Don’t Fence Me In
This past January I made my way to Pershing Square in LA for the second annual Women’s March. I was fired up, and ready to greet all the other marchers in celebration of feminism. But I wasn’t prepared to be confronted with my Jewish identity as well, and to leave pondering where my Judaism fits into the larger feminist movement.
Towards the end of the march, a small group of women carrying signs that read “Zionesses for the Women’s March” appeared ahead of us. I had never seen people label themselves “Zionesses” so comfortably, and in such a political space, especially given liberals’ frequent criticism of Israel. I was inspired to see progressive Jewish women making a statement about the relationship between their feminism and their Zionism.
As soon as the Zionesses entered the crowd, a chant from a different group started behind us: “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!” I was immediately uncomfortable. The chanters were using the Zionesses’ presence as an opportunity to make a general statement about Israel’s policies. That didn’t seem right. While the term “Zionist” does assume a connection to Israel, being a Zionist doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with all of Israel’s actions.
These women were marching in support of feminism. The chant they received takes issue with Trump’s immigration policies, while also equating things happening in two very different geopolitical contexts just because both share a visible similarity of a border wall. This moment made me ask myself some very difficult, yet fundamental, questions: What does it mean to be a Zionist? Can liberal American Jews (like me) condemn the Israeli government’s actions and also feel that Israel bears an important connection to the Jewish people?
I feel proud of my Jewish and feminist beliefs as separate and intersecting parts of my identity and yet, especially after what happened at the march, I shy away from labeling myself a “Zionist.” Maybe it’s because I’m really not a Zionist, or maybe it’s because I’m afraid of the consequences that come with such a label. In learning more about Israel, I don’t feel as connected to the history of the modern state of Israel as I do the immigrant plight of my Jewish ancestors from Europe to the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Still, I feel a connection to the ancient history of Israel and to the fact that my ancestors had always striven for a Jewish homeland. I am not alone in criticizing many of Israel’s current policies, yet I still believe its existence has significance as a Jewish homeland.
I believe that, moving forward, one of the biggest challenges for my generation will be mobilizing support for important actions while maintaining respect for differences in opinion. While feminism happens to align with a lot of Democratic and anti-Trump sentiments, feminism should not be partisan. It’s easy and attractive to use Trump as a symbol for sexism, racism, homophobia, etc… but none of these things are new, and none of them started with Trump. Over-focusing on Trump only serves to distract us from the much larger white patriarchal system from which these issues stem.
In this highly polarized time, it’s important that our discourse not become “all or nothing” according to party lines. If the Left aims to mobilize more political discourse, it doesn’t make sense for liberal Zionist feminists, who share liberal views on pretty much every issue except Israel, to be excluded from the conversation.
Zionism, like feminism, is not a monolithic movement. There are differences in opinion, and it’s these differences that make both movements stronger and richer, and push them forward. Zionist women should not be shut out of the feminist movement just because of the “Zionist” label. I’m still figuring out exactly where I stand on any number of issues, but I know this: political views are complex and ever-changing, and that’s not a bad thing. If the Left wants to survive the wave of populism on the Right, it needs to fully embrace differences of opinion as a catalyst for progress. And you can take it from me; as a Jewish woman, I know a little something about arguing.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Jarkow, Amy. "Don’t Fence Me In." 12 November 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 8, 2022) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/don-t-fence-me-in>.