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Letter to the Editor: A false picture of Israel – Zionism and human rights

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June 29th, 2015, exculsive work of Khaled Jarrar on the Qalandia Checkpoint.

June 29, 2015, exclusive work of Khaled Jarrar on the Qalandia Checkpoint. Credit: Courtesy of Khaled Jarrar

An Open Letter to Robyn Frum:

This letter is a response to an editorial published on Dec. 1 conflating Zionism with the liberation struggles of several marginalized groups. As a Jewish lesbian and a queer Palestinian, we were troubled by Ms. Frum’s assertions about Israeli progressivism with regard to women, LGBTQ people, and religious and ethnic minorities. While we share her commitment to uniting to change the world for the better, her conflation of Zionism as a political theory with the state of Israel as it exists today obscures the reality of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.



To claim that “Zionism” has never denied anyone freedoms or rights is deceiving. Of course it hasn’t — Zionism is an abstract concept, a body of political thought. Marxism has never denied anyone freedoms or rights, but the self-declared Marxist Chinese government has. In this way, Ms. Frum cleverly dodges responsibility for her argument by conflating Zionism, an abstract concept, with the state of Israel.

Zionism is not, as Ms. Frum writes, a liberation movement in the same vein as feminism or civil rights, but rather a political movement for a Jewish homeland. Born of late 19th-century secular Jewish thinkers, Zionism at its core is a response to centuries of unmitigated anti-Semitism, and it seeks to establish a Jewish state to ensure the safety and longevity of the Jewish people. It is not a Jewish liberation movement, and to claim that it “represents the struggle for freedom and equity” is somewhat misleading.

Ms. Frum writes: “The reconstitution of a modern Jewish state in Judea united Jews around the world.” Yet since its birth, Zionism has divided Jews over its meaning and implications. Many Jews are deeply critical of the circumstances surrounding the creation of the state of Israel, which have locked it into a decades-long cycle of violence that has cost thousands of lives.

Contrary to what Ms. Frum argues, Zionism has not “ensured (Jewish) safety and continuity in a dangerous world.” While the goal of a Zionist state of Israel was to stop the oppression that Jews have endured for centuries, the creation of the state of Israel hasn’t solved the problem of discrimination against the Jews worldwide. Whether Jews are safer in modern-day Israel than in other societies in which they have lived and continue to live is the subject of much debate; however, to assert that Israel has “ensured the safety” of Jews is simply untrue.


Measuring progressivism

When she writes, “no country in the Middle East can compare for its commitment to empowering women,” Ms. Frum does not suggest what exactly “empowering women” looks like or how we should measure governmental commitment to it. We don’t blame her, these are much-debated topics within the field of women’s studies.

However, she is wrong to make this claim without any evidence. Feminist movements have existed in Middle Eastern countries longer than the state of Israel has. Is she aware of the scholarship regarding the effects of Western colonialism on these movements? Does she know the names Nawal El-Sadawi, Huda Shawrawi and Ḥanan Al-Shaykh as well as she knows the names of Western feminists? The truth is that Ms. Frum does not need to research women’s empowerment initiatives in the 22 countries of the Middle East. She can rely on Western ignorance of Arab histories and contemporary Arab politics to uphold racist tropes of Arab societies as “more patriarchal” than others to make her point.

Additionally, we are troubled that Ms. Frum would uphold Israel as “promoting religious tolerance and fighting racial divides,” given that Israel’s history is fraught with both religious and ethnic tensions. Israel is infamous for forcibly administering birth control to Ethiopian Jews, segregating Israeli Arabs into slums, preventing Palestinian Muslims from attending mosques and feeding ethnic tensions by establishing settlements in Palestine in violation of international law, among many other human rights violations.



Ms Frum also participates in a “pinkwashing” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When the Israel Defense Force threatens to out gay Palestinians to their families unless they become informants, is Israel “accepting the LGBTQ community”? With tactics like these, Israel encourages Palestinian communities to see their gay members as potential informants, fanning the flames of homophobia in Palestine while at the same time downplaying homophobia within Israel.

Is she aware that Iran has one of the most progressive governmental policies surrounding transgender rights in the world? With the exception of Thailand, Iran provides the highest number of sex reassignment surgeries in the world — and covers up to half the cost of this surgery. Meanwhile, Israel’s healthcare providers are notorious for being gatekeepers in regards to transgender healthcare, and transgender citizens usually leave the country to get surgery.


Moving forward

On the topic of civil rights victories being co-opted by the Israeli government, Aeyal Gross, a gay Israeli law professor, says that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool.” The point here is not to debate which country’s government is “the best ally.” These issues are nuanced, and both Israel and Iran have a long way to go. The point is that, as women and members of the LGBTQ community, we refuse to be used as pawns in the nationalist quest to justify Israel’s egregious human rights violations.

As members of the Jewish and Palestinian communities, we caution people against blindly supporting a movement like Zionism without understanding its nuances and implications. Making claims that obscure the reality of the conflict only makes it more difficult to work toward justice. We want to encourage our communities to truly understand Zionism — its history, meaning and significance — as well as the complexities of Middle Eastern civil rights discourse, before drawing conclusions.

For those interested in these issues, we recommend the literary work of Theodor Herzl, Edward Said and Sarah Schulman.


Leila Elaqad and Elaine Cleary


Leila Elaqad is a Palestinian-American third-year in sociology with a WGSS minor, as well as co-president of SHADES, OSU’s student organization for LGBTQ students of color.

Elaine Cleary is a third-year in economics and political science, as well as vice president of B’nai Keshet, OSU’s student organization for LGBTQ Jewish students.


  1. Well written, Elaine and Leila! I’m pretty sure this will clear up so much for many.

    • Official PA television—the PA’s PBS—airs programs that feature children as young as six reciting anti-Semitic and violent poems. Just months ago, for example, a little girl recited a poem that claimed, (and I quote) “[Christians and Jews] are inferior, cowardly, and despised.” Three days earlier, on a different program, another young girl insisted that (and I quote), “Our wars are for the Al Aqsa Mosque, and our enemy, Zion, is a Satan with a tail.”
      This is apparently what passes for “educational television” under the Palestinian Authority.
      From cradles to kindergarten classrooms; from the grounds of summer camps to the stands of football stadiums, messages of extremism are everywhere in Palestinian society.
      In the international community, there is no shortage of individuals to lecture Israel about what it must do for peace. Yet these same “human rights advocates” stutter, mumble and lose their voices when it comes to criticizing Palestinian incitement.
      Ignoring words and thoughts of hate does no favors to the Palestinian people. It does no favors to families who seek to build better lives for themselves and their children. And, perhaps most importantly, it does no favors to Palestinian leaders who advance the language of peace instead of the dogmas of hate.
      Laying the groundwork for a stable peace in our region will not happen overnight. But those who would like to foster better relations between Israelis and Palestinians must start by speaking out against incitement in Palestinian society. The next generation—both Israeli and Palestinian—deserve no less.

  2. 1) Edward Said is a lying, anti-Semitic fraud who revised the entire history of the Middle East to develop this so-called “indigenous Palestinian” people from a land that was named after Roman imperialists and co-opted by Islamic Arab colonists in the 7th century. It would be best for the authors to stop drinking the leftist Kool-Aid.

    2) It is a complete fabrication that Israel sterilized Ethiopian women as a policy. There was one doctor who acted atrociously, but to conflate the actions of one to the entire state is completely unacceptable and malicious. Check your facts before spewing nonsense.

    3) The last time that Palestinian-Arabs were barred from the Temple Mount was due to the fact that a particular group of Palestinian-Arab women were inciting violence to kill Jews. That was deserved on their end, and for both of the authors to complain about something that was completely reasonable under the guise of security says far more about the authors’ inability to tell the truth rather than attempting to rebuke one of their peers.

    4) Did the original author of the piece claim that Israel does not suffer from instances of racism or homophobia or did she rightfully point out that Israel is comparatively better at protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community than its neighbors? The answer is the latter, and it is a completely valid point. It is even more astonishing that the authors of this piece decided to label Iran, who lynches homosexuals on a frequent basis, as a model for uplifting the transgender community. Members of the queer community supporting nation-states that oppress and kill their own members can only be compared to chickens standing up for Colonel Sanders.

    5) Zionism is a liberation movement because it liberated the Jewish people’s homeland from British and Arab occupiers from a land that was legally mandated to them by the San Remo Conference, the League of Nations 1922 Resolution, and Article 80 of the UN Charter. Judea and Samaria are disputed territories, not “occupied territories,” and Israel has every right to build Jewish communities outside of the 1949 Armistice Line (which is not a border by the Rhodes Agreement of 1949). Again, if you wish to distort reality in the face of defending your so-called “progressive values,” then I would suggest fact checking in the interest of not looking like a bunch of whiny brats.

  3. Thank you Leila and Elaine for responding to Robyn’s misinformed op ed. I’m glad fellow buckeyes took the time to educate those of us who do not know much on Israel’s apartheid policies

    • Given that you support the Palestinians who openly advocate Jewish genocide (see their duly elected leaders clear-cut party covenants), you correspondingly do as well. It’s hard to believe in this day and age that anyone would openly advocate the liquidation of Jews, but you clearly do and it doesn’t seem to bother you a whit.
      Moreover, it would be hard to believe that anyone would support second class status for women, the honor murder of teenage girls, the brutalization of gays and the suppression of dissenters. But you, as supporters of the Palestinians who regularly practice all of the above, are therefore complicit in these sexist, racist and fascist beliefs as well.
      Why are you so bigoted, misogynist, anti-gay and such hater of Jews? Please tell us pray tell.
      And if to be opposed to such garbage practiced by so many Muslims world-wide makes one an Islamophobe, count me and all who believe in freedom and hate sexism and bigotry vs Jews as a proud Islamophobe.

  4. Brilliant insight and article, thank you for responding to Robyn’s misinformation!

  5. YAS! Thanks for writing this! I’m glad you exposed her for pinkwashing! Robyn Frum is a trained Israeli Hasbara (propaganda) fellow, and they use pinkwashing as a strategy to portray Israel as espousing liberal or progressive democratic values such as feminism and gay rights in order to distract from or discount Israel’s systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians.

  6. Leila and Elaine,

    Thank you so much for this article, it is informative and truly addresses the conflict from multiple perspectives. I believe that the only way for there to be a Jewish state is for said state to live by the Jewish values I was raised on: in Judaism, nothing is prioritized above the value of each and every human life. The right-wing government of the present State of Israel does not represent these values and does not represent me, as evidenced by their attitudes toward and treatment of both non-Jews and Jewish people of color.

    I truly hope that this is realized by Israelis before the future of the Jewish state is jeopardized by our own hatred and xenophobia. Until we as Jews can accept legitimate criticism of Israel as well as the necessity for Palestinian self-determination, we will never see change in a promising direction and we will never see peace.


  7. Thank you, you made my point exactly. To you, there’s only one conversation: That Israel is committing “ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and occupation.” No amount of facts will ever make you change your mind. And if any evidence surfaces that might contradict what you have convinced yourself to be the truth, you dismiss it with a wave of your hand as “pinkwashing.” Or “greenwashing,” or “girlwashing,” or “techwashing.”
    To you, Israel is not a real place with real people who live there. It’s a cardboard cutout, a caricature, a movie monster with Palestinian blood dripping from its fangs. You aren’t capable of logical or intellectual thought about it because you don’t want to think about what’s actually happening there. You just want to spew your hate and convince everyone else to be a brainwashed drone like you.
    That’s why when *I* talk about the actual issue, you deflect to “Israel’s occupation.”
    Israel’s occupation IS NOT the subject of this thread, kid. SJP spewing lies about it, is. I am not the one off topic, you are.

  8. This is so well-written. I love the collaboration. Thanks for clearing up the air.

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