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Moshe Ronen  Letter 14  12-Jun-2000  Holocaust pornography in Israel
"Sisters: we have been building a country in which women are dog shit, something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe." Andrea Dworkin

June 12, 2000
Moshe Ronen
National President
Canadian Jewish Congress
100 Sparks Street, Suite 650
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5B7

Telephone: (613) 233-8703
Fax:       (613) 233-8748


Moshe Ronen:

I bring to your attention the following excerpts from the writing of Andrea Dworkin:

1. The Law of Return

Jewish women attended the establishment conference [in Israel] from many countries, including Argentina, New Zealand, India, Brazil, Belgium, South Africa, and the United States.  Each woman had more right to be there than any Palestinian woman born there, or whose mother was born there, or whose mother's mother was born there.  I found this morally unbearable.  My own visceral recognition was simple: I don't have a right to this right.

The Law of Return says that any Jew entering the country can immediately become a citizen; no Jew can be turned away.  This law is the basis for the Jewish state, its basic principle of identity and purpose.  Orthodox religious parties, with a hefty share of the vote in recent elections, wanted the definition of "Jewish" narrowed to exclude converts to Judaism not converted by Orthodox rabbis, according to Orthodox precepts.

[...]

In Israel, Jewish women are basically in reality, in everyday life governed by Old Testament law.  So much for equality of the sexes.  The Orthodox rabbis make most of the legal decisions that have a direct impact on the status of women and the quality of women's lives.  They have the final say on all issues of "personal status," which feminists will recognize as the famous private sphere in which civilly subordinate women are traditionally imprisoned.  The Orthodox rabbis decide questions of marriage, adultery, divorce, birth, death, legitimacy; what rape is; and whether abortion, battery, and rape in marriage are legal or illegal.  [...]

How did Israel get this way how did these Orthodox rabbis get the power over women that they have?  How do we dislodge them, get them off women?  Why isn't there a body of civil law superseding the power of religious law that gives women real, indisputable rights of equality and self-determination in this country that we all helped build?  I'm 44; Israel is 42; how the hell did this happen?  What are we going to do about it now?  How did Jewish feminists manage not to "take a first step" until the end of 1988 and then not mention women?  The first step didn't amount to a feminist crawl.

2.  The condition of Jewish women in Israel is abject.

Where I live [the United States] things aren't too good for women.  It's not unlike Crystal Night all year long given the rape and battery statistics which are a pale shadow of the truth the incest, the pornography, the serial murders, the sheer savagery of the violence against women.  But Israel is shattering.  Sisters: we have been building a country in which women are dog shit, something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe.  We, the "Jewish feminists."  We who only push as far as the Jewish men here will allow.  If feminism is serious, it fights sex hierarchy and male power and men don't get to stand on top of you, singly or in clusters, for forever and a day.  And you don't help them build a country in which women's status gets lower and lower as the men get bigger and bigger the men there and the men here.  From what I saw and heard and learned, we have helped to build a living hell for women, a nice Jewish hell.  Isn't it the same everywhere?  Well, "everywhere" isn't younger than I am; "everywhere" didn't start out with the equality of the sexes as a premise.  The low status of women in Israel is not unique but we are uniquely responsible for it.  I felt disgraced by the way women are treated in Israel, disgraced and dishonored.  I remembered my Hebrew School principal, the Holocaust survivor, who said I had to be a Jew first, an American second, and a citizen of the world, a human being last, or I would have the blood of Jews on my hands.  I've kept quiet a long time about Israel so as not to have the blood of Jews on my hands.  It turns out that I am a woman first, second, and last they are the same; and I find I do have the blood of Jews on my hands the blood of Jewish women in Israel.

Divorce and Battery

In Israel, there are separate religious courts that are Christian, Muslim, Druze, and Jewish.  Essentially, women from each group are subject to the authority of the most ancient systems of religious misogyny.

In 1953 a law was passed bringing all Jews under the jurisdiction of the religious courts for everything having to do with "personal status."  In the religious courts, women, along with children, the mentally deficient, the insane, and convicted criminals, cannot testify.  A woman cannot be a witness or, needless to say, a judge.  A woman cannot sign a document.  This could be an obstacle to equality.

Under Jewish law, the husband is the master; the woman belongs to him, what with being one of his ribs to begin with; her duty is to have children preferably with plenty of physical pain; well, you remember the Old Testament.  You've read the Book.  You've seen the movie.  What you haven't done is live it.  In Israel, Jewish women do.

The husband has the sole right to grant a divorce; it is an unimpeachable right.  A woman has no such right and no recourse.  She has to live with an adulterous husband until he throws her out (after which her prospects aren't too good); if she commits adultery, he can just get rid of her (after which her prospects are worse).  She has to live with a batterer until he's done with her.  If she leaves, she will be homeless, poor, stigmatized, displaced, an outcast, in internal exile in the Promised Land.  If she leaves without formal permission from the religious courts, she can be judged a "rebellious wife," an actual legal category of women in Israel without, of course, any male analogue.  A "rebellious wife" will lose custody of her children and any rights to financial support.  There are an estimated 10,000 agunot "chained women" whose husbands will not grant them divorces.  Some are prisoners; some are fugitives; none have basic rights of citizenship or personhood.

No one knows the extent of the battery.  Sisterhood Is Global says that in 1978 there were approximately 60,000 reported cases of wife-beating; only two men went to prison.  In 1981 I talked with Marcia Freedman, a former member of the Israeli parliament and a founder of the first battered-women's shelter in Israel, which I visited in Haifa.  At that time, she thought wife-beating in Israel occurred with ten times the statistical frequency we had here [in the United States].  Recent hearings in parliament concluded that 100,000 women were being beaten each year in their own homes.

[...]

Well, women get beaten and beaten to death here [in the United States] too, don't they?  But the husband doesn't get so much active help from the state not to mention the God of the Jews.  And when a Jewish woman is given a divorce, she has to physically back out of her husband's presence in the court.  It is an argument for being beaten to death.

A draft of Israel's newly proposed "Fundamental Human Rights Law" a contemporary equivalent of our Bill of Rights exempts marriage and divorce from all human-rights guarantees.

Pornography

You have to see it to believe it and even seeing it might not help.  I've been sent it over the years by feminists in Israel I had seen it I didn't really believe it.  Unlike in the United States, pornography is not an industry.  You find it in mainstream magazines and advertising.  It is mostly about the Holocaust.  In it, Jewish women are sexualized as Holocaust victims for Jewish men to masturbate over.  Well, would you believe it, even if you saw it?

Israeli women call it "Holocaust pornography."  The themes are fire, gas, trains, emaciation, death.

In the fashion layout, three women in swimsuits are posed as if they are looking at and moving away from two men on motorcycles.  The motorcycles, black metal, are menacingly in the foreground moving toward the women.  The women, fragile and defenseless in their near nudity, are in the background.  Then the women, now dressed in scanty underwear, are shown running from the men, with emphasis on thighs, breasts thrust out, hips highlighted.  Their faces look frightened and frenzied.  The men are physically grabbing them.  Then the women, now in new bathing suits, are sprawled on the ground, apparently dead, with parts of their bodies severed from them and scattered around as trains bear down on them.  Even as you see a severed arm, a severed leg, the trains coming toward them, the women are posed to accentuate the hips and place of entry into the vaginal area.

Or a man is pouring gasoline into a woman's face.  Or she's posed next to a light fixture that looks like a shower head.

Or two women, ribs showing, in scanty underwear, are posed in front of a stone wall, prisonlike, with a fire extinguisher on one side of them and a blazing open oven on the other.  Their body postures replicate the body postures of naked concentration camp inmates in documentary photographs.

Of course, there is also sadism without ethnicity, outside the trauma of history you think Jewish men can't be regular good ol' boys?  The cover of the magazine shows a naked woman spread out, legs open, with visual emphasis on her big breasts.  Nails are driven through her breasts.  Huge pliers are attached to one nipple.  She is surrounded by hammers, pliers, saws.  She has what passes for an orgasmic expression on her face.  The woman is real.  The tools are drawn.  The caption reads: Sex in the Workshop.

The same magazine published all the visual violence described above.  Monitin is a left-liberal slick monthly for the intelligentsia and upper class.  It has high productions and aesthetic values.  Israel's most distinguished writers and intellectuals publish in it.  Judith Antonelli in The Jewish Advocate reported that Monitin "contains the most sexually violent images.  Photos abound of women sprawled out upside-down as if they have just been attacked."

Or, in a magazine for women that is not unlike Ladies' Home Journal, there is a photograph of a woman tied to a chair with heavy rope.  Her shirt is torn off her shoulders and upper chest but her arms are tied up against her so that only the fleshy part of the upper breasts is exposed.  She is wearing pants they are wet.  A man, fully dressed, standing next to her, is throwing beer in her face.  In the United States, such photographs of women are found in bondage magazines.

For purists, there is an Israeli pornography magazine.  The issue I saw had a front-page headline that read: ORGY AT YAD VASHEM.  Yad Vashem is the memorial in Jerusalem to the victims of the Holocaust.  Under the headline, there was a photograph of a man sexually entangled with several women.

What does this mean other than that if you are a Jewish woman you don't run to Israel, you run from it?

[...]

There is outrage on the part of women at the Holocaust pornography a deep, ongoing shock; but little understanding.  For me, too.  Having seen it here [copies mailed to the United States], having tried to absorb it, then seeing stacks of it at the institute [in Israel], I felt numb and upset.  Here I had slides; in Israel I saw the whole magazines the context in which the photographs were published.  These really were mainstream venues for violent pornography, with a preponderance of Holocaust pornography.  That made it worse: more real, more incomprehensible.  A week later, I spoke in Tel Aviv about pornography to an audience that was primarily feminist.  One feminist suggested I had a double standard: didn't all men do this, not just Israeli men?  I said no: in the United States, Jewish men are not the consumers of Holocaust pornography; black men aren't the consumers of plantation pornography.  But now I'm not sure.  Do I know that or have I just assumed it?  Why do Israeli men like this?  Why do they do it?  They are the ones who do it; women aren't even tokens in the upper echelons of media, advertising, or publishing nor are fugitive Nazis with new identities.  I think feminists in Israel must make this why an essential question.  Either the answer will tell us something new about the sexuality of men everywhere or it will tell us something special about the sexuality of men who go from victim to victimizer.  How has the Holocaust been sexualized for Israeli men and what does this have to do with sexualized violence against women in Israel; what does it have to do with this great, dynamic pushing of women lower and lower?  Are Jewish women going to be destroyed again by Nazis, this time with Israeli men as their surrogates?  Is the sexuality of Israeli men shaped by the Holocaust?  Does it make them come?

I don't know if Israeli men are different from other men by virtue of using the Holocaust against Jewish women, for sexual excitement.  I do know that the use of Holocaust sex is unbearably traumatic for Jewish women, its place in the Israeli mainstream itself a form of sadism.  I also know that as long as the Holocaust pornography exists only male Jews are different from those pitiful creatures on the trains, in the camps.  Jewish women are the same.  How, then, does Israel save us?

All the Other Good Things

Of course, Israel has all the other good things boys do to girls: rape, incest, prostitution.  Sexual harassment in public places, on the streets, is pervasive, aggressive, and sexually explicit.  Every woman I talked with who had come to Israel from some other place brought up her rage at being propositioned on the street, at bus stops, in taxis, by men who wanted to fuck and said so.  The men were Jewish and Arab.  At the same time, in Jerusalem, Orthodox men throw stones at women who don't have their arms covered.  Palestinian boys who throw stones at Israeli soldiers are shot with bullets, rubber-coated or not.  Stone throwing at women by Orthodox men is considered trivial, not real assault.  Somehow, it's their right.  Well, what isn't?

In Tel Aviv before my lecture, I talked with an Israeli soldier, maybe 19, part of the occupying army in the West Bank.  He was home for Sabbath.  His mother, a feminist, generously opened her home to me.  The mother and son were observant; the father was a secular liberal.  I was with the best friend of the mother, who had organized the lecture.  Both women were exceptionally gentle people, soft-spoken and giving.  [...]

I asked the son about something that had been described to me: Israeli soldiers go into Palestinian villages and spread garbage, broken glass, rocks, in the streets and make the women clean up the dangerous rubble bare-handed, without tools.  I thought the son would deny it or say such a thing was an aberration.  Instead, he argued that it had nothing to do with feminism.  In arguing, he revealed that this kind of aggression is common; he had clearly seen it or done it many times.  His mother's head sank; she didn't look up again until the end.  [...]

[...]

He said the Arabs deserved being shot; they were throwing stones at Israeli soldiers; I wasn't there, I didn't know, and what did it have to do with feminism anyway?  I said that Orthodox men were throwing stones at women in Jerusalem because the women's arms weren't covered down to the wrist.  He said it was ridiculous to compare the two.  I said the only difference I could see was that the women didn't carry rifles or have any right to shoot the men.  He said it wasn't the same.  I asked him to tell me what the difference was.  Wasn't a stone a stone for a woman too?  Weren't we flesh; didn't we bleed; couldn't we be killed by a stone?  Were Israeli soldiers really more fragile than women with bare arms?  Okay, he said, you do have a right to shoot them; but then you have to stand trial the same way we do if we kill Arabs.  I said they didn't have to stand trial.  His mother raised her head to say there were rules, strict rules, for the soldiers, really there were, and she wasn't ashamed of her son.  "We are not ashamed," she said, imploring her husband, who said nothing.  "We are not ashamed of him."

[...]

Palestinian women came out of the audience to give first-person testimony about what the Occupation was doing to them.  They especially spoke about the brutality of the Israeli soldiers.  They talked about being humiliated, being forcibly detained, being trespassed on, being threatened.  They spoke about themselves and about women.  For Palestinian women, the Occupation is a police state and the Israeli secret police are a constant danger; there is no "safe space."  I already knew that I had Palestinian blood on my hands.  What I found out in Israel is that it isn't any easier to wash off than Jewish blood and that it is also female.

[...]

In Israel, there are the occupied and the occupied: Palestinians and women.  In the Israel I saw, Palestinians will be freer sooner.  [...]


Excerpts from Andrea Dworkin, Israel: Whose Country Is It Anyway? (Part 2 of 2), the complete Part 2 of the article being available online at www.igc.org/Womensnet/dworkin/IsraelII.html, and from which Part 1 can be accessed by link.

The CJC web site could be further upgraded:

In recent letters to you, I brought to your attention that the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) web site was least informative on the most pressing issues, and would benefit from an upgrading which included a discussion of these issues specifically, my letter of 08-Jun-2000 recommended discussing Jewish attitudes toward non-Jews, and my letter of 09-Jun-2000 outlined the benefits of posting updates to recently-concluded or still-outstanding rabbinic fatwahs.

The above statements of Andrea Dworkin bring to mind the observation that the CJC web site is similarly uninformative concerning another outstanding issue the issue of Jewish attitudes toward women.  I can see that perhaps the question should be narrowed to Orthodox attitudes toward women, or Israeli attitudes toward women but in case of such a narrowing, the further question would arise of the degree to which Diaspora Jews share in the guilt by supporting Israel, and thereby indirectly supporting Orthodox or Israeli misogyny.

On the question of Jewish attitudes toward women, I would recommend that you upgrade the CJC web site so as to include at least the Andrea Dworkin material quoted above, and perhaps some images of the sorts of Holocaust pornography that she describes.  Including such written and graphic material on the CJC web site would be helpful to at least the following five categories of web site visitor:

(1) People who contemplated making contributions in support of the State of Israel would be given a better appreciation of what exactly it was that they verged on supporting.

(2) People who considered emigrating to Israel would be given a better understanding of the nature of the society in which they contemplated living.

(3) Parents thinking of sending their children to Israel for a holiday, or to study, would have more realistic expectations concerning the values that their children stood some chance of absorbing.

(4) People seeking to learn more about Judaism would be handed another piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

(5) People wishing to know if some particular Canadian's support for the State of Israel offered clues to his value system might find reason to conclude that it does.

The CJC president could answer further questions:

And I leave you with the following two questions:

(1) Is it possible that a Ukrainian sex slave held in an Israeli brothel finds it particularly difficult to escape the clutches of her Jewish pimp because of a widespread misogyny which the Israeli justice system extends also to her?

(2) In the event of the collapse of the State of Israel, and the request to the world to absorb large numbers of fleeing Israelis, would you think it advisable for any country to accept a substantial number of these refugee Jews given the possibility of a disproportionate predilection towards violence, sadism, sexual perversion, and misogyny among them?



Lubomyr Prytulak


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