Since Donald Trump was elected to the presidency, millions of women across the country have become active in a newly resurgent feminist movement. But, like in all feminist movements before it, tensions between groups of women are bubbling to the surface. The latest fissure making its way into public consciousness is about the role of Zionism in feminism, raised last week by Bustle politics editor, Emily Shire, in a New York Times op-ed.
The International Women’s Strike, an international day of action “by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced,” took an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist position, calling for the destruction of walls “from Mexico to Palestine.” Organizers of the strike wrote in its platform that the decolonization of Palestine is “the beating heart of this new feminist movement.” The day before the strike, Shire, who identifies as a Zionist, expressed her dismay over the platform’s stance on Israel and wrote that she felt like she was being forced to “sacrifice” her Zionism for the sake of her feminism.
In the days after its publication, Shire’s piece has reignited a debate among feminists about the tenets of the movement. I spoke with Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American feminist activist, who disagrees with Shire’s claim that feminist actions shouldn’t take a hard line on Israel. Sarsour is one of the architects of the January 21 Women’s March, the biggest national demonstration in history, and also helped organize “A Day without a Woman,” an action that took place in solidarity with the International Women’s Strike.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
In her op-ed, Emily Shire asks, “why should criticism of Israel be key to feminism in 2017?” I think she was being a bit flip there, but I’d love if you can answer her question in earnest.
I was quite surprised and disturbed by her piece. When you talk about feminism you’re talking about the rights of all women and their families to live in dignity, peace, and security. It’s about giving women access to health care and other basic rights. And Israel is a country that continues to occupy territories in Palestine, has people under siege at checkpoints—we have women who have babies on checkpoints because they’re not able to get to hospitals [in time]. It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, “Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?” There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it.
Shire specifically argued that “Regardless of your opinion on [Boycott Divestment and Sanctions] issue, it has nothing to do with feminism.” BDS calls for “broad boycotts” and the implementation of “divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era,” in order to raise awareness around the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and the denial of the “right of return” for Palestinians who were expelled from what is present-day Israel during the country’s founding. Growing support for BDS has really rankled supporters of Israel like Shire. Can you respond to Shire’s claim that BDS has nothing to do with feminism?