A Complicated View of Israel

Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation by Andrea Dworkin, Free Press, $28

WITH 337 PAGES OE DENSE TEXT, 1,454 footnotes and 47 pages of bibliography. Scapegoat must not have been easy to write. It’s not easy to read either. Like rich cake tasty in small bites, Dworkin’s erudite polemic is best read in small segments. Scapegoat’s ambitious scope is clear from its subtitle: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation. The work explores Jewish history, culture and customs, in particular graphic and brutal reports of Nazi sex atrocities, and ranges beyond over the entire terrain of modern civilization.

The voluminous writing tends to obfuscate Dworkin’s relatively simple thesis: Jewish men, once scapegoats par excellence, have been transformed into Israeli men with a heavy boot upon internal and external scapegoats: “For Jews, including Israeli Jews, Palestinian Arabs are the scapegoat: the source of all danger and terror, the polluting presence; the inferior and abject.” She asserts that “The masculinity of Israeli soldiers frankly goes off the charts: normalizing Jewishness has meant normalizing violence.” The use of torture in Israel (outlawed by die Israeli Supreme Court since the book’s writing) “eliminates ethical Judaism from the boundaries of the Israeli state.”

Dworkin’s book is particularly relevant in light of the recent violent eruptions in Israel. They give an urgency to her historical analysis of Israel’s spotty compromised history with its Arab population and neighbors. Her detailed history of Zionism in the 20th century includes violent episodes against Arabs which traditional Jewish sources often leave out. She traces the expropriation and murder of Palestinians in 1948, and the oppression of Palestinians after the Six Day War culminating in the Intifada, whose literal meaning in Arabic is “the shivering that grips a person suffering from a fever or the persistent shaking off of a dog infested with fleas.” “The impact of Israeli rule in the occupied territories.. .has been to create a nihilistic hatred of the occupiers,” she writes. “Ehud Barak … acknowledges that if he had been born a Palestinian, he himself would have been part of ‘a terror organization at some point,'”

Israel’s own women are the internal scapegoat, as women are in other societies around the world. Legal, social and military Israeli norms keep women securely second class. Discriminatory laws of marriage and divorce keep Israeli women in their place, as do widespread prostitution and trafficking in sex. Even when women are grudgingly accepted in the world’s liberation struggles, gaining “a temporary pass from complete servility,” once liberation has been achieved, women are unceremoniously “recolonized.”

Quotations shower down in an eclectic jumble: Martin Heidegger, President Clinton, Emile Zola, Frederick Douglas, Leon Uris, Anna Akmatova, Theodor Herzl, Nawal El Saadawi, Amos Oz, Benjamin Disraeli, Isaac Babel, Hannah Arendt. The reader, struggling to keep the thread, emerges with her head spinning. Dworkin hops, skips and jumps from indignity to indignity: the sati custom in India which condemns a woman to live beside her potential murderer, the doomed Saudi Arabian women’s rebellion in pursuit of the simple right to drive a car. In one paragraph the author analyzes the woman-hating character of Western art and ends with children surveyed in Michigan saying that it is more worthwhile to be a boy than a girl.

Zionists repudiated Holocaust survivors, Dworkin asserts, and particularly the experiences of women in the Holocaust. Rape, forced prostitution and sexual torture are hardly memorialized in Holocaust literature or in public memorials. The menial tasks assigned to women in the Israeli army, and “every aspect of second-class status for women in Israel degrades and demeans the women who were murdered in the Holocaust and the women who survived it.”

Dworkin’s writing is so dense one has trouble seeing the forest for the trees, but we are helped by the repetition, like the beating of a background drum, of her message in different words throughout. Arab women are subjugated by the veil, Israeli women by a macho “nearly apartheid state,” and women everywhere by the prevalence of rape against them and cooperation in their own oppression.

Scapegoat is a passionate manifesto urging women to turn away from a basic self-destructive loyalty to men towards a loyalty to themselves. Instead of accepting the historical role of eternal scapegoat, she urges women to rise up and fight against worldwide male domination, which “like gravity, holds everything and everyone in place but is not visible to the naked eye,” to become “strong girls who grow up to be strong and fierce women.”

Scapegoat is an extreme, partisan, provocative, unbalanced and strident book. It is also a brave one.