Feminine Solidarity Has Limits

Article Summary
On March 19 [2012], Arab MK Haneen Zoabi was controversially banned from a feminist conference in memory of scholar Vicki Shiran, a seminar she was supposed to address. Merav Batito explains why, despite the dissent the decision has sown among feminist activists, it was the right decision.

We were born within a few months of each other  she’s just a little bit older than me. Our parents speak almost the same Arabic language, and we even both used to be teachers. Had I met Haneen Zoabi a year ago, it’s likely that I would have hugged her, told her how painful the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is for me, offered to go together to some checkpoint in order to see from up close their children and our child soldiers. We would have probably sat for coffee and fantasized out loud about the day women would do better political work than the men are doing.

Zoabi is not nice. Some sort of righteous bitterness leeches on to her personality and refuses to let go: from the daring girl she once was to the first female Arab MK, she has turned into a wicked woman who does not know how to distinguish between the pragmatism of doers to the utopianism of dreamers. Her decision to take part in the Gaza flotilla as a head sailor on the Mavi Marmara and the fan photographs she has taken with senior Hamas officials turned her in my eyes into someone that should cause you to think twice before being in her vicinity.

Even in the introduction to a book by Ben White, a British author considered an anti-Semite, Zoabi volunteered some gems describing Zionism as colonialist racism. Even her participation  as though against her will  in the satire show “State of the Nation” didn’t manage to rescue Zoabi from her role as a bothersome Islamist insistent on dragging the Arabs of Israel by their hair into her arguments; for her, a good Arab is an Arab who hates Israel.

Last week [March 19, 2012], a seminar took place in Beit Berl in memory of feminist scholar Vicki Shiran on gender and politics. Many good people from academia, literature and politics were invited, including MKs Tzipi Livni and MK Zahava Gal-On. Shiran’s legacy, which views equal representation for women as a necessary condition for sound politics, was what brought the organizers to invite Haneen Zoabi. But at the last minute, the organizers at Beit Berl remembered that her radical worldview was a bit too much for them, and they canceled her participation.

That’s where the plot twist comes in. An official and urgent letter of protest from women’s organizations, mostly Mizrahi (Oriental Jews) and Arab, was sent to the organizers of the seminar, announcing that feminine solidarity requires they stand alongside Zoabi. They tore at academic and cultural freedom; linked it, with demagogic amateurism, to the anti-democratic trends among us; and announced that all Mizrahi spokeswomen would not come to the conference.

I am pleased by this blanket identification of Mizrahi women with uncompromising radicalism: the Mizrahi DNA with which I came into this world has granted me a perspective regarding the inferior status of black women. The women of the organization “Achoti,” and the people of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition, which Vicki Shiran helped found, are my sisters. The issues that bother them are part of my daily vocabulary, and I have asked myself more than once how the Jewish state would look if it had been established by people from Middle Eastern countries and not from Europe. To my children, I am a model of political liberalism, and I instill in them principles through which they can understand the injustices we cause to ourselves and our neighbors with our policy of occupation, which is essentially imposed on us all.

But today, I say to Zoabi, to my sisters and to all those who advocate multi-culturalism: enough! I have nothing in common with one who calls into question the fact of our existence. From my perspective, one who sees Zionism as racism should go and look for allies in Hamas. One who prays for the uprising of the Arabs of Israel is certainly not my friend. 

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