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Zioness Founder Peddled Islamophobia Prior To Group's Founding

Naftali Botwin
Photo: The Zioness contingent at the NY Celebrates Israel Day Parade in June 2018. (Amanda Berman)

The Zioness Movement, the so-called progressive pro-Israel astroturf group that has inserted itself into the national conversation about antisemitism and anti-Zionism seemingly out of nowhere, touts itself as a progressive movement that "fight[s] for justice and against discrimination for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and any other human being whose rights are denied or threatened because of their innate characteristics." But recently resurfaced video of the group's founder and president, Amanda Berman, speaking on a panel on the staunchly conservative Townhall TV in 2015—just two years before she founded the group—paints an entirely different and disturbing picture.

Zioness was built on a lie, as it was founded in response to a false clickbait headline, "Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No." Sarsour never actually spoke the words attributed to her in the headline, but rather said that a genuine women's movement cannot ignore the suffering of Palestinian women.

"It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, 'Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?' There can’t be in feminism," Sarsour told The Nation. "You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none."

Berman, and other mostly white Zionist reactionaries of her ilk, went apoplectic over Sarsour's ultimately tepid remarks, and used the false claim that Sarsour had said that you can't be a feminist and a Zionist as a rallying cry. Soon Zioness was born and organized itself into a contingent at the first Women's March, ostensibly to represent what they perceive to be a truly marginalized minority: Themselves. Since then, Zioness has positioned itself as the voice of progressive Jewish women who support Israel, offering comment to one newspaper after another, despite inconvenient facts like the secretary of their board, Chloé Valdary, being a conservative Christian Zionist who routinely speaks down to leftist and liberal Jews for being insufficiently pro-Israel. It's a view Berman, who is a member of Friends of the IDF's Young Leadership board, likely shares.

In addition to her role as Zioness' president, Berman worked — until last month — for the Lawfare Project, a legal aid nonprofit that uses force of law to "inflict massive punishments" on opponents of Israel. The group's founder, Brooke Goldstein, is herself known to be bigoted against Palestinians and Muslims, having once asked attendees at a conference on antisemitism, "Why are we using the word Palestinian? There’s no such thing as a Palestinian person," and proudly touted her friendship with noxiously Islamophobic Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

Zioness founder and president Amanda Berman.

It was in her capacity as the Lawfare Project's Director of Legal Affairs that Berman appeared on a Townhall TV panel entitled "The New Normal: Security or Freedom" alongside such illustrious "progressive" voices as Katherine Gorka, wife of former White House staffer Seb Gorka, who was herself responsible for the Trump administration's decision to cut funding to counter-extremism programs targeting white supremacists. Also on the panel was the Center for Security Policy's Fred Fleitz, who argued in favor of what was to become Trump's "Muslim ban." Fleitz's organization has been branded an Islamophobic hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

During the panel, which took place in the aftermath of the deadly San Bernadino attack, Berman falsely claimed that, "We do know that there are ISIS followers—radicalized ISIS followers—in all fifty states now," before continuing to fearmonger about the danger of Islamist terrorism posed to American citizens. Berman used the case of the San Bernadino attacker to justify extensive monitoring of the American Muslim community and Muslims traveling to the U.S. Notably, Muslims commit only 12.5% of all acts of U.S. terrorism, but receive 357% more media coverage than other ideological attackers.

Berman also claimed that, "The primary scholar on ISIS ideology, Bernard Haykel from Princeton, said that there is the most inherent Islam in ISIS—that from top-down all the way to the foot soldiers, they are reciting Quranic verses. They are as ideological as it gets."

She continued, "And I completely agree that this is not the definition of Islam. Obviously there are moderate Muslims who are partners in our fight, our critical allies. But," she said turning immediately back towards stoking fear and hatred, "when it comes down to it, we have to call it what it is. We can't underestimate it by refusing to acknowledge the inherent Muslim ideology underlying this threat."

When asked to respond to Trump's call for a "total shutdown" of Muslim immigration to the U.S., Berman incredulously criticized Donald Trump for engaging in "the politics of fear" before declaring that the opposite extreme of his statement was "political correctness."

Later, Berman claimed, again falsely, that the Obama administration wasn't taking seriously the need to vet Muslim immigrants. "The President laughs off the question and says 'Oh, people are saying we shouldn't let in the women and the children.' And as we're  hearing, these people are just as likely to pose a threat—maybe not just as likely—but quite likely to pose a threat."

She then went on to justify Americans' fear of Muslim immigration, stating, "There has a been a holy war waged against us. [...] So it's definitely a legitimate fear."

Watch below:

Berman's comments, and her immediate past role at an organization that seeks to suppress legitimate protest against Israel's human rights violations, belie her own organization's claim to fight for "any other human being whose rights are denied or threatened because of their innate characteristics." Rather, they indicate that Zioness is led by a deeply bigoted Islamophobe who is outraged that her brand of bigotry is no longer tolerated in progressive spaces and that observant Muslims and Palestinians — who she perceives as an existential threat — are being uplifted.

UPDATE 3/29 @9:40AM — This story has been updated to reflect the fact that, as of February, Berman is no longer with The Lawfare Project.

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