Dr Phyllis Chesler, a pro-Israel thinker and professor emerita of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island (CUNY), US, is a strong voice of the modern feminist movement. She is the author of more than 16 books, including the best-seller Women and Madness (1972). In an interview with Dipin Damodharan she speaks on her new book ‘Living History: On the Front Lines for Israel and the Jews 2003-2015’, gender equality, and honour killings in India
Some western media outlets are engaged in branding India as intolerant in the backdrop of honour killings. What’s your take on this?
On the one hand, Hindu India, far more than any Muslim country, has been documenting, arresting, prosecuting, and jailing honour-killers in a battle between state power and religious councils. The Indian government has also passed strong legislation against such crimes; but neighbouring Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, and, Afghanistan have not done so.
On the other hand, they routinely engage in “eve
teasing”—a form of aggressive sexual harassment on the street; and rural and impoverished daughters and wives are routinely and extremely beaten—read my colleague Aruna Papp’s book Unworthy Creature. A Punjabi Daughter’s Memoir of Honour, Shame, and Love. These are age-old tribal customs that are difficult for a modern government to
abolish. Dowry-burnings of brides by mothers-in-law and husbands are common enough so that a special wing for such murderous mothers-in-law exists in a New Delhi jail.
These—and other tribal customs—are not “stray incidents.” However, the Indian government and Indian feminists are at
least trying hard to document, punish, and abolish them. This means going up against tradition, against the power of the khap panchayats, corrupt and misogynist police officers as well as families.
‘Your new book ‘Living History: On the Front Lines for Israel and the Jews 2003-2015’ explores the growth of anti-Israel campus movement. Could you tell us the relevance of such a book in the present context?
A propaganda campaign against Israel has exerted a
chilling effect on truth-telling. The only acceptable narrative is a pro-Palestinian fantasy, one in which Jihadic terrorists are innocent victims and Israelis, who are trying to protect themselves from being murdered, are villains.
The Western professoriate and intelligentsia have made common cause with Islamist fundamentalism and in so doing, have betrayed those living under Sharia law, especially women, dissidents, and apostates; they have betrayed Western post-Enlightenment ideals; they have betrayed the Jews and Israel. I write about all these
subjects in this latest book.
As far as gender equality is concerned, where does Israel stand?
Israel may not be flawless — what society is? — but it’s still a modern democracy that protects the religious rights of all its minorities. These rights simply don’t exist in the Arab Middle East or in Muslim Central Asia where Hindus risk death and exile, Christians must hide their religious identities, and risk being crucified. By now, the ethnic cleansing of Jews in the Muslim world is almost complete.
By contrast, according to Israeli feminist lawyer Frances Raday, Israel’s Declaration of Independence was one of the “earliest constitutional documents in the world to include sex as a group classification within a guarantee of equality in social and political rights.” Today, Israeli women not only vote; they're elected to the Parliament — right now 23 percent of Knesset members are women.
Women also serve as judges on the Israeli Supreme Court. Women constitute 34 percent of all soldiers and 57 percent of all Israel Defence Forces officers. The majority of students studying at universities are women.
In addition, Arab citizens of Israel not only vote, but also serve in the Knesset and as judges on the Supreme Court. Only JewishIsrael shelters Arab homosexuals are on the run and Arab girls and women who have fled are being honour killed. Only Jewish Israel prosecutes honour killers in Arab Israel. n