Asian activists call out Western feminists over ‘selective empathy’ on Gaza

Indonesian women take part in a fundraising event in Jakarta on Oct. 15, 2023 to support Palestinians in the wake of Israeli attacks on Gaza. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2024
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Asian activists call out Western feminists over ‘selective empathy’ on Gaza

  • Non-Western feminists say white supremacy, imperialism are inherent to Western feminism
  • Seven months into Israel’s deadly war on Gaza, feminists in the West have been largely silent

JAKARTA: When Western actresses and female politicians cut their hair to protest the death of Mahsa Amini or rallied against the Taliban ban on girls’ education, they stood up to defend women’s rights. However, the zeal went missing when it came to Palestine, non-Western feminists say, denouncing their peers’ silence on Israel’s killing of women in Gaza.

Mass protests and displays of solidarity in Europe and the US broke out in 2022 and carried on into 2023 following the death in Iranian police custody of the 22-year-old Amini, who was charged with breaching hijab rules. In the same years, when the Taliban barred Afghan girls from school, women united in outcry and called for international pressure against them.

But more than seven months into Israel’s indiscriminate killing, wounding, and maiming of Palestinian civilians, the West’s mainstream feminist movement has been largely silent.

At least 35,800 people in Gaza have been killed and 80,000 wounded by Israeli airstrikes and ground offensive that have destroyed most of the enclave’s infrastructure and rendered it uninhabitable.

The majority of the dead are women and children. Many have lost their lives as most of the hospitals have been flattened by Israeli troops and no medical assistance could reach them.

The International Rescue Committee estimated last month that 37 mothers had been killed in Gaza each day and 60,000 pregnant women had no access to midwives or doctors, while tens of thousands struggled with breastfeeding as they were so malnourished due to Israel’s blockade of humanitarian aid.

In the face of the widely documented atrocities, Haein Shim, Korean activist and spokesperson of Haeil, a Seoul-based feminist group, told Arab News that Western feminists were exhibiting “selective empathy” and “double standards” with regard to Israel’s onslaught, the criticism of which has regularly been labeled as “antisemitism” — not only by Israeli authorities but by Western leaders as well.

“I strongly believe these issues are interconnected with racism, imperialism, and colonialism,” Shim said.

“We need to urge each other to break the silence and unite against occupation and subjugation, Israel’s human rights abuses and ongoing genocide. One thing to be clear: Our solidarity does not mean antisemitism but only to end the vicious genocide and violence against women and children.”

While Shim believes it is not too late for “global feminist solidarity” with women in Gaza, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Malaysian human rights lawyer and scholar focused on decolonization, sees an intrinsic flaw in Western feminism, which might prevent it.

“The function of Western feminism, which is inherently imperialist, is to reduce and dehumanize not only Palestinian women and children but also Palestinian men, who have been subjected to decades of Israeli settler colonialism, with the full support of US imperialism and its allies in Europe,” she said.

“It is, therefore, not surprising to witness the deafening silence of most Western feminists, who are staunch advocates of this strand of feminism, in the face of relentless imperialist violence in Gaza and all of historical Palestine. Their silence is an endorsement of the status quo.”

For Fikri, Western feminism has been shaped by “the racist narrative of the clash of civilizations,” and its silence on Gaza was merely consequential.

“We see women like Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Hilary Clinton, Kamala Harris — both white and non-white — who depict themselves as champions of women’s rights become members of the ruling classes of imperialist states that are responsible for the mass death, destruction, and suffering around the world,” she said.

“Therefore, there are no double standards of Western feminism; there is only one political standard meant to protect the interests of the imperialist ruling classes, which has been applied consistently.”

In the context of Israel and accusations of antisemitism fired against its critics, Asian feminists also cited the problem of white supremacy, which they closely linked with Zionism.

“Zionist ideologies are not just harming and discriminating against Palestinians, and the destruction of Palestine is not merely about Palestine. Zionism is about white supremacy and colonization, and the destruction of Palestine is just another example of imperialist violence inflicted by Western colonizers, aka white people,” said V., member of Chinese Feminism in Toronto, a Canada-based grassroots collective, who requested to remain anonymous.

“If we consider the sociopolitical context of North America, we know most Jews are also white people, yet we do not have the space to discuss the complexity of antisemitism and white supremacy simultaneously. I guess that speaks a lot (as to) why white feminists tend to be hypocritical here.”

Her colleague, G., also a member of the group, said that hypocrisy was also present among non-white women leaders who were “internalizing whiteness” and embracing Zionism.

“We need to understand this should not be done in our names. We need to have firm voices and expose these leaders as Zionist agents and complicit in genocide, instead of accepting the fact that our elected leaders turn complicit and no longer represent us. We need to hold them accountable,” she said.

“Decolonization is not just theory. We all need to move beyond the bystander observer position and let Palestine radicalize us. We need to continue to educate ourselves and our communities on colonial feminism/pinkwashing and purplewashing.”

Part of the struggle is debunking pro-Israel propaganda and fighting “against the utilization of antisemitism to shut down any criticism against Israeli or Zionist policies,” according to Okky Madasari, Indonesian novelist and academic, whose research focuses on knowledge production and censorship.

“There must be a unified campaign to stop believing anything coming out from the Israeli authorities. They are liars unless they are proven otherwise,” she told Arab News.

For those activists who for the past seven months have been silent over Gaza, Okky suggested that they stop using the feminism label altogether.

“You should be ashamed of yourself if you don’t speak up against Israel when you are so fussy about many other more trivial things,” she said.

“Condemning Israel and taking sides with the Palestinians is what any decent human being must do, let alone if you are a feminist.”


Cruise ship rescues 68 migrants heading for Spain’s Canaries, five dead

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Cruise ship rescues 68 migrants heading for Spain’s Canaries, five dead

Bulk carrier Philipp Oldendorff sighted the boat adrift 440 nautical miles (815 km) south of the island of Tenerife
Insignia cruise ship was diverted to the area to pick up the survivors, the Coast Guard said

MADRID: A luxury cruise ship has rescued dozens of migrants who were trying to reach the Spanish Canary Islands in a fishing boat that had stalled in rough seas killing five people, Spanish authorities and the cruise operator said on Thursday.
The archipelago has become the main point of entry to Spain for illegal migrants from Africa in recent years, and the route is also the deadliest. Migration rights group Walking Borders said last week that nearly 5,000 migrants died at sea on that route in the first five months of 2024.
Bulk carrier Philipp Oldendorff sighted the boat adrift 440 nautical miles (815 km) south of the island of Tenerife on Wednesday and provided first assistance to the migrants, while the Insignia cruise ship was diverted to the area to pick up the survivors, the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The Insignia, which is owned by Miami-based Oceania Cruises, also managed to recover three bodies from the boat, but bad weather prevented the recovery of another two bodies so the ship left a locating device to facilitate the search.
The small luxury cruise ship with a 670-passenger capacity is undertaking a 180— day trip around the world that started in January. It was expected to reach Tenerife at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) on Friday.
“Safety of life at sea is of paramount importance for all seafarers,” said a spokesperson for Oceania Cruises, which is owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.
“We can confirm that the Insignia rescued 68 people from a vessel in distress between Cape Verde and Tenerife, brought them onboard for medical assistance and provided food, drinks, clothing and a safe place to rest,” the spokesperson added.
A Spanish coast guard vessel was en route from the Canary Islands on Thursday to meet the Insignia and then locate the shipwreck.


A luxury cruise ship has rescued dozens of migrants who were trying to reach the Spanish Canary Islands in a fishing boat that had stalled in rough seas killing five people, Spanish authorities and the cruise operator said on Thursday. (Reuters/File)

Illegally brewed liquor kills at least 34 with dozens hospitalized in southern India

Updated 12 min 22 sec ago
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Illegally brewed liquor kills at least 34 with dozens hospitalized in southern India

  • People died after consuming alcohol tainted with methanol in Tamil Nadu, says chief minister
  • District official says number of those in critical condition keeps changing, death toll could rise

NEW DELHI: At least 34 people have died and dozens hospitalized after drinking illegally brewed liquor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, local media reported on Thursday.

The state’s chief minister M K Stalin said the 34 died after consuming liquor that was tainted with methanol, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

The incident occurred in the state’s Kallakurichi district, where more than 100 people are being treated in various hospitals, top district official M S Prasanth said. He added that the number of those who are in critical condition keeps changing, suggesting that the death toll could rise.

Ambulances, doctors and specialists from nearby areas were deployed to the district.

Government officials earlier said several people who were vomiting and had stomach pain were admitted to hospitals Wednesday, triggering a police investigation.

Later that day, Stalin, the chief minister, said in a post on social media platform X that those involved in the crime have been arrested, and action has also been taken against officials who failed to prevent it. “Such crimes that ruin the society will be suppressed with an iron fist,” he added.

Deaths from illegally brewed alcohol are common in India, where the poor cannot afford licensed brands from government-run shops. The illicit liquor, which is often spiked with chemicals such as pesticides to increase potency, has also become a hugely profitable industry as bootleggers pay no taxes and sell enormous quantities of their product to the poor at a cheap rate.

In 2022, more than 30 people died in eastern India’s Bihar state after allegedly drinking tainted liquor sold without authorization. Earlier that same year, at least 28 died from drinking altered liquor in Gujarat state. And in 2020, at least 120 people died after drinking tainted liquor in India’s northern Punjab state.


Romania to send Patriot missile system to Ukraine

Updated 26 min 24 sec ago
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Romania to send Patriot missile system to Ukraine

  • “Council members decided to donate a Patriot system to Ukraine in close coordination with allies,” the Supreme Council of National Defense said
  • NATO countries have been reluctant to send them because they want to protect their own airspace

BUCHAREST: NATO member Romania announced Thursday that it would send a Patriot missile system to Ukraine, which Kyiv has requested to help its fight against Russia’s invasion.
“Considering the significant deterioration of the security situation in Ukraine... council members decided to donate a Patriot system to Ukraine in close coordination with allies,” the Supreme Council of National Defense said in a statement.
The donation was made “on the condition that our country continues negotiations with allies, in particular the US, with a view to obtaining a similar or equivalent system” to protect its own air space, it added.
The country, which borders Ukraine, also needed “a temporary solution to cover the operational vulnerability thus created,” it added.
While Kyiv is calling for more Patriot missile systems, NATO countries have been reluctant to send them because they want to protect their own airspace.
Germany recently announced it would transfer a third Patriot air-defense system to Ukraine, while the United States is expected to send a second battery to Kyiv, according to US media reports.
Romania signed a $4-billion deal for seven Patriot batteries with the US in 2017, the biggest defense acquisition in its history.
Two of the four systems it has received so far are fully operational.
Romania has been providing military help to Kyiv in the war with Russia, but has refused to reveal the scale of the support, citing security concerns.
It has also pledged to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 jets in a regional hub inaugurated in November 2023, although the timeline for that program remains unclear.


Rutte seals NATO top job after lone rival drops out

Updated 42 min 6 sec ago
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Rutte seals NATO top job after lone rival drops out

  • Rutte is expected to be formally named by NATO’s 32 nations in the coming days and should take over when current chief Jens Stoltenberg’s term ends on October 1
  • Romania’s security council on Thursday announced Iohannis had formally withdrawn and that the country backed Rutte

BUCHAREST: Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday clinched the race to become the next head of NATO at a pivotal time for the alliance, after sole challenger Romanian President Klaus Iohannis pulled out.
The veteran politician, 57, is expected to be formally named by NATO’s 32 nations in the coming days and should take over when current chief Jens Stoltenberg’s term ends on October 1.
Rutte will come in at a perilous moment for the Western allies as Russia’s war in Ukraine drags on and Donald Trump battles to reclaim the presidency in the United States come November.
After staking his claim for the job last year following the collapse of his coalition, staunch Ukraine backer Rutte quickly won the support of heavyweights the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
But he had to use all the diplomatic skills gleaned during almost 14 years in charge of the Netherlands to win over hold-outs led by Turkiye and Hungary.
Rutte overcame Turkish reticence with an April visit to Istanbul, before finally sealing a deal with Hungary’s Viktor Orban at a European Union summit this week.
That left the last sticking point as Iohannis, whose surprise bid had ruffled feathers among allies banking on a smooth appointment for Rutte ahead of a NATO summit in Washington next month.
Romania’s security council on Thursday announced Iohannis had formally withdrawn and that the country backed Rutte.
Rutte will have a lot on his plate when he assumes the reins from Norway’s former premier Stoltenberg, who led the alliance through its most consequential decades since the end of the Cold War.
Just weeks after his four-year term is expected to start, voters in the United States will go to the polls in a crunch vote to chose between incumbent Joe Biden and Trump.
The prospect of the volatile former president returning to the Oval office has rattled allies fearful that he could weaken superpower Washington’s role as Europe’s ultimate security guarantor.
Trump fueled those fears on the campaign trail by saying he would encourage Russia to attack NATO countries not spending enough on their own defense.
Like Stoltenberg, Rutte won plaudits for his careful handling of Trump during his first term in power — when the ex-reality TV star reportedly even mulled pulling the United States out of NATO.
“I think Mark Rutte is a very strong candidate,” Stoltenberg said on a visit to Washington Tuesday. “He has a lot of experience as prime minister. He’s a close friend and colleague.”
While Trump’s return could pose one major challenge — to NATO’s east Rutte will face the far more pressing menace from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin’s forces are currently on the front foot in Ukraine after more than two years of brutal conflict, and the NATO chief will have a key role marshalling aid from Kyiv’s weary backers.
At the same time Rutte will have to ensure the alliance is ready to defend against any potential future attack from Moscow — if, or more likely when, Putin is able to rebuild his forces.
Part of that will involve corralling European allies to spend more on defense — a key demand from Trump, and other US leaders.
This week NATO announced that 23 out of its 32 member countries had hit the alliance’s target of spending two percent of their gross domestic product on defense.
Dubbed “Teflon Mark” for his ability to remain in power for so long in the Netherlands, Rutte will become the fourth Dutchman to lead NATO since it emerged from the ashes of World War II to confront the Soviet Union.
The bicycling conservative threw his country’s economic weight behind Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s 2022 invasion — leading efforts to deliver F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv.
While NATO countries along the alliance’s eastern flank had pushed for one of their own to get the NATO job, Rutte’s backers insist he is fully aware of the threat posed by Russia.
Among the most formative events during his time in charge of the Netherlands was the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, with 196 Dutch among the 298 killed, that was blamed of Moscow-backed fighters.


Danish PM’s suspected attacker ordered held until July 4

Updated 54 min 58 sec ago
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Danish PM’s suspected attacker ordered held until July 4

  • “The court has decided that the suspect will remain in custody until July 4,” a court official said
  • The man has denied responsibility and says he has no recollection of what happened

COPENHAGEN: The man accused of assaulting Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on a public square earlier this month will remain in custody until July 4, a Copenhagen court ruled on Thursday.
The 39-year-old Polish man is suspected of punching Frederiksen on June 7 as she walked in central Copenhagen, leaving her with a minor whiplash injury.
“The court has decided that the suspect will remain in custody until July 4,” a court official told AFP, following a hearing that lasted less than an hour.
The man, who was arrested immediately after the incident, has denied responsibility and says he has no recollection of what happened.
Frederiksen, 46, underwent a medical examination afterwards and was diagnosed with a “contusion on her right shoulder and a minor whiplash injury,” according to her office.
A medical certificate was presented to the court on Thursday.
Frederiksen and several witnesses have been questioned in the ongoing investigation, police said.
In police questioning, relayed to the court on Thursday, Frederiksen said the man approached her and uttered something incomprehensible, then hit her on the shoulder with a closed fist, Danish news agency Ritzau reported on Thursday.
According to prosecutor Line Steffensen, the man was drunk and had stolen alcohol from a grocery store just prior to his encounter with the prime minister.
Steffensen said the man had been arrested on several occasions for shoplifting since moving to Denmark five years ago.
Frederiksen became Denmark’s youngest ever prime minister when she was elected in 2019, aged 41. She won re-election in 2022.
She said after the attack that she was “shaken” and did not take part in the final day of campaigning for the EU election.