Zionism made its first entry into global feminist debate at the founding UN Decade for Women conference in Mexico City in 1975. There, during discussions of the introduction to a program of action for the decade, the conference passed wording that called for “the elimination of colonialism and neo-colonialism, foreign occupation, Zionism, apartheid, racial discrimination in all its forms.”

The inevitable explosion in the US women’s movement over what became known as the “Zionism-equals-racism” resolution took place five years later, at the mid-decade conference in Copenhagen. I remember talking with a good friend just after she returned from Copenhagen. Like other American Jewish feminists at Copenhagen, my friend was upset that Laila Khalid, who had earlier been imprisoned in England for a hijack attempt, had headed the PLO delegation to Copenhagen. According to Jenny Bourne, in an essay in Race and Class, “[Khalid’s] passionate speech on the Palestinian cause, and the controversy surrounding her presence, made a deep impression on feminists worldwide.” [1] Khalid’s speech in fact outraged the Americans and Israelis, though not, apparently, the majority of the conference, who left the “Zionism-is-racism” wording intact.

Even now, nearly eight years later, reports about Copenhagen are emotion-laden. American Jewish feminists like writer Esther Broner say they were “terrified” by what they characterize as anti-Semitic invective and physical threats. But Gail Lerner, at that time administrative officer of the World Council of Churches and a member of the planning committee of the Decade’s Non-Governmental Organizations Forum, says the shoe was on the other foot: Americans and Israelis were the ones doing the intimidating. Lerner, too, used the word “terrifying” but to describe the atmosphere at a panel on refugees where Palestinian women arrived to find the room packed with anti-Palestinian Israel supporters.

The meeting did address other issues relating to education, health and development. When all is said and done, it is unclear just how important the issue of Palestine and Israel was in the larger effort. According to Susan Markham, the UN’s information officer both for Copenhagen and for Nairobi, “Some people believed the issue derailed the [Copenhagen] conference, while others thought it was a side issue.” Yet Markham herself agrees even now that the matter was “very difficult” and caused “a lot of bitter feelings.”

People in high places in Washington also reacted hostilely to the anti-Zionism stir, and did their best to influence the direction of the 1985 Nairobi conference. A 1985 Heritage Foundation study, “A US Policy for the UN Conference on Women,” scored the Copenhagen meeting for “all but ignoring the genuine concerns of women” and argued that the charge against Zionism and expressions of concern for Palestinian women had “politicized” the conference. An “agenda of venomous attack,” they wrote, had been “leveled by extremists (with strong sideline support by the Soviet Union) against Israel, South Africa, the US, and the West generally.” The Heritage authors urged the US, an innocent with “no hidden agendas for Nairobi,” to use parliamentary tactics to “derail” efforts to “politicize” the conference. A Heritage memo issued just before the conference singled out “radicals within the Third World bloc…abetted by the Soviets and their surrogates,” accusing them of “vicious attacks on Israel, the US, South Africa and transnational corporations.”

Alarms were also sounded by politicians not so far to the right. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) introduced a bill passed by Congress, authorizing the president to “use every available means” to ensure that the final Nairobi meeting would not be “dominated by unrelated political issues.”

Susan Markham tells how, at 4 am the last morning of the Nairobi conference, the Kenyan hosts submitted a paragraph omitting the offending word “Zionism” and substituting the phrase, “all forms of racism.” The resolution passed as amended. “It was an enormous victory for the women there,” recalls Markham. “It was the end of the Decade, probably our last gasp, a lot of women were coming to a Third World country for the first time, and the representatives from the host country acted with a lot of tact.”

The Roots Period

So much for the actual feminist events where one can say the matter of Zionism had some specific and tangible impact. What goes on in the more evanescent but far more important realm of consciousness among American feminists is more complicated.

At New Words, my local feminist bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there are lots of books on Jewish foremothers, Jewish immigrants in the US, and the Holocaust. There are only a few books on Israel, and none on any topic like “feminist Zionism.” In two anthologies that have appeared within the last six years — Nice Jewish Girls, Evelyn Beck’s anthology of writings by Jewish lesbians (Crossing Press, 1982), and The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women’s Anthology, edited by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz and Irena Klepfisz (Sinister Wisdom Books, 1986) — there are articles by and about Israeli women but there is no article that specifically discusses Zionism as an issue.

This is, quite simply, because it is not seen as an “issue” or “question” within the women’s movement. It is seen — if considered at all — as something one does not question, just as one does not question certain people’s having been born with brown eyes and others with blue. “I suppose I’m a Zionist,” observed Maida Tilchen, a contributor to the Beck anthology, adding, “I’m a Zionist in the confused way most American Jews are. If you’re Jewish, it just sort of comes with the territory.”

Zionism has been important in the US women’s movement not as a conscious public concern but as an article of faith, a subconscious part of the search by Jewish feminists for their roots. The search has involved not simply a rediscovery of Jewishness but also of anti-Semitism and, in anti-Semitism, proof of the need for a Jewish homeland.

The roots movement among Jewish feminists was distilled in written form most clearly in the two anthologies just mentioned. Many of the pieces are in the nature of memoirs. They are often poignant descriptions of their authors’ childhood and adolescent experiences as Jews, experiences of cultural richness (of Yiddish, the Bund movement, synagogue) as well as experiences of anti-Semitism and self-hatred (for instance, the burden of “looking Jewish” in the 1940s and 1950s in America).

The roots movement has tangled origins. On the one hand its protagonists claim it derives from concrete experiences of anti-Semitism in the women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s — a psychologically and historically freighted issue. On the other hand it flows from the American Jewish experience of assimilation. “We concluded,” write Kaye/Kantrowitz and Klepfisz in the introduction to their volume, “that…[part of] our task as Jews in the US in the late twentieth century was to identify assimilation as a grave concern and then try to work against it by reclaiming our culture and history.”

How Jewish feminists arrived at their identity can be illustrated by the experiences of Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of the strongest voices in the Jewish identity movement. Pogrebin, now 48, was very young during a time of virulent, up-front anti-Semitism (university quotas, professions barred to Jews, Jews beaten up on the streets, playing fields divided into non-Jewish and Jewish turf). She says that in her childhood in Queens, NY, she encountered anti-Semitism only once, during a Catholic church service she attended with a friend where the priest declared that the Jews murdered Christ. Apart from that, Pogrebin’s childhood was tranquil. Not only did she have very close Christian friends, including her best friend (“We were always being cultural anthropologists for each other”), but her family was almost idyllically “Jewish in a totally organic way. My parents’ social life was totally connected to our synagogue.”

Pogrebin’s break with Judaism came at age 15, when her mother died, and she was told she would not count in the minyan (male quorum) where Kaddish (the Hebrew prayer for the dead) was being said. For years after that she practiced Judaism only because, as she put it, “I was superstitious about giving up traditions.” She went to synagogue on high holy days “just in case” of divine retribution. “But it was completely pro forma,” she recalls, “like becoming a super-reformed Jew.” As to the Jewish homeland, for a long time she was even “anti-Israel.” “I was critical,” she explains, “for feminist and leftist reasons. There was a sort of Israel-right-or-wrong attitude in this country without regard for the feelings of others.”

Pogrebin’s attitudes started changing in the early 1970s when, in her words, a “social climate” developed that made it possible “to see women as spiritual.” Invited to run high holy day services on Fire Island in 1971 or 1972, she agreed. Then, in 1975, she joined a group that called itself “Feminists Against Anti-Semitism” and included writers like Phyllis Chesler and Esther Broner. Like many American feminists, Pogrebin in the late 1970s “worked to get black and Jewish women together.” Like other feminist Zionists, she alleges that “before Copenhagen a lot of black women were anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.”

I recite this cameo history because it is quite typical. My own is merely a variant. After I became an atheist sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, I never went back to Judaism as a religion. I treasured a belief in internationalism as an increase in wisdom and humanity, not as some youthful aberration from which I should later retreat in the interests of a wiser chauvinism. My experience of the non-Jewish world was likewise a variation on Pogrebin’s — many Christian child-friends, a highly assimilated Jewish professional family of liberal views and many Christian adult-friends. While I was not steeped in religion as Pogrebin was, I daresay I had more experiences of anti-Semitism in my childhood, and heard a good deal of talk about anti-Semitism in my family while growing up. In the decades that have elapsed since I left high school, I have had no experiences I would call anti-Semitic with people I actually know, and I can count on the fingers of one hand experiences with strangers who express anti-Semitic views.

What is curious about the Jewish identity movement among American feminists is that it came so late in the day. The craze for “roots” took place in the 1970s. In 1972 money for white ethnic studies became available under the Ethnic Heritage Act. A few years later, Alex Haley’s Roots became an instant bestseller.

In the late 1960s and through the “roots” period, the Holocaust began to be discussed for the first time on a mass level. Allen Graubard, co-author with Sarah Bershtel of the forthcoming Saving Remnants: Jewish Life in Post-Modern America (Atheneum, 1988), recalls that he knew “a lot about” the Holocaust much earlier than the late 1960s but that their interviewees knew very little. When Raul Hilberg published his literally encyclopedic study, The Destruction of the European Jews, in 1961, it caused no stir. When I bought it and read it a few years later, I felt that I had become a member of a secret circle that knew things no one else did. Only after the June 1967 war did the Holocaust become a huge public enterprise.

Other People’s Oppression

What was notable about Jewish self-discovery in the 1960s was its curious origins — not in anti-Semitism but in the experience of another people’s rebellion against oppression. American “roots” awareness tailed the civil rights and black power movements, and Jewish self-awareness was part of that process. From the mid-1970s on, feminist Jewish self-awareness followed precisely the same course.

“There is no question,” says Evelyn Beck, now a professor of women’s studies at the University of Maryland, “that Jewish consciousness followed black consciousness, and lesbian consciousness preceded both [in feminism]. When the women’s movement began focusing on diversity and difference, Jewish women became aware of anti-Semitism.” As Jenny Bourne points out in her essay in Race and Class, “after black women charged white feminists with harboring racist feelings and views, Jewish women weren’t long in articulating the view that anti-Semitism was a racism equal in stature to anti-black racism.” The feminist discussion of racism and anti-Semitism reached a high point of sorts in Yours in Struggle, co-authored by Elly Bulkin, a Jewish feminist, and by Barbara Smith, a black feminist. Bulkin argued that women of color could be the authors as well as the objects of discrimination, and Barbara Smith agreed: “I am anti-Semitic. I have swallowed anti-Semitism simply by living here.” [2]

The earlier Jewish revival seemed to flow from the need for a group identity more personal and less global than the general comradeship of the New Left. “Among the Jewish volunteers,” says Paul Lauter, speaking of his time as a teacher in the Mississippi Freedom Schools in the summer of 1964, “there was a level of identification where you didn’t have to say certain things.” This need for being in a group where “you didn’t have to say certain things” probably slumbered as well within the more amorphous identification of feminists with “sisterhood.” The cultural lag could owe to the fact that when Jewish self-awareness surged through the rest of the liberal-to-radical American community, American Jewish feminists were embattled in the all-consuming struggle over abortion and “reproductive freedom.” The abortion struggle extended beyond US borders, and in their leadership of that struggle American feminists retained an internationalist perspective.

There was historical logic to the fact that Jewish self-concern was inspired by the American black struggle. By the early 1970s, when Jewish revivalism was reaching its high tide in my generation, it hardly stemmed from a genuine grievance with public anti-Semitism — that is, with exclusion and discrimination as matters of policy. “How different,” remarks Charles Silberman in A Certain People: American Jews and Their Lives Today, “it has been for my children and the generation of which they are a part! Their decisions about where to go to school, where to work and at what, where to live, and with whom to be friendly have been totally unaffected, in the negative sense, by the fact that they are Jews.” [3] Virtually no profession, according to Silberman, remained closed to Jews after the mid-1960s, with the possible exception of financial banking, where breeding continued to count for more than brains.

Real Anti-Semites

In 1982 Nathan Perlmutter, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, acknowledged that anti-Semitism as such was in decline in the US. In The Real Anti-Semitism, a book co-authored with his wife, Ruth, also an active Zionist leader, Perlmutter observed that while anti-Semitism “was once virulent” in the US, today there is little support for anti-Jewish discrimination. There was, contended the Perlmutters, another sort of anti-Semite, one that gave their book its title, the “peacemakers of Vietnam vintage, transmuters of swords and ploughshares, [who champion] the terrorist PLO.” The Perlmutters stated that “nowadays war is getting a bad name and peace too favorable a press.” Peaceniks “[snipe] at American defense budgets,” hence undermine support for Israel, hence are the “real” anti-Semites. [4]

Few feminists would agree with the Perlmutters on this score, but at the same time, it was a firm belief among American feminists and other liberals-to-radicals in the late 1970s that anti-Semitism was “on the rise.” Today no counter-evidence seems to dispel that specter. Pogrebin, for instance, when I spoke about the success of Jewish assimilation in the US, rejoined that another Holocaust was always possible, and that anti-Semitism always threatens to show its face again.

It would be psychologically obtuse to dismiss such fears simply on the basis of statistical evidence. “One of the harsh lessons of history,” observes Charles Silberman, “is that so long as ‘personal’ anti-Semitism exists, some element of risk remains; under the ‘right’ conditions, private attitudes could turn into public behavior.” Silberman devotes the first half of his book to statistical as well as anecdotal proof that public anti-Semitism has declined to the point of non-existence in the US, and that the risk of anti-Semitism becoming virulent under the “right” conditions “is far smaller than it used to be because of the continuing decline in ‘personal’ as well as ‘institutional’ anti-Semitism.” [5]

While the destruction of European Jewry may seem remote to younger generations, for people of Pogrebin’s and mine it still smolders in memory and is easily inflamed by chance events. A friend recounts shopping at New York’s huge Upper West Side delicatessen, Zabar’s, when suddenly a man who had either wandered in or just made a delivery began hurling invective. “He was either crazy or drunk, but in any case he began cursing, saying things like, ‘You lousy Jew bastards.’” My friend observed that the reactions of the people in the store were sharply divided between the customers “who were trying to look uninvolved,” and “the Hispanic employees most of whom were sort of grinning.” Zabar’s is owned by a Jewish family with extensive real estate interests in the Upper West Side, and its staff is heavily Hispanic with a few Asians as well as Europeans. New Yorkers will recognize in this anecdote the realities that gave rise to articles some years back, especially in the Village Voice, on the so-called “black-Jewish” (or “Hispanic-Jewish”) conflict, where opinions raged about whether the attitudes of blacks and Hispanics about Jews were based in class realities (many landlords, store owners and influential New York politicians up to the mayor himself are Jewish, while the working-class tenants among them are largely black and Hispanic), or in anti-Semitism. Other readers may jog their own memories for similar incidents.

In the women’s movement, attitudes of anti-Semitic cast often come out as stereotyping. Eleanor Roffman, a Boston left-wing feminist and anti-Zionist of working-class origin, heatedly recalls the supposition by her movement sisters that because she was Jewish “I must come from Newton,” an upper middle-class and heavily Jewish Boston suburb. Other feminists object to terms like “Jewish American Princess” on similar grounds. Such claims have great psychological and, I’m sure, objective legitimacy, though I daresay the word anti-Semitism has become mystified to the point where it obscures more than it explains. If, as many feminists claim, calling a meeting on a Jewish holiday is evidence of anti-Semitism, what then was a European pogrom? Does cultural obtuseness rank on the same order of magnitude? Those who object to the use of the term anti-Semitism for “lesser” contexts are often silenced without any genuine, extended talk about the concept.

Zionism, Racism and Feminism

The most contentious arena for talk about anti-Semitism has been in its relation to racism. It seems to have taken on, unpleasantly, something of the nature of competition for equal victim status. “I think Jewish women’s desire for support,” observed black feminist Barbara Smith, “has also resulted at times in attempts to portray our circumstances and the oppression of racism and anti-Semitism as parallel or even identical. The mentality is manifested at its extreme when white Jewish women of European origin claim Third World identity.” [6]

The reduction to absurdity of this notion of anti-Semitism took place at a 1984 meeting of the National Women’s Studies Association at Rutgers University. There, a few Jewish women referred to themselves as “women of color” — a claim entertainable only as some weird metaphorical shorthand for “also-having-experienced-oppression-historically.” No feminist leader seems to have challenged these claims up front. Their net effect as they filtered down to the masses, so to say, was intimidation and painstaking p-and-q-minding in important feminist quarters. “Whenever I plan an issue on women of color,” said Shane Snowden, former editor of the movement’s most important non-commercial publication, the Boston-based Sojourner, “I always think of Jewish women as a group to be reached out to.”

It was in the midst of what many feminists call “anguished” confrontation over questions of racism that Zionism seems to have entered the feminist scene. By all accounts the attending psychodynamics were stormy. “Zionism began coming up in the women’s movement when racism came up,” recalls Eleanor Roffman. “Black women started taking a position on the women’s movement, and some of the struggle between blacks and Jews got fought out in the women’s movement. Some of the blacks who were thinking in more internationalist ways would say, ‘What about Israel?’ It got very tearful and emotional and down to a testimony about suffering. ‘We’ve suffered too,’ was the idea, ‘so why are we fighting with each other?’”

This turbulence conditioned the atmosphere in Copenhagen. In the midst of it, Letty Cottin Pogrebin wrote an article that became instantly (in)famous entitled “Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement.” It appeared in Ms. the very month Israel invaded Lebanon. (Pogrebin says she wrote the article long before, and that its appearance at this moment was accidental.) The article proposed that anti-Semitism was rife right where Pogrebin had always “felt most safe — among feminists.” As proof of this allegation, Pogrebin remarked that: “On hearing that I planned to write about anti-Semitism, one feminist asked, ‘Won’t Ms. have to give equal time to the PLO?’” “Every so often,” she wrote, “when times are especially hard, Jews get identified as ‘the problem.’ Lately, so do women. Times are harder now — and both anti-Semitism and anti-feminism are on the rise. Nevertheless, Jewish women concerned about anti-Semitism are often scolded for raising ‘side issues.’” Pogrebin “began to wonder why the Movement’s healing embrace can encompass the black woman, the Chicana…every other female whose struggle is complicated by an element of ‘outness,’ but [not] the Jewish woman.”

I remember being surprised by these and other statements when I first read Pogrebin’s piece. My own experience as an outspoken critic of Israeli policy was that among feminists there was snail’s-horn sensitivity about matters Jewish. The constant assumption was that criticizing Israel meant being anti-Semitic.

A subsequent issue of Ms. ran a series of rebuttals by feminists who disagreed with Pogrebin. None trivialized the importance of anti-Semitism as a historical force, but pointed out that Pogrebin was confusing it with criticism of Israel. In fact, like other American Jewish feminists, Pogrebin was upset enough by Israel’s invasion of Lebanon to sign a protest ad against it in the New York Times. Pogrebin is also distressed by inequities within the Jewish state (women’s secondary status, discrimination against North African and Middle Eastern Jews, the increasing virulence of Orthodox aggression), as well as by injustices to Palestinians. “I really do believe in a two-state solution,” says Pogrebin, “and anyone who attacks me from the Palestinian side really has to deal with me on that.” (Since the writing of this article and the start of the Palestinian uprising, Pogrebin addressed at least one forum — a New York-based Writers for Peace in the Middle East meeting last May — in favor of a “territory for peace” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)

Precipitating Events

Yet when I asked Pogrebin whether she had solicited articles about the events of the summer of 1982, she replied that Ms., as a feminist magazine, does not run articles on issues unrelated to women. “It is very rare,” she added, “that we go out and solicit pieces without any precipitating event.”

Since the Lebanon invasion, according to the magazine’s executive editor, Marcia Gillespie, Ms. has published no feature article about Palestinian women. At the height of the uprising I was told that the magazine’s new editor was “interested in the Middle East” but was having trouble “finding the right angle” for a feature article. This was during a period when US reporters including the New York Times’s John Kifner were at the very least mentioning the major role Palestinian women were playing in the astonishing West Bank-Gaza events, and photographs of Palestinian women protecting male family members and confronting armed Israeli soldiers were appearing in the Boston Globe, the Times and major US dailies across the country. At present, according to Gillespie, Ms. plans to run excerpts from a book to be published next year by Robin Morgan, who spent time in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. The magazine apparently continues to avoid touching what many onlookers agree is one of the most momentous events in post-World War II history, the 1987-1988 Palestinian uprising, and according to Gillespie has made no effort to contact Palestinian writers on it.

Contrasting with the view that the invasion of Lebanon was not an adequate “precipitating event” for article solicitation is the sentiment expressed by Sojourner’s Shane Snowden. “There was real agony among Sojourner’s readership when Israel invaded Lebanon,” says Snowden, who did request articles on the matter.

Jenny Bourne argues that it was the events of summer 1982 that threw Zionism and Israel into stark relief in the women’s movement. This was certainly true in England. My files, for instance, contain a short article by Dena Attar, from the British feminist journal Shifra, “Why I Am Not a Jewish Feminist,” written in the wake of Lebanon and testifying to at least some debate among British feminists.

Various American feminists I interviewed for this essay also said that “after Lebanon” they had been forced to reexamine their views on Israel. In the introduction to The Tribe of Dina, the editors state their discomfort “about how to counter anti-Semitism without stifling opposition to the Israeli government.” And at its annual conference in June 1982, as a direct result of the invasion, the National Women’s Studies Association amended its constitution to condemn anti-Semitism against both Jews and Arabs. (The resolution, introduced by a Lebanese academic, prompted much “anguished” discussion, according to Nancy Gerber, NWSA’s parliamentarian for the session.)

Still, within the American women’s movement the sort of discussion that seems to have gone on in England simply did not take place. There is nothing like Dena Attar’s article in the American feminist press. The one exception I know of is an article I wrote for Sojourner. This magazine has also published letters by occasional radical dissenters from what in the US amounts to virtual party line: Israel may be criticized for “mistakes” or lapses from its ideals, but one must not press on to the heretical conclusion that something may be fundamentally rotten in the state itself. In the women’s movement, criticism of Israel remained hedged with trepidation and apology even after 1982.

“I haven’t spoken publicly about my views,” says Harvard biology professor Ruth Hubbard, who has written letters on Israel and the Palestinians to Sojourner, “because I can think of very few allies in the women’s movement, and any time I feel I’m in such a minute minority I tend not to speak out.” Eleanor Roffman says she has been accused by feminists of being “self-hating” because of her anti-Zionist views. “This sort of thing,” she comments, “has been very intimidating to a lot of progressive Jewish women who might otherwise have taken a progressive stand on Israel and the Middle East.”

Much debate attended Sojourner’s May 1986 publication of an oral history of a Palestinian woman living near Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We were concerned about her habitual [sic] references to Palestine as an ongoing entity,” says Snowden, “because we knew there would be people who would be offended.” The story was first in a series, after much discussion about its order in the series. Despite the editors’ apprehension about the word “Palestine,” the title read “From Safad, Palestine, to Somerville, Massachusetts.” (The piece drew one instant angry and lengthy response from the Israeli perspective, which appeared under the ironic title, “Another View of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” The sacred cows it invoked are ones that have been driven out of all intellectual pastures in Israel itself — for instance, the false notions that Arabs fled Palestine because their leaders told them to and that Arabs have “equal access” to Israeli education.)

According to Nancy Gerber, a Jewish caucus was immediately formed out of the “anguish” caused by NWSA debates over the meaning of “anti-Semitism.” Yet Gerber, a Unitarian and one of the caucus founders, says that the caucus never actually discussed the question of Zionism and anti-Zionism. “People personalized these things rather than thinking about them on a world scale. People got in touch with their own feelings,” she explains. Other women make similar observations about the apolitical and personal turn discussions have taken in similar gatherings.

Of confrontations between black and Jewish women in Boston, Eleanor Roffman remarks that “it all got focused on interpersonal relationships between blacks and Jews rather than on the more international political perspective. Something about the whole identity stuff made me uncomfortable. It seemed to get away from politics.” And in “Going Public as a Jew,” published in the July-August 1987 issue of Ms., Letty Pogrebin writes of taking along to Israel an artifact she and women in a Jewish feminist circle in New York call “the sacred schmata,” a rope of scarves knotted together. With the notion, one supposes, that it would promote interpersonal coziness, “it was wrapped around Jewish and Arab women who met to make peace with one another.”

But since December 1987 and the start of the uprising, a wave of troubled feeling has swept through women like the ones cited in this article, prompting Jewish feminists to go public more strongly than in 1982 with criticism of Israel. According to Pogrebin “the uprising has spawned political action and [has prompted people to ask] ‘Where do I go to say what I think?’” Pogrebin is no longer an assignment editor at Ms., which has changed ownership and suffered shakeups over the past half-year. If she were, she now says, “I would want something on the territories as well as about what’s going on in the Israeli women’s peace movement.”

Vigils by Israeli women in Jerusalem in support of their Palestinian sisters have triggered reactions among American feminists. According to Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, since the start of the uprising there have been two vigils by Jewish feminists in her home state, Vermont, “against Israeli government policy and for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.” A group of New York women calling itself the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation has been holding weekly vigils since April 25 in front of the Fifth Avenue offices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. It continues the vigils despite what Claire Kinberg, a group founder, admits is “a lot of hostility,” and it includes well-known feminists like historians Alice Kessler-Harris, Blanche Wiesen-Cook, writers Grace Paley and Esther Broner (mentioned above), and singer Ronnie Gilbert. According to Kinberg, the committee was formed to support two Israeli women’s groups active against the occupation since the uprising started, and, in Kinberg’s words, “to raise women’s voices” for a two-state solution. Kinberg says the group feels that solution is “necessary for moral and humane reasons” and because “it’s the only tenable course for the survival of the state of Israel.”

At least one Israeli women’s group, Women in Black, makes concern and support for its Palestinian sisters the central motif in its vigils. The US groups’ vigils, by contrast, are not for the Palestinian dead. Rather, they emphasize a just policy solution and the danger the occupation poses to Israel. Yet these and other activities developing around the country are important. Time will tell how they will develop and whether the political changes they herald will last.


[1] Jenny Bourne, “Jewish Feminism and Identity Politics,” Race and Class 29/1 (Summer 1987).
[2] Cited in Bourne, p. 13.
[3] Charles E. Silberman, A Certain People: American Jews and Their Lives Today (New York: Summit, 1985), p. 23.
[4] Nathan and Ruth Ann Perlmutter, The Real Anti-Semitism in America (New York: Arbor House, 1982), p. 111.
[5] Silberman, op cit., p. 107.
[6] Cited in Bourne, op cit., p. 13.

How to cite this article:

Ellen Cantarow "Zionism, Anti-Semitism and Jewish Identity in the Women’s Movement," Middle East Report 154 (September/October 1988).

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