Freitag, 18. März 2016

Fight feel-good feminism

This blogpost is the translation of my earlier published article about anti-Semitism in feminist groups.

Over the past years, alliances between various individuals and groups inside the feminist movement(s), more often than not accompanied by a hashtag on social media, have become an important political measure. People from different currents inside the movement, often representing wildly differing positions on all but the specific issue at hand, unite. This unity helps to bring the specific issues into the mainstream debate. A good example of this is the #Aufschrei-campaign in 2013. A similar reaction was shown by many in the aftermath of the attacks in Cologne on New Year's Eve this year. Something had happened, so a united reaction was necessary. The campaign denounced both sexist violence AND racism in the wake of the attacks to counterpoint the racist narratives of the German mob both on- and offline. As commendable as this enterprise is, one should take a closer look at the signatures under the founding document. Among the first to sign were feminists who routinely equate zionism with racism and support the BDS ("boycott, divestment, sanctions") movement. This begs the question whether noone noticed this beforehand. Or did not want to notice. Or maybe even knew and did not think of as a problem.
 Similar feelings and questions arise in connection with the marches on international women's day.  "Free Palestine" could be heard alongside feminist chants and slogans. The organising group of the Berlin march meekly put out a statement that national flags were not allowed, but chose to ignore the subject apart from that. After all, the goal was a broad alliance, united for feminism. The fact that parts of their cuddly, broad alliance would go on yelling "warmonger Israel" the very next day was of no concern to the organisers, they had after all had their big demonstration. It is a fairly safe bet that no awareness of this problem exists, since 2016 was by far no the first time this issue was brought forth.
How much does one have to put up with, how much political diversity has to be tolerated for a broad alliance? And why is it always the debate about anti-semitism that is ignored and declared to be unimportant? At most, there will be a ban on national flags. And since it supposedly is always only about Israel and never anti-Semitism, there is no need to distance yourself from people abusing a feminist demonstration with their anti-Israel slogans, the big unified demonstration can commence. Everything is hunky-dory, thanks for asking.

       We need to talk.

This issue of alliances and of how far we have to go to in order to have an alliance, is what prompted me to offer a session on antisemitism and feminism at the 2016 Barcamp Frauen. Barcamp Frauen is held annually in berlin, providing an opportunity to discuss feminist issues in a variety of different sessions. Participants are encouraged to hold their own sessions. So far, it has been a great opportunity for good discussions.
My session was announced publicly on the Barcamp facebook-page. The announcement consisted solely of a short overview of the topics I wanted to talk about and a short note on Laurie Penny and Angela Davis. Both are prime examples of combining feminist and pro-Palestinian activism. This note never called either of the two an antisemite, even though Laurie Penny's support of the BDS movement or her tasteless jokes about skinned bankers provide a telling insight into her mind.
In 2013, I shared a stage with Laurie Penny. We, alongside Indian women's rights activist Urvashi Butalia, had been invited by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung on the occasion of international women's day. One of the memories I have got from that occasion is particularly vivid: am man in the auditorium took the mic and started to insult us. He let his misogyny run free and refused to stop and surrender the mic. It was a very unifying experience; we three together against this masculinist. Together on the same side, united by feminism, against the rest of the world.
However, this cuddly all-together-now-feminism came to an end on the eve of the Barcamp. For once she was the subject of criticism and not the icon to be revered. After her German publisher told her about my session. On twitter, in front of her 130,000 followers, Laurie Penny demanded an explanation, why I had "called her an anti-semite" (Which I had not done).
The absurd irony of this situation is somewhat hard to grasp: a feminist activist, who through her own experience  should know how uncontrollable a medium Twitter is, throws another feminist (with way fewer followers) to the wolves. She, who in all probability has had to endure more than one shitstorm. She, who knows all too well what online harassment means. But feminism is easily sidelined. After all, she has to defend her hatred of Israel. At no point during this did she express any interest in a debate. If she had been interested in the point I had made, or in my reasoning behind it, she could have written my a message. Instead, she trusts that  the discussion will blow over and baskes in the admiration of her followers, whom she told I had compared her to Hitler (which, once again, I never did). All so she does not have to question her worldview.
To put it bluntly: Laurie Penny did not act out of stupidity. Nor because it was an easy way out and not because she might not have been aware of the consequences (which she was). She did it because she refuses to face criticism. To further proof herself against criticism, she even claimed to be incapable of being anti-Semitic, simply by being Jewish.

If the cap fits

Of course the shitstorm continued unabated. She as an activist probably has learned about this dynamic herself in the past. After all, she is going to make several appearances in Germany over the next weeks, talking about online harassment. So, did she back-pedal in any way? No. Instead, she felt it necessary to write an open letter to the evil, Zionist German left. The contents of the long diatribe can be summarised as follows:

She, a british Jew, has been unjustly attacked by a German, called an anti-Semite and compared to Hitler. Only because she supports the people in Gaza (which she called an "open prison"). The whole debate would have nothing to do with Jews. Only the young Germans, laden with their country's history, would interprete it like that. She then went one further and claimed that especially she, a descendant of persecuted Jews, was obliged to support the Palestinian cause.
Also, BDS as a movement might draw a couple of anti-Semites here and there, using it to further their own gains. But not her! She is only in it because of her love of the Palestinian people.
Of course, no mention was made of the Hamas and their ilk. There was probably no room for that in her pamphlet. It would have meant casting a realistic look at the situation of Palestinians.

In her idea of Judaism, being Jewish and German seem to be mutually exclusive, otherwise she would not have used this dichotomy. Apparently, her being Jewish makes her words on that matter less problematic. Seemingly, she cannot ever be an anti-Semite. This is a prime example of a common enough modern anti-Semitic narrative.

Antifascist Antizionists

There is no need for Laurie Penny, who boasts on twitter of her support for a boycott, makes terrible jokes about skinning bankers or goes on about an "open prison" in Gaza, to illustrate the problem at hand. The connection between feminism and antisemitism is neither new nor surprising. Just look at history: especially in feminist theology, Judaism was often identified as the epitome of patriarchy. So criticising Judaism was in truth just criticising patriarchy. Feminists claimed Jewish and socialist women persecuted by the Nazis as their own. There was no self-examination, no critique of one's own antisemitism. Nor the tendencies in feminist groups. The old traditions were passed on. People took up the label antifascist. The enemy was no longer called "the Jew" or "Judaism”, but capitalism and imperialism. Israel became the new old scapegoat and suddenly, those new antifascist antizionist held their peace rallies in front Jewish facilities.
Today we see this activist, who calls herself anti-capitalist. Someone, who wants to make class struggle trendy again. Who thinks she is the voice of the poor and oppressed, wanting to unite all the oppressed of the world. She, oppressed by the patriarchy, wants to join forces with all other oppressed, especially, if they are suffering under the yoke of imperialist Zionism.
Even at my session at the Barcamp, the Penny-fangirls and others could not help themselves and explained in their great human rights rethoric, why their criticism of Israel is OK. They - once again - went as far as to say that the Shoa was making their criticism even more legitimate. It was almost entertaining how they used every classic form of derailment. As if attacking me personally or nitpicking small details from my talk would validate their position. The terrible thing was that it worked. The debate degenerated into discussions about individuals, or on why I was a bad speaker or why Penny cannot be an anti-Semite (after all, she is Jewish). Antisemitism as a phenomenon is no longer the issue. Not anti-Semitism as a system that has worked its way into feminist ideologies. Through Twitter and offline via her publisher, Penny tried to force me to talk about my background. To demand of someone to explain their own identity is an absolute no-go in any other debate about identities. If someone would talk about LGBT issues, noone would try to force an explanation about their gender identity out of them. As soon as we are talking about Israel, though, all these ideals are gone. Everyone stares at her_him, who has uttered that terrible a-word. Once the soft ground of cuddly feel-good feminism is left behind, anything goes. This debate with Laurie Penny was proof enough of that.
The moral indignation works. Just picture the armed Israeli soldier facing a Palestinian child. This imagery makes it easy to identify yourself, as a woman living under the patriarchy, with the boy with the slingshot. Suddenly, it seems to be of imminent importance to defend the low-fat version of "Kauft nicht beim Juden" as integral part of your political philosophy.

Policies versus feel-good feminism

One participant rightfully concluded: When we meet, we are not just feminists. Political socialisation is more complex than that. One is not amused if a political debate goes further than blocking sexists and yelling together at masculinists. The indignation is massive. After all, one makes sure to always denounce antisemitism. Look, it was even written down on the leaflet for the demonstration! The lives of the oppressed Palestinians surely are of paramount importance to Laurie Penny and all the other champions of legitimate Israel criticism. So, the next time they come across some misplaced yells of "free Gaza!" at a march on women's day, they will surely answer with a heartfelt "from Hamas!", right?
Or write an open letter, entertain 130,000 followers on twitter with false accusations and give speeches about online harassment.

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