Latest update: June 24th, 2013
For a long time now, Israel’s reputation has taken a real beating among American liberals and leftists. Many American Jewish (liberal) organizations have either agreed with the criticism or have been afraid to challenge such groups with whom they agree on other important issues.
Something’s changed. In an effort to educate American feminists about women in Israel, the American Jewish Congress wished to place an understated ad in Ms. magazine featuring photos of three Israeli women: Dorit Beinish, the president of the Israeli Supreme Court; Tzipi Livni, vice prime minister and minister of foreign affairs; and Dalia Itzik, the speaker of the Knesset. The ad simply said: “This is Israel.”
Ms. magazine refused to run the ad. (As someone who’s been wrestling with anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism among feminists since the early 1970’s, I can’t say I was surprised, though I certainly was disgusted.) Ms. said accepting the ad would cause a firestorm among its readers. It said it did not want to be seen as favoring one political party over another and that two of the Israeli women belonged to the same party. And it said it was about to feature an interview with Tzipi Livni.
Ms. was always hard to keep going. In order to keep it afloat, Gloria Steinem had to devote almost all her time to fundraising. Editors had to threaten to sue for medical benefits and writers had to threaten lawsuits because they had not been paid. Despite appearances, it was always a shoestring operation. But it had a good run.
Over time, Ms. got smaller and less influential – something all too typical in the magazine business. But it continued to enjoy considerable “girlish” acclaim and a nearly spotless reputation – at least among its followers, if not its opponents. And every major liberal Jewish organization viewed its aims as similar to that of the magazine’s.
The honeymoon lasted far too long and it is rather late in the day for the question of where feminism really stands on the question of Israel and Palestine to surface. Well, better late than never. This was bound to happen. It was only a question of when.
I was at the first meeting in Brenda Feigen Fasteau’s Tudor City apartment that led to the founding of Ms. magazine in 1972. The magazine excerpted and praised many of my early books, including Women and Madness; About Men; and With Child: A Diary of Motherhood. We share a history (I know where many of the bodies are buried, and, guys, wait your turn; before we get to you, there are lots of feminist corpses piled high here.)
In the mid-1970’s I personally lobbied for Ms. magazine signatures on petitions criticizing the UN’s infamous Zionism equals Racism resolution. I usually failed but sometimes succeeded. I led a delegation to Israel that included the late Jack Newfield and the late Ellen Willis – both of whom returned to write more positive pieces about Israel and Judaism. (Ellen also broke with Ms., but that’s another story.)
Every feminist who has ever met Gloria Steinem is instinctively protective of her; they jockey to stay on her good side and thereby gain or maintain entrance to her royal circle. Make no mistake: she wields real power. Many feminists believe that her recent op-ed piece in The New York Times directly contributed to Hillary’s win in New Hampshire. Gloria is and always has been a Democratic Party operative.
Few feminists would dare to publicly disagree with her – doing so would constitute a real risk to their personal and professional standings. I am talking about feminists who are the presidents of state supreme courts, professors, judges, governors, senators, representatives, state public officials and well-meaning, completely innocent civilians who view her as their inspiration and as a combination of Jackie Kennedy, Rosa Parks and Mary Poppins.
Until now, every single liberal Jewish organization, including the American Jewish Congress, would never, ever have disagreed with her. She is the media-appointed icon for women’s rights in America. (This is what once embittered more radical grassroots feminist groups).
She is also a bankable commodity for any organization and politician. People will still pay money to hear her speak or to dine with her.
Politics may have driven us apart, but even I retain a warm affection for her. I would talk to her if she called me now – such is the nature of her personal power. Gloria is a nice woman. She really is. But her enforcers are not.
Robin Morgan, whom I personally introduced to Gloria and suggested that Gloria hire as an editor in the mid-70’s, has functioned as one of those enforcers. Morgan’s position on Israel and Judaism is beneath contempt.
In 1989, Morgan published a book, The Demon Lover: The Roots of Terrorism, which was reprinted in 2001. The book glorifies the Palestinian Authority and romanticizes the most corrupt, scandalous, and terrorist-connected of UN agencies: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which has employed and funded terrorists and appropriated money meant for impoverished Palestinians whose misery is meant to arouse the world against Israel. The world has an estimated 135 million refugees; UNRWA has managed to focus the world’s attention on the plight of only one small group.
Here’s Morgan on UNRWA: “The entire organization won my respect for extraordinary work performed against all odds.” She profusely thanks UNRWA for having arranged her trip to the Palestinian “camps.” Having UNRWA do this is like having the Soviet-era and KGB-controlled Intourist organize your trip to Moscow.
Morgan refers to Israel as “The Israeli Occupying Authority.” She appears to be not nearly as repulsed by the savage mistreatment of Palestinian women by Palestinian men as she is by a Jewish Jerusalem.
In the post-9/11 material for her book, she is more concerned with the possibility that America might turn “bigoted” and “right-wing” than she is with the devastation at Ground Zero; more concerned with the vulnerability of Muslim men in America than with America’s vulnerability to Muslim extremists.
Interested readers can see what I’ve written about Ms. Magazine’s history in terms of Israel, Judaism, Islam, and Palestine in my latest book, The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom. Read especially, pages 112-113, 115-117, 119-120, and 128. I would also suggest selected portions of my books The New Anti-Semitism and Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman. (You guessed it: Ms magazine did not excerpt or even review these books. Just call me lucky.)
I have no idea how influential Gloria is these days vis-à-vis the magazine. It matters not. She still appears on the masthead as a contributing editor, and for decades the media depicted her – and, by extension, Ms. – as the voice (and face) of mainstream feminism, as opposed to the more radical strains of the movement found on university campuses and in even more obscure journals.
That allegedly mainstream façade, however, is now demolished as the magazine has revealed itself to be no less reflexively hostile to Israel than those who inhabit the sisterhood’s more extreme fringes.
About the Author: Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a professor emerita of psychology, a Middle East Forum fellow, and the author of fifteen books including “Women and Madness” (1972), “The New Anti-Semitism” (2003), and her latest, “An American Bride in Kabul” (2013). Her articles are archived at www.phyllis-chesler.com.
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