestinian state). Following the Holocaust, the Zionist movement coalesced around the more specific ideal of establishing a distinctly Jewish nation state. Reading the statements of the liberal Zionist feminists from the 1970s and 1980s, one cannot escape the impression that their operative notion of Zionism is based on that ideal: the ideal of realizing the Jewish right to national self-determination within a nation state in mandatory Palestine, the goal on which the Zionist movement officially settled in 1942. The trouble is that the legitimacy of Zionism under this conception was rarely in dispute between the Zionist feminists and critics of Israel in the two decades after 1967. With one important exception to be discussed in §4, those pro-Palestinian activists and feminists who denounced Israel and the U.S.—including by characterizing Zionism as a form of racism and apartheid—were not questioning Israel’s right to exist; in fact, they implicitly took the existence of the Jewish State for granted (as has the international community since 1948). Clearly, the Zionism they were concerned with denouncing was that of the Jewish state, as it has been implemented in practice through the policies of Israel since 1948 and especially since 1967. Specifically, it was mostly the exclusivist Zionism that Israel had implemented after 1948 (radical discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens) and the expansionist Zionism adopted since 1967 that attracted the ire of the critics. One can consistently denounce these practices as akin to racism and apartheid and recognize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. In fact, that combination was precisely the two-state settlement accepted by the overwhelming majority of the international community.
For Chesler and her fellow Zionist feminists, Zionism was first and foremost a national liberation movement for Jews.59 Chesler also associated it with spiritual liberation: “As a child and as a Jewish woman, Zionism seemed a vision of liberation, liberation from family life—the many curfews and demands—and perhaps spiritual liberation as well.” Congresswoman and outspoken Bella Abzug shared this imagery. When a black woman rose to confess that she did not understand what is wrong with viewing Zionism as a form of racism and requested clarification in a private debriefing with the American delegation in Copenhagen, Abzug retorted: “I’ll tell you what Zionism is. It is a liberation movement for a people who have been persecuted all their lives and throughout human history.”60 Perhaps so, but such Jewish liberation was not what the critics of Israel and the U.S. denounced.
The pre-state conception of Zionism as Jewish self-determination was irrelevant to the debate, but it enabled the liberal Zionists to sidestep the tension between their values of democracy or equality and the principle of Jewish hegemony (or supremacy, to use the more colloquial term) practiced in Israel proper and the commitment to the value of national liberation with the occupation and subjugation of the Palestinians in the territories.
Zionism was such an inextricable part of Chesler’s Jewish identity that she could not think of any reason why a Jewish person might not relate to Israel on a visceral level, unless they were “not fully conscious of either Jewish history or of the nature of racism.” Chesler did not consider the possibility of a Jewish person who is well-aware of the relevant history (including Jewish history, but not excluding Palestinian history), who understands the nature of racism (including anti-Semitism, but not excluding anti-Arab racism), but still has a problem with Israel’s exclusivism and expansionism–which they take to involve racism and apartheid.
Apart from their perception that the denunciation of Zionism at international women’s conferences, in feminist circles, and in the feminist press were ultimately expressions of anti-Semitism, the liberal Zionists surmised that there had been a terrible misunderstanding. Surely, if they had only explained to their sisters what Zionism really was, they would have removed any rational basis for their critical “plan of action.”61
For Pogrebin, it was simple. “Phyllis Chesler is tired of hearing women say that Israel’s Law of Return,” which “grants automatic Israeli citizenship to any Jew,” is racist. “History entitles Jews to ‘preferential’ safe space. To me, Zionism is simply an affirmative action plan on a national scale. Just as legal remedies are justified in reparation for racism and sexism, the Law of Return to Israel is justified, if not by Jewish religious and ethnic claims, then by the intransigence of world-wide anti-Semitism.”62
Two points bear mention in response. First, as we have seen in §2.1, Israel’s immigration policies (the Law of Return and Citizenship Law) are racist. As Pogrebin noted, they allow every Jew (including Chesler and Pogrebin, for example) to move to Israel, receive Israeli citizenship almost automatically and become fully integrated into the society. What she omitted to mention is the other half of the coin: the same laws deprive any non-Jewish person of the right to immigrate to Israel. Thus Israeli law gives all Jews and only Jews the right to immigrate and become citizens. Such an ethnocentric immigration regime is unique. This is a clear-cut case of racial discrimination in immigration if there ever was one.
The notion that Zionism as it has been practiced since at least 1967 is “an affirmative action plan on a national level” is revealing; it provides a glimpse of her picture of the relevant history. Affirmative action plans in the United States have been used to combat racism and sexism by advantaging the relevant disadvantaged group. Affirmative action is a matter of corrective justice: the costs of the remedial plans are imposed on members of groups that can be reasonably viewed as having been (collectively) responsible for the disadvantage. In fact, this condition must be met if the plan is to be regarded as justified. It is by virtue of a history of discrimination by white people or men against black people or women that justifies the former shouldering the burden to help the latter.
The disanalogy with Zionism is perfect. If the Zionist project could be justified as an “affirmative action plan on a national scale,” the costs of letting Jews have national self-determination, in compensation for the history of Jewish persecution, would have to be imposed on those (collectively) responsible for the persecution. But those who have in fact borne the costs are the indigenous Palestinian population—innocent bystanders. (If any national group should have been made to bear the cost of Zionist affirmative action, it is probably the Germans). Imposing the costs of Jewish nationalism on Palestinians in the form of depriving them of national self-determination is no affirmative action; it is undeserved punishment.
Pogrebin wondered why the movement’s “healing embrace could encompass the black woman, the Chicana, the white ethnic woman, the disabled woman…but the Jewish woman is not honored in her specificity.”63 The liberal Zionists felt there must be some sort of double standard being applied to Jewish feminists in the women’s movement. The occupation, the second-class status of Palestinians in Israel proper, the settlement project, and the systematic effort to crush Palestinian national aspirations had nothing to do with Zionism itself. “Of course,” Chesler conceded, “Israel must be criticized at times and perhaps its failures must be mourned over, but we shouldn’t forget that it’s a revolution every bit as revolutionary as the creation of Soviet Russia and China and Cuba. … Israel cannot be held up to ideal standards any more or any less than any other patriarchal state.”64 Under its right-wing government, Israel had just gone a bit off course, an unfortunate deviation from an otherwise noble project. If they could return to a labor government and replicate the American women’s movement, all would be well.
If there was one aspect of Israeli society that did not meet the progressive expectations of the liberal Zionists, it was the status of women. Three years after Chesler’s first visit to Israel in 1973, she testified:
Unwillingly but quickly, however, I realized that I was living in a Jewish version of the Vatican, a theocratic state which is unalterably opposed to some of the deepest values I cherish as a Jew, as a feminist, as an anarchist; a state in which I am effectively excluded from religious life, discriminated against politically and economically.65
Chesler criticized the structural discrimination experienced by Israeli women, including the low pay of farm and factory women, and the constricting gender roles of Israeli society. Even as she extolled the Israeli military (§3.7), Chesler bemoaned the tragedy of mothers whose sons were sent to fight and kill and die, writing that “war is a direct hit on the fruits of female labor—children.” In her 1976 Lilith interview, Chesler noted the urgent problems of Sephardi woman, who, in her view, were especially prone to being beaten by their husbands, prevented from going to school, and becoming prostitutes. This is reminiscent of how some liberal Zionists portrayed the pro-Palestinian Arab and other Third World women at the international women’s conferences. Recall the charge that Third World women were manipulated by their men to denounce Israel, and the insistence on restricting the discussion to women’s issues such as clitoridectomy, the veil, honor killing, and domestic violence.66 (More on the connection between Zionist attitudes to Mizrahi Jews and non-Jewish Arabs in §4).
Chesler illustrates the schism that afflicted the Zionist feminists when it came to progressive issues. She chastised the Israeli government and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for deferring to husbands in family disputes and noted the lack of mass rehabilitation projects for battered wives, daughters, victims of rape and of psychiatric and gynecological misogyny.67 At the same time, she did not have it in her to stand for the Palestinian victims of Israel’s harsh occupation, innocent people, including women, who were beaten, tortured, imprisoned and humiliated on a daily basis. An exchange of letters between Chesler and Esther Broner in the summer of 1984 reveals her liberal priorities. Broner asked Chesler to send her a visionary statement to be incorporated into Broner’s keynote speech at the Paris conference on anti-Semitism and women. Chesler wrote back that she was too far behind in her work to send a statement, but gave her
carte blanche to describe how I went to Israel after Copenhagen and did get the Israeli government’s permission to coordinate a radical feminist conference in Jerusalem to announce a feminist government; and how with the annexation of East Jerusalem [in July 1980] this became a problematic task at that moment.68
Putting aside the obvious tension between radical feminism and government sponsorship, Chesler casually refers to the annexation of East Jerusalem—the economic and cultural center of Palestinian life in the occupied territories—as an annoyance, thwarting her planned conference in Jerusalem. Refracted through this lens, the effect of the annexation on the lives of Palestinian in and around Jerusalem does not seem to matter, except insofar as they would not have the opportunity to participate in a “radical feminist” conference.
Pogrebin too was annoyed by the state of women in Israeli society, of which she got a taste on her first trip to Israel in 1976. On this trip, organized and paid for by the Israeli government as a personal thank-you to those Jewish women who signed a petition decrying the Declaration of Mexico City, Pogrebin and her tour group would meet personally for an informal dinner with former Prime Minister Golda Meir. Despite having looked up to Meir as her secular “foremother,” “this modern Deborah, this international symbol of Israeli independence and Jewish pride,” Pogrebin was left disappointed after their meeting, but not over Golda’s failure to defend her hawkish and rejectionist record (she was not taken to task about this issue by her American visitors). To be sure, Pogrebin had been aware of Golda’s claim that “there is no Palestinian people” and of her fateful rejection of Saadat’s historic peace proposal, which led directly to the October 1973 war. She certainly regarded these facts with regret. But ultimately, what prevented her from viewing Golda as an appropriate role model (apart from a “foremother” and “fantasy mother”) had nothing to do with the Palestinians or peace. The problem was rather that Golda was not a feminist, and did not inspire women to get into politics. Her question to Golda in that meeting was “Why, do you think, in all your years in power you never inspired more women to follow in your footsteps?”69
By the late 1980s and the Palestinian Intifada of 1987-89, Pogrebin and Chesler’s views had evolved, albeit in opposite directions. Chesler took a sharp turn to the right. She dreaded the rise of “intersectional feminism” in the 1980s and 1990s, which placed questions of gender in the context of race, class, and nationality. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this type of feminism “is far more concerned with the alleged occupation of Palestine than it is with the occupation of women’s bodies, faces, minds, and genitalia world-wide.” She wrote that feminists had ceased to be independent thinkers and, in the manner of ADL propagandists, blasted their claim that Israel’s regime of discrimination against Palestinians shared key features with South Africa’s apartheid regime.70 Chesler became fixated on the issue of women under Islam. Not only did she perceive the Islamic world to be the primary threat to women’s well-being, it was also the newest and most dangerous source of Jew-hating. Chesler added one more book to the burgeoning ‘new anti-Semitism’ industry with The New Anti-Semitism in 2003.71
In a somewhat more typical—and let it be said explicitly, encouraging—development, Pogrebin has warmed up to the Palestinians and their cause. By the late eighties, she had come a long way from the uncritical defense of the official Israel-American narrative and alarmist tone of her 1982 article. She began meeting Palestinian women in the United States and Israel and joined organizations such as Americans for Peace Now, where she listened to Palestinian activists and intellectuals. By 1991, she became a proponent of negotiations between the PLO and Israel, called for an end to the occupation, and supported a territory for peace solution. She showed empathy. “If I had been born a Palestinian, I too would be demanding liberation, self-determination, and freedom in just those words.”72 I should however note two limits of the development. First and as I have discussed in §2.4, the position of Peace Now in Israel or its American affiliates with which Pogrebin became affiliated was just to the left of the Labor Alignment position: it supported a two-state solution but was vague on the key question of the border. Israel “should give up the Occupied Territories not just to fulfill her democratic principles and not just to do right by the Palestinians,” Pogrebin pleaded, “but for her own sake.” Good. But surely whether a Palestinian state would be viable and fair would depend on whether Israel would be required to withdraw to the pre-1967 border.
Second, Pogrebin’s focus on dialogue, which is never objectionable, nevertheless invites the illusion of symmetry or equivalence of claims: You will tell me about your problems, and I will tell you about mine. But on the face of it, the main obstacle for reaching a realistic and fair two-state resolution along the 1967 borders was not the Palestinians but rather Israel and the United States, its partner and sponsor. A viable Jewish state already exists; the Palestinians are the ones whose national aspirations are yet to be fulfilled. As for America, the world’s superpower supported Israel’s occupation without regard for the international community.
The liberal Zionists were clearly the dominant group among Jewish American feminists active in my target period. In the next section, I discuss a different and much smaller group.
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—. Towards a New Cold War: U.S. Foreign Policy from Vietnam to Reagan. New York: The New Press, 2003.
Eban, Abba. Congress Bi-Weekly. March 30, 1973.
E.M. Broner collection, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.
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Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. New York: Vintage Books, 2001.
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Pogrebin, Letty Cottin. Deborah, Golda and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America. New York: Crown Publishers, 1991.
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Unknown. “Massermans Mark 50th Anniversary With Family Celebration.” The Detroit Jewish News, March Friday, March 26, 1976.
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1 This paper is an excerpt from my B.A. thesis presented to the Department of History and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago (2021). Many thanks to Leora Auslander for her superb supervision of the thesis and to Orit Bashkin for her invaluable comments and suggestions.
2The word “Zionism” is naturally used differently by those who profess to espouse Zionism and those who reject it, so let me provide a working definition. For my purposes, Zionism is not the abstract political ideal of Jewish self-determination. After all, the efforts of the Zionist movement have culminated in the establishment of the sovereign state of Israel, a state in which Jewish people have been free to enjoy national self-determination since 1948. With some exceptions, the kind of Zionism that most pro-Palestinian critics of Israel care to reject is Israeli Zionism, the Jewish national policies actually implemented by Israel in what was Mandatory Palestine (the entire areas between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea, including Israel proper and the West Bank and Gaza), especially those that affect the indigenous Palestinian population. Indeed, what matters most for my purposes are those policies that Israel has systematically enforced since the 1967 war.
3 In the spring of 1942 the American Zionist movement endorsed the idea of a Jewish state (the “Biltmore program”) and in November, “the creation of a Jewish state became the official goal of the Zionist movement” under Ben-Gurion’s initiative. Noah Lucas, The Modern history of Israel (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1974), 192; quoted in Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 102.
4 The scholarly consensus seems to be that the interwar period was the peak of American anti-Semitism, see e.g. William B. Rubinstein, “Anti-Semitism in the English-Speaking World,” in Antisemitism: A History, Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, eds., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 150-165, 157-58: “As in Britain, examples of American antisemitism often consisted of individual incidences rather than broad pattern of prejudice, although these have certainly existed in American . . . In general, American antisemitism, while always present, was not significant until the 1870s, when it became distinctly more visible and direct. By and large, this coincided with the great migration of east European Jews to America and centered around efforts by America’s WASP elite to close or restrict Jewish entry into American’s elite. In addition, populist antisemitism among America’s poor whites, especially in the Deep South, certainly existed, although Jews were never central to the worldview of southern populists. These trends were firmly in place before World War I but probably reached their zenith in the interwar period.”
5 Immigration Act of 1924, Pub. L. No. 68-139, 43 Stat. 153 (1924). The Act, which prevented immigration of Asia also established a 2% quota on immigration from Eastern European countries that happened to have large Jewish populations living under difficult conditions, including persecution. Since Eastern European immigration did not become substantial until the late 19th century, the law’s use of the population of the United States in 1890 as the basis for calculating quotas effectively made mass migration from Eastern Europe, where the vast majority of the Jewish diaspora lived at the time, impossible. See Brian N. Fry, Nativism and Immigration: Regulating the American Dream (New York, NY: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2006), 51;
6 This is a function of Israel’s unique immigration policy, which means that all Jews and only Jews have the right to immigrate to Israel and to become fully integrated in Israeli life. The Law of Return, 5710/1950; The Citizenship Law, 5712/1952. See also Chaim Gans, Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 125 (“In effect, Israel is open to all Jews and closed to all non-Jews”).
7 Israel Zangwill, “The Return to Palestine,” New Liberal Review, December 1901, 615 (“Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country”).
8 Stephen T. Rosenthal, “The Making of an American Jewish Consensus,” in Irreconcilable Differences? The Waning of the Jewish American Love Affair with Israel (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 2003).
9In this thesis, I use the term “Jewish feminists” broadly, to refer to all women who identify as Jewish and are outspoken on women’s issues, through activism in the women’s movement or contribution to feminist literature. Notice that to count as a Jewish feminist under my working definition, a woman does not have to identify as professing a distinctly Jewish type of feminism.
10 Esther M. Broner, “The Road to Nairobi: Paths, Pitfalls, Bridges,” Speech Delivered at “The Women’s Movement: The Road to Nairobi,” July 8-10, Paris, France, 1984, E.M. Broner collection, Box 15, Folder 45, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.
11 Bnai Brith is the parent organization of the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel, and BBYO). See Anti-Defamation League Correspondence, E.M. Broner Collection, Box 15, Folder 43, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.
12 Unknown, “Massermans Mark 50th Anniversary with Family Celebration,” The Detroit Jewish News, Friday, March 26, 1976, 32.
13 Esther Broner, Speech for Women’s Studies Panel on Anti-Semitism, E.M. Broner Collection, Box 14, Folder 31, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.
14 Esther Broner and Naomi Nimrod, “A Woman’s Passover Haggadah and Other Revisionist Rituals,” Ms. Magazine, April 1977, 52-56.
15 Interview by Shebar Windstone, “Esther Broner,” Lilith Magazine, Fall/Winter 1977-78.
16 Antler, Jewish Radical Feminism, 329.
17 Betty Friedan, “Scary Doings in Mexico City,” in It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement (New York: Random House, 1976), 440.
18 Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Deborah, Golda and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America (New York: Crown Publishers, 1991), 167.
19 For examples of this sentiment, see Esther Broner, “The Women’s Movement: The Road to Nairobi,” Betty Friedan, “Scary Doings in Mexico City;” Christie Balka, “Beyond ‘Zionism Equals Racism’ in Nairobi;” Sojourner, October 1985, 26; and Harriet Hirshorn, “Anti-Semitism at Forum ’85,” WomaNews, November 1985, 6 and Letty Cottin Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement,” Ms. Magazine, June 1982, 69. 65.
20 Regina Schreiber, “Copenhagen: One Year Later,” Lilith, June 1981.
21 Esther Broner, A Women’s Petition for International Sisterhood To Be Presented at Nairobi, 1985, E.M. Broner Collection, Box 15, Folder 48, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.
22 Anne McLean, Letters, Branching Out, July/August 1975.
23 Lital Levin, “This Week in Haaretz 1976 / International Women’s Year is Politicized,” Haaretz, 1976.
24 Frank J. Prial, “A Discordant Conclusion for Women’s Conference,” New York Times, August 1, 1980.
25 U.S. House of Representatives, Letter from the Congress of the United States, Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives to Secretary of State, Edmund S. Muskie on May 29, 1980, UN World Conference of the UN Decade for Women, Copenhagen, Denmark, July 14–30, 1980: report of the Congressional Staff Advisers to the U.S. Delegation Washington, DC.
26 23 U.S. House of Representatives, Senate Resolution 473, 96th Congress, Second Session, Deploring the politicization of the Mid-Decade Women’s Conference and urging the United States delegation to oppose any politically motivated resolutions at the Conference. U.N. World Conference of the U.N. Decade for Women, Copenhagen, Denmark, July 14–30, 1980: Report of the Congressional Staff Advisers to the U.S. Delegation Washington, DC.
27 Pogrebin, Deborah, 203.
28 Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism.” When Pogrebin was asked by Village Voice Journalist and Jewish feminist Ellen Cantarow to comment on the timing of “Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement,” she claimed that she wrote the article long before the invasion and that its appearance in June was accidental. See Ellen Cantarow, “Zionism, Anti-Semitism and Jewish identity in the Women’s Movement,” Middle East Report 154 (September/October 1988).
29 Pogrebin, Deborah, 160.
30 Pogrebin, Deborah, 160.
31 Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism” and Deborah, 206-7
32 Recall also in this context the comments by Israeli Journalist Aharon Bachar in 1982. Referring to the brutality of Israel’s occupation under the Sharon-Milson administration, which included all sorts of collective punishment and humiliation rituals against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Bachar wrote that “[W]e will never be able to escape the responsibility and to say that we did not know and we did not hear” and Yoram Peri wrote that “[T]he “frightening metamorphosis that is coming over us . . . places in question the justice of the Zionist movement, the basis of the existence of the state”— above §2.2. See Aharon Bachar, “Do not Say: We Did Not Know, We Did Not Hear,” Yedioth Ahronoth, December 3, 1982 (Hebrew); quoted in Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 149-52 and Yoram Peri, Davar, December 10, 1982 (Hebrew); quoted in Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 150-51.
33 The evidence includes the impressions of non-Jewish women about anti-Jewish sentiments they detected in other non-Jewish women. An example is “President Carter’s women’s issues expert” Midge Costanza: “Because I’m known as an Italian-Catholic, Gentile women feel they can say anti-Semitic things to me, like ‘Why should we carry the Jews on our backs,’ . . .., or ‘That one’s a Jew so there’s no arguing with her.’ But the worst was at the 1980 Democratic Convention when a bunch of women were tossing around names to speak on various platform issues. I was amazed when both Jews and non-Jews discarded certain Jewish names because they thought having a Jew associated with an issue would hurt.” Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism.”
34 Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism” and Deborah, 205-6.
35 Editors of an anthology on anti-Semitism, Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, write: “One salient characteristic of antisemitism, setting it apart from earlier varieties of Jew-hatred, is its implicit call for action. Anti-Jewish prejudice, snobbery, or contempt did not always lead to anti-Jewish actions . . . Antisemitism, in contrast to anti-Jewish prejudice, implied deeds, more precisely programs involving action against them. [However one defines antisemitism], the activist dimension of the ideology is central and apparent.” Albert S. Lindemann and Richard S. Levy, “Conclusion: Not the Final Word,” in Antisemitism, 250-263, 251.
36 Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism” and Deborah, 217.
37 Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism” and Deborah, 218.
38 Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism,” 68-69 and Deborah, 218-222
39 Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism,” 65.
40 The most obvious example was the rejection by Golda Meir’s labor government of Saadat’s historic, February 1971 peace initiative, which led more or less directly to the Yom Kippur war of October 1973. Three other examples of peace proposals rejected by Israel and the United States but supported by the PLO and neighboring Arab states are as follows: a January 1976 UN Security Council Resolution calling for a two-state settlement along the pre-1967 borders, a 1977 initiative between the Palestinian National Council, the governing body of the PLO, which issued a declaration calling for the establishment of “an independent national state” in Palestine, and authorized Palestinian attendance at an Arab-Israeli peace conference. Egypt, Syria and Jordan “informed the United States that they would sign peace treaties with Israel as part of an overall Middle East settlement.” Prime Minister Rabin responded “that the only place the Israelis could meet the Palestinian guerillas was the field of battle.” Finally, in August 1981, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia announced a plan calling for a two-state settlement on the 1967 borders. Many Labor leaders denounced the plan. Chaim Herzog warned that the proposal was prepared by the PLO. Party chairman Shimon Peres remarked that “the Saudi peace proposal threatened Israel’s very existence.” Israel reacted with provocative military flights over Saudi Arabia. See Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist – Arab Conflict 1881–2001 (New York: Vintage, 2001), 388-89. For references to the 1976 UN Security Council Resolution calling for a two-state settlement, see New York Times, December 10, 1976; New York Times, January 27, 1976. On the Arab initiative and Israel’s response, see Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 78 and New Cold War, 285-86, 330, 346, 495-96. For references to the 1977 peace plan, see Seth P. Tillman, The United States in the Middle East (Bloomington; Indiana University Press, 1982), 213; cited in Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 79-80. For references to the Saudi (Fahd) peace plan, see Amos Elon, Haaretz, November 13, 1981 (Hebrew); cited in Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 88 and Haaretz, August 10, 1981 (Hebrew); cited in Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 88.
41 For some testimonies and sources, see Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, 148-149.
42 As quoted in the Jerusalem Post, November 18, 2002; often misquoted as “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The quote is attributed to Abba Eban after the Geneva Peace Conference with Arab countries (December 21, 1973).
43 This propaganda device become standard after 1967. Historian Christopher Sykes traces it to Ben Gurion’s “violent counterattack” against a British court that implicated Zionist leaders in arms-trafficking in 1943. “[H]enceforth,” Sykes wrote, “to be anti-Zionist was to be anti-Semitic.” Christopher Sykes, Crossroads to Israel: 1917-1948 (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1965), 247. See also Amy Kaplan, “The Old ‘New Anti-Semitism’ and Resurgent White Supremacy,” Middle East Report 283 (Summer 2017).
44 Abba Eban, Congress Bi-Weekly, March 30, 1973; speech delivered July 31, 1972. “Let there be no mistake: The New left is the author and the progenitor of the new anti-Semitism. One of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all.” Jewish critics of Israel like Noam Chomsky and I. F. Stone had a “basic complex…of guilt about Jewish survival.”
45 That that has been the nature of the ADL in recent years is common knowledge. For the more recent history of ADL, see Jacob Hutt and Alex Kane, “How the ADL’s Israel Advocacy Undermines its Civil Rights Work,” Jewish Currents, February 8, 2021.
46 Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein, The New Anti-Semitism (New York, 1074); Kaplan, “The Old ‘New Anti-Semitism.’”
47 Nathan and Ruth Ann Perlmutter, The Real Anti-Semitism in America (New York: Arbor House, 1982).
48 Aziza al-Hibri, “Tear Off Your Western Veil!”, in Food for Our Grandmothers: Writing by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists, ed. Joanna Kadi (Boston: South End Press, 1994), 160-164, 163 (emphasis added).
49 Carol Haddad, “In Search of Home,” in Food for Our Grandmothers, J. Kadi, ed., 218-223, 220.
50 Haddad, “In Search of Home,” 221-22.
51 Lisa Suhair Majaj, “Boundaries: Arab/American,” in Food for our Grandmothers, J. Kadi, ed., 65-86, 66, 79, 81-82.
52 Majaj, “Boundaries: Arab/American,” 81.
53 For striking evidence of anti-Arab racism in American in the 1980, see the piece by Egyptian Political Science professor at Howard University Mervat F. Hatem, “The Invisible American Half: Arab American Hybridity and Feminist Discourses in the 1990s,” in Ella Shohat, ed. Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age (New York: MIT Press, 1998), 369-390, 370-71.
54 Aviva Cantor, “An Exclusive Interview with Dr. Phyllis Chesler,” Lilith, December 6, 1976.
55 Pogrebin, Deborah, 155.
56 Broner, “The Road to Nairobi: Paths, Pitfalls, Bridges, at The Women’s Movement: The Road to Nairobi Conference”, July 8-10, Paris, France, 1984.
57 In her 1976 interview with Aviva Cantor in Lilith, Chesler remarked that “as the ‘smartest boy’ in my Talmud Torah, I assumed I would certainly be a rabbi. Of course I did not become a rabbi. I was not Bar Mitzva’ed. There was nothing for me to do with my early education and my passion for learning but to put away these childhood toys, and I forgot, more or less, about being Jewish.”
58 Phyllis Chesler, “My Jewish Feminist Problem: Why My Sisters Can’t Think Straight About Israel,” Tablet, December 15, 2014.
59 George Jochnowitz, “An Interview with Phyllis Chesler: American Feminist and Zionist Activist,” Midstream, September/October 2008.
60 Pogrebin, Deborah, 157.
61 But apparently, the explanations provided by the Zionist women did not remove the plan of action. Shirley Joseph, vice president of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) wrote that the situation in Copenhagen (the role of the PLO at the conference, the condemnation of Israel, Zionism, and the United states) was so horrifying that she and other Jewish women organized a Jewish Women’s Caucus to combat the criticism of Israel. “We elected a steering committee, planned strategy and assigned women to attend workshops as a sort of a truth squad prepared to speak when necessary, and when possible, to set the record straight on the meaning of Zionism, the role of Israel and the role of the United States in the contemporary world.” Shirley Joseph, reprinted in Lilith June 1981 from NCJW Journal, Winter 1980. Schreiber, “Copenhagen.”
62 Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism,” 65.
63 Pogrebin, “Anti-Semitism,” 46.
64 Cantor, “Exclusive Interview.”
65 Cantor, “Exclusive Interview.”
66 Al-Hibri, “Tear off your western veil,” 162
67 Cantor, “Exclusive Interview.”
68 Phyllis Chesler to EM Broner, June 27, 1984, E.M. Broner Collection, Box 15, Folder 45, Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University. (East Jerusalem was annexed in 1967. The 1980 Basic Law: Jerusalem was symbolic).
69 Pogrebin, Deborah, 175-178
70 Phyllis Chesler, “Against Faux-Feminists who Deny the Rights of Muslim Women and Jews,” Tablet, October 1, 2017.
71 Phyllis Chesler, The New Anti-Semitism (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2003).
72 Pogrebin, Deborah, 329-378