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Western feminism and its blind spots in the Middle East

In our current era where digital platforms wield unparalleled influence, X – previously known as Twitter – is the closest thing we have to a global public square. Within this vast marketplace of ideas, a subset of Western feminists have unilaterally assumed leadership roles, fashioning themselves as the gatekeepers of who is a real “feminist” and what truly constitutes “feminism”.

Since October 7, these “leading feminists” have been bombarding this all-important digital landscape with posts vociferously condemning the Hamas attack on Israel, while excusing or simply ignoring the ongoing collective punishment of more than two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that followed. Some even attempt to frame Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and total siege of the tiny enclave, which already claimed the lives of over 5,000 men, women, and children, as acceptable retaliation for Hamas’s actions and lawful “self-defence”.

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Let’s be clear: What is in question here is not their condemnation of the violence Hamas inflicted on Israeli women, but their apparent indifference to, and in some cases enthusiastic endorsement of, the violence currently being wielded against Palestinian women.

These so-called feminists are not only failing to show any empathy or support for the long-standing suffering of Palestinian women, but are also joining in the increasing efforts to silence those expressing any hint of sympathy for them.

Whenever someone, especially someone with a certain public profile, posts a message on X supporting Palestine and acknowledging the decades-long suffering of Palestinian people under Israeli occupation and oppression, they are faced with the same loaded questions many times over: “Do you support Hamas?”, “Do you condemn the attacks on Israeli civilians?”

In response, some feel intimidated and reverse course, while others either refuse to engage or try to challenge the assumptions of these self-appointed public interrogators. But however they respond, they face the same barrage of abuse, intimidation and insults from those who “stand with Israel”, including many prominent Western feminists.

Phrases and labels such as “anti-Semite”, “rape apologist”, “support for rape and kidnapping of women”, “support for a terrorist group that governs with Sharia law”, and notably, “not a true feminist” are liberally bandied about.

So I want to ask all those feminists in the West who are not only making posts, signing statements and writing columns unconditionally supporting Israel’s “right to defend itself” but also working tirelessly to “cancel” anybody who dares to either put a spotlight on decades of Palestinian suffering, or call for an end to Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza, which is killing and maiming hundreds of women and girls every single day: Is this what you call feminism?

Your brand of feminism, which seemingly applies only to a certain subset of predominantly white, Western and Western-aligned women, is difficult to stomach. You rightly condemn the violence Hamas inflicted on Israeli women. Yet you are not only silent on the suffering of Palestinian women, but are trying to silence anyone else who is brave enough to speak up for them.

Today, Gaza’s women and children are not only under heavy bombardment, but also on a starvation diet thanks to Israel’s “total siege”. Is this not a crime against women that merits attention and condemnation? How can you call yourself a feminist while excusing, even supporting, punitive, genocidal actions of a powerful state against a helpless people trapped in an open-air prison? How can you so easily brush away the harrowing experiences of hundreds of thousands of women who lack the power to change their circumstances?

Western feminism’s apparent indifference to statements like that of Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, likening Palestinians to “human animals”, is deeply alarming.

If your feminism does not make you stand up for a people who experienced little other than ethnic cleansing, oppression and occupation since 1948, who have been trying to survive under a crippling blockade for 17 years, who are being defined as “human animals”, and who are now facing what can only be described as a genocide, then what it is for? If these realities do not encourage you to take a stance, it’s hard to imagine what will. Are Palestinian women somehow not women enough to be deserving of your feminist advocacy?

I hope this weighs on your conscience: By endorsing Israel’s right to “defend itself” at any cost, you’re condoning violence against women and children – the very demographic you claim to champion. By ignoring the plight of the Palestinian people, by trying to brand as “anti-Semitic” and “anti-feminist” everyone who dares to support their struggle, you are making it evident that not all lives – not all women – hold the same value in your eyes.

Your message to the women trying to survive under Israeli bombs, women cradling the corpses of their murdered children, is loud and clear: you do not matter.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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