Female sympathy for Gaza is lacking

Women calling for violence against other women - as Israeli politician Ayelet Shaked has - is particularly abhorrent, writes Shelina Janmohamed

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More than 200 people in Gaza have been killed in the recent Israeli onslaught, most of them civilians and many of them children.

As I tucked my own daughter into bed I thought of these little children, including a toddler perhaps just starting to walk and wondered how we can protect our innocents.

We wonder if perhaps women – mothers in particular – can find a way through our shared motherhood to unite across the most entrenched of divides in our shared sympathy for the death of civilians and children.

This sympathy, and the empathy that can help us to reach out, was in short supply in one woman in particular. Ayelet Shaked of the ultranationalist Jewish Home party called for the death of Palestinian mothers. She also said that the Palestinians “started it”.

Of course what she said is shocking, but I wonder if we find such a sentiment even more shocking because she is a woman calling for violence against other women, particularly mothers. We have an idea in our minds that war and destruction would be mitigated and peace would be closer to the horizon if women were in charge.

There are echoes of this female hatred, going all the way back to Golda Meir herself who blamed Palestinians for, in her mind, forcing the Israelis to kill them.

More recently female voices of hatred continue to ripple and the normalisation of violence and hatred trickling down from the top is extremely worrying.

According to the Electronic Intifada website, Israeli teenager Talya Shilok Edry wrote: “What an orgasm to see the Israeli Defense Forces bomb buildings in Gaza with children and families at the same time. Boom boom!”

In a trawl of tweets in Hebrew with the word “Arabs”, a Mondoweiss contributor noted hatred from teenage Israeli girls. What is most bizarre about their tweets is that they contain selfies of the girl plus a hate message. “I wish a painful death to Arabs” or “From the bottom of my heart, I wish for Arabs to be torched”.

All of this has made me wonder where the voices of feminist movements have been over the last few weeks in decrying what is happening in Gaza.

Their voices usually call out against the oppression of women – particularly when exacerbated by multiple layers of discrimination.

It is exactly this kind of discrimination that the member of Israel’s parliament Ayelet Shaked displays through the exercise of her privilege: she speaks against (Palestinian) women who have no political power, no military force and no voice.

The push for more women in positions of leadership is about correcting a historic exclusion of women, about asserting the rights of women to participate in public life and creating a broader range of views and inputs so we better manage society. And of course simply being more fair.

But none of this means that women should be given a free pass to spew such vitriol and hatred.

Just as importantly, those working for women’s rights should be at the forefront of calling out such hatred against women, especially women deprived of their rights and no voices to speak for themselves.

We must give voice to those women drowned out by the exertion of privilege by women generating hatred through the exercise of their own power.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk