Is It ‘Ms.’ Judgment or ‘Ms.’ Placed Prejudice?



Arab rejection of Israel has included boycotts not only of Israeli goods, but often even acknowledgement of Israel's existence.

On Nov. 25, 2005, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other officials marked an "International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People" in front of a map of the region, where member state Israel had been erased.

It is in this context that the recent dispute between the American Jewish Congress and the editors of Ms. magazine takes on increased significance. AJCongress recently sought to place an advertisement in Ms., captioned "This is Israel," and highlighting three prominent Israeli women: President of the Supreme Court Dorit Beinish, Minister for Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik.

According to the director of the AJCongress Commission for Women's Empowerment, when she tried to place the ad, she was refused and told that publishing it would "set off a firestorm."

In response, Ms. executive editor Katherine Spillar called the AJCongress position "untrue and unfair."

"Ms. magazine's policy," she went on, "is to only accept mission-driven advertisements from primarily nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations that promote women's equality, social justice, sustainable environment and nonviolence. The ad submitted by AJCongress for consideration appeared to be a political ad, and as such, was inconsistent with this policy." Because two of the three Israeli political figures were from the same party, it "could be viewed as though it was supporting one political party over another in the internal domestic politics of a country."

Spiller added that "the current issue just now hitting newsstands features a major story profiling Israel's Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni."

But other comments suggested that more was afoot than just the AJCongress' bona fides in the fight for the empowerment of women or Israeli politics.

"Israeli writers," the statement went, "have reported in the pages of Ms. on the continuing efforts of the Israeli feminist movement to combat discrimination. Women comprise 14 percent of the Israeli Knesset, placing Israel 74th in the world for women's representation in government."

Like Spiller's ideal issue advertiser, the AJCongress is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that has worked on behalf of religious freedom and other civil rights. It boasts that it "has been a leader in fighting for reproductive freedom, improved health care for women and economic equity, and against gender discrimination and all forms of violence against women."

Even the left-leaning Forward read: "A number of prominent feminists, including Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug and Ms. co-founder Letty Cottin Pogrebin, were members of AJCongress' Commission on Women's Equality."

And it's hard to imagine how such an advertisement in an American magazine could be seen as an attempt to sway the Israeli electorate, where elections are not scheduled until 2010.

Publications are supported by advertising, which also provide groups and individuals a chance to express their views to readers. That is considered part of the fundamental right of free speech, unless such an advertisement is deemed libelous or obscene.

A review of the Ms. winter issue shows an ad with photos of several dozen people, captioned, "What a feminist looks like."

There are a variety of other ads, ranging from one for the "Feminist Abortion Network" to books on urinary incontinence, and announcements for conferences on "Children and Gender in Film and Television" and "Resisting Hegemonies: Race and Sexual Politics in Nation, Region, Empire." The inside cover carries an advertisement for a Portland establishment, which calls itself "The Legendary Independent Bookstore."

The publication makes no mention that such content had been similarly vetted to protect Ms. subscribers from possibly incorrect thoughts.

Presumably, in those cases, the readers get to decide.

This column was written for the Israel Advocacy Task Force of the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.


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