Phyllis Chesler, a nice Jewish girl from Boro Park who in the 1960’s and 70’s gained fame both as a prominent voice of the feminist movement and an internationally renowned left-wing ideologue, broke ranks with the Left several years ago.
The unwillingness of leftists to make unequivocal distinctions between Western democracy and jihadist imperialism; the refusal of feminists to condemn the hideous treatment of women in Third World and Muslim nations; and the appalling hatred of Israel that had come to infect vast precincts of the academic and activist Left – all these played a role in Dr. Chesler’s ideological shift.
The author of thirteen books and numerous articles for a wide variety of publications (The Jewish Press has published nearly 40 of her columns over the past few years), Dr. Chesler is an Emerita professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York; has lectured and organized political, legal, religious and human rights campaigns in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East; and has appeared on network and local radio and television programs all over North America and Europe.
Your book The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It (Jossey Bass, 2003) signaled, perhaps more than anything you’d written to that point, your break with the Left. Did you encounter any resistance to its publication?
My editor at Jossey Bass challenged me: Are you sure you ought to say this – that anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism and that Islamic anti-Semitism is lethal in nature? Are you really sure you’re right? And I said yes. I understood that in the past one could criticize Israel and not necessarily be anti-Semitic, but the way Israel had become completely demonized, and the attempts to isolate and punish only Israel in a world filled with so much evil, prompted me to write the book, which I began in 2002.
How do you react to the feminists and intellectuals who have criticized and shunned you?
Once you stand up for Jews and for Israel, and once you tell the truth about Islam – and that includes the mistreatment of women and independent thought under Islam – you are branded a racist, a neo-conservative reactionary, a right-wing nut. You have liberal Jews, feminists, who care more about the right to an abortion than the right not to have a second Holocaust.
I do think that what feminists are doing in areas like rape, battering, incest, employment discrimination, prostitution, pornography and the trafficking mainly of women and children is holy work. There are wonderful feminists who are doing important things for women. I just recently met the director of the shelter for battered women in Jerusalem. She had heartbreaking stories to tell, and she’s doing God’s work, in my opinion. She is not frum, but there are other feminists who are, and who are similarly looking for gender justice for women within Judaism here and in Israel.
But there is such a phobia among feminists about the Republican Party, about the Christian right wing, about the Jewish right wing. And the phobia mainly comes from a secular worldview as well as their having been Palestinianized – sort of mentally hijacked.
One feminist reviewer of The New Anti-Semitism was a Jewish woman who wrote that I grossly exaggerated the danger coming to us from Islam, which in her opinion is not really the problem. The real problem – get ready to laugh – is the danger posed by people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This is a well-educated woman. She’s a secular Jew who sees the anti-abortion agenda as so heinous, so atrocious, so horrifying. These people are not going to care about Israel. To them there is no God.
You write and speak extensively on the multicultural relativism espoused by the media and academia. Would you expound on that?
It’s easy to say, yes, the Muslims are against everyone who is not a Muslim. And it’s true. That’s part of what jihad is about, that’s part of the history of Islam. But it doesn’t account for the incessant, infernal feuds among the Muslim religious sects and tribes that are bloody, deadly. Here’s the thing. The West, and that means Jews and Israelis, would like to lead sweet and peaceful lives. We’re up against an enemy now that is dying to kill us, that lives to kill, and that at best merely wishes to impose on the rest of us its laws and strictures.
When I turn to people like Amy Goodman of WBAI or others on the airwaves, or to tenured professors at Western universities, and tell them what I just said, they say I’m a lunatic – completely biased, completely racist. Their point of view is that America is to blame and that the way we make up for our many errors and crimes is to become multicultural relativists, meaning that all cultures, you see, are equal or should be treated equally and we should have equal rights to cannibals.
How will a nuclear-equipped Iran affect Israel and the West?
Iran has to be stopped. I would only wish for an Osirak-like action, which I’m told is not quite possible because the nuclear plants that are in the process of being built in Iran, and there are at least 100, are buried all over the country in heavily populated areas.
Should the U.S. engage in direct negotiations with Iran to help curtail the threat of a potential nuclear holocaust?
Think of it from a woman’s point of view, or a psychologist’s point of view. If a man is a batterer, do you want him arrested and removed and sentenced, or do you want to sit down and talk to him? Sometimes talking is something you have to do, but it doesn’t always work, and I don’t think it will in this case.
Are there Arabs or Muslims who truly want peace with Israel and are willing to speak out against Islamic terrorism?
There are Arabs who are pro-Israel and strongly so, but we can’t count on these individual charismatic figures popping up with a movement. Let me praise Nonie Darwish, who’s written a book called Infidel and whose father was a leading military man. You have Walid Shoebat, a former terrorist, for Israel. You have Brigitte Gabriel, an Arab Christian for Israel. You have Wafa Sultan. We have Ibn Warraq, with whom I’ve been working. That’s a pseudonym. I know people who not only have bodyguards and live in exile or in hiding, but who have to write under pseudonyms. When you tell the truth about Islam, you’re a marked person, especially if you were once a Muslim.
Ironically, the people I mentioned, and there are others, are pro-Israel and yet we have Israeli Jews who are so savagely critical of Israel. We have American Jews on the unbalanced left of the Left who are so against Israel. We therefore have to recognize our friends and have to risk making at least conversation, if not outright alliances, with friends from the Muslim and Arab world. It’s also very important for Jews to forge alliances with Christian Zionists. I’ve been on Pat Robertson’s show, "The 700 Club," twice and I took holy hell for it from my former feminist friends.
You’ve commented on and written articles about films and documentaries that are exceptionally biased against Israel and the effects they have as propaganda.
One of the things I speak and write about is the war of ideas, the cultural war. It is a propaganda war and I don’t understand why the West – and now it’s bigger than the Jews, it’s bigger than the Israelis – why the West is not winning this war. One answer is that the West to some extent has been hijacked by its own beliefs about poverty justifying terrorism. Misery, which is presumably caused by America and Israel, supposedly leads to terrorism – as if Bin Laden is poor or as if the 9/11 hijackers were uneducated, illiterate, poor men, which of course is not the case.
There are hundreds of examples of visual propaganda. One of the classic cases is the film by Mohammed Bakri, "Jenin, Jenin," a fake documentary with plenty of doctored footage. I was just thinking about the new film about Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and beheaded by Al Qaeda. The film is not really about Daniel Pearl; he’s missing. The name of the film is "A Mighty Heart." It’s a woman’s film. It’s about Daniel Pearl’s wife waiting for him to return. This movie is, in my opinion, very dangerous propaganda, as I recently wrote in a Jewish Press op-ed column titled "Hollywood Airbrushes Jihad."
Then there was "Paradise Now," a brilliant movie hugely funded by a Palestinian who lives in exile in Europe. The film presents two would-be suicide terrorists who are both so sympathetic, so cute. The Israelis, meanwhile, are only in the shadows, helmeted, with bayonets and guns, anonymous and Nazi-like. The bad guys are these really soulful characters, one of whom ultimately blows up a bus and himself. Now, it won all kinds of awards, people loved it, and I myself viewed it as really a very good film as films go. But that’s precisely what makes it so dangerous. It’s based on a whole series of lies and omissions.
There is a film that is not out yet in which I interviewed terrorists who are intercepted and who are in jail, women as well as men. These people are not poor, and they’re not crazy. They are part of a culture that empowers them to unleash lethal hatred against the Other – the woman, the Jew, the modern Western outsider.
On a completely different note, should Israel absorb the Sudanese refugees seeking political asylum?
What a good and difficult question. In the Sudan they’re doing what I call gender cleansing and it’s Muslim-on-Muslim violent crime and it’s Muslim-on-Muslim genocide. The Arab Muslim militia is repeatedly raping women and children who have been genitally mutilated, which means that it is torture upon torture and they are often outcast and shunned. This kind of apartheid is characteristic of Islam.
What should Israel, already so burdened, so under siege with its own settlers still unsettled from the Gaza pullout, do? What should we, the bearers of the light and the truth of God, what should we do with these pitiful refugees – many of whom perhaps hate Jews and hate Israel?
We ourselves were slaves in Egypt, were liberated from slavery. Obviously the ethical thing, the Jewish thing, the right thing, for Israel to do would be to throw wide its doors to those in flight from Islamic persecution. Alas, who’s going to pay for it? Can Israel afford to do it? Can it do it only symbolically or for public-relations purposes, to show the world that Jews are helping their enemies? Jews are very good at that. We’re very good at subsidizing those who are trying to kill us, giving them a second chance. We’re practically the only true Christians in this turning of the other cheek.
As someone who once vocally opposed the settlement movement in Israel, what would you say to Jews living in Judea and Samaria who could suffer the same fate as the thousands of Jews still homeless as a result of the 2005 Gaza disengagement?
In the past I demonstrated against the "occupation"; I will not do so now. If we Jews have a history anywhere, it is in Shechem, among other places. We see more clearly now what the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza wrought. If there’s a good thing that came out of it, it’s that the world is forced to see who and what Hamas really is.
How can readers contact you or obtain information about your books and other work?
I welcome all comments and inquiries. Anyone can reach me by going to my website at www.phyllis-chesler.com.
Fern Sidman is a journalist whose articles have appeared in The Florida Jewish News, The Jewish Circle, and on such websites as Voice of Judea and FrontPageMag.com.