Opinion: Wonder Woman and the Irreconcilable Contradiction of Liberal Zionism

Graffiti at the wall between Israel and Palestine in Bethlehem. Photo by Padraigin O'Flynn.

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on the opinion page of kentwired.com before being removed. It was slightly edited then republished here.

By Padraigin O’Flynn

The summer blockbuster movie “Wonder Woman” was celebrated as a feminist breakthrough in film because it shattered gender stereotypes and created a role model for girls to look up to as a symbol of strength and female power. It was acclaimed as a progressive film advocates for women’s rights, rights, and human rights in general, all while gaining praise from critics worldwide. The lead actress, Gal Gadot, and the film itself both became the talk of the summer – but not all for good reasons.

At the end of September, the film was screened in the KIVA for the KSU community. The screening drew protest from some students on campus who criticize the film for its depiction of the connection between militarism and feminism, as well as the Israeli-born lead actress’s adherence to militarism in her home country.

Military service is compulsory in Israel, but some Israelis that complete their service, such as members of Breaking the Silence, express their discontent with what the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) made them become. A small minority refuse to join the military, and are handed jail time as a result.

Gadot is not one such dissenter, however, nor does she regret her service. She has consistently expressed support for the IDF as well as Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza, which killed 3,745 Palestinian civilians, including 716 children, over the course of three separate bombing campaigns in 2008, 2012, and 2014. Entirely walled-in with only six entrances, Gaza is an open-air prison. The Israeli navy blockades the sea border, and Palestinians cannot go more than six nautical miles from the beach without facing fire from Israeli ships. Israel controls the movement of all people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip, and this closure has caused a severe humanitarian crisis. In 2012, the UN warned that by 2020 the Gaza Strip would be unlivable, but it now claims that Gaza has already reached this point. Given Gadot’s unwavering support for devastating military operations, as well as her complicity in the occupation of Palestinians via her participation in and enthusiastic support for the IDF, it is obvious that she faithfully ascribes to the political ideology of Zionism.

On the surface, it is ironic to see someone who so vehemently supports a settler colonial, militaristic, apartheid regime portraying a seemingly peace-loving heroine. If we delve deeper into the film, however, it becomes clear that Wonder Woman herself is simply a product of imperialism and the military-industrial complex that pervades all aspects of Western society. Wonder Woman’s brand of feminism is nothing more than white, Western, imperialist feminism, so Gadot is a perfect fit for the role.

The film espouses military intervention in the name of humanitarianism while demonizing the singular character who advocates peace. This is on par with classic Western imperialist and colonial mindsets, which have moved on from the outright conquering of territory and exploitation of natives that embodied the late 19th and early 20th centuries to a new, more sinister form of imperialism that excuses Western intervention in the name of humanitarianism.

Feminism and human rights cannot be bombed or warred into existence, despite what Wonder Woman and Western leaders may claim. Progressive values that treat women as equals must be built into a society from the ground up, so that they become an integral part of the political system. Bombing nations in the name of humanitarianism or doing so preemptively in the name of national security only throws societies into chaos and creates more repressive governments that, so long as they economically cooperate with the West, will go without criticism from the external powers that installed them.

Zionism is an example of this imperialism. It is an inherently exclusionary ideology that builds upon a logic of elimination by displacing native Palestinians through control of their territory and erasure of their existence, and can manifest itself in many ways. The IDF conducts night raids, arresting Palestinians without due cause, and the 99% conviction rate in the military courts means that those who are arrested, whether or not they are guilty, will likely be punished. Issues of collective punishment also arise, wherein Israel shuts down shops, seals doors of homes, and implements extensive curfews in Palestinian towns. The current Zionist movement has achieved its goal of a Jewish state through the forced exiling of Palestinians and the unrelenting oppression of those that remain. That is not to say that this was the only means by which a state for the Jewish people could have been created, but rather that this is the way in which history has played out and fostered the growth of modern-day Zionism.

There are plenty of Jews worldwide who advocate justice for Palestinians within the context of their progressive ideologies. Progressive values such as feminism or LGBTQ rights cannot exist within the context of Zionism, however, because the ideology itself depends on oppression and colonization. Therefore, anyone attempting to label themselves as a ‘liberal Zionist’ cannot be fully devoted to the ideals of both movements. Wonder Woman, despite her façade of progressive feminism, is nothing more than a white feminist borne out of an imperialist society bent on militarism. The film creates the illusion of a feminist role model, but if our feminism is not intersectional, then it only serves to replicate structures of oppression that marginalize the powerless. This is the opposite of true feminism and progressivism as a whole, which is why those who do not want to be complicit in such a destructive project protest.

Over a week ago, this piece was published on KentWired.com as an opinion. It was taken down only a day later, with no notification to me and despite previous claims by editors that it was a well-written piece. It was later discovered that citations had been inserted into the piece without my approval, and it was taken down due to concerns about the legitimacy of these sources. When I explained the situation and resubmitted the article with original and verifiable sources, the editors refused to repost it, censoring the article due to the controversial nature of its subject matter and claiming that they would no longer publish pieces related to Israel-Palestine because the uncivil debate regarding the issue reflected badly on their publication.

Editor’s note: Fusion reached out to the KentWired opinion editor, Lucas Misera, for a response:

KentWired encourages passionate and lively discussions from writers in the opinion section. However, we believe that a topic as sensitive and complex as this one deserves to be discussed beyond the confines of a 1,000-word column, and we implore those who feel moved by the topic to have substantive debate face-to-face. We encourage civil discourse pertaining to this subject that produces actionable outcomes, the likes of which come out of direct discussions.”


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