The silence of women's organizations worldwide regarding October 7 is political, and that's why it is so outrageous and painful. Moreover, it is embarrassing.
It shames feminism, academia, and the entire Western world. Because when women choose to ignore the slaughter and rape of women, and the abuse of elderly, young, and toddler females, when progressive organizations choose to turn women's erasure into an act that needs to be examined in a broader political context—the message is that still, despite everything, not all women are equal. Perhaps there are even some women who had it coming. Everything depends, of course, "on the broader context."
And that "broader context," as feminists from over the sea put it, including the highly influential feminist theorist, Judith Butler, is the complex and long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Colonialism, in the language of academia. The actions of Hamas on October 7—slaughtering families, raping young girls in their beds, mutilating women’s sexual organs, extracting a baby from its bisected mother's womb and stabbing it, kidnapping girls and boys into dark tunnels— are sought to be put into context by women who have been standard bearers for other women, and who were raised on the works of De Beauvoir, Catherine MacKinnon and bell hooks.
They seek to attribute lofty words, words meticulously put together by the women who have made it possible for women to be in academia, in parliaments, and in the UN—to war crimes amongst the worst to have ever been committed on this planet. Butler, an American Jew whose work is read in gender studies courses in Israel, went so far as to claim that Hamas is not a terrorist organization. In the past, she has argued that she sees it as part of the global left.
...if there's anything that the organization, UN Women, knows and acknowledges, it is that women pay an additional price in wars
This is nothing short of a wake-up call for feminists worldwide. Feminism encompasses many streams, and the movement is comprised of assorted opinions and ideologies that don't always converge into agreements. However, they all share the aspiration to create safe spaces for women where their voices are heard, their bodies are respected, and they have the right to live.
When the UN women's rights organization, UN Women, remains silent, when significant figures in the feminist struggle refuse to condemn the heinous crimes committed against women, girls, and children (or to even categorically define these acts as heinous crimes) by claiming a contextual justification – we can pack up and go home. Hand over the keys. Burn the books and return to the caves. Feminism it ain’t, just a bunch of women in powerful positions turning their backs on history, on the movement, and on women worldwide.
Because if there's anything that the organization, UN Women, knows and acknowledges, it is that women pay an additional price in wars. Not only this, but the organization is also a signatory to a document that addresses gender-based crimes in conflicts and wars.
“Wartime sexual violence is one of history’s greatest silences and one of today’s most extreme atrocities,” it reads. Sexual violence is “a deliberate tactic of warfare. It displaces, terrorizes and destroys individuals, families and entire communities, reaching unthinkable levels of cruelty against women of all ages from infants to grandmothers… The costs and consequences last for generations.” What can’t be found in this document? The need to examine the broader context.
In their silence, these organizations have rendered themselves irrelevant. Not because they shouted the cry of the Gazan women who pay with their bodies and lives for the deeds of Hamas. This is a fact; a painful fact. However, ignoring the crimes of October 7 that led to this terrible war is an additional form of violence. One that encourages future harm to women, while placing the crimes "in the right context”. After all, well-behaved men seldom make history.
- Rotem Izak is a journalist for Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet