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Dworkin's Scapegoating
Veronica A. Ouma   

For those of you not familiar with the intellect and personality of Andrea Dworkin, you will be introduced to her by reading this book. This radical western feminist, whose works include Women Hating, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, and Intercourse, are all filled with descriptions of what she considers the inherently violent nature of male sexual relations towards women. This trend continues in Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation where she compares the oppression of Jews historically (with particular attention to the Jewish holocaust) with violence against women internationally, with specific emphasis on Jewish and Palestinian women in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Chapters include: Jew-Hate/Women Hate, Pogrom/Rape, and Palestinians/Prostituted Women. As her book title suggests, Jews were racially scapegoated for societal ills in the pogroms of Russia and Nazi Germany just as women are subordinated through their gender in patriarchal societies, particularly in the Middle East.

Scapegoat is as much about Jews, Israel and women’s liberation as it is about Andrea Dworkin herself. Of Jewish ancestry, she studied the Jewish holocaust most of her adult life. As a survivor of domestic violence and rape, she advocates women’s liberation in the form of either the equality of men and women, or female supremacy. Dworkin accepts Israel as a legitimate state, even with its racialized views that she purportedly rejects. She sees her brand of feminism, the kind that believes a progressive state will help save women around the world from institutionalized oppression, as the solution to unequal relations between women and men. With this in mind, she undermines national liberation struggles AND women’s liberation, the latter which she claims to be a staunch advocate. The conclusion of her text is a testament to how ideas based on western feminism and liberal Zionism can create confusion and inconsistencies in pursuit of analysis of oppressed nationalities and empire.

This review is grounded in an analysis of Dworkin’s view of patriarchy and gender-based oppression, and internationalist perspectives on Dworkin’s thesis on nationalism, state power, and women’s liberation. It is very clear that both liberal Zionists and radical feminists such as Dworkin are not in the forefront of defending freedom and democracy globally as it relates to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Nevertheless, Dworkin does expose notable snapshots of demeaning and heinous acts toward women that clearly serve to undermine the idea the myth that Israel is a democratic regime.

On Patriarchy and Gender-Based Oppression

While an extensive review of works on patriarchy go beyond the scope of this review essay, it is useful to at least define the term. Most societies around the world are patriarchal in one form or another. Patriarchy, literally meaning rule of the father, describes a male-dominated society or family where women are oppressed and subordinated through institutional and interpersonal relationships. For many male household heads, wives, sisters, junior siblings and children are seen as extensions of himself, whose lives he is free to enter, shape and direct. In the politics of statecraft and capitalism, patriarchy manifests itself in such issues as economic discrimination in the workplace, failure to acknowledge and appreciate the caring work that women engage in as integral to societal development, and laws that hurt women and girls (i.e. restrictions on reproductive decisions, forced sterilization, etc). Women and girls are regularly assaulted, battered, tortured, robbed, kidnapped, stalked and murdered. A 1997 UNICEF report stated that violence against women is the world’s most pervasive form of human rights abuse.1 Gender-based oppression is a global phenomenon.

Dworkin provides ample evidence of gender-based oppression in Israel/Palestine that should not be ignored. In both Gaza and the West Bank, mortality rates and malnutrition tend to be higher among girls than boys, a reflection of traditional attitudes that contribute to the ill health of communities. She argues that this is nothing new except that Palestinian and Israeli women have found ways to work together to help women and children.2 In the religious courts in Israel, women cannot be witnesses. If she is granted a divorce, it is entirely at the pleasure of her husband and she must back out of the courtroom bowing.3 Further, the Israeli army routinely sexually exposes themselves and masturbates as means of dispersing Arab women demonstrators and groups of women.

That is not all. Between 1996 and 1997, the murder rate in Israel soared to 30% because of the increase in fatal “accidents” on women by their male partners. Dworkin cannot reconcile the fact that in Israel, in the supposed bastion of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, Jewish men are murdering Jewish women, and the state justifies this. She expects that based on her identity, a citizen of Israel, that her national homeland should be more democratic than others, because of the collective memory of persecution Jews suffered during the holocaust.

It is important to note that Dworkin’s citizenship is denied to the millions of Palestinians who have been chased off their lands, murdered, and oppressed for her benefit under white supremacy and empire. While she recognizes and admonishes the oppression of Palestinians, she does feel that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself—a major inconsistency in her arguments against oppression. In other words, by merging aspects of Zionism, feminism, and Jewish holocaust studies, she concludes that the oppressed Jews had to fight back, establish their own state, and women, also downtrodden, must do the same. But as we shall see this progressive talk contributes to the erasure of Palestinians as an oppressed nation.

On Nationalism

The preface begins, “I am an enemy of nationalism and male domination. This means I repudiate all nationalism except my own and reject the dominance of all men except those I love. In this I am like every other woman, a pretender to rebellions because to break with the patriarchy I would need to betray my own; the ones with whom I share my group identity, in this case Jewish, and a presumed history, in this case Jewish men. They have not hesitated to betray me through assertions of superiority intended to hurt my human rights and my human dignity….Feminists try hard to fight for women at the same time maintaining special loyalties to subgroups of men…I have grown sick of these loyalties, which protect brutal acts as if they were heroic.”4

There is much to be gleaned from her opening thesis. First Dworkin offers a sense of nationalism that relates to being either a Jew or a woman (or both). This ethnic and gender-based chauvinism works against liberation struggles worldwide. Dworkin argues that left nationalist or quasi-nationalist movements have failed women because they are subjected to the misogyny of their own side. Further, she maintains that struggles for national liberation incorporate women during the fight but abandon them once the nation-state is consolidated. There is much truth to this historically. In Algeria, for example, women were integral to the independence struggles against the French yet today they are still targeted for abuse and assassination by post-independence regimes that have assaulted women’s rights.5 From her perspective, this is part of the injustice females face. Therefore, the conflict in Israel/Palestine is not based on Israel representing the frontline of American empire in the Middle East but rather, a struggle based on her conception of patriarchy and nationalism: women cannot be free of male dominance without challenging the men of their own ethnic group and destroying their authority. Is the answer then, propelling women on top as the managers of a new state?

In her chapter Masculinity/Femininity, she points to the violent nature of men, both Israeli and Palestinian. In the early chapters on Pogrom/Rape and The State/The Family, she provides a historiography of Jewish oppression prior to the formation of Israel, with emphasis on the pogroms in Russia and the holocaust under the Nazi regime. She describes how Jewish men were seen as weak, gentle and non-physical and now are “martial Jews and proud Hebrews” that have built and maintained an army to protect themselves from further persecution.6 In her view not only do Jewish men exhibit intense masculinity through their military strength and state power as a threat to Palestinians, but also Palestinian men release their male frustration and rage through the Intifadas. In other words, the conflict in Israel/Palestine rests on masculine battles over conquest and the Intifadas are about male testosterone and rage and the subjugation of women. Furthermore, suicide bombing is “the war of the weak Arab, the stateless Arab, the emasculated Arab; the Arab now feminized by the Israeli soldier, especially Palestinian men who have been defeated.”7 Dworkin sees no validity in a Palestinian struggle for national liberation. She uses the patriarchal contradictions within to invalidate it in totality, while subordinating her critiques of males within the Israeli state to “Jews right to exist.”

How would she explain female suicide bombers? How would she explain Golda Meir, the first female head of state of Israel, who coined the term “a land without a people for a people without a land” to justify Israel’s colonization of Palestine? While these subjects are not addressed directly in this book, she would probably argue that women in nationalist struggles are not engaging in their own agenda, rather the agenda of Palestinian males. I will clarify the matter of Golda Meir subsequently.

On page 230 she says, “Nationalism divides women; loyalty to state or country is masculine business; loyalty to men per se is feminine business. Men of the same nationality are one’s nation; protecting them and easing their burden is one’s responsibility; loving them and loving what they do is an emotional ghetto in which women live. Nationalism and the nation itself work to make women invisible.”8

In a 2002 essay in the online journal Feminista entitled, “Women Suicide Bombers,” Dworkin asserts that women commit these acts to wipe away the stigma of being a female due to the sexual abuse they experience as nationalists. While these Palestinian women strive for equality, they are pushed back down by male nationalists. She maintains that female suicide bombers are not the poor and marginalized women in Palestine but rather the “best and the brightest,” driven by pride and bravery. They hope to achieve equality and citizenship in a new Palestinian state, though if they carry out their tasks they will not be around to defend such a status. Dworkin concludes this essay by stating that national liberation is anti-sisterhood.9

An analysis of Golda Meir is noticeably absent from Dworkin’s text. Meir was a career politician who actively promoted Zionism and the creation of a Jewish state. Perhaps if Dworkin included Meir, her arguments on women and their relation to the state would weaken. It is clear, however, that Dworkin believes women are inherently more superior and progressive than men based on the privileges that men receive under patriarchy and the state. In the end, body politics shapes her perceptions on gender whereby men and women are judged by who they are, rather than what they do.

Women who would blow themselves up should live to protect and advance the struggle of their people and community from below. Dworkin would agree that female suicide bombers should live as well, but she would only argue this for the sake of sisterhood. While there is nothing wrong with sisterhood, for this author, their life’s value cannot be elevated to a level higher than male and female cooperation and support as the key to women’s liberation. Women’s liberation must be a project that both genders engage in. No one would argue with her evidence that some Israeli and Palestinian women are working together to support rape survivors, but women’s cooperation alone will not stop the violence in the Arab-Israeli conflict. She fails to make the distinction between armed self-defense practiced by many Palestinians and Israeli state-sponsored violence—they are not comparable. The progressive state based on female supremacy, which she advocates for, may very well include violence. Then again, women have a universally shared superior moral economy, or so Dworkin expresses in the book’s conclusion, and as long as women are in charge of the violence, then it is legitimate and fair.

Ultimately, she sees the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict as resting in battles of masculine power and hatred of both Israeli and Palestinian women. The culture of dominance on both sides can be traced historically from the impacts of the Jewish holocaust on Israeli men and the impacts of the occupation on Palestinian men. In the end she contends that Israeli and Palestinian women suffer the most because they bear the brunt of male rage.

For example, one of the most effective methods used by the Israeli police to coerce devoted Palestinian youth into collaboration is to arrest them, and then produce doctored pornographic photos of their mothers, wives, and sisters. The Israeli police tell them that they will make the photos public if they fail to cooperate. Dworkin argues that this has pushed Palestinian men toward very reactionary sentiments, arguing that the photos would not exist if the women remained in their homes and that Palestinian men have two enemies—Israelis and Palestinian women.

Ultimately as a liberal Zionist, she argues that Jews needed a homeland and they “won” militarily and politically so even though Israel is an apartheid state based on ethnic cleansing, the destruction of families, the bulldozing of homes, pass systems, etc., she believes in the founding principles of Israel with some revisions: civil equality of men and women, reforms in religious courts so that women can be witnesses and decide over such things as child custody, reproduction, marriage and citizenship, and greater cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian women.

On State Power and Women's Liberation

By definition, the state consists of systems and institutions that have a monopoly over the means of violence and coercion. Therefore, the oppressive nature of the state exists by its meaning. Dworkin starts her chapter, The State/The Family, with a discussion of stateless societies without hierarchies, particularly among Native American populations. While she pays lip service to the egalitarian nature of such societies, she envisions a state whereby women either impose gender equality or a state where females rule supreme above males. She articulates no vision of ordinary people’s autonomy from below where men and women work together to fight institutionalized oppression as distinct from those who would rule above society. For Dworkin, this is an inherently male impulse.

Are women better equipped to rule the world? Many would say yes and there is a plethora of evidence to support the idea that women are more caring and responsible and have better coping strategies. Dworkin asserts these premises. She describes Jewish women in Nazi Germany as being more resourceful than their male counterparts (i.e. maintaining food rations for longer periods, sharing material resources, etc.). Are there no descriptions of Palestinian women’s resourcefulness, independent of collaboration with Jewish women and subordination to Palestinian men? Of course there are! From the women’s work committees of the 1970s that stressed self-help over welfare programs to the popular committees where Palestinian women and men worked side by side to safeguard their neighborhoods and develop a clandestine educational system. For Palestinian women, resistance to apartheid oftentimes takes precedence over strictly women’s issues. This is not a negation of women’s struggles, but rather, a political agenda that seeks to liberate all oppressed people in the region.10 The failure of Dworkin to see this shows her racist and colonial mentality and a lack of serious research on this matter.

Dworkin proposes a female state that would function in many ways like a welfare state where efforts are made to secure food, shelter, health care, education, and political rights for all women.11 Generally speaking, the welfare state addresses certain needs in society in its ability to provide services for people based on the inherent failings of capitalism. But at what cost? In Dworkin’s vision of a new progressive state, as articulated in the epilogue, one has to pledge allegiance to the very state that tells men that they have to be made aware of the vulnerability of their outside male organ. The logic is that it is easier for a woman to hurt a penis than it is for a man to get inside of her (read: women can castrate men if they attempt to have sexual intercourse with them), thus solidifying women’s superior status over men.12 Is this a state you want to live in? As with Zionism, her ideology is a mix of fascism and socialism.

In the process of creating this new progressive state, Dworkin points to the significance of international laws such as United Nations declarations.13 Obviously she views the U.N. as a defender of human rights around the world instead of the country club of rulers, who whine and complain about certain U.S. policies, and then eventually follow the U.S.’s lead. When this book was published in 2000, she asked why no international or western nation that was a member of the U.N. or NATO marched to save the women living in the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Within a year, the U.S. state would wage war on Afghanistan to expand its empire in the name of freedom and women’s liberation. As one can see, Dworkin’s ideas lead one to be a fellow traveler or loyal opposition to the ambitions of empire and white supremacy. She wishes to arrive at a so-called progressive regime without breaking with the sponsorship of many of the same imperial forces and justifications that buttressed Golda Meir’s racist leadership of Israel.

Women’s liberation in Israel/Palestine and other parts of the world, particularly in the third world, will not be realized by calls from western feminists to ask their states and ruling classes to bring freedom and democracy to them. Women have been globally engaged and battling over the questions of women’s liberation since long before feminist discourses were debated in the academy, outside the politics of statecraft, and beyond the aspiring women’s freedom movements in the United States.

Many feminists judge people based on who one is, rather than what one does, based solely on body politics. It assumes that women are inherently revolutionary and white males are inherently racist and patriarchal. This belief is erroneous in that people are not irrevocably determined by the aspiring socializations of history or gender. Being against patriarchy and gender-based oppression and supporting women’s liberation has to be based on one’s character and direct actions, regardless if it is pursued by females or males.

A vision of freedom will not come from the colonial settler state of Israel, nor the ruling elites of the Palestinian Authority, nor some dystopic progressive state where women are “in charge” but partners in the world system because ultimately, none of these regimes are freedom loving and democratic. It may come from a partial awareness offered by Andrea Dworkin. Women are oppressed and degraded by patriarchy, both Israeli and Palestinian, by the Middle East conflict. But the Israeli state must be held ultimately responsible. Patriarchy among Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, should be fought, and is being fought by these women themselves—they are in no need of consciousness-raising but solidarity. However, our support for these struggles cannot be placed in the service of white supremacy and empire. We would be a poor observer of current events, the contemporary function of imperial states and ruling elites, if we don’t see clearly the latter’s ambition to call into service ideas that ultimately justify their rule.

Andrea Dworkin’s Scapegoat, despite exposing some ugly abuses of women, ultimately makes all women the scapegoat—but not equally. Betraying “her own” in more than one fashion, that is Jewish women, she insists Zionism, its racist and colonial philosophy, can be reconciled with women’s liberation if only its patriarchy could be defeated or in reality reformulated with feminism’s assistance. She promotes a multi-racial unity among Israeli and Palestinian women rooted in a mutual “caring” and “nurturing” which supposedly confronts “men” while leaving Palestinian national liberation prostrate and stillborn at the feet of the state of Israel.

Andrew Dworkin. Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation. New York: Free Press, 2000. 448p.


1. Dworkin, Andrea, 2000. Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel and Women’s Liberation. New York: Free Press, p. 217
2. Ibid, 86.
3. Ibid, 97.
4. Ibid, ix.
5. Slyomovics, Susan, 1996. “Hassiba Ben Bouali, If You Could See Our Algeria: Women and Public Space in Algeria.” In Suha Sabbaugh’s Arab Women: Between Defiance and Restraint. New York: Olive Branch Press, 211-220.
6. Dworkin, 97.
7. Ibid, 99.
8. Ibid, 230.
9. Dworkin, Andrea, 2002. “Women Suicide Bombers.” Feminista
10. Sabbaugh, Suha, 1996. “Palestine Women and Institution Building.” In Suha Sabbaugh’s Arab Women: Between Defiance and Restraint. New York: Olive Branch Press, 107-114.
11. Dworkin, 336.
12. Ibid, 337.
13. Ibid, 78.

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