A noble intersection – where Zionism and Feminism meet.

Linda Sarsour would appear to be a rising star of feminist causes. She organizes rallies, cleans up cemeteries and protests at every conceivable opportunity. She is a veritable pin up for girl power.

In the last few days, Sarsour has made sweeping comments that Zionism and feminism simply do not go together.

“It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it,” Sarsour said.

Comments like this are fast alienating Jewish, Zionist women from participating in the growing feminist movement in the USA.

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Feminism is very much a part of the fabric of Zionism and the story of the modern state of Israel and as a Zionist, feminist woman I am free to pretty much say what I want – unlike my Palestinian sisters.

Feminism predates the modern state of Israel and weaves through Jewish history with feminist heroines like Yael and Devorah and they have continued the tradition of strong, outspoken women in modern times. Zionists wrote the book on feminism. Literally! Have you read the bible? Some pretty strong women in there!

Zionist women are the ultimate feminist rebels, pioneers and trailblazers.  Before the formal establishment of Israel, women were establishing the systems and institutions that would improve life for her citizens.  While the men jaw jawed and talked politics, women were busy on the ground.

I am a proud volunteer member of WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation), holding the position of Executive member in charge of Public Diplomacy. WIZO was founded in 1920 and a little known fact is that the organization was at the forefront of the suffragette movement that took place in Europe at the time.  The struggle for political suffrage for women is regarded as first wave of feminism.

Our history is proud and noble and our women have worked hard for the improvement of the status of women both in Israel and globally. We have representatives on various UN bodies that lobby for the rights of women and children and amongst our many achievements have been programmes that help women in minority communities, some who have even run for office. WIZO formed a party and ran for Knesset in Israel’s first elections in 1949, receiving 1.2% of the vote and winning one seat and was represented by Rachel Cohen-Kagan, chairwoman of WIZO at the time and a signatory to our Declaration of Independence.

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WIZO’s Rachel Kagan signs the Declaration of Independence

Women’s rights in Israel are amongst the most progressive in the world and it would be remiss of me to not mention the iconic Golda Meir, one of the first female Prime Ministers in the world.  A powerful leader and orator, Meir was one of the first to recognize how Israel can help impoverished countries in Africa and this was very much in line with the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl’s, vision that he wrote in his manifesto.

Zionist women are free to criticize any policy that we may disagree with because an Israel that stands up to the tenets of Zionism is what we strive for.

Israel is a vibrant and flawed democracy just like any other country and women are very much a part of the fabric that has and continues to build the country every day. We are pioneers in many fields. We are trailblazers in business, politics, volunteer organisations, the arts and sciences and so much more.  We are religious and secular and everything in between. We are warriors and defenders of our country on land, sea, air and airwaves and we are homemakers, entrepreneurs and creative genii.  We are changing the political landscape and we represent over 80 different ethnicities. We can vote, drive, and own property and business. We can make decisions that govern our bodies and our communities and and lobby vociferously for continued improvement.

It is not just in Israel where Zionist women are trailblazers. It was a Zionist, feminist woman, Helen Suzman, who sat in parliament as the lone voice fighting against the Apartheid government in South Africa.

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Helen Suzman and Nelson Mandela

Well Linda, if you are really concerned about the rights of Palestinian women you would be holding the leadership accountable at every possible turn. You would be demonstrating your outrage about domestic  violence and honour killings, gender Apartheid which prohibits women from owning property or businesses,  driving, voting and pursuing careers of their choice. You would march against underage brides forced to marry men before they reach puberty. You would be outraged about genital mutilation, genocide of Christians and the unspeakable torture women are enduring in the Middle East under ISIS.

Thank you Linda Sarsour for exposing what we know for sure – BDS is becoming more and more irrelevant as governments and institutions continue to pass legislation to block or ban them so they have to hijack other cause to remain relevant. This is known as “intersectionality”. You are supporter of this movement that operates under the false pretens of “human rights” but is continuously exposed for the rabid anti-Semitism they extol.

Well Ms Sarsour, we Zionist women are happy to meet you at any intersection. Standing up for the rights of women regardless of religion or political leanings is what feminism is all about.

Stop pointing your finger at Israel and Zionists and use your considerable platform to give a voice to our suffering sisters.  Help those women who you accuse us of discriminating against. They are far more deserving of your attention than we are.

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They call me Occupier Barbie

They call me Occupier Barbie. This is not because of any political opinions or leanings but because I am Jewish. I am viewed as a de facto “occupier” not because I live in any disputed area but because I live in Israel, the Jewish State, which some see as being illegally occupied as they venomously chant  “from the river to the sea”. Historical facts seem to play no role.

Occupier Barbie is not the only derogatory name I have been called. It is just the most creative. Some of the others are so repugnant, that I don’t want to repeat them in polite company. So why am I bringing this up again? The answer is simple – because as long as this ugly hatred rears its head I will show up to use my voice against it. It is critical that we start to use our voices as often and as loud as possible.

Anti-Semitism, long referred to as the oldest hatred, is spreading like a cancer throughout the world. We have seen it resurface in Europe just decades after the darkest moment in human history, the Holocaust. We must remember that the gas chambers of Auschwitz was built on words, they did not simply appear in a vacuum.

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Now this disease has spread to the USA where to date there have been multiple waves of threats against various Jewish Community Centres , graves have been desecrated in cemeteries and property defaced with swastikas and other horrific graffiti.  It seems that even the Jewish dead are not allowed peace.  Anti-Semitism has been roundly condemned by the US government but it has yet to reach the level of consciousness in the media or popular culture that other issues such as the immigration ban or infamous “Pussy Marches” have had. Yes I said the “P”word but how you interpret it is up to where your mind is at. Weren’t you thinking of a hat…..?

While many of my feminist sisters marched for equal rights and equality, notably missing was a sign that said “Jewish rights are human rights”. The march was even organized by arch anti-Zionist, Linda Sarsour, who demanded to “free Palestine”.  She also used an image of Anne Frank to make this point and appropriating a picture of a victim of the Holocaust and using it to support an organization like BDS whose endgame is the destruction of the State of Israel is a new kind of low.

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Linda Sarsour hijacks the Women’s March in the most appalling way.

Sarsour attempted a mea culpa by raising money to repair damaged gravestones that had been desecrated by flagrant anti-Semites. Occupier Barbie is not convinced – I detect a lack of authenticity. It felt a lot like well-planned media grandstanding.  What I do appreciate is the effort from Muslim veteran who offered to stand guard at Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. I tweeted each one my sincere gratitude. Every single one of them responded positively.

I have to say I am more than perturbed by the silence of the most high profile voices – celebrities. We cannot undervalue the power of their reach through social media and other outlets and we know that they LOVE a good cause and lately every opportunity to speak out at any given moment. Award season has been filled with righteous political speeches but when it comes to anti-Semitism, there is not a sound from the pulpits. Nada. Crickets.

While we know that the ACLU ribbon fabulously accessorizes the right frock and Louboutins, it means nothing if you don’t speak truth to power.

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More than a fashion statement?

I would love for them to put their money where the ribbon is and visit a campus and speak to the Jewish students, especially during the course of this month when the dreaded festival of hate, Israel Apartheid Week makes its annual appearance.

Last week it surfaced on the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) campus in Johannesburg. In the face of horrendous hatred and anti-Semitism Pro-Israel students gave us all a masterclass in dignity, class and courage under fire. They refused to be bullied or intimidated and stood up at every turn. They held us up on their mighty shoulders and inspired this blog. They showed us what the collective can accomplish, especially in the face of global silence.

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Iron like lions in Zion! Pro-Israel students on Wits Campus don’t take the “die in” lying down…..

They call me Occupier Barbie.  I refused to be embarrassed or cowered, instead  I am going to own it because I know who I am and what I stand for and invite you to stand with me, name calling and all!

They call me a Zionist apologist and make no mistake, I do not apologise for being a proud Zionist.

I am not naive or stupid. I am well aware of the serious threats and consequences of hate. I live with it every day and have cried countless tears over all those we have lost as a result of incitement and terrorism. I am well aware of loss. Those that seek to destroy us first do so by making us doubt who we are, by instilling fear and dread.

When we stand firm in our conviction, when we show up strong in our identity, they cannot shake our foundations, they cannot sow seeds of doubt. They cannot defeat us.

I am Occupier Barbie and I make no apologies for standing strong, for standing tall, for standing for what is true. Am Yisrael Chai!

Are we doing it wrong?

No not THAT! But I did get your attention…….

I am speaking about the way we advocate not just for Israel but engage on any political topic. In the post Clinton-Trump election campaign era where anything goes and people feel free to say whatever they want; many a dormant racist and Anti-Semite have found a new lease on life. Social media platforms have become extremely unpleasant and nothing is off limits – body shaming, parenting shaming, political viewpoint shaming is all the rage and if anyone can find something about you to insult, you bet your bottom dollar that they will.

And if you are a Zionist –whoo boy, it is open season for attack!!!

Some of you may be familiar with the recent exchange with popular radio broadcaster and journalist, Redi Tlhabi. Tlhabi has a show on 702 talk radio in Johannesburg and used her platform to excoriate the leader of the opposition in SA, Mmusi Maimane about his recent trip to Israel.

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Redi Tlhabi

Listen here:

Redi on the Maimane visit

Although the official government position of South Africa is support of a two state solution, President Jacob Zuma, recently called on South Africans to not go to Israel. This is an extremely myopic viewpoint for a country often lauded for its ability to broker reconciliation following the collapse of Apartheid in that country.

As someone who grew up in South Africa but is a proud Israeli citizen, I felt a duty to speak out against such flagrant media bias. Israel, like any country is not perfect. We make our fair share of mistakes but like any healthy democracy, criticism is welcome and so is the impetus to improve. When Israel is criticized in a vacuum at the expense of other conflict zones or factual untruths allowed to go unchallenged…well…that is where the line is crossed and we move into a dangerous area.

Make no mistake, criticism is healthy. It serves Israel no purpose to be above reproach. Criticizing the government is the favourite national pastime in Israel. Nobody does it better than us.

I was with this in mind that I wrote my open letter to Redi Thlabi. My intention was not to engage in the politics of blame but rather to try and open a dialogue. Often times, advocacy work becomes a dance of either going on the offensive or defensive and nobody wins. I thought maybe it was time for a different approach. I hoped that by sitting down, woman to woman and broadcaster to broadcaster, we could connect on a different level. Blatant aggression from supporters does not serve the case of either side. To those who have no dog in the race, we look like a bunch of over emotional nut-jobs. My intention was to approach this from a mature angle a “let’s talk tachlis” (okay, a small bit of promotion here!) – maybe if we start a responsible conversation, others would follow.

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Rolene Marks

You can read our exchange here:

My letter to Redi Tlhabi:

http://www.news24.com/Columnists/GuestColumn/a-letter-to-redi-tlhabi-on-israel-20170119-2

Redi’s rebuttal:

http://m.news24.com/news24/Columnists/GuestColumn/redi-tlhabi-on-israel-maimane-and-unfair-criticism-20170123

It wasn’t quite the response that I was hoping for and I was dismayed that Tlhabi seemed closed to discourse.  Never the less, the attempt was made and I am not discouraged in the least. In fact I will continue to knock on the doors.

I am glad that Redi raised the issue of bullying. I have been called everything from “Occupier Barbie” to “closeted Muslim” and sms boards and the twitterverse go nuts if I say something that deviates a millimeter off sycophantic drivel while giving my analysis on my daily radio slot. This has to stop. It only serves to alienate those who have not been polarized by the conflict and are open to engagement.

I love my country. Passionately. I love her people, her beautiful flaws and like any great love, am prepared to sometimes get into a little argument with her. I am no different to my fellow citizens who feel and do the same. I believe that part of being Zionist means always striving for a strong and great Israel.

I believe we need to show up. Show up for the conversation, no matter how difficult it may be. I sincerely believe that very time we engage, like or share on social media, send an email, we stand on the shoulders of the generations that came before us who had no voice and we speak for them.  It is a moral imperative to talk, to engage with others, to take advantage of the uncomfortable questions not just as an opportunity to present Israel’s side of the argument but to truly listen to the concerns of others. Instead of shutting down, let’s learn how to answer effectively, factually and with maturity.

Opening doors is how peace is forged. We cannot be responsible for the actions of the other side and we are certainly don’t need to be punching bags but we do need to ensure that when speaking about Israel, we put our best foot forward – not in our mouths.

Talking Tachlis: A conversation with Natan Sharansky and Prof.Rivka Lazovsky

I am delighted to introduce the latest episode of Talking Tachlis which features a conversation between two great organisations. World WIZO Executive Member: Public Diplomacy & Hasbara, Rolene Marks and I sat down with Chairman of the Executive for the Jewish Agency for Israel and human rights icon, Natan Sharansky for a conversation about our organizations, defining anti-Semitism through “the 3-d lens”, special friendships with Nelson Mandela and a whole lot more.

This was a real highlight for me and very humbling to sit down with a modern Zionist hero.

Video clip is in English and available with English, French and Spanish subtitles:

English subtitles

Spanish subtitles

French Subtitles

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Talking Tachlis: Dr Elana Heideman

In this latest episode of World WIZO “Talking Tachlis” I chatted with Israel Forever Foundation Executive Director, Dr. Elana Heideman. We spoke about 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, the legacy of Elie Wiesel z”l and the 2017 International Holocaust Memorial Day.

Visit: http://www.israelforever.org

Dr Elana Heideman

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The world is silent

This is currently published in the SA Jewish Report:

http://www.sajr.co.za/news-and-articles/2016/12/18/the-world-remains-silent-on-aleppo

The streets of Paris are silent. In London, Rome, New York, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Barcelona and countless cities around the world, the streets are silent. Nobody has shown up en masse to protest the genocide in Syria. The streets are devoid of people and indignation. The global streets that once teemed with angry protests against Israel for defending herself against rockets from Gaza, have fallen silent for the civilians of Aleppo who have summarily been slaughtered.

The world is silent.

In the hallowed halls of the institutions that are charged with safeguarding our world and the protection of those that cannot defend themselves, the global community of representatives are silent. There are no resolutions, no emergency sessions.

Just silence.

Perhaps there should be less attention focused on Wonder Women’s breasts and more on the genocide in Syria….

From the lofty heights of social media platforms, where many have focused a disproportionate amount of attention on drivel, the armchair pundits and generals are silent.

The movers and shakers and opinion makers from the global media have not dedicated column inches and soundbites to the civilians of Aleppo. No righteous indignation from those that command the airwaves.

Elections Trump genocide.

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Silence governs the human rights organisations.  One would expect these moral high ground practitioners to be leading the charge against the gross abuse happening in Syria but their energy is reserved for other parts of the Middle East…..

Anyone hear a peep from the BDS movement? If they really were concerned with human rights they would be front and centre.

When the leader of the free world tango’d with red lines and allowed the gas to consume tens of thousands of civilians the West was silent. Epic foreign policy failure, President Obama, epic!!

More than 310 000 Syrians have been killed and more than half the population displaced. The State of Israel, while having hostile relations with Syria, has provided humanitarian aid to civilians. While Israel maintains a policy of non-intervention, we have treated nearly 3000 civilians in field hospitals and in Israel.  IDF reserve doctors had this to say in a letter to the army chief-of-staff, in their demand to be called up to help:

We know there are security considerations, and we know there are diplomatic considerations. But there is a principle, there is a truth, and there is morality: We must demand from ourselves to be there for them,” the letter, quoted by Israeli news site 04040.

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Israeli doctor explains prosthetic leg to injured Syrian civilian (courtesy AFP)

Over 70 years after humanity’s greatest atrocity, the Holocaust, the world looked in horror and vowed NEVER AGAIN.  We debated why the railroads to Auschwitz were not bombed, why the Allied powers did nothing to stop the extermination of a third of world Jewry. Many recoiled in horror at the images of the tortured, starved and gassed and said we would never let crimes against humanity happen again.

It is ironic that next month, on the 27th of January, many will commemorate International Holocaust Memorial Day, designated by the United Nations to remember the worst genocide in recent memory. There will be many who will make speeches filled with platitudes about the importance of education and remembrance so that atrocities of this kind never happen again.

But has the world learned anything from history?

Silence has failed the six million and their survivors. Silence has failed Rwanda, Srebrenica, Cambodia and Darfur. Silence has failed Aleppo.

We cannot afford to be silent anymore. None of us in good conscience can say “but we didn’t know”.

As we reach the end of 2016, a year filled with many horrors around the world, we need to use our collective voices. We need to take to the streets and to social media. As media consumers we need to demand proper, balanced coverage. As citizens of humanity, we need to look for ways to help (see link below)

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/how-to-help-aleppo-charities-and-organisations-to-donate-to-including-msf-the-red-cross-and-the-white-helmets_uk_584ff7a8e4b040989fa80770

Do not make NEVER AGAIN an empty platitude – make it your resolution. No more silence.

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Who is a Zionist?

This blog is currently featured in the SA Jewish Report:

http://www.sajr.co.za/news-and-articles/2016/12/14/who-is-a-zionist-is-an-ever-present-question

There has been a lot of debate, discussion and social media brouhaha lately over who is or what defines a Zionist.

In simple terms Zionism is nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland. The great civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King, was rumoured to have coined this definition of Zionism and I reckon he knew quite a bit about human rights. And he was a Zionist! And he wasn’t Jewish!!

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The reason that I am writing about this is important.

After thousands of years of being made well aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, we have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland.  The word Zion refers to those biblical times since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous peoples rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.

Zionism is also the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of our rights to organize ourselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to our ancient roots and love for Zion. Many thought that with the realization of the modern state of Israel, antisemitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.

I think that saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is racism. And many agree with me and that is why we have a phenomenal support base that includes many Christians who work tirelessly in support of the Jewish state and Muslims, some of whom put their lives at risk to support Israel.

This has rattled some who believe that only Jews can be Zionists. It is like we belong to a secret group that requires a secret handshake and meets in a treehouse.  This philosophy is exclusionary and I find it deeply offensive.

I am a card carrying, loud spoken, flag carrying, Hatikvah singing Zionist. I don’t care much for labels or wings but take exceptional pride in the fact that our beautiful flawed democracy, The State of Israel, is brilliantly multicultural and allows for divergent opinions. Robust discussion and debate is a point of pride in a neighbourhood where you can be killed for disagreeing with the leaders or following a different religion. Are we all not heartbroken by the visuals coming out of Syria or news of Christians being slaughtered in our region?

Is Israel perfect? No – sometimes we are guilty of an epic fail or many but I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and self-correct. I believe that Zionism means you want to see an exemplary Israel. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Christian, Muslim, left and right.

“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Who are we to behave or treat our supporters differently?

One of my concerns right now as a proud Zionist is the propensity for some to say that Christians cannot be Zionists and if they are they must be on a mission to convert us. This kind of paranoia is dangerous and deeply insulting to our millions of Christian friends who support us whole heartedly. If you are strong in your identity and conviction nobody would be able to convert you anyway so please, stop with the paranoia!!!

I am proud of the many Arab, Druze, Christian and other minority groups who proudly serve in our diplomatic corps and IDF, laying their lives on the line every day for our safety. The rights of minorities while not always respected (and this must be corrected) are enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.

The world is becoming a hostile place for Zionists. Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops rand sacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis and BDS supporters in Europe or South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.

We should be opening our arms to our friends of all faiths.  Our Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other friends who march defiantly, waving their blue and white proudly, the friends who have come here to Israel to see the facts on the ground for themselves and are loudly proclaiming their support. The friends who at great cost to their safety make the case for Israel in institutions and government buildings where we have been accused of the most vile tomes.  On social media and in houses of worship, where some preach hate and incite to kill, there are others who speak of tolerance, peace and their love for the Jewish people.

To deny them entry into an exclusive club or doubt their motives is intolerant, discriminatory and downright rude. It smacks of horrible stereotypes and treatment that we have received throughout our history.

It was the dream of another great Zionist who while addressing civil rights in America in the 1960’s, voiced a sentiment that is universal and  as relevant today as it was then when he said:

“We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.We cannot turn back.”

So if you ask me who is a Zionist, I say I am. And my arms are wide open and hands outstretched to those who say Am Yisrael Chai!