Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Linda Sarsour, you are not my friend

Activist Linda Sarsour addresses the crowd during a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City on Jan. 29, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stephanie Keith

I take back almost everything that I have said about Linda Sarsour.

In the wake of the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Linda Sarsour, a major Palestinian activist and an organizer of January’s Women’s March on Washington and a planner of the Women’s Strike, spearheaded the campaign to raise money for their restoration. She helped raise more than $150,000 – in an unbelievably short amount of time.

I praised Ms. Sarsour for her efforts, and for what they symbolized: that Jews and Muslims might disagree over issues relating to Israel and the Palestinians, but that we could join together to fight hatred.

I was even beginning to muse about the larger implications of this: perhaps, contrary to everything that I have ever written and taught, it might actually be possible to be anti-Israel, and nevertheless, pro-Jewish.

I was wrong.

Linda Sarsour has declared that support for Zionism and feminism are incompatible. In an interview with The Nation, Sarsour said those who identify as Zionist cannot be feminist because they are ignoring the rights of Palestinian women.

“It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it,” Sarsour said.

But, wait, you say.

Didn’t Ms. Sarsour help repair that Jewish cemetery in St. Louis?

I don’t doubt Linda Sarsour’s sincerity in wanting to help the Jewish community.

But this is clear to me: Linda Sarsour is fine with Jews — if we are joined together in being the targets of hatred in America.

But if we have power in a sovereign state, not so much.

Or, to be totally cynical about this: It’s one thing to care about the graves of Jews.

But living Jews, in a Jewish state …

We should not be surprised. This has become the Palestinian’s M.O.

It’s called hijacking.

The PLO got real good at it in the late 1960s, when they began hijacking airplanes.

And when that didn’t work, they got around to hijacking every movement on the Left.

I first noticed this in 1973, right after the Yom Kippur War – how every left wing rally that I attended had an anti-Israel message velcroed (well, there was no Velcro in those days) onto it.

The Palestinians did that with the women’s movement as well.

It goes back at least as far as 1980.

At the World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women in Copenhagen, women from Third World and Arab countries (where the female condition screamed out for reform) led the charge against Zionism. As the late Robert Wistrich has written:

There were cries of “The only good Jew is a dead Jew” and “The only way to rid the world of Zionism is to kill all the Jews.”

One eyewitness overheard other delegates saying that the American women’s movement had a bad name because its most prominent founding figures, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Bella Abzug, were all Jewish.

The psychologist and feminist author Phyllis Chesler recorded the savage response when one Jewish woman mentioned that her husband had been shot without trial in Iraq and that she had to escape to Israel with her children. The place went wild: “PLO! PLO!” they shouted. “Israel kills babies and women. Israel must die.”

Chesler later described this particular world conference as “a pogrom of nonstop words and ideas, an exercise in total intimidation.”

“For these left feminists, pro-Palestinianism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Zionism were part of a uniform, politically correct universal language from which no deviations could be tolerated.”

Phyllis Chesler has continued to protest the manufactured link between feminism and anti-Zionism.

As a man who is sympathetic to the goals of feminism, I hope that I am “permitted” to say this.

I hope that my Jewish sisters will utterly reject Sarsour’s grim, cynical binary thinking – that you can be a Zionist or a feminist, but not both.

I hope that they will utterly reject this latest version of the restricted neighborhood and country club of the Left – the one that hangs a sign outside that says “No Zionists allowed!”

Oh, yes – you can be Jewish and feminist, but none of that nasty Zionist stuff.

Which is another cold, calculated way of trying to separate Jews from Zionism.

It will be up to Jewish women, and the men who sympathize with feminism, to say to Linda Sarsour: Forget it. We will support feminism, with or without your blessing.

And, by the way, Linda, while you’re at it: perhaps you would like to weigh in on the plight of women in many Muslim countries; on the mutilation of women in sub-Saharan Africa; on the fact that the Palestinian Authority only got around to outlawing honor killings – in 2014.

We will continue to fight against the Muslim travel ban. Because that’s who we are.

As for who you are — we now know.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.