January 17, 2020

Obsess Over Which Feminists Are Jewish, Not Which Rapists

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“You know, a lot of sexual harassment stuff is in the news of late,” said “Curb Your Enthusiasm” creator Larry David during his 2017 “Saturday Night Live” monologue. “And I couldn’t help but notice a very disturbing pattern emerging, which is that many of the predators — not all, but many of them — are Jews.”

America’s favorite grump isn’t the only one who noticed. Two years into the #MeToo movement, when Jeffrey Epstein’s years of allegedly sexually exploiting teenage girls came to light, so did — overwhelmingly — the fact he was a Jew. (Epstein was found dead in his jail cell Aug. 10 after an apparent suicide). Anti-Semites took delight in pointing out that Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen and Brett Ratner are Jewish. But so did journalists.

In 2017, online magazine Tablet ran a piece titled “The Specifically Jewy Perviness of Harvey Weinstein” – for which the publication had to issue an apology – but not before white supremacist leaders Richard Spencer and David Duke had applauded it. 

Attempts to claim sexual abuse as a characteristic of Judaism are vile, whether they come from a Klansman or an opinion writer. 

Yet, Jews and anti-Semites alike actively seek to highlight the Jewishness of sexual abusers. In contrast, we hardly emphasize the Jewish roots of feminists who have made movements such as #MeToo thrive.

Jewish women have pioneered the campaign for gender equality and its struggle against sexual violence.

Jewish women have pioneered the campaign for gender equality and its struggle against sexual violence. While predators such as Weinstein and Epstein might have preyed on many women, Jewish feminists have protected far more.

Gloria Steinem, the spokeswoman for the American feminist movement, is a Jew. Yet few people focus on that. The first women’s rights attorney, Gloria Allred, brought justice to countless women by taking on an A-list of abusers, including Bill Cosby, Anthony Weiner, O.J. Simpson, Roman Polanski, Rush Limbaugh, Roy Moore and even Donald Trump. Yet no one attributes the lawyer’s advocacy to her Jewish heritage.

It’s odd how little Jewish women are credited — or at least credited as Jews — for the strides made toward gender equality and ending sexual violence.

Our right to vote? Thank a Jewish woman. Ernestine Rose founded the suffragettes, and rejected Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s racism when she became an abolitionist partner of Sojourner Truth. Decades later, Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” spring-boarded the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century. Bella Abzug carried that wave into public office, imploring women to become legislators. Norah Ephron and Joan Rivers brought women’s voices into comedy. “Dr.” Ruth Westheimer started a candid conversation about sex, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought to end discrimination on the basis of it.

These are just some of the Jewish feminist pioneers with name recognition. They stand on the shoulders of hundreds of lesser-known activists fighting sexual violence through art, writing, scholarship, organizing, health care and politics. 

I wonder if the lack of acknowledgment of Jewish feminists compared with Jewish rapists is fueled by anti-Semitism, the perception of women’s achievements as less notable than men’s failures, or a culture that sees women somehow “less Jewish” than men. The alienation of women showing up as Jews to feminist movements because of anti-Semitism scandals from Women’s March Inc can’t help. But even the original Women’s March on Washington, D.C.,  was co-founded by a Jewish feminist — Vanessa Wruble — who continues to mobilize against sexual assault as the executive director of March On.

Jewish men can be predators who must be loudly condemned and brought to justice. The worst abuse I’ve ever received in my life has been at the hands of Jewish men. But as a Jewish woman, I have led two marches against sexual violence and connected more than 50 sexual-exploitation survivors to the aforementioned Allred to fight their abusers.

So I pose the question: Who is truly acting out their Judaism? Me, or the men who’ve hurt me?

Ariel Sobel is a screenwriter, filmmaker and activist, and won the 2019 Bluecat Screenplay Competition.