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Zionism Vs. Feminism in the Women’s Movement

A dispatch from the Ahed Tamimi contingent at the Women’s March.

Camille Baker and Emily C. Bell Jan 26

Amid the “pussy hats” and  “#MeToo” signs at the Women’s March in New York City on Jan. 20, two dozen people gathered outside the barricades at 65th Street on the steps of Trinity Lutheran Church. Their placards bore the face of a defiant teenage girl: Ahed Tamimi.

Tamimi, a 16-year-old Palestinian activist, was jailed in December after video of her slapping an Israeli soldier went viral online. Her detention has become a rallying point for pro-Palestine activists in New York and internationally, a struggle at the intersection of issues like juvenile detention, Palestinian rights and feminism.

Rani Al-Hindi of Adalah-NY said it was “an honor” to be part of the Free Ahed Tamimi contingent at the march.

“Palestinian women have been fighting the cause against both patriarchy and colonialism and racism for decades,” Al-Hindi told The Indypendent. “They’re a great symbol of resistance, of courage.”

Riham Barghouti, a Palestinian-American activist attending the march, also with Adalah-NY, linked Tamimi’s cause to social justice fights in the United States and to the broader struggle for women’s liberation.

“When we look at issues of African-American rights, immigrant rights, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim rights, we do it as part of the women’s movement,” she said. “But we also do it as part of a human rights movement calling [for] an end of oppression and subjugation.”

Members of the Tamimi contingent spoke about their opposition to the presence of Zioness, a group that describes itself as “unabashedly progressive” and “unquestionably Zionist,” at the march.

‘As a feminist, I don’t think there’s any way to put together racism, ethno-nationalism and feminism.’

Zionist feminism is a “contradiction in terms,” said Hunter College Professor Rosalind Petchesky. “Zionism historically and today is immersed in racism and white supremacy… I think it’s something that we as Jews need to own, take account of and disown. As a feminist, I don’t think there’s any way to put together racism, ethno-nationalism and feminism.”

Barghouti agreed. “Just like we would reject a contingent supporting white supremacy or the KKK, to be a part of this march, we should reject groups like Zioness that are promoting an ongoing oppression, apartheid, colonialism of another people… The Women’s March has to begin to identify with more than just women’s rights,” she said.

In August, Chicago’s SlutWalk drew the ire of Zioness after it banned “Zionist displays.” In the months prior, the Chicago Dyke March ejected participants shouting anti-Palestinian chants.

On Jan. 20, Jasmin Vazquez and Sydney Guzman weren’t part of the Tamimi contingent but nonetheless carried homemade signs of her likeness. They said that though some attendees had approached them in support, they had received “dirty looks” from others and had even been confronted by another marcher.

“What’s remarkable is when I said, ‘I believe in freedom for all. I believe that Jewish women deserve the same freedom and Palestinian women deserve the same freedom’… she’s just like, ‘We’ll agree to disagree then,” Vazquez said of the encounter.

A handful of anti-Women’s March protesters gathered along its route near Trump Tower. Next to men with signs marked “Trump 2020” and “Vets Before Illegals,” a woman wore a pin bearing the name of the far-right Jewish Defense League. She held up a large white poster marked “Tamimi is a terrorist! Throw away the key!” The other side of the placard read: “The Women’s March is taqiyya! Tactical deceit for spreading Islam!”

Another woman alternated between holding aloft the Israeli flag and a sign critical of the march for its affiliation with Linda Sarsour, the former head of the Arab American Association of New York and a Brooklynite of Palestinian descent:

Women’s March = Sarsour
Sarsour = Sharia
Sharia ≠ Women’s Rights
Women’s March ≠ Women’s Rights

When a group carrying a banner for Jewish Voice for Peace walked past, the counter-protesters yelled out “kapos,” a term for Jews who collaborated with Nazis in concentration camps.

Tamimi’s supporters were undeterred by the counter-protesters. “It’s really important to lift her up,” said 17-year-old Fouad Dakwar who feels a kinship with Tamimi, in part, because he is also a teenager. “A lot of people say protests don’t do anything… That’s just not true because I’m going to leave here — and my little brother, who’s 12 now, is going leave here — empowered to keep fighting.”

Tamimi will turn 17 the day her trial for assaulting a soldier begins on Jan. 31 in an Israeli military court. Her mother, Nariman, and cousin, Nour, were also arrested shortly after she was detained, though Nour was released on bail. In February, they too will be tried for their roles in the alleged assault: Nariman for posting the video online, Nour for filming it.

Human rights groups estimate there are approximately 350 children in Israeli military detention.

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Photo: Members of the Ahed Tamimi contingent at the 2018 Women’s March in New York City, Jan. 21. Credit: Camille Baker.