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.