The other day I received a message on one of my personal social media accounts. The ominous note simply read, “How do you do fellow feminist?” and was accompanied by an image of 55 feminists with the blue Star of David across their face. The image was captioned, “Feminism: A Jewish War on Women.”
I was not surprised that a misogynist who promotes anti-feminist content on their page also held anti-Semitic views. Both are common among the alt-right. What surprised me was the connection they seemed to be drawing. Did they really believe this; or were they just trying to troll me? My quest to answer this question sent me down the rabbit hole of neo-Nazi conspiracy theories. What I found was disturbing: the extreme wing of the right is actively promoting the idea that feminism is a Jewish conspiracy — and they have been since the 70s.
(Note: I’m going to quote from some alt-right publications. I will not be linking to those sources as to not drive readership and money to them.)
In 2017, The Huffington Post posted a leaked copy of The Daily Stormer’s style guide (The Daily Stormer is an alt-right/neo-Nazi website). The guide was both shocking in its blatantly manipulative tactics to drive readers to further extremes, and exactly what critics had suspected all along. The guide lists racial and ethnic slurs which their writers are encouraged to use, as well as a similar list of slurs for women. One section states that while women should be attacked, writers should make sure to blame their behavior on Jews:
Writers for The Daily Stormer seem more than willing to go along with this mandate. Multiple Stormer articles cite the harms of “Jewish feminism” to women and society. One article even claims most of society’s problems are due to “Jewish feminism”:
Feminism is an entirely Jewish invention. Or rather, it was the Jews who took already out of control women and pressed them into destroying civilization completely.
Another Stormer article, “Jewish Feminism has Made it Dangerous for Men to be Alone with Womyn,” claims:
It is a well documented fact that most of the cultural and societal problems we face today have been a direct result of Jewish feminism. This deranged ideology has wrongly given womyn autonomy. Jews did this to create disorder and chaos within our nations. They knew full well that no matter how many concessions are made to females, they’ll always demand more until they are forcefully put in their place.
Return of Kings, another alt-right website known for its highly misogynistic content as part of the “manosphere” (a collection of misogynist websites), published a piece making similar allegations in 2015. It claimed that:
The reality is becoming nearly impossible to objectively deny that Jewish influence has the lion’s share of control over second and third-wave feminism, even though Jews represent only a tiny fraction of the American population.
On the surface, there might seem to be a degree of truth to their argument. First-wave feminism was largely run by Christian white women, often associated with other forms of “social purity” like temperance, abolition, and vegetarianism. The ideals of social purity, which aimed to improve conditions for women and girls specifically through the abolition of porn and prostitution, have been a place where some on the right have found common ground with feminists. The second wave of feminism was more inclusive and focused on women as a sex-class. Many Jewish women did have integral roles in the movement: Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Andrea Dworkin to name a few. The connection between Jewish women and feminism is not new, and even fifty years ago Jewish feminists were subjected to anti-Semitic attacks for their work.
In the 1970s, after Roe v. Wade, Christian anti-abortion activists were quick to blame Jewish influence for the success of the women’s movement. In her book, “The Means of Reproduction,” Michelle Goldberg quotes Father Paul Marx, who has become known as the father of the American anti-abortion movement:
I saw one, a Jewish female liar, do her thing on behalf of abortion at the World Population Conference in Bucharest,” he wrote in 1977. He sounded the same theme a decade later: “If you have read my book The Death Peddlers, notice how many Jews helped lead the infamous 1971 abortion-planning meeting in Los Angeles, which I exposed; some 40 percent of the speakers were Jewish. Also, note the large number of abortionists (consult the Yellow Pages) and pro-abortion medical professors who are Jewish.
Twenty years later, in 1990, Lilith (a Jewish women’s magazine), reported on anti-Semitic postcards which were sent to a Planned Parenthood in Massachusetts. They read: “Rich murdering Jewish doctors are dedicated to baby butchering” and “We need another Jewish Holocaust here in America!” The threats of violence that women, Jews, and Jewish feminists in particular face continue to this day on alt-right platforms.
Jewish women have a long history of feminist work both within Judaism and in society at large. Like other feminists of the second-wave, Jewish feminists formed consciousness-raising groups in their communities, such as Ezrat Nashim, a New York-based group which petitioned for women’s equality at the 1972 convention of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Jews of the 70s were sympathetic to the ideals of egalitarianism — their own status in American society deeply depended on such views. This ethos has persisted half a century later.
Unlike Christian religions, most sects of the Jewish faith don’t take a hard-line stance on abortion. While it’s not officially condoned, it’s not outright prohibited either. According to a 2015 Pew Research poll, 83% of American Jews support legalizing abortion in “all/most cases.” This has furthered the Jewish/feminist connection since Jewish women were in the unique position of being able to advocate for reproductive rights without abandoning their faith and communities.
Some Jewish radical feminists like Nina Paley, creator of the movie Seder-Masochism, a feminist take on the Exodus story, have even argued that progressive Judaism has not gone far enough for women. “The whole Hebrew religious project was patriarchal,” she claims. She argues that the stamping out of Goddess worship and the erasure of female gods from the Torah and other religious writings were foundational to the creating of the patriarchal Abrahamic religions. While there is a big push among progressive Jewish feminists to recognize Myriam at the Seder, Paley prefers Jezebel — the heretic Goddess worshipper who was defenestrated and fed to dogs by men.
Awareness of the Jewish feminist historical context may help us understand the perspective of the alt-right: That feminism has been influenced by Jews. In many ways, this is true. Many feminists of the second wave were Jewish, and their writings and ideas helped shape the movement.
Yet, according to alt-right publications, the ultimate goal of “Jewish feminism,” has nothing to do with women’s rights but rather the destruction of the white race. Feminist goals, such as workplace equality, take women away from their natural roles as mothers and cause societal chaos. The fact that Jewish women could just be strong advocates for equality, given everything both Jews and women have gone through historically, is discarded in favor of race-baiting conspiracy. According to another alt-right/neo-Nazi website, The National Vangard:
FEMINISM WAS mostly started by leftist Jewish women, but the fact that they were Jewish matters more than the fact that they were women. Feminism is, and always was, a front movement and a tool in the hand of the George Soros kind of Jew, of Jews who hate White people and their culture of Western Civilization.
Framing feminism as a Jewish conspiracy also helps keep the other white in line. By acting like they only have an issue with feminism because it’s “Jewish” rather than because they hate women, they give right-wing women an excuse to explain why they, too, hate feminism — other than internalized misogyny.
With white-supremacy and neo-Nazism on the rise in America, understanding the alt-right is becoming increasingly important in defeating them. The anti-Semitic drive of much of the alt-right goes largely ignored while their racism and xenophobia are highlighted in the media. Realizing the deep connections between each pillar of the white-supremacist belief system is vital to understanding how this group thinks and operates, and for seeing through their deceptive campaigns.
These anti-Semitic campaigns seem to be starting to seep into the mainstream, and even the left. Paley, who has been in progressive/leftist circles for decades, claims that “It’s just not smelling right anymore.” While she had never experienced anti-Semitism on the left before recently, suddenly it seems even liberals are not concerned with appearing anti-Semitic. She chalks it up to the success of anti-Zionist campaigns and the confusion between a Zionist and a Jew. “The popularity of anti-Zionism on the left is making it safe to criticize Jews themselves now.”
This is something feminists and Jews may have in common: they remain political refugees from both the right and the left. While the right may be openly hostile to both women and Jews, the left is also known for its deeply-rooted problem with misogyny, which tends to lurk just underneath the surface.
The alt-right, it seems, is preying on this natural alliance in an attempt to take down both groups.
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Cover image from alt-right misogynist website, Return of Kings