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8 If You Are Not With Us: The National Women’s Studies Association and Israel Janet Freedman Janet Freedman, a self-identified “progressive, feminist, pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace Jew,” describes the transformation of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) from a vibrant inclusive organization into one that marginalizes Jewish women and embraces BDS bigotry against Israeli Jews. She documents how NWSA has mirrored other professional organizations in creating an environment in which dissent from the anti-Israel dogma is simply not tolerated. Along the way, many questionable tactics have been employed, including one-sided academic panels, the cutting off of pro-Israel voices, the organization’s Jewish Caucus being ignored, key meetings being scheduled for the Sabbath, and so forth. Freedman notes that her “coming out” as a Zionist at the 2012 annual meeting was deemed a courageous act, as if the belief in the rights of Jews for self-determination was a badge of shame. She observes that the tactic of seeking out the exceptional anti-Israel Jewish woman to kosherize anti-Israelism “is one that has long been used to reinforce despicable racism and antisemitism.” In late November 2015, the NWSA announced the results of the electronic poll of its membership on a resolution calling for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of economic, military, and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the State of Israel. In all, 88.4 percent of the 35 percent who voted expressed support for the resolution. I knew its passage was a foregone conclusion, but I was devastated nonetheless . I have a long history and deep connection to the organization. The annual conferences, publications, and email lists offered support and inspiration for me and many others initiating women’s studies programs and campus women’s centers . Meetings were frequently contentious, and there were many disagreements, but I perceived an intention among the members to be open to sometimes sharp criticism, particularly around issues of white, middle-class dominance of the women’s movement and the association. If You Are Not With Us | 123 In recent years, the NWSA, like many other academic organizations, has urged its otherwise disputatious colleagues to come together on a single issue— BDS against the State of Israel. Preparing this essay has given me an opportunity to reflect on this phenomenon as one individual within one academic association . I’ll begin with a short organizational and personal history. That Was Then Founded in 1977, the NWSA was created to support the women’s studies programs that were developing on campuses throughout the United States. I regularly attended the annual conferences devoted to discussions of developing feminist theories and the ways in which these could be applied in curriculum development, teaching, research, and activism. Activist projects included work not only with campus-based women’s centers but also with organizations and agencies beyond the campus that responded to the needs of girls and women, from K–12 schools to women’s health centers, rape crisis programs, and domestic violence shelters. As theoretical perspectives shifted, so too did the conference agendas. The initial focus on the words woman and women was critiqued as “essentialist,” understood to mean that human behaviors could not be attributed to biology or even to differences in gender socialization. Creating more specific categories— for example, “Asian, disabled women”—could not resolve the problem of assuming that the experiences of members of that and other groups were uniform. Conference sessions began to emphasize cultural and historical variations that made universalizing impossible. Conference themes emphasized power and systems of privilege and the ways in which intersecting biases and oppressions function to perpetuate these. The evolution is noted on the NWSA website: Women’s Studies has its roots in the student, civil rights, and women’s movements of the 1960s and 70s. In its early years the field’s teachers and scholars principally asked, “Where are the women?” Today that question may seem an overly simple one, but at the time few scholars considered gender as a lens of analysis, and women’s voices had little representation on campus or in the curriculum. Today the field’s interrogation of identity, power, and privilege go far beyond the category “woman.” Drawing on the feminist scholarship of U.S. and Third World women of color, Women’s Studies has made the conceptual claims and theoretical practices of intersectionality, which examines how categories of identity (e.g., sexuality, race, class, gender, age, ability, etc.) and structures of inequality are...


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