Why feminists should take up the Zionist cause

By Alan Dershowitz, September 25, 2008

If Tzipi Livni becomes the Prime Minister of Israel, the Israeli government may become the first in history to have women heading each of its branches. The head of the judiciary, Dorit Beinisch, is a prominent judge who has served in many capacities in the Israeli legal system. Dalia Itzik heads the legislature branch, serving as the respected speaker of the Knesset. Equally important, this unprecedented role played by women in a democracy has hardly been noticed in Israel and around the world. In one of the most egalitarian societies on earth, women serve in virtually every important capacity throughout society (with the notable exception of the military).

Nor is this a new phenomenon for the Jewish state. When Golda Meir became the prime minister of Israel, she may have been the first elected woman leader in modern history who was not the spouse, child, or sibling of a prominent male leader. Meir was a Zionist pioneer who served in important positions prior to and during Israel's establishment. She did it on her own, without being related to an influential man.

Yet despite these victories for feminism and for equal treatment of women, many feminists around the world continue to vilify Israel and to support its sexist enemies who engage in gender apartheid. Recently, Ms Magazine refused to run an ad by the American Jewish Congress (AJC) featuring these three prominent female leaders of Israel and the caption "This is Israel". One reason reportedly given by the magazine was that the ad would "cause a lot of opposition" and "create a firestorm."

Presumably this "opposition" and "firestorm" would come from feminist readers of Ms Magazine who do not want to read anything positive about Israel, even if it is also positive about women.

How does one explain this bigotry? How does one explain the fact that Emily's List, a political group that supports feminist political candidates in the United States, recently endorsed an African American woman widely regarded as antisemitic who was running for Congress against a Jewish man who supported virtually the entire feminist agenda? The woman, Nikki Tinker, had denounced Cohen for not supporting "our churches". Emily's List, which was Tinker's most substantial financial backer, finally denounced a Tinker ad that was plainly antisemitic, but continued to endorse her candidacy.

Emily's List also endorsed Cynthia McKinney for Congress despite her being widely perceived as antisemitic and having a despicable record with regard to Israel and many other matters. McKinney is now running for President of the United States on the Green ticket.

None of this should be surprising to British readers who are used to so many so-called progressives being blind, deaf and dumb when it comes to Israel and its enemies. The former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was a paradigmatic example of this phenomenon. This is not generally the case in the United States, where most liberals support Israel, though not all of its policies, and where virulent opposition to Israel comes primarily from the extreme radical left and the extreme Neanderthal right such as Pat Buchanan and syndicated columnist Joseph Sobran (who call themselves Paleo-conservatives), who align themselves with British soulmates such as Taki Theodoracopulos.

Those of us who support Israel must make the world aware of its contributions to feminism, environmentalism, gay rights and other progressive causes.

Criticism of questionable or wrong-headed Israeli policies is to be encouraged, since criticism is the lifeblood of democracy. But appreciation of Israel's accomplishments must also be encouraged. Indeed, those who refuse to acknowledge Israel's commitment to gender equality, in a world still rampant with gender apartheid, lose all credibility when it comes to criticising the Jewish state.

So as we enter the New Year, let us applaud Israel's accomplishments while welcoming constructive criticisms of those policies which still need improvement.

Alan M Dershowitz is a Professor of Law at Harvard. His most recent book, The Case Against Israel's Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand In The Way of Peace, is being published by Wiley at the end of this month

Last updated: 11:45am, October 6 2008