Big Sister Is Watching

The dangers of being perceived as pro-Israel in online feminist spaces.

by Phyllis Chesler

Does Big Brother—or rather, Big Sister, never sleep? Is she always anonymously patrolling the internet and the airwaves at the ready to attack, accuse, bully, defame and correct anyone who pronounces, however briefly, certain forbidden words and ideas?

The response I recently provoked with a few brief, innocuous and mildly sympathetic words about Israel was enough to convince me that the answer is yes. Big Sister is watching and listening. Who knows how much of what appears online is a performance in order to avoid provoking these censors and their gendarme, the internet mob. 

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be interviewed by Meghan Murphy, a young and radical Canadian feminist at Feminist Current. The podcast lasts 55 rather wonderful minutes. Murphy is a true Fourth Wave torchbearer and I am thrilled to be in touch with her.

We covered many issues, including the disappearance of radical feminist knowledge; the unprecedented opening in history that Second Wave feminists had—the likes of which has not been seen since; what being alive at that moment meant to me as an intellectual; the three tributaries that constitute the Second Wave (civil rights, left-inspired activism, and the feminist transformation of the professions); the importance of universalist values as opposed to relativist values; campaigns opposing pornography, prostitution, and trafficking; the embarrassment that women’s studies has become; how the best and brightest minds of my feminist generation were quickly out of print and out of mind; the faux-feminist prioritizing of Sharia law and race over sex/gender; the nature of femicide; the danger of jihad; the extent to which the obsession with the transgender issue has not only erased women’s issues but may also constitute one of the many faces of male backlash; how radical feminists have been attacked and death threatened when they share a view of the transgender phenomenon as diversionary and minor; the balkanization of identity; the way in which intersectionality is increasingly used to bludgeon radical feminist ideas; the danger of conformity and cowardice in the face of totalitarian regimes; the importance of tolerating, even celebrating, different points of view; the ways in which politically “incorrect” ideas are being boycotted and censored; and the issues that cry out for feminist analysis and support such as FGM, polygamy, child marriage, honor based violence, honor killing, and the burqa.

On a whim, when I revisited the site, I noticed, to my surprise, that there were 93 comments and counting. That’s impressive given that only 737 people are “counted” as having listened. Alright, it’s all good. Murphy and I drew an active group of listeners.

But then I started reading the comments. Around 65 percent by my count were about something I’d said in passing at two different times and for a total time of less than one minute on the podcast.

I had said that I’d been “accused” of being too “positive about Israel” (although I said nothing further about Israel) and that I’d noted a “rise in ethnic bigotry towards the Jewish people in general, and among some feminists too.”

Thus, I spent less than one minute on these two points, over and against 54 minutes of an intense, feminist conversation. It is important to note that the audience here is primarily a feminist one. However, only 27 percent of these comments were about feminist and gender issues; and 6 percent praised (or critiqued) the conversation. Some defended my right to speak, no matter what I had to say.

But the loudest, most vocal, and most vicious comments spouted blood libels about Jews and Israel. One must assume that such Judeophobic poisoned propaganda has fully infiltrated the feminist discourse. This is certainly the case when you realize who the American National Women’s Studies Association honors (Angela Davis</a> ; Jasbir Puah ) and who women’s studies departments dis-invite (Ayaan Hirsi Ali ).

It is heartrending but not surprising that two icons acknowledged as feminists, Alice Walker and Angela Davis , have very strong and very negative views about Israel and perhaps about those Jews who support the existence of a Jewish state without needing to immediately criticize its every imperfection.

It is also possible that nonfeminist Jew-haters and anti-Zionists have infiltrated feminist space. I have definitely seen this happen on listserv groups over and over again. No matter what the subject may be, it all becomes a forum to discuss Israel/Palestine—but only from a pro-Palestine point of view.

Perhaps these comments are but a small example of the kind of internet “mobbing” that leads to wrecked reputations, the loss of employment, the need for police protection. In the case of professor Andrew Pessin , I referred to this as “a bee swarm.”

Here, come, read what these commenters had to say in response to a purely feminist conversation.

I don’t think you understand the scale of what Israel and more specifically the zionists have done, are doing and plan to do. It is very very serious and they are very serious rogue state, as bad as the US and worse, because they are responsible for 911 and a very fake war of terror. (Again, I am not shooting from the hip. I’ve studied this since its inception.) The hatred for Israel also goes back to historic animosity for Jews because they have been and still are usurers who are stealing people’s lives through debt slavery, and because they are tribal supremacists – very well funded networks of them are. Until we recognize that, until we understand the reasons behind the expulsions (abusive usury), until the Jews themselves recognize this (some do) and look at their group’s behavior, the world will be stuck in a tribal world largely created by Jews. This is some of the root of the animosity.

She lost me at Israel. Women who read Feminist Current do their research. She is a shill for Israel. I respect Judaism as a religion, but Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, Israel attacked the USS Liberty, killing American sailors, and Israel and the neocons in the Bush administration did 9/11.

Israel is non-negotiable. I agree with MM. Israel is responsible for 911 by the way, and so much more. I have done a lot of research on them through the years, and you need to worry about them. No Jew will go against them, even the best of them. It is a problem.

It’s male Israel reversing the contempt inherent in the holocaust onto the Palestinians and in the process scapegoating its women too. The Jewish left in Europe fought the founding of Israel, and the male Jewish right pushed it. This is South Africa all over again, and Israel is to the U.S. what northern Ireland is to Britain, a settler colony used to seize control of a geographical area.

Chesler has been taught to be anti-islam because it serves Israel’s purpose. Dehumanizing the opposition is a classic way of winning a war of the minds. Then the physical war of getting a carte blanche to torture, run over with tanks, bomb buildings full of civilians.

This reminds me of the abhorrent US 2016 elections. American Jews voted for Trump because he promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. In spite of the fact and fully knowing that Trump’s followers and campaign staff were heavily stacked with white nationalists and anti-semites with Nazi sympathies. To these people Jerusalem embassy was more important than the decimation of our own democracy in the US.

911? It was Israel and the neocons in the Bush administration. Saudi Arabia might have played a minor role. Building 7 was NOT hit by a plane and it collapsed in free fall acceleration. Engineers know steel frame buildings don’t do this. That is, unless they are rigged with some sort of explosive. The Twin Towers were pulverized. Some type of aircraft struck the Twin Towers, but this did NOT bring those buildings down.

No nation has a “right to exist” that includes Israel and that includes the US. What Zionists did was migrate from Europe, force out the non-Jewish inhabitants by force and then spent the next seventy years acting like they are still victims.

Israel uses “anti-semitism” the same way that trans activists use TERF and transphobia. It’s meant to shut down debate and hide their crimes. Any criticism of Israel means that people are anti-semetic.

I went back again and checked the comments section at Feminist Current in response to other podcasts. Four other podcasts drew anywhere from seven to 15 comments at most.

It is possible that in my case, my reputation precedes me and Jew and Israel haters lie in wait to pounce wherever I may appear. But it is just as likely that the Jew-hating virus has spread and maddened people everywhere, including those who are literate, educated, and have time to read and comment online.

Thus, in our time, one is not allowed to speak about either Islam or Israel unless one is prepared to praise Islam and to condemn Israel. These two forms of speech are highly permissible online.

I noted that one commenter also said something important.

To Israel’s credit it is on the verge of adopting prostitution abolition “in the interests of women”, in contrast to other Middle East countries and peoples. “The new law will make Israel the 10th country to institute what is called the “Nordic Model” of combating human trafficking and prostitution. The law is scheduled to a final vote next week, at the last minute before the Knesset breaks for the early election.”

No one has, as yet, responded to this.

First published in Tablet.