As a student on Columbia University’s campus, I hear the word “Zionism” thrown around in really peculiar ways. Zionism is a diverse ideology concerned with the different methods and reasons for establishing Jewish self-determination. However, almost always, Zionist Ideology is equated to the current government of Israel or to particular actions taken by officials in Israel against the Palestinian people. This rhetoric makes it almost impossible to separate between the ideology and the people claiming to represent that ideology, let alone talk about the multitudes of dissent that exist within Zionist thought.
As a progressive activist on campus, I’m often put into a position in spaces seemingly irrelevant to Zionism where I’m expected to make a ‘choice’ between my progressive values and Zionism, as if believing in the self determination of the Jewish people means being a member of Likud or not supporting a two-state solution.
This phenomenon was heavily present in Linda Sarsour’s recent interview, as she claimed that there is a contradiction between being a feminist and being a Zionist. Feminism is an umbrella term that refers to the struggle for the social, political, and economic equality of the genders. As a prospective Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies major at Barnard College, the women’s college of Columbia University, I live and breathe that word. This movement has pushed me to excel in academics, become politically active, and has empowered me to believe that every act that I perform as a woman has political significance. Gender informs my pursuit of justice not only for myself, but for everyone, and I believe that fighting for my own self-determination is an inherently feminist act.
Sarsour’s argument that feminists cannot be Zionists not only obscures the definition of feminism, but also that of Zionism.
First of all, speaking out against injustices done to a Palestinian woman at checkpoint does not exclude speaking out against the murder of an Israeli mother in front of her children. As a progressive Zionist, I am very vocal in my criticism of the Israeli government and I try to leverage the privilege I have in the conversation as a Jew to affect change in any way I can. If I were to be pushed out of identifying with the Zionist camp by Sarsour’s rhetoric, I would lose the relevance of my voice on the Israeli side. If I were to be pushed out of identifying as a feminist, I would cease to be advocating for change in the first place.
Second, redefining feminism as a club that dictates allegiances and identities ignores the complexity of the human experience as well as that of feminist ideology. As a women’s studies major, I am aware of the many different schools of feminist thought. Marxist feminists may define feminism differently from more modern, mainstream schools of feminist thought, but that doesn’t mean only one of them is truly “feminist.” Intersectionality should be about recognizing the complexity of identity in order to expand the conversation, not confine it. Just as there are many ways to be a feminist, there are also many ways to be a Zionist. The complexity and scope of both ideologies makes it impossible to prescribe how the two should interact for any one individual, let alone the masses.
Third, feminism cannot afford to exclude anyone. In order to create a more egalitarian world, we need men and women, Israelis and Palestinians working with each other and amongst themselves to fight inequality. I am never going to stop being a Zionist or a feminist because those two beliefs are inherent to my identity. Zionism for me means my right to take up space in this world, and feminism is the right to maximize my potential within the space that I’m in. Nobody has the power to convince me to stop believing that I am just as capable and important as a man just because I’m emotionally and religiously invested in a Jewish State.
I believe in the power of intersectionality as it applies to understanding the convergence of multiple identities, but not when it is used to antagonize critical thinking and make people chose between their right to exist with those identities. Zionism is the belief that Jewish people deserve freedom, safety, and life, and it goes without saying that this is not in essence to the exclusion of anyone else’s rights.
So though Emily Shire asked: Does feminism have room for Zionists?
I think the real question is: Do feminists have room for Zionism?
It is our job to make it clear, with our continued voices and presence, that the answer is a resounding yes.
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