Women as Anti-Zionist Figures in Yigal Mossinsohn's Palmah Fiction (1)

Article excerpt


The generation of authors who grew up in the 1920s and began to publish in the mid and late 1940s gives expression to the socialist Zionist ideology that predominated in pre-state Israel. Social Zionism and the ethos of national Jewish revival were intertwined with notions of male and female sexuality. The most explicit association between female sexuality and her innate difference from the national struggle for survival and independence is expressed in the works of Yigal Mossinsohn. This article analyzes the ways in which Mossinsohn constructs women as an aggregate Other.


Reading major Palmah texts for their representations of women is important for several reasons. For one thing, the Palmah era is regarded often nostalgically as the cultural and intellectual expression of true socialist Zionism, unadulterated by bourgeois anti-egalitarian prejudices that allegedly infiltrated the Israeli value system in the 1950s in the wake of the mass migrations from Eastern Europe and Arab countries. The Palmah Generation was touted as the first Sabra or native literary generation unencumbered by stereotypes of sexism, ethno-centrism and racism. Devotion to nationalist and socialist ideals could not accommodate racism or sexism, and the authors of the Palmah generation were devoted to these ideals even as they probed the extent to which the actual realities of the emerging state measured up to these ideals. That the very authors who indicted their generation for abandoning the original labor Zionist ideals should betray in their own work misogynous prejudices is the possibility that interests me here.

The generation of authors who grew up in the 1920s and began to publish in the mid and late 1940s give expression to the socialist Zionist ideology that predominated in the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish settlement). Socialist Zionism was dedicated to the ethos of national Jewish revival as well as social equality and justice. The Halutz (pioneer) who turned his back on the Diaspora, a life of political constriction and economic dependence, the strong, muscular and confident Jew who chose to build a new Jewish society in Palestine was the anti-thesis of the intellectual, vulnerable and effeminate Diaspora Jew. Though socialist Zionism was devoted to the concept of gender equality, the fundamental ethos was fed by a male centered and male dominated culture, which in spite of its objection to traditional patriarchalism continued to be focused on Man as the Subject of culture and civilization. Not only did socialist Zionism reject the romantic European ethos, but the attachment to family and marriage was also frowned upon. Woman represented family and marriage. Man was the apotheosis of the new dream. As Gershon Shaked pointed out, this generation of authors sought to create a hero who was unencumbered by family or tradition. (2) This hero is free, born as it were out of the sea, with no roots in history, no obligations to a wife, and no emotional attachments to a lover. Above all this hero is male. Male characters dominate all of S. Yizhar's stories and novels. Women appear as secondary characters both in his magnum opus The Days of Ziklag (1958) as well as in his earlier collections of short stories, including the stories that made him famous, such as The Prisoner and Hirbat Hiz'ah published in the late 1940s. To the extent that women appear in this literature they symbolize the home, tradition, history, Judaism and obligations that the new authors sought to transcend. In Moshe Shamir, another leading author of the Palmah Generation, woman is the symbol of the private sphere. She is in opposition with the public sphere of men, the world that requires self-sacrifice and true loyalty. In Shamir's celebrated novel He Went Through the Fields (1948) the hero, Uri, struggles with Mika, his girlfriend who criticizes him for abandoning her on behalf of the national cause. In Shamir's historical novel, King of Flesh and Blood (1954), King Alexander Yannai begins to deteriorate as soon as Salome, his wife, encroaches into the public domain. …