National Women’s Studies Association BDS (Jewish Invisibility & Anti-Semitism)

feminst bds

Does intersectional analysis mean that “Zionists” are the intersection of everything? Yes, Israel and Palestine is a feminist issue to which one might have hoped that feminist scholarship and activism will continue to contribute important critical and constructive resources. But it is hard to see how the recommendation for BDS recently voted on by the National Women’s Studies Association will help to that end. You can read the full resolution here.

With this vote to boycott Israeli universities as a signal, it might very well be that the academic left has now been subsumed completely by anti-Zionism.

That means supporters of a two-state solution have few to no remaining allies to find there. A possible result might be that as long as the academic left continues to play the colonialism card, Jewish supporters of a two-state solution Jewish critics might have to push back hard by highlighting the way BDS promotes Jewish invisibility. Like it or not, this includes the anti-Semtism card.  Despite rote the rote opposition to anti-Semitism, there is no reason not to suspect that a more robust form of Jewish experience, including the experience of Jewish historical suffering, is not recognized at this “intersectional perspective.”

About Jewish invisibility and the construction of token good Jews in academic feminism and at the National Women’s Studies Association,   Janet Freedman wrote this powerful piece here at the Forward, which you can read here. The whole piece is worth reading in its entirety, but these words caught my eye.

“The FAQ [which you can read here –ZJB] responding to apprehensions about whether the BDS resolution could be seen as anti-Semitic was addressed with this rejoinder: “(W)hat is really anti-Semitic is the attempt to identify all Jews with a philosophy that many find abhorrent to the traditions of social justice and universality that Judaism enshrines.” I observed that such presumptive, condescending language reprises the ancient appeal to the “good” Jew, in this case one who sides with those who see Israel as a demonic entity. The tactic of seeking out the exceptional ones in a despised group is one that has long been used to reinforce despicable racism and anti-Semitism.”

“While professing the challenging of interlacing systems of oppression that must be addressed together, anti-Semitism is frequently unseen or excluded. The Jewish invisibility and anti-Semitism within NWSA that led to the formation of a Jewish Caucus in the 1980s continues to exist. In response to this, fewer Jewish women have sustained their commitment to the organization and there is a paucity of sessions on the varied histories, lives, issues and activism of Jewish women.”

A less hopeless conclusion might be drawn by closely reading this piece by Dana Olwan at Al-Jazeera, which you can read here in its entirety. Olwan writes. “There is fear that the boycott will isolate Jewish and Israeli academics seeking a two-state solution and foreclose the possibility of dialogue… What is perhaps different about them in relation to the NWSA resolution is that they are shaped by a liberal feminist discourse invested in forms of coexistence, peace, and dialogue adamantly oblivious to issues of power.  One could note that in her statement, Olwan does not oppose necessarily a two-state solution. And while I think she presencts a widel circulated caricature of liberalism and liberal feminism (as if liberal feminism is oblivious to power), it would be easy enough to split the difference in order to agree that power is obviously integral to the challenge of co-exsistence, peace, and dialogue, which BDS does no much to undermine

In contrast to Olwan’s remarks, compare in contrast this statement by Rabab Abdulhadi, who told The Electronic Intifada, which you can read here, that the BDS vote at the NWSA, “was a long time in the making because of the changes NWSA was going through, especially the browning of the organization and the challenges it waged against white supremacy which went hand in hand with Zionist influence in the women’s movement and women’s and feminist scholarship.”

Despite all protestations to the contrary, the association of Zionism with white supremacy and the question of “Zionist” control of the women’s movement and feminist scholarship will appear to a good many critical readers as pure and poorly cloaked anti-Semitism. Has the academic woman’s studies solved its problem with racism, or will it do so at the expense of Jewish colleagues. With the so-called browning of the movement, does that mean that Ashkenazi Jewish feminists are out if they don’t toe a dogmatic party line based on intersectional analysis?

Can one even trust one’s friends anymore? Where the discourse about Israel and Zionism actually goes is anyone’s guess. It depends probably on how far members of the the academic left want to draw their critique of Zionism and the State of Israel. Opposed to the 1967 occupation, but cut off and silenced at this particular intersection, liberal Jews, who represent the mainstream of Jewish public opinion in this country, have little reason to be overly optimistic  in relation to the academic left.

The current climate has been made toxic by simplistic and overreaching rhetoric about a complex, multi-dimensional historical conflict. Jewish invisibility, by which one means not the absence of Jews, but rather the invisibility of Jewish cultural perspectives in academic associations will only contribute to this poisonous political environment. It will do so to everyone’s detriment, especially Jews and Muslims, and in particular those who want to work together for a just and agreed upon resolution to this conflict. Despite this or that best intention, by relying on concepts taken from post-colonial stock figures, the academic left is offering no help.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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