Op-ed: Proud to be feminists and pro-Israel

Kayla Steinberg and Julia Greensfelder | Class of 2020 and 2021

Julia’s story:
A few months ago, I was speaking to one of my closest friends from high school. As an art history major, a progressive and an outspoken feminist, it was natural for Talia to want to brand her body with a beautiful tattoo of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” Venus represents true beauty and embraces womanhood in the way a feminist like Talia would want to see. Despite her admiration for the piece, it was important to her to alter it. Rather than branding her body with a blue-eyed, blonde-haired tattoo, she wanted her Venus to have green eyes and brown, curly hair. She wanted her Venus to be Jewish and she wanted everyone in Berkeley, Calif. to know it.

Kayla’s story:
I’m from 3,118 miles east of Berkeley, Bedford, N.H. Bedford has a population of 21,000 people, nearly all of whom are Christian. It is a place where high school students take their AP and IB exams at a local church, which makes sense, I suppose, because there are more churches in Bedford than synagogues in the state.

The “token Jew” at Bedford High School, I was unable to find a “nice Jewish boy” to date, never mind someone who could relate to me on the struggles of often covert anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments that couched themselves in the hallways of the school.

Sure, my friends asked me about Hanukkah and enjoyed helpings of matzah on Passover (though I truly cannot understand why flat crackers were so appealing to them), but none were able to understand what it was like to be a Jew in a sea of people who were not. I faced sparse anti-Semitism at school—I once heard clamors of “burn the Jews” as I walked through the hallways, and even when I was younger, girls on the school bus made fun of my Jewish star necklace. I didn’t understand why being a Jew had to be so hard.

On Wednesday, Jan. 24, Washington University’s Student Union hosted a speaker, Angela Davis, who described her experiences about minority oppression in the United States and across the globe. Before concluding her speech, she discussed the conditions in Palestine. She asserted that the Israeli settlers in the West Bank are oppressive to Palestinians and reiterated the importance of standing up for justice across the world. She concluded that it is impossible to advocate for women’s rights and pro-Israel causes simultaneously; pro-Israel advocates cannot stand up for intersectional social justice. Moreover, she stated that all feminists should be pro-Palestine.

The terms “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestine” are heavily politicized today, especially on campus. The two are often presented by student groups and speakers as polar opposites. A narrative often told is that Palestinian people are oppressed by Israelis and are in dire need of aid. Yet while the Palestinian people are certainly entitled to the same basic human rights as all people and should not be oppressed, this does not mean that one cannot support both Israel and Palestine; moreover, Palestinian suffering does not negate Israeli suffering.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) exists because the nation is in constant need of defense. Rockets from the terrorist organizations Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip are routinely trained on Israel. In 2017, Israel faced 22 rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip alone, and Israelis are raised to expect terror attacks from its hostile neighbors. Thus, while Israeli and Palestinian struggles are different, they are both very present.

Angela Davis’s comments in her speech connected feminist causes with Palestinian struggles, yet the comparison was unfair to the conditions in Israel. Implied was a sentiment of mutual oppression and denigration, for women in the United States face such issues as the wage gap that illustrate inequality in a country which preaches equality. However, while women in the United States suffer and Palestinians suffer, their suffering is not the same. Furthermore, being a feminist does not exclude the potential to also be pro-Israel and/or pro-Palestine.

Israel holds many of the democratic values possessed in the U.S. as well. It is the only democracy in the Middle East, with democratic elections and public campaigning for candidates and political issues. It is also a nation which embraces the values consistent with promoting equal treatment of men, women and other gender identities.

Defining feminism the way Maya Angelou did when she said, “I am a feminist. I’ve been female for a long time now. I’d be stupid not to be on my own side,” Israel is a country of feminists and people who support feminist causes.

Israel has given women political rights and power since its founding. Two women, Golda Meir and Rachel Cohen, signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948, and Meir later became the first female Prime Minister of the State of Israel, serving for five years.

Israel then passed the Women’s Equal Rights Law in 1951 and the Employment of Women Law in 1954. These, amongst other laws, legislated equality in all fields of life, including education, the IDF, employment, the environment and welfare.

Furthermore, the state is the most advanced in the Middle East in granting LGBTQIA* rights. It was the first nation in Asia to recognize any same-sex union. It also enables same-sex couples to adopt children, and it allows LGBTQIA* people to serve in the IDF. Rights for LGBTQIA* people are just one of the many progressive values that Israel supports, showing the nation to support feminist intersectionality, much to Angela Davis’s neglect.

Now at Wash. U.:
Being a feminist and being pro-Israel are not mutually exclusive; rather, they go hand-in-hand. Having faced Israel-related questioning and anti-Semitism in high school, we pledged to learn more about Israel and the Middle East in college.

On campus, we are pro-Israel activists as well as feminists. We have attended gay pride speeches and parades, as well as Women’s Marches across the country, writing articles about the importance of women’s rights. Active in both Hillel and Chabad and with leadership positions in Hillel (Julia is Hillel’s Israel Ambassador and Kayla is the treasurer of WU Israel Public Affairs Committee), we learn with other students about Israel weekly. Together, we strive to promote productive conversations and strengthen support on campus for Israel, all while promoting feminist values.

We are proud Jews, proud activists for a strong relationship with Israel, and proud feminists. Not only do we care about Israel because we are Jewish: we love Israel because we are women.

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