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Which Way ‘Forward’?

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By Ralph Seliger

I’m a subscriber to The Forward, where I used to be published with some frequency. An opinion piece that’s gotten my notice the other day is “No, You Can’t Be a Feminist and a Zionist” by one Mariam Barghouti, identified as a writer based in Ramallah. This provocative title was the subject head for a Forward email to subscribers recently. (Click here for an extensive non-Forward interview with this young Palestinian-American.)

Actually, I’m with Ms. Barghouti when she inveighs against IDF depredations vis-à-vis Palestinians, and women soldiers who participate. Yet women don’t serve in the IDF because they are Zionists (as the article seems to argue), but because they are Israelis, and as such engaged in an interminable conflict, with attendant wrongdoing on both sides (repression, harassment and displacement by Israelis in the West Bank, with acts of terrorist violence from some Palestinians). Victimizing Palestinians doesn’t serve Israel’s need for peace, but Israelis are not doing this because Zionist ideology dictates such a policy.

I don’t want to sound like one of the rightwing yahoos who comment beneath the article, but I’ve asked my Third Narrative colleagues why The Forward would want to publish a blatantly anti-Zionist opinion by a non-Jew and a non-Israeli — especially if it’s not part of a forum including pro-Zionist feminists. One colleague responded that today’s Forward is dedicated to presenting a certain “balance.” As evidence, he pointed to this piece by Amanda Berman, “Zioness Is Here To Stay, So Get Used To Us.”

Berman is identified as a co-founder of the so-called Zioness movement and as an attorney with the “Lawfare Project.” Her’s is an opposite view to Barghouti’s, a feisty defense of Zionism with a feminist and leftwing activist twist. One problem I find with this “Zioness movement” is that there’s no concern expressed for Palestinians under occupation. This bears no resemblance to a liberal Third Narrative perspective. (My impression is that the Lawfare Project is a right-leaning hasbara initiative, although I don’t know for sure.)

Forward_roosevelt imagePresenting a wide variety of views from the left to the right, from hyper-Zionist to anti-Zionist, and from Jews and non-Jews, does represent diversity, but it also elevates diversity above presenting a clear and predominant point of view. As a Yiddish daily newspaper during most of the twentieth century, The Forward began life closely identified with the Socialist Party of Eugene Victor Debs and Norman Thomas, and then as supporting FDR’s New Deal; the editors and staff could be described as democratic socialists or social democrats advocating for the advancement of welfare-state protections for working people, and compassion for the poor and minorities. They were also basically secularist.

Curiously, the first decade of its new English-language edition in the 1990s was marked by a staunchly neoconservative orientation under Seth Lipsky. It was then recaptured for the liberal left (and liberal Zionism) under the editorship of J.J. Goldberg. Although his successor, Jane Eisner, is a liberal, the publication’s current political coloration seems more opaque. Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy, but I see this as a loss.

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