I am a card-carrying Zionist and a proud feminist, beliefs some critics apparently deem incompatible.
Zionism is defined as a movement for the re-establishment and the development of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. When Theodor Herzl started discussing Zionism in the 1880s, it was revolutionary. Zionism aimed to bring an end to the fragility of our Jewish existence and the uncertainty of our future. With this sense of security, it was believed that the Jewish people could contribute more to humanity. Zionism isn’t just about a home for Jews, it’s about contributing to the world. When Israel helps African countries with irrigation systems or when Israeli doctors treat victims in disaster zones – it leads through its values.
One of those Israeli values is equality for women. From Israel’s inception, women have been equal members of society – much earlier than in the United States. Israel’s Declaration of Independence grants “all Israel’s inhabitants equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion, race or gender.” Women are protected by law from discrimination and Israeli society continues to further the advancement of women. Israel has had a female prime minister, supreme court chief justices, and foreign ministers. Women comprise half of Israel’s workforce.
Israel protects its women at all stages of their lives. Once a woman is five months pregnant, she receives 40 paid hours over the course of her pregnancy for doctor appointments and pregnancy-related tests. Israel even subsidizes in-vitro fertilization for parents having trouble getting pregnant. Mothers are entitled to 14 weeks of paid maternity leave and up to an additional 28 weeks of unpaid leave. Once you go back to work, Israel has subsidized daycare for infants and babies. Parents can take sick days to care for sick children. Perhaps in our ongoing feminist battles in the U.S., we should look to our Israeli friends for guidance.
Growing up, I was surrounded by strong Jewish Zionist women – my mom, my aunts, my grandmothers, and my great-grandmother. These women instilled in me the values that led me to spend my adult life at the crossroads of progressive politics and pro-Israel advocacy – and never have I felt these values to be in conflict. Not when I was a member of the Democratic National Committee, nor as an Elected Official.
After the 2016 election, my mom, grandmother, sister-in-law and I all atended the March for Women’s Lives in Washington. I was concerned that like many progressive efforts in recent years this empowering moment would devolve into an anti-Israel gathering. But we didn’t experience that walking down Pennsylvania Avenue. We felt included.
We all come to this intersection of Zionism and feminism from different places. Some of us have decades of organizing experience, coming up in a time where women had limited access to the halls of power. Some of us have come of age in different times. Some remember when Roe v. Wade was not the law of the land. For others, the March on Women’s Lives served as the first real test. Women across the United States fight every day for their rights. How can we diminish these voices because they also care about the safety and security of the State of Israel?
There are days I disagree with the actions of the Israeli government, just as many days I disagree with the actions of the United States Congress, and most days I disagree with President Trump. As a Jewish woman, I was taught to question, and I do so often. However, I never question the importance of a Jewish democratic State of Israel just as I never stop fighting for the myriad progressive domestic causes - whether it be pay equity, reproductive health care, access to birth control, paid maternity leave - I feel so passionate about.
Stephanie Hausner is a councilwoman in Clarkstown, NY.