Friday, January 18, 2008

Ms. Magazine accused of being anti-Israel 

‘Feminist Moment Of Truth’

Ms. magazine’s refusal to print pro-Israel ad raises questions about the ‘Palestinianization’ of the women’s movement.

by Stewart Ain
Staff Writer
The Jewish Week

Ms. Magazine’s rejection of an ad celebrating three Israeli women leaders has prompted Jewish feminists here to charge that the magazine has adopted an anti-Israel posture.

“This is a feminism that has been utterly Palestinianized,” said Phyllis Chesler, one of five Jewish feminists who lashed out at the magazine this week.

Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance founder Blu Greenberg told a press conference at the offices of the American Jewish Congress, whose ad Ms. Magazine rejected, that the leaders of the magazine “have aligned themselves with those on the political far left whose agenda is to totally de-legitimate Israel on the stage of world opinion.”

Francine Klagsbrun, an author and Jewish Week columnist, termed this a “feminist moment of truth.” “I call on Ms. to stand up to the pernicious pressures of anti-Israel prejudice among its readers,” she said. “If it fails in this and caters to anti-Israel sentiments, then it has failed the revolution and those of us who have continued to believe in it.”

But Katherine Spillar, the executive editor of Ms. Magazine, defended the magazine’s rejection of the proposed ad that featured pictures of Dorit Beinisch, the president of Israel’s supreme court; Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, and Dalia Itzik, the speaker of the Knesset. Under their names were the words, “This is Israel.”

“We don’t do pro-country ads,” Spillar said. In addition, she suggested, it is misleading.
“Israel does not have equality [between men and women],” she explained in a phone interview. “There is no country where women share power equally with men. The ad implies” otherwise.

And in a statement, Spillar said the ad could be seen as favoring certain political parties over other parties because two of the women belong to the same party.

Harriet Kurlander, director of the AJCongress’s Commission for Women’s Empowerment, said none of those reasons were given to her when she tried to place the ad. “They said we can’t take the ad because it’s too controversial,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Why, we are saluting three women who have achieved high office in Israel. This is not about settlements or borders or Jerusalem.’ I was in a state of shock.” The magazine’s representative later told her, Kurlander said, that if the ad were accepted, “it would create a firestorm.”

Kurlander said the magazine’s rejection of the ad has created a firestorm of a different kind. She said that more than 4,300 people have e-mailed a form letter to the magazine protesting its action. (Spillar said the figure was closer to 2,000). And Kurlander said it has galvanized Jewish feminists across the country.

Novelist Cynthia Ozick sent a letter to the AJCongress criticizing Ms. Magazine and saying it is “now conspicuously exposed as having joined the anti-democratic anti-Israel totalitarian radical Left. A journal that once stood for free and open opportunity for all now shows itself to be among the haters: closed, narrow, insular, and above all cowardly.”

And Susannah Heschel, a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., issued a statement saying she was “profoundly disheartened by this foolish decision” of the magazine.

“Silencing the voices of women from the State of Israel who are struggling for political and economic parity is a betrayal of our feminist solidarity,” she added. “Moreover, a boycott of Israel, motivated by a repudiation of Israeli politics, is an unacceptable rejection of Jewish women and our efforts to achieve Middle East peace.”

But Spillar insisted that the magazine is not disregarding Israel but rather has written numerous stories about it. She said that in the 16 issues that have been printed in the last four years, the magazine has covered the Israeli feminist movement and women leaders there “no fewer than 11 times.”

She cited a story in the current issue about Livni and a feature story in the spring of 2006 by Israeli feminist Alice Shalvi in which she “catalogued the ongoing struggles to rectify” inequalities in Israeli society, including the need to increase women’s representation in the Knesset and at the negotiating table for peace.

Klagsbrun pointed out at the press conference that Livni heads the Israeli team conducting the peace negotiations. And she said she knew of no other country in the world in which women “have the top posts in the legislature, the judiciary and the executive branch.”

Chesler said she stopped reading the magazine several years ago but read some articles in back issues before coming to the press conference. They convinced her, she said, that the magazine is “consistently and sickeningly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian.”

“Apparently, Palestinians are the sacred victims who are pure and can do no wrong,” she added. “Israelis are the Nazi-like aggressors and occupiers who can do nothing right. This is not the Ms. I once knew so long ago.”

She said the Palestinization of the feminist movement began after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War in 1967 because “Israel was no longer the little David” standing up against the Goliaths — the Arab states that surrounded it.

The controversy has also been a wake-up call to Jewish feminists, according to Greenberg.

“We have kept our heads in the sand for too long,” she said. Klagsbrun agreed that she and some other Jewish feminists have “separated our feminism” from concerns about attacks on Israel.

And Chesler said this incident should become an “opportunity to start asking American Jewish and non-Jewish voters how important is the demonizing of Israel.”

“I would like people to begin asking the candidates for president where they stand on the demonization of Israel ... and where they stand on Iran and its extermination delusions,” she said.

Kurlander said the AJCongress has heard from Jews who feel “personally betrayed” by the magazine’s action. She said there are feminists in Israel, such as Shalvi, who side with the magazine and believe “Israel should be shown as the terrible country it is vis a vis women and who don’t believe in showing Israeli women’s accomplishments.”

But she suggested that these are the same women who would want the world to lament the Palestinian olive groves that were destroyed by Israel to prevent them from being used to conceal Palestinian gunmen. But the “core of Israel’s feminist movement would be pained by this and antagonistic to Ms.,” Kurlander added.


American Jewish Congress

Ms. Magazine Blocks Ad on Israeli Women


January 10, 2008 — Ms. Magazine has long been in the forefront of the fight for equal rights and equal opportunities for women. Apparently that is not the case if the women happen to be Israeli.

The magazine has turned down an AJCongress advertisement that did nothing more controversial than call attention to the fact that women currently occupy three of the most significant positions of power in Israeli public life. The proposed ad (The Ad Ms. Didn't Want You To See) included a text that merely said, “This is Israel,” under photographs of President of the Supreme Court Dorit Beinish, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik.

“What other conclusion can we reach,” asked Richard Gordon, President of AJCongress, “except that the publishers − and if the publishers are right, a significant number of Ms. Magazine readers − are so hostile to Israel that they do not even want to see an ad that says something positive about Israel?”

When Director of AJCongress’ Commission for Women’s Empowerment Harriet Kurlander tried to place the ad, she was told that publishing the ad “will set off a firestorm” and that “there are very strong opinions” on the subject − the subject presumably being whether or not one can say anything positive about Israel. Ms. Magazine publisher Eleanor Smeal failed to respond to a signed-for certified letter with a copy of the ad as well as numerous calls by Mr. Gordon over a period of weeks.

A Ms. Magazine representative, Susie Gilligan, whom the Ms. Magazine masthead lists under the publisher’s office, told Ms. Kurlander that the magazine “would love to have an ad from you on women’s empowerment, or reproductive freedom, but not on this.” Ms. Gilligan failed to elaborate what “this” is.

“The only conclusion that one can reach from this behavior is that Ms. Magazine feels that an ad highlighting the accomplishments of three incredibly talented and dedicated women would offend their readership. Since there is nothing about the ad itself that is offensive, it is obviously the nationality of the women pictured that the management of Ms. fears their readership would find objectionable. For a publication that holds itself out to be in the forefront of the Women’s Movement, this is nothing short of disgusting and despicable,” stated Mr. Gordon.

Ms. Magazine has a long record of publishing advertisements rallying readers to support reproductive choice; opposing the Religious Right; highlighting the fragility of the pro-Roe v. Wade majority on the Supreme Court; charging that “Pat Robertson and his Religious Right cohorts don’t like individual freedom;” announcing support for the “struggle for freedom and human rights;” opposing the Bush administration’s campaign to fill federal courts with judges who “will reverse decades of progress on reproductive rights and privacy, civil rights, religious liberty, environmental protection and so much more;” as well as accusing the Bush administration of being “bent on rewarding big corporations and the rich, turning back the clock on women’s rights and civil rights, and promoting a U.S. empire abroad.”

“This flagship publication of the American women’s empowerment movement publishes ads that are controversial in the general culture but not so among its readership,” Ms. Kurlander said. “Obviously, Ms. believes our ad would enflame a significant portion of their readers.”
Mr. Gordon added, “What really amazes me is that just recently, in their Winter 2007 issue, Ms. ran a cover story with a picture of Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi with the heading in big letters: “This is What a Speaker Looks Like.” While Ms. has every reason to be proud of Speaker Pelosi and her accomplishments, as are we, the only discernable difference between Speaker Pelosi and Speaker Itzik apparently is that Speaker Pelosi is not Israeli.”

Mr. Gordon noted that while Israel was apparently too hot to handle, Ms. Magazine did not extend that taboo to Arab and Moslem women. “What is even more amazing is that, while refusing to publish a simple ad praising three very notable women, women who embody the ideal that Ms. Magazine seemingly espouses, Ms. has run a cover article in the Fall 2003 issue on Queen Noor of Jordan, has featured a number of articles on Muslim women, and even ran an article in the Winter 2004 issue entitled, ‘Images of Palestine,’ which discussed the Ramallah Film Festival and gave sympathetic reviews to films concerning ‘the liberation of South Lebanon’ from Israel as well as numerous films which portrayed terrorism as legitimate ‘revolutionary’ activity against Israel and miscast Israel’s activities to counter terrorism as ‘oppressive.’”
“Clearly Ms. has changed a great deal from the days when AJCongress members and leaders of the AJCongress’ Commission for Women’s Equality − including Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug and Ms. co-founder Letty Pogrebin − were at the forefront of the Women’s Movement that led to the creation of Ms. Magazine.”

AJCongress President Gordon concluded, “Ms. has the right to turn down our ad. But in exercising that right, it has spoken loudly about itself and its readership, and their lingering hostility to Israel.”


Ms. magazine Responds to American Jewish Congress Ad Controversy

For Immediate Release January 14, 2008

Statement of Katherine Spillar, executive editor
Ms. magazine concerning the AJCongress ad

Ms. magazine has been criticized for not running an ad submitted by the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) featuring the photographs of three prominent Israeli women leaders with the statement “This is Israel.” In its press release, AJCongress claims that Ms. therefore must be ‘hostile to Israel’. This is untrue and unfair.

Ms. covers women leaders across the globe. Ironically, the current issue just now hitting newsstands features a major story profiling Israel’s Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, highlighting her career and accomplishments. Livni was one of the women pictured in the AJCongress ad. Ms. had previously reported on Dorit Beinish, also pictured in the ad, becoming the first woman president of Israel’s Supreme Court. Over the past four years (16 issues) Ms. has covered the Israeli feminist movement and women leaders in Israel no fewer than eleven times.

The mission of Ms. is to report on U.S. and global struggles to combat sex discrimination and oppression and to provide feminists everywhere with the information they need to take action to win equality for women and girls. Ms. policy is to accept only mission-driven advertisements from primarily non-profit, non-partisan organizations that promote women’s equality, social justice, sustainable environment, and non-violence.

In Ms. magazine’s judgment, the ad submitted by AJCongress for consideration was inconsistent with this policy. Not only could the ad be seen as favoring certain political parties within Israel over other parties, but also with its slogan “This is Israel,” the ad implied that women in Israel hold equal positions of power with men. Israel, like every other country, has far to go to reach equality for women. As the Israel Women’s Network notes: “Women have consistently received symbolic representation in Israeli politics, at least sufficient enough to generate the myth of an open and egalitarian system.”

Indeed Israeli writers have reported in the pages of Ms. on the continuing efforts of the Israeli feminist movement to combat discrimination and achieve a larger voice for women in the country’s political arena.

In a feature length story in the Spring 2006 issue of Ms., Israeli feminist scholar/activist Alice Shalvi catalogued the ongoing struggles to rectify such inequalities, including increasing women’s representation in elected office and at the table negotiating for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Women only comprise 14% of the Israeli Knesset, placing Israel 74th in the world for women’s representation in government.

The AJCongress press release compared its ad with the cover story Ms. ran when Congressmember Nancy Pelosi was elected Speaker of the House. However, when Ms. featured Speaker Pelosi on its cover with the words “This is What a Speaker Looks Like,” we did not claim that “This is what the USA looks like.” Far from it, since women comprise only 17% of the Congress, ranking 65th in the world in women’s representation, and continue to face discrimination in every aspect of American society.


Wikipedia article about Ms. magazine

Ms. is an American feminist magazine founded by American feminist and activist Gloria Steinem, which first appeared in 1971 as an insert in New York magazine. The first stand-alone issue appeared in January 1972 with funding from New York editor Clay Felker. From July 1972 to 1987 it appeared on a monthly basis. During its heyday in the 1970s it enjoyed great popularity, but was not always able to reconcile its ideological concerns with commercial considerations. Since 2001, the magazine has been published by the Feminist Majority Foundation, based in Los Angeles and Arlington, Virginia.

Origins of the title

The title of Ms. magazine came from a friend of Gloria Steinem's who heard the term in an interview on WBAI radio and suggested it as a title for the new magazine. Modern use of Ms. as an honorific was conceived in 1961 by Sheila Michaels, thinking it was a typographical error. Michaels, who was illegitimate, and not adopted by her stepfather, had long grappled with finding a title that reflected her situation: not being "owned" by a father and not wishing to be "owned" by a husband. Her efforts to promote its use were ignored in the nascent Women’s Movement. Around 1971, during a lull in an interview with "The Feminists" group, Michaels suggested the use of the title "Ms." (having chosen a pronunciation current for both in Missouri, her home).

Controversy raged in the early 1970s over the "correct" title for women. Men had Mr. which gave no indication of their marital status since the formal address term "master" for an unmarried man had fallen largely into disuse; etiquette and business practices demanded that women use either Miss or Mrs. Many women did not want to be defined by their marital status and, for a growing number of women who kept their last name after marriage, neither Miss nor Mrs. was technically a correct title in front of that name.

Historic Milestones

Ms. made history when it published the names of women admitting to having had abortions when the procedure was still illegal in most of the United States. Running before the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the 1972 statement was an action of civil disobedience.[citation needed]

A 1976 cover story on battered women made Ms. the first national magazine to address the issue of domestic violence. The cover photo featured a woman with a bruised face.

Ms. magazine's credibility was damaged in the 80s and 90s when it became swept up in the day care sexual abuse hysteria and moral panic about Satanic ritual abuse.[1]

The "We Had Abortions" petition appears in the October 2006 issue as part of the issue's cover story. The petition contains signatures of over 5,000 women declaring that they had an abortion and were "unashamed of (the) decision", including actresses Amy Brenneman and Kathy Najimy, comedienne Carol Leifer, and Steinem herself.[2]

Recent Ownership

In 1987, it was bought by Fairfax, an Australian media company, headed by Sandra Yates. In 1989, concerned about a perceived 'Cher cover'-centered editorial direction under Anne Summers, American Feminists bought it back and began publishing the magazine without ads.

Robin Morgan and Marcia Ann Gillespie served respective terms as Editors in Chief of the magazine. Gillespie was the first African American woman to lead Ms. For a period, the magazine was published by MacDonald Communications Corp., which also published Working Woman and Working Mother magazines. Known since its inception for unique feminist analysis of current events, its 1991 change to an ad-free format also made it known for exposing the control that many advertisers assert over content in women's magazines.

In 1998, Gloria Steinem and other investors created Liberty Media and brought the magazine under independent ownership. It remained ad-free and won several awards, including an Utne award for social commentary. With Liberty Media facing bankruptcy in November 2001, the Feminist Majority Foundation purchased the magazine, dismissed Gillespie and staff, and moved editorial headquarters from New York to Los Angeles. Formerly bimonthly, the magazine has since published quarterly.

In the Spring 2002 issue commemorating the magazine's 30th year, Gloria Steinem and Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal noted the magazine's increased ability to "share research and resources, expand investigative journalism, and bring its readers the personal experience that has always been the source of the women's health movement."

In 2005, under editor-in-chief Elaine Lafferty, Ms. was nominated for National Magazine Award for Martha Mendoza's article "Between a Woman and Her Doctor". Despite this success, Lafferty left the magazine after only two years following various disagreements including the editorial direction on a cover story on Desperate Housewives,[3] and a perceived generation gap towards third-wave feminists and grunge music, a genre that Lafferty had trashed as being oppositional to feminism.[verification needed]

Over the years the magazine has featured articles written by and about many women and men at the forefront of business, politics, activism, and journalism. Writers have included Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Susan Faludi. The cover has featured comedian Wanda Sykes, performance artist Sarah Jones, Jane Fonda, actress Charlize Theron, Queen Noor of Jordan and former First Lady and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. The magazine's investigative journalism broke several landmark stories on topics including overseas sweatshops, sex trafficking, the wage gap, the glass ceiling, date rape, and domestic violence.


"All the babies you can eat: Ms. magazine's reporting of unsubstantiated satanic rituals" by Brian Siano, Humanist, March-April 1993.

David Crary (October 3, 2006). Women Sign "We Had Abortions" Petition. Associated Press. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.

Sheelah Kolhatkar (April 14, 2005). 'Desperate Housewives' Causes Another Breakup. New York Observer. Retrieved on 2007-04-12.


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