[an Op Ed that didn’t run… ]
On Tuesday 23 July, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (known as BDS) – a Palestinian-led campaign inspired by the anti-apartheid movement in 1980s South Africa, as well as the US Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. 398 representatives voted in favor of the resolution. Of the seventeen who voted against the condemnation of BDS, ten were women, including Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
The First Amendment ensures the right of every American to boycott. Movements on both sides have used this non-violent tactic countless times in American history. Diversity is fundamentally American, silencing dissent is not. That said, I am not writing today to discuss the U.S. Constitution—I am writing to discuss what is just, and, therefore, what is feminist.
Launched in 2005, the BDS movement calls for an end to international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressures Israel to comply with international law, upholding “the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.” The BDS movement has been powerful in uniting a broad range of groups worldwide in challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism, which are goals of the Zionist political project. This is closely tied to the principles of the modern intersectional feminist movement, as it has been defined by its refusal to accept injustice of any kind. As Audre Lorde once said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles look very different from my own.” In short, the plight of the Palestinian people is a feminist issue. In its call to end oppression and to fight for equality, BDS is aligned with feminist objectives.
This is not to say that battling antisemitism is not a feminist objective. It is worth noting that Zionism, a political ideology, is not universally accepted by all Jews. And, an opposition to Zionism does not negate the existence of Israel as a state. Therefore, conflating Zionism and antisemitism is both inherently antisemitic and anti-feminist. Abed Ayoub, the national policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, puts it best: “The issue here is the aggressions and the policies put forward by Israel and how we are turning a blind eye on those as a nation.”
It it beyond dispute that for over 70 years Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights and has refused to comply with international law. This has been reaffirmed by numerous UN resolutions, including Resolution 3376, Resolution 73/18, Resolution 66/225, among several others.
Activism by women – and for women – is significant not only for domestic politics. It is well known that women worldwide bear the brunt of conflict. Contexts of instability are more dangerous for women, women are deliberately targeted, and economic insecurities force women into trafficking and sex work for survival.
And yet, women are not only victims in such contexts. It is equally well known that women serve as the social safety net for those most in need. I have spent over 20 years working in emergency settings from Afghanistan to Congo to Haiti. In every conflict I have seen, it has been the community’s women who know who needs help, and how to help them. And it is always women who reach out to help other women.
Undeniable in this debate is that women leaders are standing up, speaking out, and changing the rules at the highest levels. These congresswomen are crucial voices in calls to end all forms of oppression – for all Americans. Selective liberation is not an option – every American is entitled to full freedom. These women show courage not because of a higher moral calling to do so, compared to their male colleagues; women take greater political risks because there is no alternative, because women bear the brunt of conflict and everyday injustices – in Palestine and everywhere.
Despite lip-service paid to human rights and human dignity, this issue is about the struggle for freedom, justice and equality – feminist values. And, allegedly, American values. US decisions extend beyond American borders, in this case directly impacting Arab women in the region. Meanwhile, Arab women on US soil continue to show leadership in the face of adversity; these women will not cower before men threatened by their power.