Apartheid isn’t feminist

March 24, 2014

The state of Israel is trying to use "pinkwashing"--trumpeting its supposedly liberal, feminist and gay-friendly social atmosphere--to wipe away the stain of its military occupation and apartheid treatment of Palestinians. In so doing, apologists for Israel aim to draw away potential liberal supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

One of the Israeli government's frequent strategies is to tour Israel Defense Force soldiers--with the aim of humanizing its occupation forces and, in this case, promoting its military as a beacon of gender equality. In response, the Campaign for BDS at Ohio StateCampaign for BDS at Ohio State issued this statement.

We also came to understand how overt repression is buttressed by deceptive representations of the state of Israel as the most developed social democracy in the region. As feminists, we deplore the Israeli practice of "pinkwashing," the state's use of ostensible support for gender and sexual equality to dress up its occupation.
--From a report by a delegation of indigenous and women-of-color feminists after their visit to Palestine

THE CAMPAIGN for BDS at Ohio State University (OSU) was disturbed to see the event "Food for Thought: What is it Like to be a Woman in Uniform? A Woman in a Man's Shoes--How Does it Work?" hosted by OSU Hillel and cosponsored by the Multicultural Center on March 18. The event featured Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldier Rebecca Stoil, who "talked her way into the IDF, despite being told that she was 'too old,' and then talked her way out of serving as a secretary and into a combat unit."

On a campus that encourages critical thinking and claims to work to advance "the global community through the creation and dissemination of knowledge," an event like this calls for an analysis of the power relations and structural inequalities that privilege some people over others, and makes invisible the lives and perspectives of indigenous people.

Protesters take a stand against pinkwashing Israeli apartheid
Protesters take a stand against pinkwashing Israeli apartheid

Events that set up IDF soldiers as feminist role models simultaneously make invisible the actual nature of the IDF and the people it most affects. In a neutral framework, to be a woman in the military may be an accomplishment, yet one cannot separate Stoil's story from the reality that she fought to be a part of a military that has devastated Palestine and the Palestinian people. To be a soldier in the Israeli military means to defend occupation, destroy lives and livelihoods, secure checkpoints in occupied Palestine that inhibit basic movement for arbitrary reasons, torture as a regular part of interrogations, and control access to basic resources in Gaza.

The call for BDS--the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and ends the occupation of Palestine--originated in Palestinian civil society and is supported by several organizations committed to gender and sexual equality, such as Palestinian Queers for BDS and the Palestinian Federation of Women's Action Committee. Feminist scholars like Angela Davis, Judith Butler and Jasbir Puar have spoken out in favor of BDS.

What draws such figures to join the movement against the Israeli state's continued occupation is their mutual recognition that BDS is in line with an anti-colonialist politics that should be inseparable from any feminist politics. As Andrea Smith has shown, sexism and sexist violence are tools of colonialism and occupation. Amnesty International reports, "Palestinian women have borne the brunt of the suffering but their plight has been largely ignored. The multiple violations committed by Israeli forces in the Occupied Territories have had grave and long-term consequences for the Palestinian population and a particularly negative impact on women." Opposing occupation is a feminist stance.

In the past year, several academic organizations, including the Association for Asian American Studies, the American Studies Association, the Modern Language Association, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, have adopted resolutions that, to different degrees, condemn Israeli aggression and call for greater attention to the plight of Palestinian people.

At Ohio State, a BDS campaign has been reignited after the OSU administration wrote a letter condemning the ASA vote for a BDS resolution. For those who wish to sign our petition that responds to the OSU statement and supports the ASA decision, we have linked to it here. We also wanted to include some text from it, which recognizes whose voices are heard and whose neglected without such a movement:

These [boycotting] organizations recognize that rather than inhibiting the free flow of ideas, boycotts effectively broaden the scope of academic dialogue and exchange by asserting that Palestinians, too, are endowed with the same fundamental rights to freedom, equality, and self-determination as everyone else--that they have the right to engage in the same dialogue about their academic freedoms as their Israeli counterparts. The boycott is a stand for justice, a stand for Palestinian academics and students who all too frequently find their schools arbitrarily closed and their ability to travel to classes, meetings, and conferences severely curtailed.

The Israeli state and its defenders use women's rights to distract from the suffering the IDF creates. We must respond by heeding the request Palestinian organizations made to the delegation of indigenous and women-of-color feminists on their visit in 2011: "We are not asking you for heroic action or to form freedom brigades. We are simply asking you not to be complicit in perpetuating the crimes of the Israeli state."

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