Opinion: Wonder Woman and the irreconcilable contradiction of liberal Zionism

Padraigin O’Flynn

Viewers celebrated the summer blockbuster movie “Wonder Woman” as a feminist breakthrough in film because it shattered gender stereotypes and created a role model for girls who was a symbol of strength and female power. It gained praise from fans and critics worldwide.

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 Kent State 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 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 and injured more than 3,000 Palestinian civilians, including many 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 causes a severe humanitarian crisis.

In 2012, the U.N. warned that by 2020 the Gaza Strip would be unlivable, but it now claims Gaza has already reached this point. Given Gadot’s unwavering support for devastating military operation, 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 who 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 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 it can manifest itself in many ways.

The IDF conducts night raids, arresting Palestinians without due cause. The 99 percent 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 exile of Palestinians and the unrelenting oppression of those who remain. That is not to say this was the only means by which a state for the Jewish people could have been created, but rather 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 cannot exist within the context of Zionism, however, because the ideology itself depends on oppression and colonization.

Therefore, anyone attempting to label themselves a “liberal Zionist” cannot be fully devoted to the ideals of both movements. Wonder Woman, despite her facade of progressive feminism, is nothing more than a white feminist born 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.

Padraigin O’Flynn is a guest columnist. Contact him at [email protected].