Guess what Ms. magazine, a feminist publication with a circulation of 110,000, cares about even more than celebrating successful professional women? Making sure the magazine doesn't give Israel credit for anything.
Ms. recently rejected an advertisement submitted by the American Jewish Congress to laud the achievements of three prominent women in Israel. Photographs of Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister; Dorit Beinish, the Supreme Court president; and Dalia Itzik, the speaker of the Knesset, appeared above a bolded text that read "This is Israel."
At first glance, it may be hard to understand the magazine's hostility to such an ad. After all, when Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, she was the cover girl for a Ms. article titled "This Is What a Speaker Looks Like." And Ms. regularly publishes profiles of prominent women in public life. A few years ago, it ran a cover story about Queen Noor of Jordan. In the wake of the AJC controversy, Ms. even announced that it plans to run a feature about Ms. Livni in a future issue. But while it is one thing to celebrate the foreign minister as a woman, it is an entirely different matter to celebrate what Ms. Livni's success says about her country.
So why did Ms. really refuse to print the American Jewish Congress ad? Listen closely to what the magazine has said about the issue. First, Susie Gilligan, an employee in the publisher's office, told Harriet Kurlander, the director of the AJC's Commission for Women's Empowerment, that "there are very passionate feelings on the subject" and that printing the ad would have "set off a firestorm" -- although the magazine declined to elaborate on what the "subject" was and why it was so controversial. Then, to demonstrate that it harbored no bias against the AJC, the magazine told the organization that it "would love to have an ad from you on women's empowerment, or reproductive freedom, but not on this."
Finally, Ms. put out a statement claiming that it rejected the ad because, as two of the women pictured were from the same party, the ad could be seen as "favoring certain political parties within Israel over other parties." Moreover, added the magazine, the ad implied that Israeli women "hold equal positions of power with men," a premise Ms. rejects. The formal press statement was even accompanied by reference to a survey showing that women constitute only 14% of the members of the Knesset, Israel's legislature. (This compares with 16% of the U.S. Congress.)
But, of course, the point of the ad was never to suggest that Israel satisfies some perfect standard of equality for women. Rather, it was to extol the achievement of three extraordinary women and to observe that such advancement for women is possible in Israel. Evidently, the magazine's editors just didn't like the message of the Jewish organization's ad, which is that Israel offers women far more opportunities, especially in public life, than its neighbors in the Middle East.
That, in and of itself, can hardly be a controversial position. After all, Israel was led by a female prime minister more than 30 years ago, while in some Muslim nations women are still not permitted to vote, drive cars or even appear with their husbands in public, and many are subjected to genital mutilation, honor killings, and execution if they are victims of rape.
Despite the magazine's efforts to elide the real reason it found the ad so offensive, it is hardly a secret. The editors simply decided that no one would be permitted to use its pages to praise a nation that the left views as an oppressor state, even to highlight a historic achievement for women. Now if Ms. magazine were a publication expressly devoted to the advancement of Palestinian nationalism, its refusal to run a pro-Israel ad would be understandable. But Ms. holds itself out as a beacon for the rights of women -- all women. And from a feminist perspective, it clearly is praiseworthy that in a region of the world that barely knows what democracy is, Israel has afforded three professional women the opportunity to hold positions of enormous power in its government.
It is surely a difficult time to be a supporter of Israel. But what is an especially troublesome aspect of this whole affair is that, among certain elements within the American left, praise of any kind for Israel is now verboten. As feminist Phyllis Chesler presciently observed several years ago: "Many feminists are totally blind to their own Jew hatred and are now more obsessed with the occupation of disputed lands in the Middle East than they are with the occupation of women's bodies worldwide."
Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal © 2008 Dow Jones & Company. All rights reserved.