Photo of Phyllis Chesler by Jill Krementz, 1972.

In 2005, I was publicly mocked as the Jewish Cassandra by a Jewish-American organization official.

“Sir,” I said, “No one listened to her, Troy fell, and she became Agamemnon’s sex slave. If this is really how you see me, why not heed me and my colleague’s warnings about the importance of the cognitive war against the Jews before it’s too late? Why not consider an Iron Dome against the propaganda?”

He walked away in a huff. It’s now 2024, and I’m ready to own my prescience.

I have always been an independent thinker, a pioneer, and a leader. I have rarely been a follower. I lack the knack of group or “correct” thinking. I’ve lived recklessly, unaware of how sharing my thoughts might endanger me, set me apart. I did not choose to be this way. I was “chosen,” so to speak.

I have always been an independent thinker, a pioneer, and a leader.

When I was a child, I suffered my status as an outlier. I fit in nowhere; I was not like the other girls even though I wanted to be. I was not like my mother, and she punished me for it; no doubt, she felt I was proof of her failure to tame me, to bind my mind.

When I was about eight or nine years old, my mother brought a rabbi home to excoriate me for having joined Hashomer Ha’tzair (“A Godless, communist group.”). I then went and joined Ain-Harod, an even more left-wing Zionist group.

I was the “smartest boy” in my Hebrew school class, but it was 1952, and there would be no Bat Mitzvah for me. I took it very hard and ate a slice of non-kosher pizza for the first time—and did not die.

I was far too gifted and intellectually curious for my family. They feared me—and feared for me. And I ran wild with the boys, not understanding that I would always be judged by a double standard.

Against their wishes, I left home in Borough Park on a full scholarship to an out of town college. I never thought I’d return but, in a small way, I’ve done just that. Wait for it.

While I was long considered an uber-trendy radical feminist thinker, once I published The New Antisemitism in 2003, all of that changed. In it, I held the left-wing Western intelligentsia as responsible for Jew hatred, as I did the Islamic world. It was the first book of mine that was not reviewed—and reviewed positively—in the mass media. What I wrote led to countless dis-invitations, turned backs, and a purging.

To my amazement, I made some new friends. One poor soul, a conservative man, wrote a rather endearing review of this book. He was genuinely puzzled. But since he loved my support for Western civilization, he wrote: “I guess if it comes down to it, and a radical feminist is fighting in the trenches with me, on my side, then so be it. She is my ally.”

Despite all my 20th century pioneering feminist work, few feminists cut me any slack for my support of Israel and Judaism as well as for my writing about Islamic gender and religious apartheid.

I was actually purged from a feminist listserv group because I was a Zionist and had begun publishing my genuinely feminist pieces at conservative sites. (What could I do? The New York Times would no longer publish my work). For telling the truth about Islam’s treatment of women, infidels, dissidents, and homosexuals, I was accused of being a racist-Islamophobe and a right-winger. I lost friends and colleagues—and continued to do so, all throughout the 21st century. This happened before 10/7, and it prepared me very well for the profound and odious feminist silence that followed. Although women have always been raped in war-zones, (think Bagladesh, Bosnia, Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan), 10/7 was the first time that so many routinely indifferent people cheered the rapists and blamed the victims.

The fact that I was conducting studies about honor killing that tribal women of color relied upon did not matter. The fact that I worked with Muslims and ex-Muslims mattered less. Even the fact that I co-led a grassroots team that rescued 398 women from Afghanistan did not count. My Thought Crimes can never be forgiven.

I was cancelled long before the phenomenon gathered traction. However, in the long historical arc of free thinkers who’ve been jailed, tortured, burned at the stake, and sent to die in the Gulag, my punishments, while still real and painful, are different. True, like many others, I now write samizdat. More important, my feminist work has largely been written out of the feminist canon. However, these are relatively minor injuries.

I was cancelled long before the phenomenon gathered traction.

My God! Think of what the political correctniks did to Socrates in 399 B.C.; Giordano Bruno in 1600; Anna Ahmatova’s husband and sons whom Stalin murdered or exiled for her Thought Crimes in the 1920s; remember Vladimir Bukovsky, Andre Sahkarov, Natan Sharansky—oh the list is long in Soviet Russia, Hitler’s Germany, but also in pre-communist and post-communist China and Cuba. I am not even getting into Iran or Afghanistan. That would require another very long piece.

Dissent is intolerable to tyrants. Yet, such regimes have been romanticized by too many: Western leftists, including Jews, feminists, academics, gays, and government officials–the whole bleeding lot of them.

In what way have I come full circle, at least a wee bit? In 1988, when I davened with the women for the first time at the Kotel in 1988 the experience wedded me fatefully to the struggle that would come, one that is still underway. Our vision involved group prayer with a Torah by women-only; we, the Original Women of the Wall, had not fought for the rights of Reform and Conservative prayer styles.

I immediately understood that what I wanted was to study Torah, and so I began to do just that, beginning in 1989. I had the best chevruta in the world, the late, great Rivka Haut (z”l) and whose idea it was to hold our prayer service at the Kotel instead of at the LaRomme Hotel. Eventually, we began to publish devrai Torah together and by and by, I began to write my own.

Here’s the full circle. My mother (z”l), who rarely approved of what I did or wrote, went to Eichlers on Thirteenth Avenue in Borough Park and bought a Chumash with Rashi’s commentaries; she inscribed each of the five volumes to me “with love,” and in the belief that “I would do great things in the world.”

Who would ever have believed this possible?

But there is also this. I recently reviewed an extraordinary book by Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman, titled The Jewish Underground in Samarkand. How Faith Defied Soviet Rule. Of course, these Chabad heroes perpetuated Judaism by teaching Torah to little Jewish boys, not girls. And yet, and yet, the piety of the women equaled that of the men. They did all that they could to preserve the sanctity of Torah learning and the dignity of their revered rabbis. 

The women viewed their separate roles as sacred and their domestic duties as prayers. I, personally, could not have lived their lives. I would have wanted to be in one of the secret yeshivot learning—but would that have necessarily kept a community intact and Judaism flourishing?

Imagine me having such a thought! I even surprised myself.