Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
Seeming to give proof to Orwell’s observation that some ideas are so stupid they could only have been thought of by intellectuals, yet another group of academics—this time faculty in some 120 Gender Studies departments—has, after the latest conflict in Gaza, followed the lead of various student governments, faculty, and other academic organizations by launching yet another attack in the cognitive war against Israel.
With the characteristic pseudo-intellectual babble that currently dilutes the scholarly relevance of the social sciences and humanities, a “solidarity statement” issued by the Palestinian Feminist Collective (PFC) pretentiously announced that “as gender studies departments in the United States, we are the proud benefactors of decades of feminist anti-racist, and anti-colonial activism that informs the foundation of our interdiscipline.”
“We center global social justice in our intersectional teaching, scholarship, and organizing.,” these moral termagants continued. “From Angela Davis we understand that justice is indivisible; we learn this lesson time and again from Black, Indigenous, Arab, and most crucially, Palestinian feminists, who know that ‘Palestine is a Feminist Issue.’”
Palestine may be a feminist issue in the addled minds of these academics, but, tellingly, they conveniently make no mention in their statement of the terrorist group Hamas which is singularly responsible for initiating this latest clash with Israel and which commits a war crime each time its militants launch a rocket toward civilian neighborhoods with the intention of murdering Jews. And while these gender studies activists seem so concerned for the emotional and physical welfare of Palestinian women, they do not mention any Israeli women in their statement or commiserate with the reality of living with a genocidal enemy at one’s border. They do not mention mothers of children in southern Israeli towns like Sderot, a frequent Hamas target, where bedrooms have been converted to bomb shelters, residents sometimes have only 15 seconds to seek cover from incoming rockets, and over 40 percent of the town’s children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of living with the specter of terrorism and possible death clouding daily life.
And, apparently, their virtue-signaling mission to realize “global social justice in [their] intersectional teaching, scholarship, and organizing” has not enabled these gender studies faculty to notice the injustice and violence currently being meted out against Israelis, either as a result of the shower of some 4300 Hamas rockets launched from Gaza in the latest assault with the intention of murdering Jewish civilians, or as part of an ongoing intifada which has claimed the lives of Israelis who have been injured and murdered by psychopathic Palestinians wielding knives, guns, rocks, incendiary kites, and even automobiles used as weapons.
But facts and history are not the concern of the morally-elevated professoriate. Based on this politically-charged, biased language, the gender studies professors expose that they have, with the breathtaking certainty that only the very sanctimonious and intellectually-elite can do, framed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in such a way that they have determined precisely which side is worthy of opprobrium and which, by virtue of its perennial victimhood, is worthy of complete moral support. Revealingly, the language describing “the military, economic, media, and global power that Israel has over Palestine” focuses on the victim-centric, oppression-laden worldview of these academics, in which the legal creation of the Jewish state is framed as an unjust colonial enterprise during which innocent, indigenous Arabs in a factitious country called Palestine experienced a “Nakba,” a catastrophe, in which they were either ethnically cleansed from their lands or remained and now live in the oppressive, apartheid, racist state of Israel.
Perhaps it has escaped the notice of these experts on gender and sexuality issues that if one wanted to vilify any Middle Eastern country for its subjugation and abuse of women, Israel would probably not be the first nation to come under reasonable or justifiable scrutiny, even for a group wishing to “join a vibrant, vast, and growing international solidarity community, composed of those raising their voices in support of Palestinian’s right to freedom, return, safety, flourishing, and self-determination.”
Totalitarian and despotic regimes throughout the region have created an oppressive group of social pathologies that negatively affect women, including genital mutilation, stoning of adulteresses, “honor” killings by fathers and brothers who have been shamed, cultures of gender apartheid in which women are seen as property with no emotional or physical autonomy, ubiquitous sexual assault, and a general subjugation of women, complete with regulations governing behavior, movement, speech, and even requirements that women be covered by burqa or hijab.
A 2018 report by Amnesty International, “Human rights in the Middle East and North Africa,” for example, revealed that “Women and girls continued to face discrimination in law and practice, and were inadequately protected against sexual and other gender-based violence, including so-called ‘honour’ [sic] killings.” Referring to Palestinian society specifically, the report noted that “At least 21 women and girls were reported to have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza, mainly by male relatives in ‘honour’ [sic] killings, according to civil society organizations.”
The society of the Palestinian territories, most appropriately, might provide some additional examples of relevance for feminists trying to identify misogyny and suppression of the human and civil rights of women; and even though these gender studies academics saw fit to “join the struggle for Palestinian liberation,” they have not a single negative word to say about the Palestinians and the conditions of Arab women. In fact, according to Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Women’s Affairs, Haifa Al-Agha, women in this culture are singularly “unique,” but not in the way someone with Western values might think; she was quoted in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida as observing “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.”
Perhaps mothers embrace this cult of death for their children because of the oppression they experience in their own lives. Zainab Al-Ghneimi, head of the Women’s Legal Counseling Center, commented that a Palestinian man “believes he has bought the woman and paid for her, and therefore she has become his property and must obey his orders . . . [Palestinian] laws give him the right of ownership, based on the man being the guardian, and he is the one who commands and prohibits.”
And a more recent report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs confirmed this level of spousal abuse. It found that “Preliminary findings of a survey carried out by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) in the second quarter of 2019, reveal that 29 per cent of Palestinian women . . , or nearly one in three, has reported psychological, physical, sexual, social or economic violence by their husbands at least once during the preceding 12 months.”
Nor would these gender studies faculty have difficulty looking for the oppression of women in some of Israel’s neighboring countries, nations with dreadful records of protecting the rights, lives, and bodies of women. A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll, for example, “assessed 22 Arab states on violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman’s role in politics and the economy,” and raised serious concerns about the status of women in those countries—all of which seemed to have slipped off the moral radar screens of these gender studies professors. The Amnesty International report also noted that in Iran, as one country where the human rights of women are chronically violated, “authorities continued to fail to criminalize gender-based violence, including domestic violence and marital rape. Acts of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence and early and forced marriage, were widespread,” the report found, and “between 21 March and 21 September, at least 366 girls aged below 15 and 29 girls aged below 10 were married.”
Egypt, which was the worst offender for providing a safe haven for women, was rampant with “sexual violence, harassment and trafficking combined with a breakdown of security, high rates of female genital mutilation and a rollback of freedoms since the 2011 revolution,” according to the Thomson report. The country’s anarchy and political instability have meant that women have also become sexual prey, with 99.3 percent of women and girls likely to be sexually harassed and “27.2 million women and girls—or 91 percent of the female population” becoming victims of female genital mutilation.
Iraq appears second in the rankings, many of the problems affecting women the result of “a dramatic deterioration in conditions for women since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion,” as well as “mass displacement [that] has made women vulnerable to trafficking and sexual violence.” “The Iraqi penal code,” the study found, also “allows men who kill their wives to serve a maximum of three years in prison rather than a life sentence.”
In Saudi Arabia, as yet another example, women are considered to be the virtual property of men, cannot go out in public unaccompanied, and “are banned from driving and need a guardian’s permission to travel, enroll in education, marry or undergo healthcare procedures.” The male-dominated culture means that “marital rape is not recognized and rape victims risk being charged with adultery.”
Syria, which has imploded from internecine warfare and murderous carnage, resulting in the death of more than 380,000 Syrians, has become even more dangerous for women, the Thomson report found, so that in the fog of civil war “Girls as young as 12 have been married in refugee camps,” and “more than 4,000 cases of rape and sexual mutilation have been reported to the Syrian Network for Human Rights,” with “reports of government forces and armed militias sexually abusing women and girls during home raids and in detention centres [sic].”
The rectitude of the gender studies faculty promoting condemnations of Israel manifests itself as what has termed “moral narcissism,” the tendency of members of the well-meaning, intellectual elite to align with causes and ideological positions which are based, not on the actual viability or justice of a cause, but on how the moral narcissist feels about him- or herself by committing to a particular cause or movement.
“A moral narcissist,” observed legal commentator Jay B. Gaskill, “lives in a self-approval bubble shared by other moral narcissists who collectively have agreed that their cocoon of mutually agreed moral gestures and self congratulations [sic] will constitute a perfect and sufficient engagement with an imperfect world.” Like other members of the academic left, who believe their worldview is correct because it seeks to create a world in which social equanimity will be realized by the downtrodden, these gender studies faculty members are content to stand in solidarity with one of the victim groups in their intersectionality bucket—the Palestinians—because it enables them, though mendaciously, to denounce Israel as an imperialistic, racist, militaristic oppressor that deprives Arab women of human rights.
“Moral narcissists,” said Gaskill, “have adopted a camouflage strategy to escape the moral disapproval of others [and] . . . they accomplish this camouflage by cloaking their narcissism in the trappings of ‘social justice positioning.’” The moral narcissist’s reasoning may defective, ahistorical, counter-intuitive, or just wrong, but he still feels good about himself. But in this worldview, there can be only one enemy of social justice, and Israel is that enemy.