Ms. Magazine’s rejection of an ad celebrating three Israeli women leaders has prompted Jewish feminists here to charge that the magazine has adopted an anti-Israel posture.
“This is a feminism that has been utterly Palestinianized,” said Phyllis Chesler, one of five Jewish feminists who lashed out at the magazine this week.
Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance founder Blu Greenberg told a press conference at the offices of the American Jewish Congress, whose ad Ms. Magazine rejected, that the leaders of the magazine “have aligned themselves with those on the political far left whose agenda is to totally de-legitimate Israel on the stage of world opinion.”
Francine Klagsbrun, an author and Jewish Week columnist, termed this a “feminist moment of truth.” “I call on Ms. to stand up to the pernicious pressures of anti-Israel prejudice among its readers,” she said. “If it fails in this and caters to anti-Israel sentiments, then it has failed the revolution and those of us who have continued to believe in it.”
But Katherine Spillar, the executive editor of Ms. Magazine, defended the magazine’s rejection of the proposed ad that featured pictures of Dorit Beinisch, the president of Israel’s supreme court; Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, and Dalia Itzik, the speaker of the Knesset. Under their names were the words, “This is Israel.”
“We don’t do pro-country ads,” Spillar said.
In addition, she suggested, it is misleading.
“Israel does not have equality [between men and women],” she explained in a phone interview. “There is no country where women share power equally with men. The ad implies” otherwise.
And in a statement, Spillar said the ad could be seen as favoring certain political parties over other parties because two of the women belong to the same party.
Harriet Kurlander, director of the AJCongress’s Commission for Women’s Empowerment, said none of those reasons were given to her when she tried to place the ad.
“They said we can’t take the ad because it’s too controversial,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Why, we are saluting three women who have achieved high office in Israel. This is not about settlements or borders or Jerusalem.’ I was in a state of shock.”
The magazine’s representative later told her, Kurlander said, that if the ad were accepted, “it would create a firestorm.”
Kurlander said the magazine’s rejection of the ad has created a firestorm of a different kind. She said that more than 4,300 people have e-mailed a form letter to the magazine protesting its action. (Spillar said the figure was closer to 2,000). And Kurlander said it has galvanized Jewish feminists across the country.
Novelist Cynthia Ozick sent a letter to the AJCongress criticizing Ms. Magazine and saying it is “now conspicuously exposed as having joined the anti-democratic anti-Israel totalitarian radical Left. A journal that once stood for free and open opportunity for all now shows itself to be among the haters: closed, narrow, insular, and above all cowardly.”
And Susannah Heschel, a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., issued a statement saying she was “profoundly disheartened by this foolish decision” of the magazine.
“Silencing the voices of women from the State of Israel who are struggling for political and economic parity is a betrayal of our feminist solidarity,” she added. “Moreover, a boycott of Israel, motivated by a repudiation of Israeli politics, is an unacceptable rejection of Jewish women and our efforts to achieve Middle East peace.”
But Spillar insisted that the magazine is not disregarding Israel but rather has written numerous stories about it. She said that in the 16 issues that have been printed in the last four years, the magazine has covered the Israeli feminist movement and women leaders there “no fewer than 11 times.”
She cited a story in the current issue about Livni and a feature story in the spring of 2006 by Israeli feminist Alice Shalvi in which she “catalogued the ongoing struggles to rectify” inequalities in Israeli society, including the need to increase women’s representation in the Knesset and at the negotiating table for peace.
Klagsbrun pointed out at the press conference that Livni heads the Israeli team conducting the peace negotiations. And she said she knew of no other country in the world in which women “have the top posts in the legislature, the judiciary and the executive branch.”
Chesler said she stopped reading the magazine several years ago but read some articles in back issues before coming to the press conference. They convinced her, she said, that the magazine is “consistently and sickeningly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian.”
“Apparently, Palestinians are the sacred victims who are pure and can do no wrong,” she added. “Israelis are the Nazi-like aggressors and occupiers who can do nothing right. This is not the Ms. I once knew so long ago.”
She said the Palestinization of the feminist movement began after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in 1967 because “Israel was no longer the little David” standing up against the Goliaths — the Arab states that surrounded it.
The controversy has also been a wake-up call to Jewish feminists, according to Greenberg.
“We have kept our heads in the sand for too long,” she said. Klagsbrun agreed that she and some other Jewish feminists have “separated our feminism” from concerns about attacks on Israel.
And Chesler said this incident should become an “opportunity to start asking American Jewish and non-Jewish voters how important is the demonizing of Israel.”
“I would like people to begin asking the candidates for president where they stand on the demonization of Israel … and where they stand on Iran and its extermination delusions,” she said.
Kurlander said the AJCongress has heard from Jews who feel “personally betrayed” by the magazine’s action. She said there are feminists in Israel, such as Shalvi, who side with the magazine and believe “Israel should be shown as the terrible country it is vis a vis women and who don’t believe in showing Israeli women’s accomplishments.”
But she suggested that these are the same women who would want the world to lament the Palestinian olive groves that were destroyed by Israel to prevent them from being used to conceal Palestinian gunmen. But the “core of Israel’s feminist movement would be pained by this and antagonistic to Ms.,” Kurlander added.