An officer in the Australian Labor Party has provoked outcry down under by holding up female Israeli soldiers as role models for other young women.
Above a photograph shared directly from the official English language “Israeli Defense Forces” Facebook page Hannah MacLeod, women’s officer for Australian Young Labor, said:
Empowered women show they are not just as capable, but among the elite, in combat roles. Australia needs to do more to encourage stronger participation of women in the defense force.
She followed this with Israeli army information on the photo, stating that the woman shown was “her company’s most exceptional soldier.”
This attempt to paint the Israeli armed forces as empowering women by teaching them to kill and occupy (“purplewashing,” perhaps?) flies in the face of recent Israeli publicity efforts which linked female soldiers with demeaning and sexist imagery, whilst claiming that this demonstrated Israel’s “egalitarian” nature.
The Israeli military’s weekly magazine has also in the past been criticized for promoting “seduction” workshops to male recruits. Even more seriously, surveys have suggested that sexual assault and harassment within the Israeli armed forces is high and rising.
Misjudging their audience
The post, originally made on 21 November, appears to have been met with nothing but outrage from followers of the Facebook page. Some addressed the Israeli military’s record specifically, with comments such as:
Distasteful example seeing as the IDF [Israeli military] commit war crimes and human rights violations every single day.
Another commenter said:
Absolutely disgusting example. A country that jails citizens for refusing to serve in an inhumane occupation. This is your example of empowering women?
Others tackled wider issues, such as the idea that promoting military service is empowering for women at all:
Yikes, the IDF is a really bad example to use. Not only that, but shouldn’t we at least question the role of perpetrating violence on a state level? Violence within the home is bad, but if the state does it, well that’s totally different, they were asking for it!
Some cited more positive examples of women fighting for their own liberation rather than in conscripted occupier armies:
Are you frigging serious?? If you want to push women in the military you could have used the defense of Kobane as an example of truly heroic and meaningful service by women. The example of the IDF is extremely distasteful given the recent war against Palestinian civilians.
The criticisms included those which appeared to come from people directly involved in or acquainted with Australian Young Labor, addressing the AYL women’s officer by name: “Seriously terrifying, MacLeod.”
Silence from Australian Labor
On 24 November one commenter on the page asked the key question:
Well, is this going to be deleted or do you stand by your revolting post? Would be nice if the moderator could at least say something seeing as you’re representing socialist leftist women all over australia.
Thirty-six hours later, the post was still live and Hannah Macleod had still not replied to her critics.
The Electronic Intifada, meanwhile, has sent inquiries via email, public inquiry form, Facebook and Twitter to MacLeod, Australian Young Labor and to the Australian Labor Party. None of these inquiries have received a response.
Labor support for Israel
It’s not altogether surprising to find the Australian Labor Party voicing support for the state of Israel, despite fairly widespread sympathy for Palestinian issues among the Australian public.
Labor leaders have regularly voiced their support for Israel, and Labor politicians have attempted to misrepresent boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns, colluding with the Murdoch press in efforts to discredit Green Party electoral opponents.
However, recent Israeli attempts to stifle debate in Australia via “lawfare” – legal bullying of critics – have failed dramatically.
And the online response to Australian Young Labor’s attempts to “purplewash” Israel by claiming feminist and women’s empowerment credentials for its army suggests that the party’s youth branch – or at least its women’s officer – has misjudged their constituency.