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Are Feminism and Zionism Incompatible? Read Up On the Debate

If you spend any time following hot-button feminist issues on Twitter, you've probably seen the recent debates over whether feminism is incompatible with Zionism. This conversation—or, perhaps, conflagration would be a better word—erupted earlier this month when an op-ed by Bustle editor Emily Shire appeared in the New York Times. Shire questioned whether there was space for Zionists like herself in the International Women's Day Strike, since strike leaders had listed the decolonization of Palestine as one of their platforms. In response, activist Linda Sarsour said that there's no place in the feminist movement for women who support Israel without question or critique; for her, feminism means supporting the rights of all women, including Palestinians.

Intrafeminist battles are dismaying—surely we have larger battles to wage, together, in Trump’s America—but it’s obvious that this thorny, sensitive issue is important to many feminists on both sides of the debate. We believe that the only way forward is through respectful conversation and good-faith attempts to understand the myriad of viewpoints on this topic. To that end, here's a round-up of some of the op-eds and articles we've seen about this discussion presenting different perspectives over the past few weeks:

  • The original op-ed in the New York Times, March 7. Shire outlines her concerns that anti-Zionism is becoming intrinsically linked with some women's movements, and worries that soon, those that believe in Israel's right to exist will have no place in feminism.
  • Linda Sarsour's interview in The Nation, March 13. In an interview given in response to Shire's piece, Sarsour explains her belief that women who support Israel without criticizing any of its policies do not have a place in the feminist movement, saying she believes that feminists should advocate for all women's rights.
  • The Jewish Telegraphic Agency's op-ed on why Zionism and feminism aren't mutually exclusive, March 14. Editor Andrew Silow-Carroll writes on the practicalities of coalition-building and what he calls the false choice presented by Sarsour.
  • Times of Israel blog post on why the Nation headline was misleading, March 16. Rabbi David Seidenberg points out that Linda Sarsour didn't actually say that you can't be a feminist and a Zionist. 
  • New York Magazine's article on why feminism has to make choices, March 8. Writer Eric Levitz argues that issues that might seem unconnected to feminism for some women are intrinsic to feminism for others--and says it's impossible for the movement to satisfy everyone.
  • Sisterhood on why feminism should include Zionism, March 8. Editor Phoebe Bovy on why she supports Shire and how she can reconcile her support for some tenets of the strike with her distaste for others.
  • Forward article on why feminists should support Palestinian women, March 14. In a rebuttal to Bovy and Shire, professor and Jewish Voice for Peace member Rosalind Petchesky argues that many Jewish women—even some Zionists—do not support the actions of the Israeli government.
  • JWA’s former board member on why the Women’s March tenets were exclusionary, March 14. Ann F. Lewis, JWA founding board member and former Hillary Clinton campaign manager, argues in the Washington Jewish Week that the Women’s March was wrong to zero in on Israel in its mission statement.

We hope that these articles have provided food for thought for you, no matter your stance on this issue. Feel free to reach out and let us know your thoughts.

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There is a popular misconception that Jews and Israelis are difficult, assertive, and protective of their own interests.  In fact, the opposite was shown in Nazi Germany.  Jews were ordered to stop practicing certain professions, and then shifted to ghettos which they did quietly and cooperatively.  Once in the ghettos, Eichmann or an underling went to leaders and explained people would need to report for transfer and cooperation would make the task easier. The Jews duly reported and were separated into two lines, and the Germans took machine guns and murdered the defenseless, and the remaining into railroad cattle cars where they would be starved, tortured, and killed in their new home.

Lack of resistance made the Germans task wonderfully easy and a 1,000 Jews could be killed without a single German casualty.  No one in the world helped until the Nazis became their problem.  And the phrase never again was born.

So when in 1967, Egypt, Jordan, Syrian, and Iraq gathered together to destoy Israel, few countries cared, the UN took away their peace-keepers, America was occupied with Vietnam, and there were few offers of help.  .  

But this time was different as the Jews did not go meekly.  And while choices are difficult and peace a wonderful goal, the Israelis leaders know this.  If they gave up all the land requested and had less security, and Arab countries gathered to again destroy the country, none of the countries which pushed for the compromised borders would helpi Israel.  France, which pushed for a conference would do as they had done in 1942, we can maintain peace but just have to turn over our Jews for slavery, experiment, and likely murder, sounds fair enough, do what you want with them, the great majority said.  

I hope there can be a peace, and one suspects the new president may push for interim measures to help the Palestinians establish a functioning economy and limit trade barriers.  But the lessons of the holocaust are not lost, had the Jews be more suspicious, and fought harder, the number of deaths would have been far less.    




Activist Linda Sarsour
Full image
Activist Linda Sarsour speaking on Islamophobia in 2016 at the Festival of Faiths in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo courtesy of the Festival of Faiths.
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How to cite this page

Cataneo, Emily. "Are Feminism and Zionism Incompatible? Read Up On the Debate." 24 March 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 14, 2018) <>.


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