#NoJewsNoNews for the National Women’s Studies Association

As the Times of Israel noted in a short report, the US National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) recently “voted to join the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement against Israel.” I have often said that it’s a lucky coincidence that BDS could also stand for bigoted double standards, and the NWSA vote provides yet another excellent case in point.

It’s not just that the NWSA decided to single out the one country in the Middle East where women’s rights are most advanced, and that women elsewhere in the region suffer gruesome abuses, including female genital mutilation and so-called “honor killings” that have broad popular support. The hypocrisy and bigotry reflected in the NWSA’s adoption of BDS was also evident in statements made by two leading boycott advocates for a related Electronic Intifada article by veteran anti-Israel activist and Hamas supporter Ali Abunimah.

Abunimah first quotes San Francisco State University professor of ethnic studies Rabab Abdulhadi who attributed NWSA’s support for BDS to the “browning of the organization” and successful efforts to challenge “white supremacy which went hand in hand with Zionist influence in the women’s movement and women’s and feminist scholarship.” Well, white supremacists like David Duke would be devastated to learn that their most fervent ambition goes “hand in hand with Zionist influence”…

But as much as Rabab Abdulhadi is opposed to “white supremacy” that goes “hand in hand with Zionist influence,” she has apparently no problem whatsoever with the kind of Islamic supremacy preached by Hamas: while she wants Israeli universities boycotted, she has worked hard to establish connections between her own university and Palestinian universities like An-Najah and Bir Zeit, where Hamas has considerable support and notorious Hamas terrorist have served in the student council.

Moreover, in an article published in 2012, Abdulhadi discusses the major Palestinian factions including Hamas without so much as mentioning the group’s vile and anti-Semitic charter and its imposition of oppressive Islamist rule on Gaza. Indeed, she calls for “reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas,” arguing that there should be “respect for the multiplicity of ideological and political thought.” Presumably, this means one should “respect” the notion that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it” and that one day “[the] stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

The second BDS supporter quoted by Abunimah is Simona Sharoni, who grew up in Israel, but has been living in the US for more than 25 years and is now professor of gender and women’s studies at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. According to Abunimah, Sharoni explained that the NWSA vote in favor of BDS “makes it explicit that BDS is a feminist issue, that it is an expression of transnational feminist solidarity and that one cannot call themselves a feminist and address inequalities and injustices without taking a stand on what is happening in Palestine.”

Given that the NWSA voted to boycott Israel, it seems fair to conclude that their interest in “what is happening in Palestine” is based on the #NoJewsNoNews principle. Otherwise, they would arguably have to consider boycotting Palestine…

Let’s look at some of the things “happening in Palestine” that should be of interest to feminists even though it would require considerable intellectual contortions to attribute them to evil “Zionist influence.” (Of course, it would be inadvisable to underestimate academics who see “white supremacy” as going “hand in hand with Zionist influence.”)

Consider the data available in a Pew survey from 2013 that included almost 40,000 Muslims in 39 countries and that clearly showed that Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank were often among the Muslim populations with the most extremist views about the role of Islam in society: 89% of Palestinians want Sharia law; 66% endorse the death penalty for Muslims who convert to another religion; 76% support mutilation as a punishment for theft, and a shocking 84% want adulterers stoned to death.

Given this massive popular support for medieval Sharia law provisions, it hardly comes as a surprise that Palestinians are not keen on equality for women, let alone for gays. Like the vast majority of Muslim populations everywhere, 89% of Palestinian Muslims regard homosexuality as morally wrong; only 1% is prepared to see it as morally acceptable. When it comes to so-called “honor killings”, less than half (about 45%) of Palestinian Muslims reject these murders as never justified. And like in most Muslim societies, the vast majority of Palestinians — 87% — insists that a wife must always obey her husband. Only 33% of Palestinian Muslims believe a wife should have the right to divorce her husband, and only 43% think that sons and daughters should have equal inheritance rights.

However, recent remarks by the Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Women’s Affairs, Haifa Al-Agha, illustrate that the minister apparently feels some sort of progress is being made. According to her, “Palestinian girls and women have proven their ability to contribute to their homeland” since “they have a significant presence in the field and battle arenas.” Notice that the minister explicitly mentioned — and thus arguably endorsed — the “presence” of “girls” in “the field and battle arenas,” which is of course just another example of the longstanding Palestinian indoctrination and abuse of children I described in a recent post. The minister reportedly also highlighted “the Palestinian woman’s uniqueness, which differentiates her from the women of the world, as [only] she receives the news of her son’s Martyrdom with cries of joy.”

It is actually quite common for Palestinians to boast that Palestinian “women make sounds of joy after their sons’ and husbands’ deaths as Martyrs” — and as the recent case of a female teen terrorists shows, daughters can also expect to be praised for being “awarded” with “‎Martyrdom-death” and thus having brought “honor and ‎pride for her entire Islamic nation.”

The feminists of the NWSA perhaps know already what I only discovered while researching this post: the notion that family members should not show grief but joy and gratitude when their closest relatives are “martyred” — i.e., when they die for Islam — goes back to the famed female poet Al-Khansa,  who was supposedly a contemporary of Mohammad and a convert to Islam. Apparently, the role of a female poet at that time was to compose “elegies for the dead,” and Al-Khansa excelled in this genre. According to an anecdote, a male (non-Muslim) poet once complimented her for being “the greatest poet among those with breasts” — to which Al-Khansa supposedly replied:  “I’m the greatest poet among those with testicles, too.”

Leaving out this juicy bit, the religious Ramadan supplement of the July 7, 2015 edition of the official PA daily AlHayat Al-Jadida featured the story for which Al-Khansa is honored in Islamic tradition as an “exemplary role-model” for Muslim women:

Al-Khansa was present at the Al-Qadisiyya battle in […] 638 C.E., together with her four sons. She encouraged them to Jihad […] and advised them: ‘O my sons, you converted to Islam and emigrated by choice. […] You might know what the great reward is that Allah has prepared for Muslims in battle against infidels, and know that the eternal home is preferable to the temporary home. Allah says: ‘O believers, stand and resist bravely, stand guard, and fear Allah so you will do well.’ […] If Allah wishes, you will rise tomorrow, healthy and whole; go fight your enemies with wisdom, and with Allah’s help you will prevail over them…’

When she learned that all of them had died as Martyrs she made her famous statement: ‘Praise Allah, who honored me with their Martyrdom-death. I ask my Lord to unite me with them in Paradise.’”

This was obviously a useful attitude for the adherents of a new religion setting out to subjugate new followers and conquer territories that would soon form a vast empire. But it is important to note that the Muslim myth of Al-Khansa requires a total break with the poetry that is attributed to her: according to the Britannica, her poetry “reflects the pagan fatalism of the tribes of pre-Islamic Arabia. The poems are generally short and imbued with a strong and traditional sense of despair at the irretrievable loss of life.”

As the PA Minister of Religious Affairs put it in a sermon in the presence of PA Chairman Abbas ten years ago:

Al-Khansa, this noble woman, when she lost her brother (killed in battle before the rise of Islam) she began crying, shouting in anguish. When her heart was opened by Allah to accept Islam, and faith filled her heart, things changed. She sent into battle her four sons, her own flesh and blood, as a service to this religion. When she heard they had become Shahids (Martyrs), she said, ‘Praise Allah, who has honored me with their deaths. I pray to Allah that I will join them in Paradise.’ This is a great woman. This is a noble woman. Do you see how Islam changed her behavior and her poetry?”

The Muslim Al-Khansa who sends her sons to jihad and welcomes their “martyrdom” as a great honor has thus long been promoted by the PA as a role model for Palestinian women, and the PA has named eight schools after her. Other groups that make use of the Muslim Al-Khansa include the terror group ISIS, which has reportedly set up “a unit of female jihadist fighters” named the “al-Khansa battalion” that has been denounced as the “Islamic State’s ‘female Gestapo’.” Al-Khansa has also been described as an important “symbol in the narrative of Hamas,” most notoriously personified in the late Mariam Farhat, aka Umm Nidal, who “turned herself into a ‘terrorist factory,’” encouraging her sons to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel and expressing elation at the news of their deaths. For this she was rewarded with “the ‘glorious’ title of the ‘Palestinian al-Khansa’.”

One might think all this should be of great concern for feminists eager to take “a stand on what is happening in Palestine” — but if you operate according to the #NoJewsNoNews principle, you will inevitably miss a lot…

About the Author
Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a politically homeless lapsed leftist who can’t get used to living in a time when the Nazi slogan “The Jews are our misfortune” is considered quite acceptable in its 21st century version “The Jewish state is our misfortune.” She therefore writes mostly about antisemitism, anti-Israel activism and BDS, i.e. Bigoted Double Standards. She grew up in Germany and has a Ph.D. in contemporary history.
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