Prof. Phyllis CheslerThe writer, a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and recipient of the 2013 National Jewish Book Award, is the author of sixteen books, including Women and Madness, Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, and The New Anti-Semitism. She has written four studies about honor killing, Her latest books are An American Bride in Kabul, (Palgrave Macmillan) and Living History: On The Front Lines for Israel and the Jews.Professor Chesler may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com
Today, and at the last moment, after the invitations went out and the program had been announced, I was dis-invited to an event in which I was to be honored.
On December 16, 2016, I had been contacted by the UJA of New York, telling me that they wanted to give me an award for my lifetime of work on behalf of women. Also being honored were three other pro-Israel advocates: Hadassah Lieberman, Anne Bayefsky, and Brooke Goldstein. I had several long talks with the women in charge of this program. They wanted me to speak about the feminist movement and about my feminist work—but also about women in Israel as well as about anti-Semitism.
The last time we spoke was on an extended conference call on Tuesday, March 7th. Brooke had to drop out for personal reasons and the UJA women were frantic. Anne persuaded them that she and I could easily handle the program; that we did not even need a panel! I had already submitted seven questions for the moderator of this panel. Anne had not yet done so. The UJA women decided that both Anne and I would each have about 11-12 minutes.
Today, on March 15th, the UJA-Federation of NY Women disinvited me. What could possibly have changed?
Well, I had written that I was on deadline and had no time for more extended conversations; and that I needed to be seated when I speak. I asked them to confirm, but only in writing, whether I had 11 or 12 minutes to speak.
Today, I also completed my speech for them. Today, they dis-invited me.
Dis-invited! Oh no, not really. Smoothly, the two UJA professional women on the phone said that my work was so important that they wanted to have me speak alone at some later date.
I said that nevertheless, this was a public embarrassment and that one can never be sure that the same people, including the same donors, would be there at a future date. There is no guarantee that any of us would be alive a year from now.
Are you revoking my award? Oh no, not really. The plaque already exists and, they said, they could mail it to me or even meet with me and give it to me, privately, in person.
Were they serious about wanting me to lecture at another time, they would have suggested something like this: “Come receive your well-earned reward but please restrict your comments because we would like you to have a program all to yourself in which you could share your views more fully.”
This they did not offer. Suggesting that they could mail the plaque to me was perhaps the most shameful statement of all and a dead give-away. They wanted to keep my award secret, private.
Said I: “If it’s not awarded in public before those who expect me to receive it, it’s really not an award.”
To which they offered no response.
Then, the two women said many things, some contradictory, some unbelievable, some not.
They would invite me another time, they really, really would. Just not this March 28th. They said: Some donors were not comfortable with the “narrative” involved; no, actually, the donors were not comfortable with “the shape of the program;” no, in truth, the donors were not “comfortable with how the various phone calls went,” and thought that dis-inviting me would be best; no, I was being dis-invited because there was now “no budget to order copies of my books.”
I never demanded that they order my books—in fact, I said that it would be very embarrassing if they gave out free books of mine but not of Brooke’s or Anne’s, that perhaps it was not the best idea. One of the women offered to do this “to make me very happy.”
I admit it. I’m not a Jewish organization committee kind of person. On our March 7th conference call, when one of the women said she wanted to carefully go over what I would be saying, I said: “I write my own lines. But please don’t be afraid, I will be able to do what you’ve asked for.”
Maybe they were nervous about what I might say—or offended that I had finally set some time limits concerning our too-lengthy and too-frequent phone consultations—or by the fact that I said: “Look, I get invited to speak, I come, I speak, a good time is had by all, and then I leave. I don’t usually have to join in on the planning of the entire program.” Maybe they knew that I was a bit upended by their panic (Brooke had to cancel at the last minute and her second-in-command had a conflict-of-interest), and by their desperate need to make sure that Anne and I would be there and would follow a donor-approved script.
But really, what could possibly have changed from March 7th to March 15th? Is it, perhaps, something I wrote?
On March 8th, an interview with me about the Woman’s Marches, faux-feminism, and Linda Sarsour appeared in the Algemeiner and on March 9th, another interview with me on the same subject appeared at Breitbart, Jerusalem. On March 13th, I published a piece at Israel National Newsin which I criticized the articles written by Letty Cottin Pogrebin (3/8, in Ha’aretz) and Peter Beinart (3/9 at the Forward).
Did my appearance in Breitbart outrage some donors? Or, is it what I wrote in Israel National News where I critiqued the views of Pogrebin and Beinart, two darlings of the left-wing Democratic Party, stalwarts of J Street and the New Israel Fund, etc., that was a final straw?
I may never really know.
At a certain point on our conference call, Anne asked how many of the expected donors were Democrats and how many were Republicans. There was a long, awkward pause. Both Anne and I laughed and one of us said: “So, it’s mainly Democrats, yes?”
Someone answered, a bit defensively: “There are some Republicans.”
I reached out to Anne many hours ago to stand with me in solidarity. Her mother is planning to come and it’s a “Go” for her.