Sisterhood Blog

Helen Thomas and the Feminist Dilemma

By Elana Sztokman

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I’m very disappointed in Feministing. One of the leading feminist blogs out there, usually a courageous voice in calling for justice and fairness, has come out on the wrong side of the Helen Thomas story. I would have expected some wisdom and understanding, a bit of passion in the fight against hatred, bigotry, and oppression. But when it comes to the Jewish people, Feministing is apparently not interested in standing up for the victim here:

I’m deeply saddened that a woman journalist who broke such incredible barriers in the field is retiring over something like this. As inappropriate and offensive as her remarks were to people, I just can’t help wondering with PunditMom about all the other newsfolks who have gotten away with the most racist, homophobic and abhorrent commentary for years without even a slap on the wrist.

So ultimately, calling for the Jewish people to go back to Germany makes Feministing “wonder,” while the dismissal of the person who uttered such unbelievably horrific sentiments “saddens” her. Moreover, the remarks were “inappropriate and offensive” to “people,” some abstract group out there, as opposed to “me,” as opposed to saying, “I was offended and appalled.” I guess she wasn’t really that offended.

Moreover, the insinuation, which was also present in other blogs such as this one, that Jews are given special treatment, smacks of the Elders of Zion and ideas of a Jewish media conspiracy. When did these ideas return to being so casually part of accepted mainstream public opinion?

Some of the talkbacks were even worse.

Although I don’t entirely agree with her comments, I don’t entirely disagree, either. The only reason this was made such a big deal is that Helen Thomas combined 2 of the most taboo things in the world: Having an opinion while female, and criticizing Jewish people.

Wow. So Jews have that much power that it’s taboo to criticize us? Really? Isn’t the United Nations completely dedicated to criticizing the Jewish people? Wasn’t the New York Times and every news media outlet of the past two weeks swamped with article after article criticizing the Jewish people? A good portion of the criticism even comes from Jews themselves, such as this irritating piece by Michael Chabon in which he bends over backwards to suggest that Jews aren’t really so smart after all. As if that somehow explains the entire flotilla story. We’re just dumb, like the rest of the world. Thanks for explaining that to me.

Thankfully, there are some other level-headed readers of Feministing who ably put this talkbacker in her place. Nevertheless, I find myself once again in a position where I feel like the knee-jerk feminist stance is anti-Israel. It is reminiscent of the incident last year in which Israelis were disinvited from a breast cancer conference in Egypt — as in, anti-Zionism trumps women’s health and advancement. I’ve experienced this before, especially in academic feminist settings, and it is very difficult for me, as someone who is proud to espouse feminist ideals, and equally proud to be a Jew.

The past two weeks, in which the Jewish people have taken up a disproportionate amount of news space, have brought up some very difficult feelings for me, as a woman, as an Israeli, as a Jew. The sense that hatred of Jews is back in fashion and legitimate is very troubling. Helen Thomas, and Feministing, and throngs of talkbackers all seem to feel comfortable enough with the sentiment that, well, we’d all be happier if Jews just kind of went away.

I wanted to be past all that. I wanted to be moving on to other things. I want to keep having the conversation about what kind of people we are, about how to make the sovereign Jewish state a proud reflection of divine goals, about how to improve on our value systems and laws in order to make them fair and effective to all Israeli citizens equally. I’m involved in some good programs on behalf of women in Israel — Jewish women, Arab women and Bedouin women — and I want to keep talking about how to make Israel a good place for women. It is just very hard to have that conversation while I feel under attack as a Jew.

But I’m not going to stop trying.


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