JAKARTA: When Western actresses and female politicians cut their hair to protest the death of Mahsa Amini or rallied against the Taliban ban on girls’ education, they stood up to defend women’s rights. However, the zeal went missing when it came to Palestine, non-Western feminists say, denouncing their peers’ silence on Israel’s killing of women in Gaza.

Mass protests and displays of solidarity in Europe and the US broke out in 2022 and carried on into 2023 following the death in Iranian police custody of the 22-year-old Amini, who was charged with breaching hijab rules. In the same years, when the Taliban barred Afghan girls from school, women united in outcry and called for international pressure against them.

But more than seven months into Israel’s indiscriminate killing, wounding, and maiming of Palestinian civilians, the West’s mainstream feminist movement has been largely silent.

At least 35,800 people in Gaza have been killed and 80,000 wounded by Israeli airstrikes and ground offensive that have destroyed most of the enclave’s infrastructure and rendered it uninhabitable.

The majority of the dead are women and children. Many have lost their lives as most of the hospitals have been flattened by Israeli troops and no medical assistance could reach them.

The International Rescue Committee estimated last month that 37 mothers had been killed in Gaza each day and 60,000 pregnant women had no access to midwives or doctors, while tens of thousands struggled with breastfeeding as they were so malnourished due to Israel’s blockade of humanitarian aid.

In the face of the widely documented atrocities, Haein Shim, Korean activist and spokesperson of Haeil, a Seoul-based feminist group, told Arab News that Western feminists were exhibiting “selective empathy” and “double standards” with regard to Israel’s onslaught, the criticism of which has regularly been labeled as “antisemitism” — not only by Israeli authorities but by Western leaders as well.

“I strongly believe these issues are interconnected with racism, imperialism, and colonialism,” Shim said.

“We need to urge each other to break the silence and unite against occupation and subjugation, Israel’s human rights abuses and ongoing genocide. One thing to be clear: Our solidarity does not mean antisemitism but only to end the vicious genocide and violence against women and children.”

While Shim believes it is not too late for “global feminist solidarity” with women in Gaza, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Malaysian human rights lawyer and scholar focused on decolonization, sees an intrinsic flaw in Western feminism, which might prevent it.

“The function of Western feminism, which is inherently imperialist, is to reduce and dehumanize not only Palestinian women and children but also Palestinian men, who have been subjected to decades of Israeli settler colonialism, with the full support of US imperialism and its allies in Europe,” she said.

“It is, therefore, not surprising to witness the deafening silence of most Western feminists, who are staunch advocates of this strand of feminism, in the face of relentless imperialist violence in Gaza and all of historical Palestine. Their silence is an endorsement of the status quo.”

For Fikri, Western feminism has been shaped by “the racist narrative of the clash of civilizations,” and its silence on Gaza was merely consequential.

“We see women like Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Hilary Clinton, Kamala Harris — both white and non-white — who depict themselves as champions of women’s rights become members of the ruling classes of imperialist states that are responsible for the mass death, destruction, and suffering around the world,” she said.

“Therefore, there are no double standards of Western feminism; there is only one political standard meant to protect the interests of the imperialist ruling classes, which has been applied consistently.”

In the context of Israel and accusations of antisemitism fired against its critics, Asian feminists also cited the problem of white supremacy, which they closely linked with Zionism.

“Zionist ideologies are not just harming and discriminating against Palestinians, and the destruction of Palestine is not merely about Palestine. Zionism is about white supremacy and colonization, and the destruction of Palestine is just another example of imperialist violence inflicted by Western colonizers, aka white people,” said V., member of Chinese Feminism in Toronto, a Canada-based grassroots collective, who requested to remain anonymous.

“If we consider the sociopolitical context of North America, we know most Jews are also white people, yet we do not have the space to discuss the complexity of antisemitism and white supremacy simultaneously. I guess that speaks a lot (as to) why white feminists tend to be hypocritical here.”

Her colleague, G., also a member of the group, said that hypocrisy was also present among non-white women leaders who were “internalizing whiteness” and embracing Zionism.

“We need to understand this should not be done in our names. We need to have firm voices and expose these leaders as Zionist agents and complicit in genocide, instead of accepting the fact that our elected leaders turn complicit and no longer represent us. We need to hold them accountable,” she said.

“Decolonization is not just theory. We all need to move beyond the bystander observer position and let Palestine radicalize us. We need to continue to educate ourselves and our communities on colonial feminism/pinkwashing and purplewashing.”

Part of the struggle is debunking pro-Israel propaganda and fighting “against the utilization of antisemitism to shut down any criticism against Israeli or Zionist policies,” according to Okky Madasari, Indonesian novelist and academic, whose research focuses on knowledge production and censorship.

“There must be a unified campaign to stop believing anything coming out from the Israeli authorities. They are liars unless they are proven otherwise,” she told Arab News.

For those activists who for the past seven months have been silent over Gaza, Okky suggested that they stop using the feminism label altogether.

“You should be ashamed of yourself if you don’t speak up against Israel when you are so fussy about many other more trivial things,” she said.

“Condemning Israel and taking sides with the Palestinians is what any decent human being must do, let alone if you are a feminist.”

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