By Alex Menter
Each time I log onto Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media platform, I bear witness to numerous posts and status updates declaring support for the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President of the United States. As expected, many of my fellow progressive activists are hailing Clinton’s nomination for presidency by the democratic party as a feminist triumph that could potentially lead to a long overdue female president. Like many of my fellow progressives, I also identify as a feminist, and that is precisely the reason why I am not going to vote for Hillary Clinton in November.
For the uninitiated, here is some background about Clinton’s integration of women’s empowerment into her career and personal politics. Clinton openly identifies as a feminist, and considers the rights of women and girls across the globe to be of the upmost importance to the development of democracy. Clinton is aware of and has spoken about issues of systemic misogyny.
For example, in 1995 Clinton spoke at the U.N. 4th World Conference on Women Plenary Session. She spoke about traveling to Indonesia to work with local mothers in childcare and family planning, meeting with women in post-Apartheid South Africa struggling toward freedom and democracy, and meeting with doctors and nurses in Belarus and Ukraine working to keep people alive in the aftermath of Chernobyl. Clinton also coined a phrase that her supporters still quote to this day: “Women’s rights are human rights,” a statement that I wholeheartedly support as well. So, considering all of this, one would assume that her foreign policies would reflect care for international women, and would recognize the importance of aiding struggling international communities while allowing space for independent development.
Unfortunately this is not the case, particularly for Palestinian women.
For those who are unaware, here is some background on Hillary Clinton’s views on Israel and Palestine, and a very brief summation of U.S. foreign policy under a potential Clinton presidency. Clinton historically and currently supports a two state solution between Israel and Palestine. This means that both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government will need to adhere to international law, and recognize the right for each state to exist upon their internationally recognized legal borders. She also, however, advocates strongly for Israeli militaristic intervention in the Gaza Strip, and often fails to denounce Israeli violations of international law, the occupation of the West Bank, the illegal settler movement, the blockade on Gaza, and how all of these realities impact the conflict.
Instead, Clinton seems more concerned with Palestinian terrorism, such as the many rogue stabbing attacks and rock throwing incidents against Israeli Jews that still occur. She is also troubled by U.S. grassroots and government efforts to address Israeli violations of international law. Terrorism of any kind certainly deserves criticism and condemnation, and for the sake of protecting Jewish people it is always important to consider whether U.S. movements fighting for justice in Palestine should be investigated for the allegations of antisemitism that they have been accused of. It is however, Clinton’s lack of nuanced policies and language regarding the conflict that is problematic.
While it may not be Clinton’s intention to represent herself this way, it is certainly how she appears in her speeches.
The most recent example of this occurred during Clinton’s 2016 American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) speech. AIPAC is a conservative, pro-Israel group that lobbies for the U.S. to continue aiding Israel militarily. During her speech, Clinton argued against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a grassroots social justice organization intended to promote divestment of universities, churches, and corporations from Israeli companies in a maneuver similar to the divestment campaign from Apartheid South Africa.
While BDS are seen as highly controversial in some circles, Clinton’s criticism did not offer a nuanced understanding of the movement. Instead, she called BDS “alarming,” accusing its supporters of seeking to “isolate” and “delegitimize” Israel. She also made no nod toward Palestinians in the diaspora who feel that the BDS Campaign is the only way to proactively fight for the rights of their people and their homeland. Nor did she consider the experiences of left wing Israeli Jews who take a pro-BDS stance in solidarity with Palestinians.
Therefore, it is a fair judgement that if elected president, Clinton will maintain this status quo, likely until a time comes in which it is safer to advocate more assertively for an end to Israeli abuses and violations of the law.
Considering this, how will a Clinton presidency impact Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza? A 2009 article by Mel Frykberg, published in the Electronic Intifada, shows that the status quo between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is already an extreme violation of Israel’s obligations to adhere to the UN Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). “The Convention obliges all state parties to take appropriate measures, legislative and non-legislative, to prohibit all forms of discrimination against women.”
Recently, the Palestinian Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) released a report entitled “Submissions to the Field Mission of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.” The report details human rights abuses against Palestinians, including “sexual harassment and assault, discriminatory treatment of Palestinian female prisoners, [and] women being forced to give birth at Israeli checkpoints.”
Israeli settlers also inflict extreme violence against Palestinian women. “Women have been shoved, stoned, or shot at, or have had tear gas canisters thrown into their homes while Israeli soldiers looked on and did nothing to stop the settlers.” Amna Salman Rabaye, a 31 year old Palestinian mother, spoke of the way she was assaulted by “a group of masked settlers armed with sticks and chains … it was physically impossible for me to run. My pregnancy was too far advanced and there was no place to hide.” Further, the over 600 Israeli road blocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank impact Palestinian female students trying to get to school, and often prevent many women of obtaining medical care and jobs in other cities.
Eviction from homes is also another major threat to Palestinian women and girls. One Palestinian family, the Hanoun’s, spoke of the way that they were violently evicted from their home by Israeli soldiers. They are now one of the numerous families in East Jerusalem having to live in tents outside of what was once their house.
While it is likely that this abuse will continue and potentially escalate under a Clinton presidency, I would like to be clear that while I believe that Clinton’s policies would be harmful toward Palestinians, I still would not argue that Clinton is anti-Palestinian herself. Instead, I would suggest that Clinton’s staunch support for Israel, lack of criticism of its violations of international law, and ignoring of Palestinian human rights is simply her doing what she feels she needs to do in order to become president.
While we should perhaps not blame Clinton for being forced to work within the trappings of a political system, we should nevertheless ask ourselves if her policies make her a good feminist candidate.
In order to answer this, I would suggest that we not only continue looking at the experiences of Palestinian women in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but also at America’s own small population of Palestinians. Approximately 85,186 Palestinians are spread across our country, making up an extremely small percentage of U.S. citizens in comparison to America’s total population of 318.9 million. Since approximately half of the total Palestinian population are women, this means that Palestinian-American women make up an even smaller portion of U.S. citizens.
Now let us ask ourselves what will happen to these citizens of our country under a Clinton presidency. While we cannot say with exact certainty how they will react, what I fear is that Clinton’s policies will further isolate Palestinian-Americans from U.S. society, breeding resentment and making an entire segment of our population feel ostracized and ignored by our government. Is it feminist to — whether intentionally or otherwise — exclude an entire portion of our population so that Clinton can do what seems best for the Israel Palestine conflict?
Furthermore, assuming Clinton has intentions of advocating for Palestinian rights in the future, is it feminist to ask Palestinian women — and Palestinians of all genders — to wait for just a little bit longer while they watch Israel and Palestine maintain a status quo of violence and human rights abuses? The occupation has been going on for approximately 50 years, is it feminist to ask Palestinians to wait 50 more? Alternatively, is it feminist for Clinton to make immediate decisions that are not necessarily perfect, so that she can make ideal decisions in the future when the public is ready to support them? These are hard questions that each woman, Palestinian or otherwise, will have different answers for and perspectives on.
I would like to conclude this Op Ed with a quote from one of my favorite historians, Rashid Khalidi — a Palestinian Lebanese American historian, author, and an Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. In 2015, Khalidi published an article in the New York Times arguing that America’s staunch support for Israel undermines its own interests in the Middle East. Khalidi states that “if [the U.S.] cares about Israel, it would realize that supporting its subjugation of the Palestinians … will be disastrous for the rule of law, and for vital U.S. interests … [and that] continued U.S. encouragement of Israeli violations of international humanitarian law … can only enflame extreme and reprehensible reactions, whether in the form of international Jihadi militancy, crude anti-Semitism, or blind terrorism against civilians.”
I believe that Khalidi’s words reflect an important piece of knowledge that intersects perfectly with Alice’s theme for this issue: behind the mask. Feminism is about the pursuit of gender equality, and if we care about equality it is important for us to be brutally honest with ourselves about where and when our movement has failed people that it is meant to support. Even if Hillary Clinton cannot advocate for Palestinians in the most ideal way, everyday women certainly can.
We need more grassroots movements for justice in Palestine, we need to listen to more dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians, we need to educate ourselves on all perspectives of this conflict even if they make us uncomfortable, we need to stick to our principles while remaining practical in how we use them to pursue justice, and we need to help make decisions to end inequality that are sustainable and inclusive. There is absolutely no reason why we should shrug our shoulders in defeat and act like there is nothing we can do to protect one another from an orange-haired, Islamophobic, reality television star, or “Grandma Nixon” becoming president. We need each other. No matter how good or bad our next president is — the only thing that will save us is the bettering of ourselves, and the consideration of others.
Alexandra Menter is an intersectional, trans inclusive, sex worker inclusive, feminist. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, one of the first women’s colleges in the United States, where she received her BA in English with a minor in Theatre. She currently resides in Israel where she will engage with the country’s Palestinian population through English teaching and non-profit volunteering for 9 months. She plans to obtain her MA from The School for International Training in Intercultural Service, Management, and Leadership starting in the fall of 2017. During her spare time, Alexandra can be found scribbling scenes of Middle Eastern landscapes in her sketchbook, reading all types of art theory and criticism, watching “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, and trying to make the world a better place.
Clinton 1995 speech http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/hillaryclintonbeijingspeech.htm
Clinton AIPAC quotes/Slate article
Approximate number of Palestinians in the Us https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_Americans