ISL (Israel) – “Zionist State Launches Attack on Women”

Below is a statement on women’s oppression in Israel/Occupied Palestine by the Internationalist Socialist League. We post this piece for the purposes of discussion and welcome any contributions readers may wish to make.

“Zionist State Launches Attack on Women”

Chauvinism Cannot Be Defeated Without Struggle against Palestinian Oppression

Recently in Israel, we have witnessed a wave of reports on acts of chauvinist oppression, especially ones committed by Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews: from attempts to stop women from singing in public, through attempts to force women to sit in the back of the bus, and up to a verbal attack by Haredim on a 7-year-old girl, who in their minds was not dressed in a way fit for a woman. The Zionist media has named the phenomenon “Women’s Exclusion”. In fact, it is a classic example of the oppression of women under class society.

It did not take long for a public response to take place. On the 23.12.2011, gatherings were held inJerusalem and Tel-Aviv protesting this oppression. At noon, about 300 people marched fromFrance Square toHaMashbir Square inCentral Jerusalem. Among the slogans raised were “Equal Rights and Nothing Less” and “Equal Pay – Women’s Fundamental Right”.

On the same day, Tzipi Livni spoke at a convention on the subject of women’s oppression, saying “this struggle isn’t only about women’s rights; it is a struggle for the character of the state ofIsrael. It’s clear to me that if we won’t fight on this front… no one else will do it for the state of Israel… we have to realize that the situation is changing rapidly and that it is our job to stop this degeneration, and that [standing up to] sayings like ‘better a firing squad than women singing’ and ‘don’t rent Arabs apartments’ are part of the same struggle”.[1] Livni is the leader of Kadima, a party whose program for the 17th Knesset included explicit support for the settlements. When it was founded, its proposal for peace with the Palestinians included an Israeli retreat from the 1967 territories, but also the annexation of Ariel, Maale Edomim and Qiryat Arba, among other settlements.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yechimovich also took part in the convention. Yechimovich was heavily criticized by the Israeli left after stating in Haaretz that she “does not see the settlement enterprise as a crime” and made it clear that it was justified as long as they were supported by the Zionist mainstream.

This co-optation of the movement by pro-settler parties does not bode well for the women’s movement which is organizing inIsrael– and it must be said that this movement has done nothing to recruit to its ranks Palestinian women, who suffer oppression both as Palestinians and as women. Of course, as long as the leadership of the movement is left in the hands of Zionist, racist, pro-settlement women like Yechimovitch and Livni, this will not change.

We do not doubt the seriousness of the incidents reported by the media. But the Zionist media is not interested in exposing the causes for the rise in the number of such incidents, but in finding comfortable scapegoats that the Israeli government. This is why from the beginning, reports by the Zionist media – whether identified with the right, like Maariv and Yediot Ahronot, or ones identified with the left, like Haaretz – were tinged with anti-Haredi racism. This is part of a conscious attempt to blame all political and religious radicalization inIsraelon the Haredim. Like all racist mud slinging, it has very little to do with the reality of the situation.

Were the people who refused to listen to women singing in the IDF event Haredim? No. Most Haredi people do not serve in the army at all. The officers in this case were in fact religious nationalists. In December, Nethanyahu expressed his support for a law suggested by Israel Beitenu MK Anastasia Michaeli, which will prevent mosques from using loudspeakers to call on people to pray. Are Nethanyahu and Michaeli Haredim? No, they are secular right-wingers who prepare the ground for settler pogroms against Palestinians – the so-called “price tag” attacks. Has Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, who proposed a law which will enable the chief Rabbinate to oversee the production of electricity, suddenly become Haredi? Of course not.

Thus it is clear that the cause for religious radicalization and women’s oppression is not a Haredi takeover of the state, but the Zionist apartheid state’s growing need to rely on ever more radical right-wing elements of Israeli society in order to maintain the brutal oppression of the Palestinian people.

Many Zionists want to revive Zionist liberalism and “return to the values of the declaration of independence”. But the idyllic image they have of the Israeli state at the time of its founding has nothing to do with reality. During the writing of the declaration of independence the Nakba, during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinian were slaughtered and expelled, took place. Shortly afterwards, Palestinian were put under martial law. At the time, the Zionist left dominated Israeli society. Racism is not an exclusively right-wing Zionist phenomenon: quite the opposite, it is an integral part of all political tendencies of Zionism. The internal contradiction between Zionism’s need for racist oppression on the one hand and the liberal, and even socialist, pretensions of some of its representatives on the other, is exactly what has brought about the sharp turn to the right by Israeli society, which today enables, among other things, the oppression of women.

Zionist Women and Palestinian Women

In this context, one should analyze the reasons for the continued support of most of Jewish society inIsraelto the government’s oppressive policies.Israelis a colonialist settler state, which was created by expropriating the Palestinian people of its lands and property. For many years, the Zionist ruling class shared its loot from this expropriation with the Jewish masses, by creating a rather advanced welfare state. The Jewish masses learned that their identification with the state is crucial to ensure their privileged status relative to the Palestinian people.

This is especially clear in theWest Bank, where two systems of law exist: one for Jews and the other for Palestinians. Settlers are accorded many benefits, and their privileges exceed those of the Israelis living in the pre-1967 territories: they receive subsidized housing, transport and education, have their own roads, and soldiers are stationed at their settlements to guard them. If that weren’t enough, while the state is very forgiving when settlers expand their settlements illegally, the Zionist state demolishes every building that the Palestinians build without a permit, which they have no chance of receiving in the first place. This policy is meant to force upon the Palestinians the so-called “silent transfer”, and indeed, since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian have left their country due to these settlements and the terrorism perpetrated by their inhabitants.

One racist law which is worthy of discussion is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which creates an extreme situation of exclusion of Palestinians. According to this law, Palestinians living in the 1967 territories who marry Israeli citizens are not given the right to live inIsrael’s 1948 territories. It is hard not to understand that this oppression is harsher than any of the chauvinist incidents that led to the recent public outcry and rise in anti-Haredi feelings, and despite this fact, the Jewish liberal women who today want to struggle against their oppression remained, for the most part, silent regarding this law.

Oppression of Palestinian Women

What is the situation of Palestinian women inIsraelcompared to Jewish women? The rate of participation of Palestinian women in the Israeli job market is very low. Statistics show that over the last 10 years, this rate has been no greater than 23%. The rate is especially low in the south, where it averages around 11.4%. In the north, participation is about 19%, and in the center of the country it is about 23%.

Palestinian women inIsraelalso face discrimination in pay. The average monthly wage of Palestinian women is 4350NIS, compared to the 6112 NIS of Jewish women. Jewish women are also paid more per hour – 41.5NIScompared to 32.3 for Palestinian women.

Israeli propaganda claims that these differences are due to Palestinian society being a traditional patriarchal society, in which the division of labor is such that men are expected to work while women are expected to be housewives. To test this hypothesis, it is best to compare the situation of Palestinian women to that of women in the Arab states. Indeed, in these countries, the rate of women’s employment stands around 33.3% percent. Those who claim that the discrimination against Palestinian women is the Palestinians’ fault are merely spreading racist propaganda meant to cover up for Zionist oppression.

For a Palestine Free of Chauvinism and Racism

As we have shown, the oppression of women inIsraelis intimately bound with the oppression of Palestinians, as the same reactionary interests that are pursuing greater racist oppression are also behind the drive for women’s oppression. As long as the women’s movement continues to support them, directly or indirectly, and to fight for nationalist demands such as increasing the number of female officers and fighter pilots, their struggles will inevitably fail. We support the struggle of Jewish women against their discrimination, even when they do not understand that they must connect their struggle with that of the Palestinian people. But we tell them: Jewish women cannot be free as long as the Palestinians remain oppressed.

The recent regional uprisings show that the only way forward to liberation from imperialism and the corrupt dictators, as well as from the brutal Zionist oppression, is to create a revolutionary movement of the masses, led by the working class. The central importance of the working class was shown by its decisive role in ousting the dictators inEgyptandTunisia. We are convinced that the Palestinian masses will not only support this revolution, but also actively participate in it. For Israeli Jews who want to live in a democratic state, with equal rights to all, is to join this struggle.

The victory of the struggle will bring about historical justice – the return of all refugees to the lands from whichIsraelexpelled them, and the creation of a Palestinian state from the river to the sea. This country, established by struggles against oppression, will not be a state like those which we know today, who are ruled by a small rich minority. It will be ruled by the revolutionary working class, which will run it in the masses’ favor. In this country, not only will neither Arabs nor Jews be discriminated against, but women will not face discrimination for their gender. The former Israeli workers who will join the revolution will form a part of the new ruling class in this workers’ state. In this the new revolutionary state will be like the only other true workers’ state in history, Soviet Russia under Lenin and Trotsky, who cancelled all reactionary Czarist laws (for example, the ban on abortions) and in which men and women were truly equal.

 [1] http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/education/1.1599398

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4 Comments

Filed under Internationalist Socialist League, Israel/Occupied Palestine, Women's Liberation

4 responses to “ISL (Israel) – “Zionist State Launches Attack on Women”

  1. Some critical thoughts on the above statement:

    1) The first heading “Chauvinism Cannot Be Defeated without Struggle against Palestinian Oppression” is potentially misleading since this is specifically referring to anti-female chauvinism. Chauvinism against people based on their sex, sexual orientation etc. will only be defeated by the overthrow of capitalism: by establishing the material context in which such false consciousness can be effectively challenged. Even with a successful socialist revolution reactionary attitudes won’t evaporate over night. Especially, one would think, in the Middle East where religious backwardness is more prevalent than in Europe. I’ll return to this below with respect to the claim made about the status of women in the USSR while it was still a ‘revolutionary workers state’.

    2) The article does a good job of exposing the sheer hypocrisy of the liberal Israeli media and political scene in condemning the disgraceful chauvinism of the Haredim while remaining silent about the more acute oppression faced by Palestinian women. But just like the heading I mentioned above, I don’t think the problem being fundamentally one of class society is stressed enough. Not only do liberals in Israel largely ignore the severe oppression of Palestinian women, they also make no attempt to address the underlying cause and perpetrator of sexual and national oppression i.e. imperialist capitalism.

    3) This is primarily a terminological point/question: why does the ISL refer to anti-Haredim sentiment as “racism”? Also, while rightly trying to draw attention away from the specific case of the Haredim to the broader picture of women’s oppression in Israel/Palestine, I feel the article goes a bit too far out of its way to exonerate the Haredim. For instance, the article states the ISL “do not doubt the seriousness of the incidents reported by the media” but then adds “like all racist mud slinging, it has very little to do with the reality of the situation.” Are the Haredim not chauvinistic? I see the same problem with the comparison of the Palestinians to other Arab societies in terms of the level of female employment. The attempts to whitewash Israeli capitalism of any (racist) wrongdoing with respect to Palestinian women can be addressed without understating the extremely chauvinistic nature of not just Arab but Middle Eastern society in general.

    4) I might be repeating myself at this stage, but the heading “For a Palestine Free of Chauvinism and Racism” is simply inadequate. Surely it should be more along the lines of “Only Socialist Revolution can overcome Chauvinism and Racism” or even just “For a Socialist Palestine Free of Chauvinism and Racism”? In the paragraph under that heading the point is made that the women’s liberation movement will fail if it makes “nationalist demands” such as greater equality in the armed forces. Does the ISL see that as a universal problem or one particular to Israel? For example, should revolutionary socialists in the US have opposed or taken no position with respect to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy of the military there? The last sentence of the same paragraph says “Jewish women cannot be free as long as the Palestinians remain oppressed.” This implies that Palestinian national liberation – as opposed to socialist revolution – will somehow overthrow patriarchy. It won’t.

    5) Again on the question of terminology: “The victory of the struggle will bring about historical justice”. By “historical justice” you seem to mean some sort of supra-historical ‘justice’. Revolutionary socialists, surely, are interested in the fight against national oppression because it potentially undermines an aspect of world imperialism that is of great importance for the system’s survival. We have no interest in nationalism-in-itself, so to speak, as I’m sure you would agree it is false consciousness, perhaps to an even greater extent than religious backwardness. It is entirely arbitrary and artificial.

    In the same sentence in the article you talk about “the creation of a Palestinian state from the river to the sea.” I’ll take it that here you do in fact mean a Palestinian workers’ state, but if someone was reading this, without sufficient knowledge of your broader outlook, they might take the above sentence to mean you advocate a bourgeois Palestinian state. The piece does go on to say that the “revolutionary working class” will rule and run this state “in the masses’ favour”, but I think an explicit call for a Palestinian workers’ state would be more appropriate. I also don’t see why you say the working class will run its state for the anonymous “masses”: would something more along the lines of “building socialism” not be better?

    Just to conclude; men and women were not “truly equal” in the USSR. Just because the ruling Bolsheviks formally abolished certain laws inherited from Tsarism did not mean that men and women were put on an equal footing. Even in a more secure and healthy workers’ state than Soviet Russia (before the counterrevolution), equality of the sexes, genders, sexual orientations etc. would not be realised immediately. Part of the nature of ideology is that caught in its snares we can sometimes be oblivious to its workings, in other words, claiming to know what ‘true equality’ would even look like is problematic. At best we can say that socialism will undercut the material basis for chauvinism and furnish the kind of social space that can adequately address these issues.

  2. Dear Comrade,

    Thank you for a thoughtful response to our article. We agree with some points you have raised. and do not agree with others. It is possible that you misread some of our formulations, while some of them might not have been clear enough.

    I agree with your point that: “Chauvinism against people based on their sex, sexual orientation etc. will only be defeated by the overthrow of capitalism: by establishing the material context in which such false consciousness can be effectively challenged”. This form of discrimination like other ills of the capitalist society will die and disappear only with the achievement of the highest degree of socialist society. This point is also true for the Soviet Union that was a workers state, not a socialist or a communist society, before the Stalinist counterrevolution that restored capitalism by the end of WWII. Chauvinism against people based upon their sex, sexual orientation existed even though the Bolshevik party struggled against this Chauvinism under Lenin. Under Stalin with the emphasis on the family and family values this chauvinism flourished.

    On the Haredim and your impression that we do not criticize their chauvinism, I do not think that you are right on this point. We wrote:

    We have witnessed a wave of reports on acts of chauvinist oppression, especially ones committed by Haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews: from attempts to stop women from singing in public, through attempts to force women to sit in the back of the bus, and up to a verbal attack by Haredim on a 7-year-old girl, who in their minds was not dressed in a way fit for a woman. The Zionist media has named the phenomenon “Women’s Exclusion”. In fact, it is a classic example of the oppression of women under class society.

    Thus we say that the Haredim are Chauvinists but at the same time we point out that they are not the main enemy and that they themselves suffer from the hate of the Zionist society (because most of them do not serve in the army). The racist structure, attitude and policies of the Israeli state are the real enemy. Furthermore, I would like to add that Zionism is not only racist against Arabs but it is a form of Anti-Semitism.

    I do not agree on the point you made about the comparison of Palestinian women under Israel and in the Arab countries. You wrote: I see the same problem with the comparison of the Palestinians to other Arab societies in terms of the level of female employment. The attempts to whitewash Israeli capitalism of any (racist) wrongdoing with respect to Palestinian women can be addressed without understating the extremely chauvinistic nature of not just Arab but Middle Eastern society in general.”

    It is important to compare the situation of women in Arab societies to the situation of Palestinian women in Israel because it is a common knowledge that women are suffering from discrimination in the Arab society as long as the imperialist propaganda portrays Israel as a democratic society, while in reality it is form of an Apartheid state in relations not only to the Palestinians occupied in 1967 but towards the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Thus Palestinian women in Israel are oppressed not only as women but as Arabs, while in the Arab society they Are oppressed only as women.

    As to your point that we should have used the heading “For a Palestine Free of Chauvinism and Racism” is simply inadequate. Surely it should be more along the lines of “Only Socialist Revolution can overcome Chauvinism and Racism” or even just “For a Socialist Palestine Free of Chauvinism and Racism”? I do not agree for the following reasons:

    To win the struggle against Zionist oppression it is necessary to carry out a revolution. The revolution will begin as a democratic revolution led by the working class and will establish not a socialist society but a workers state from the river to the sea. Once the working class will be in power the workers will continue in the direction of a socialist society and the pace will be determined by the pace of progression of the world revolution. We tried to explain this point that a workers state will “not be a state like those which we know today, who are ruled by a small rich minority. It will be ruled by the revolutionary working class, which will run it in the masses’ favour.”

    On serving in the Israeli army. Our position toward the Israeli army is different from serving in other imperialist armies. We call on the more liberal and leftist Zionists not to serve. The main function of the Israeli society is determined by the nature of the Israeli society as settler colonialist society based on the oppression of the Palestinians. Thus its main function is as a police force. Most Palestinians do not serve in the Israeli army (except the Druze and some Bedouin tribes). The Israeli army does not want them to serve and most Palestinians citizens of Israel do not want to serve because they understand the nature of the Israeli army.

    On your point:”In the paragraph under that heading the point is made that the women’s liberation movement will fail if it makes “nationalist demands” such as greater equality in the armed forces and you infer that in our position we may not opposed chauvinism based on sex or sexual orientation in the army as you wrote: “should revolutionary socialists in the US have opposed or taken no position with respect to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy of the military there?”

    We wrote: As we have shown, the oppression of women in Israel is intimately bound with the oppression of Palestinians, as the same reactionary interests that are pursuing greater racist oppression are also behind the drive for women’s oppression. As long as the women’s movement continues to support them, directly or indirectly, and to fight for nationalist demands such as increasing the number of female officers and fighter pilots, their struggles will inevitably fail. We support the struggle of Jewish women against their discrimination, even when they do not understand that they must connect their struggle with that of the Palestinian people. But we tell them: Jewish women cannot be free as long as the Palestinians remain oppressed.

    Thus, we oppose discrimination not only in the US army but in the Israeli army. We think it is important to split the Israeli army on a class basis but today it is impossible.

    Finally, just to clarify our position on the working class revolution, as you know we think that the Palestinian by themselves in spite of their heroic struggle are not strong enough to defeat the Israeli state and that under the existing circumstance only a minority among the Israeli Jews can join the struggle against oppression. However, we think that the Palestinians will be in the first line of this struggle led by the Arab working class outside of Israel which will form a Palestinians workers state from the river to the sea within a working class socialist federation of the Middle East.

  3. One thing that struck me about the original article and the reply to redbadger was what appears to be the ISL’s tendency to see Israel as a uniquely bad society.

    I am happy to use the analogy with apartheid to describe the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli state but in the ISL’s focus on opposing this you seem to have missed the reality that Palestinians suffer similar institutionalised racist discrimination in Lebanon (if obviously not as all-encompassing) – see http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/06/17/lebanon-seize-opportunity-end-discrimination-against-palestinians and http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/24/palestinian-refugees-lebanon-rights

    There is also the problem of racism towards Jewish minorities within Israel. Ethiopian Jews, or Falashas, fare worst in this regard but other Jewish groups such Mizrahis and Sephardis are also discriminated against. I accept that this is within the context of still being Jews but opposition to this discrimination should be part of a revolutionary socialist programme and could well be an important component of getting united working class action across the Jewish/Palestinian divide.

    Has the ISL written on either of these questions (my quick google search didn’t find anything)?

    Specifically on the issue of the double oppression of women of ethnic minorities the ISL also seem to have a blindspot regarding the problems faced by migrants in many other Arab countries – see http://www.hrw.org/reports/2010/04/28/slow-reform – it is presented in this article as a specific problem in the region only for Palestinian women. The reality is that many Arab countries have institutionalised discimination towards migrants as part of their labour laws and many of these migrants are women domestic workers.

    There are also accounts of racist discrimination towards blacks in Arab societies, particularly those geographically close to, or in, the north of the African continent. It could be presumed that the women of these communities also suffer double oppression. Though of course this racism is not at the level of, or in the institutionalised form, as in Israel/Palestine.