The Bully Left: What Lurks Behind Ms. Magazine’s Rejection of AJC Ad

[Note: This post was a joint effort by Lazar and RL]

Since 2000 in particular, the ‘progressive’ movement has increasingly been held in thrall to one tenet that seems trumps all others – the adoption of the Palestinian people as the “chosen people” and the corrolary demonization of Israel as the imperial/colonialist/racist oppressor holding them in subjection. So pervasive has this ideological proclivity gone that progressives abandon core beliefs if those beliefs either question the allegedly “progressive” motives and goals of the Palestinians or — and this is still more astonishing — portray Israel in a positive light. The far “left” allies itself with Muslim groups that preach against civil rights and liberal democracy, and by any impartial standards, qualify as racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic. But, since these groups are involved in a struggle against Israel, the progressive movement ignores all the core freedoms that the groups oppose in principle and embraces them as ideological brethren in the struggle against colonialism.

The feminist movement, alas, is no different. The anti-American, anti-Israeli narrative that blames those countries for Third World violence and sexism takes priority over actually supporting country like Israel that promote women’s rights. Israel was the second Western country with a female Prime Minister. The IDF features women in high profile roles, including generals and fighter pilots, and continues to open positions to women wherever possible. Israel has scholarship programs specifically designed to encourage Bedouin women to attend college, and the first female Bedouin doctors have begun practicing. Israeli police work with southern Bedouin to combat the practice of honor killings, urgently needed to defend the lives of women. And, Israel’s President of the Supreme Court, Knesset Speaker, and Minister of Foreign Affairs are all women.

This is not to say that women in Israel live in a feminist paradise. There are many problems that face women there, as in any liberal democracy dedicated to gender equality. But compare their status to any of the surrounding cultures, and unless you’re a hyper-self-critical Israeli/Jew solipsistically focused on your own faults, and any impartial observer would conclude that women in Israel do live in Paradise. Indeed, as a woman lawyer who worked in a shelter for battered women noted to me, the Arab women that fled there had enormous difficulties reintegrating in their own communities, not merely because the men hated them for escaping their patriarchal control, but because the women accused them of “thinking they’re Jewish” in expecting unacceptable levels of autonomy.

Nonetheless, this record of supporting the advancement of women is not enough to trump anti-Israel sentiment on the left, and a curious recent incident at the flagship feminist magazine, Ms illustrates the problems involved.

The American Jewish Congress submitted an advertisement to the magazine for publication. The ad featured (unflattering) pictures of Dorit Beinish, President of the Supreme Court, Dalia Itzik, Knesset Speaker, and Tzipi Livni, Minister of Foreign Affairs, with three words underneath that read “This is Israel”.

ajc ad for ms

This innocuous ad merely points out women that have risen to influence and prominence in Israel’s liberal democracy, and implies that Israeli society encourages, or at least allows, women to rise to positions of importance. As Zionist propaganda, it’s pretty mild — no demonization of Palestinians, no militarism, no religious defense of the right to settle every square inch of the “whole land of Israel.” Just a relatively anodine affirmation of a western ideal: the empowerment of women.

But Ms. magazine rejected the ad.

The reason is not clear; several reasons have been given.

The AJC’s press release on the subject relates-

When Director of AJCongress’ Commission for Women’s Empowerment Harriet Kurlander tried to place the ad, she was told that publishing the ad “will set off a firestorm” and that “there are very strong opinions” on the subject – the subject presumably being whether or not one can say anything positive about Israel.

Certainly, Ms. does not shy away from controversial subjects and strong stands. Notes the AJC press release:

Ms. Magazine has a long record of publishing advertisements rallying readers to support reproductive choice; opposing the Religious Right; highlighting the fragility of the pro-Roe v. Wade majority on the Supreme Court; charging that “Pat Robertson and his Religious Right cohorts don’t like individual freedom;” announcing support for the “struggle for freedom and human rights;” opposing the Bush administration’s campaign to fill federal courts with judges who “will reverse decades of progress on reproductive rights and privacy, civil rights, religious liberty, environmental protection and so much more;” as well as accusing the Bush administration of being “bent on rewarding big corporations and the rich, turning back the clock on women’s rights and civil rights, and promoting a U.S. empire abroad.”

When confronted publicly with the refusal Ms. tried more “formal” excuses:

A Ms. Magazine representative, Susie Gilligan, whom the Ms. Magazine masthead lists under the publisher’s office, told Ms. Kurlander that the magazine “would love to have an ad from you on women’s empowerment, or reproductive freedom, but not on this.” Ms. Gilligan failed to elaborate what “this” is.

Women in positions of power isn’t women’s empowerment?

Okay, let’s try another excuse. JTA reports that Ms. magazine’s executive editor, Kathy Spillar, said that because Livni and Itzik are both from the political party Kadima, running the ad would show favoritism for a certain political party. “We only take mission-driven ads,” Spillar said. “Because two of the women in this ad were from the same political party,” they could not run the ad without getting involved in the politics of another country.

In a parliamentary democracy like Israel, the Speaker and Foreign Minister will almost always be from the ruling party.

And Ms. has often run articles on female political leaders, both domestic and abroad. The Fall 2003 issue of Ms ran a cover article on Jordan’s Queen Noor. The Winter 2007 issue featured an article on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with the headline, “This is What a Speaker Looks Like”. And if Hillary won, would they not show a picture of her and NP together lest they slight the Republicans?

Spillar’s thin excuse suggests the search for an “acceptable” explanation — after all, it can’t be much fun to explain why running that ad would raise “a firestorm”.

Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam thinks that “Ms decided that it was being used by AJC to do special pleading for Israel and refused to run the ad.” Why that would be a reason not to run an ad seems bizarre, as if other ads don’t do the same… as if half the articles in the journal aren’t “special pleading” for various progressive forces, including for the magazine itself:

In honor of the magazine’s 35th anniversary, we asked a variety of women from across the country, and around the globe, to reflect on feminism and Ms. How have the movement and the magazine changed their lives?

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Not Israel. Can’t be. Why, they’re not even progressive.

Does Ms. have a record of sympathy for anti-Israeli causes? Indeed, it does. The AJC reports that Ms.

ran an article in the Winter 2004 issue entitled, ‘Images of Palestine,’ which discussed the Ramallah Film Festival and gave sympathetic reviews to films concerning ‘the liberation of South Lebanon’ from Israel as well as numerous films which portrayed terrorism as legitimate ‘revolutionary’ activity against Israel and miscast Israel’s activities to counter terrorism as ‘oppressive.’”

Yourish.Com reports that Ms. has a history of writing about influential women in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

The pro-Palestinian side of the conflict is well-represented. Ms. Magazine covers women’s international political empowerment. There’s an article about the first women in the U.K. high court, one about Israeli mothers marching for peace, international legal discrimination of women, women who changed the face of politics in Northern Ireland, a Saudi feminist princess, a boatload of stories on peace activists, a female Israeli conscientious objector, and a ton of stories on Iraq.

In an address to the AJC, veteran feminist Phyllis Chesler discussed the anti-Israel sentiment in the feminist movement, a sentiment that actually harms the cause of women.

Ms magazine, the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority, which took over Ms magazine, and far too many Western feminists have, for a long time, been more concerned with the alleged “occupation” of a country that does not exist (Palestine) than they have been concerned with the occupation of women’s bodies world-wide, especially in Islamic countries.

Before I came here today I quickly looked through some issues of Ms online from 2000-2007. The editorial bias is blatantly and consistently anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Apparemtly, Palestinians are the sacred victims who are pure and can do no wrong. Israelis are the Nazi-like aggressors and occupiers who can do nothing right.This is not the Ms I once knew so long ago. This is a Stalinized, post-colonial, anti-imperialist, multi-culturally relativist kind of Ms. This is a feminism that has been utterly Palestinianized.

Would that it were really multi-cultural. It’s actually inverted cultures, not abandoned judgments. Israel is wrong, Palestinians are right. The alleged renunciation of value judgments — “Who are we to judge?” — is actually a prelude to moral hysteria directed against the self.

This does not serve the cause of Palestinian women well-nor does it serve the cause of women anywhere. It is cowardly to desert the one democracy in the region and give a free pass to barbaric, totalitarian, and fascist regimes. This kind of feminism betrays the women and men in the Third World who need feminist support the most. I am not a cultural relativist. I believe in a feminism which is rational, universal, and meant for all people…

Sounds like phallo-logo-euro-centric imperialism to me. (joke)

Feminists slander Israel when they describe her as an apartheid state-when in fact, Islam is really the largest practitioner of both gender and religious apartheid not only in Muslim countries but also in the West. Western feminists won’t say this. They would lose their funding, their cozy lives, their positions in universities and their cachet in the media; their friends too. Perhaps even their lives.

When I say this on campuses, I need police officers to protect my right to speak.

Many Western feminists have not supported the ex-Muslim dissident and feminist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Some feminists have attacked her as too anti-Muslim and as too soft on American imperialism and western colonialism. Feminists have not praised the ex-Muslim feminists, Nonie Darwish or Wafa Sultan, who are both speaking strong truth to power-but who are not blaming America and Israel for anything…

And yet, three women leaders who identify with the West cannot even buy their way into the pages of a Ms magazine. Let me say one thing about one of these women: Dorit Beinish, the President of the Israeli Supreme Court. In the matter of the Women of the Wall, (I was a name-plaintiff in this legendary lawsuit), to her eternal credit, Judge Beinish judged that Jewish women had the right to pray in a group in the women’s section at the Western Wall.

Ms magazine should give her a parade, not banish her from their pages.

Ms magazine has the right not to run an ad in which three major Israeli women leaders are featured. But they further reveal their hand, and have shown their true politics.

I’m not sure this is what’s afoot, although Phyllis Chesler surely knows the inner workings of 21st century feminism better than I do. I am struck by the initial, off-record comment about how running the ad might “create a firestorm.” This may be a story less about the ideological rigidity of Ms. magazine, than about their cowardice in the face of a bully peer group. The motivating force here may well be the anti-Zionism of their readership (or even their major contributors), a story in which Ms. is more concerned about offending their progressive feminist peer group, than in making an ideological point.

If so, it is both an eloquent and depressing indicator of how disoriented the left has become in the course of this sad first decade of the 21st century. It’s one thing to sneer knowingly at the cheap trick the AJC is playing in using Ms magazine either for a propaganda coup — how horrible! pro-Israeli propaganda in a progressive journal?! — or even worse, a sting operation. Notes Silverstein again:

I can’t say whether Kurlander [whom he's outed as an AIPAC retread, and hence not interested in feminism but in Israel, RL] “set up” Ms and the magazine rather inartfully fell into the trap set for it; or a series of unfortunate actions and reactions led to this disaster for Ms and PR gold mine for AJC.

Despite the modesty with which he phrases his speculations, he did entitle his blog post: “AJC ambushes Ms Magazine.”

Silverstein’s solution: take the money for the ad and run to get someone to smear Israel by focusing on all her warts:

If I were Ms’ editor I would’ve happily taken the money. If Jack Rosen wants to pump money into Ms why should the magazine refuse it? But I would’ve told the AJC that I planned on either writing an editorial or commissioning an article that would’ve examined the premises of the ad and looked beyond it at the real status of women in Israeli society in the context of the ad’s flackery. I’ll bet the AJC would’ve withdrawn the ad in a heartbeat.

Interesting piece of bullying here which I think gets to the core of the “progressive’s” problem with Israel. They’ve decided that Israel, as a representative/stand-in/proxy for the imperialist West, and that the poor Palestinians are the innocent, well-intentioned victims. They also know that Israel cares about it’s image among progressives, and that you can do damage to Israel by dragging her reputation through the mud. So… take the Zionist money and trash her. That’ll teach those phoneys to try and manipulate us!

Ironically, you end up with people who think they’re working for the “repair of the world”, for peace and all those good progressive values who a) end up identifying with the nastiest bullies around, b) picking on the kid everyone else is picking on, and c) becoming bullies themselves.

Which brings us to what may be the most interesting aspect of this little fiasco: the idea that even so anodine an ad sticks in the throats of a magazine like Ms.; the idea that running it would produce a “firestorm” because of the “strong feelings” that anything positive about Israel arouses among… who? How morally deranged do you have to be in order to go ballistic over something nice being said about people who, whatever their faults, have done fairly astonishing things in the world of gender relations, especially in the context of their neighborhood?

In and of itself, this is a minor incident, even a bad joke. But in what it tells us lurks beneath the surface, what kind of now inveterate forces of anti-Zionist hostility among the “feminist” “progressive” “left”, it offers some worrisome indices of struggles to come.

Indeed, Silverstein’s final remarks suggest a real dark side to all this:

What AJC hopes to do is peel off some of the progressive elements of the feminist movement to attack Ms. This in turn, divides the progressive Jewish movement at a time when it is important that it stay focused on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict AND bettering conditions for women within Israeli society. The AJC ad is a side show to all of this. I would plead with any progressive speaking out for AJC that they consider some of the issues I’ve raised before doing so.

In other words, getting some progressives to “side with Israel” is a dangerous move that might “divide” the movement and prevent it from accomplishing its true goals. And those goals — “resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict AND bettering conditions for women within Israeli society” — are especially eloquent for what they don’t say. True to his moral solipsism, he has not a word about the conditions of women within Palestinian or — for those not wedded to the parochial formulation of the conflict — Arab and Muslim society.

What on earth makes him think the “left” can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [sic] without addressing something like the prevalence of honor-killing in Palestinian and surrounding societies? If they’ll kill their own daughters for shaming them, why on earth would they not want to destroy Israel for shaming them (by existing)?

Although gentle in tone, I see lurking behind this rhetoric of unity the same kind of “solidarity” rhetoric that drove the old left in such damaging directions — give yourself an impossibly utopian goal, hallucinate that it’s in your power to achieve it if you just try hard and maintain “unity”, treat anyone who dissents or tries to bring up inconvenient truths as someone bent on destroying the movement, and rally the troops for the good fight. It’s not too many steps removed from sharing David Landau’s “wet dream”: if only we rape Israel, then maybe we’ll get peace.

3 Responses to The Bully Left: What Lurks Behind Ms. Magazine’s Rejection of AJC Ad

  1. diane says:

    Your analysis is horrifying and dead-on, Lazar. That Jewish liberals can think like this is incredible, but sadly, real. One question: you don’t comment on the claim, made by Ms. Magazine, that in the very same issue that rejected the AJC ad, there is an article on Livni. Can you confirm this? And if so, is that article fair to her and to Israel?

  2. Rich Rostrom says:

    Some Lebanese-Australian Moslem youths perpetrated a horrific series of gang rapes. Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen and Superintendent Kim McKay pursued the criminals despite a blizzard of abuse (including death threats) from the criminals and their kindred. In 2002, they won convictions – the ringleader got 55 years. In 2003, they addressed a conference on violence against women – and were denounced as racists by some attendees.
    Betraying the rape victims

    The rot is deep.

  3. Rapewaffle says:

    Why look so hard for some rapetastic agenda behind left-wing condemnation of Israel when all that’s required to explain it is that the left has some respect for international law?

    “But the muslims are so evil! How can you support them?”

    Yes, muslims do some terrible things. Muslim countries often have lousy, repressive laws. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to disenfranchise or murder them. People don’t stop having rights just because you think they might abuse those rights.

    It’s reasonable to worry about whether a palestinian state would respect israel’s right to exist, but currently the palestinian state doesn’t exist, precisely because Israel conquered it.

    Until the rule of law is restored, no progress will be made on your concerns. Palestinian society will remain backward, angry, and vengeful.

    How should that be done? Well I think that we in the west need to stop taking sides, it doesn’t help. That goes for the pro-palestine left as well as the pro-israeli right, but the right are by far the biggest offenders here. The amount of aid and unconditional support given to Israel has allowed the conflict to continue, and they have to take some responsibility for that.

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