Women in Israel: Race, Gender and Citizenship

Nahla Abdo

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Women in Israel provides a fresh, gendered analysis of citizenship in Israel.

Working from a framework of Israel as a settler-colonial regime, this important, insightful book presents historical and contemporary comparative approaches to the lives and experiences of Ashkenazi, Mizrahi and Palestinian Arab women citizens.

Nahla Abdo shows that no solution to the problems of the region can be found without changing existing racial and gender boundaries to citizenship.


“Through a powerful mobilization of hard evidence about systemic differences in women's economic rights and educational experiences in Israel, Abdo offers an historically grounded alternative to prevailing frameworks that ignore the foundational racialization of Zionism and its settler-colonial project. This comparative study of Palestinian, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi women demonstrates perfectly why feminists argue that we must analyze the intersections of gender, race, and class. Ethnicity, religion, and culture unhitched from the dynamics of the nation-state, Abdo shows, explain nothing. Ultimately, the book is a call to envision a different kind of state where citizenship rights are based on equality.” ―Lila Abu-Lughod, Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University, author of 'Veiled Sentiments' and 'Dramas of Nationhood'

“Nahla Abdo's path breaking book systematically demonstrates how Zionist settler colonialism has created differentiated and unequal citizenship between Israeli Jews and Palestinians and between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim. Her political economy approach breathes new life into gender and citizenship debates in the Middle East.” ―Nicola Pratt, Author of 'Women and War in the Middle East'

“Nahla Abdo's book critically reviews women in Israel, their differential social positioning and citizenship in the inclusive way it should be done and too often is not done, focusing on Palestinian, Mizrahi as well as the Ashkenazi women within a structural as well as a historical analysis of Israel as a colonial settler state. Rather than viewing the differential positionings of these women through the lense of cultural relativism the book emphasises the exclusionary and inferiorizing processes of racialization that constitute historically these positionings, focusing mainly on the arenas of the labour market and education.” ―Nira Yuval-Davis, University of East London

“Abdo is a feminist scholar who combines mastery of social theory and the "literature" on women in the Middle East with the experience of growing up Arab in Israel. She brings Ashkenazi, Mizrahim, and Palestinian Arab women into a single analytic framework that includes Israel's colonial-racist state structure and policies, history, and comparative economic realities, belying representations of Israel as an "ethnic democracy". Abdo's expansion of the concept of citizenship to include rights to land, employment and comprehensive education, and her critique of Ashkenazi and other feminist approaches that focus on 'culture' and exclude the state make this study an outstanding example of "militant ethnography".” ―Rosemary Sayigh, author of 'Too Many Enemies: The Palestinian Experience in Lebanon' and 'Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries'

“Nahla Abdo's razor-sharp and brilliant anti-racist analysis of Israel as a settler-colonial state and of political-Zionism as the principle that directs its settler-colonial practice brings at long-last to gender studies on Israel the critical, hitherto near-missing, parameters of racism, racialization and apartheid land-alienation. By introducing these parameters as material, methodological and theoretical fundamentals for politically engaged, anti-Zionist and contextualized understanding of the historical, racial and class divisions impacting Palestinian, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Women in Israel, and by notably incorporating land/territory/geography as a primary analytical tool for framing the debate on citizenship - Abdo opens-up additional space to give voice to Palestinian and Mizrahi constituencies colonized, marginalized and silenced under Israeli settler-colonial policies. Abdo's illuminating Women in Israel: Race, Gender and Citizenship is essential reading, a must, for any party, academic or other, committed to contributing intelligently to defeating apartheid Israel and to envisioning just alternative polities based on equal and not racially-differentiated citizenship in which today's ethnically-cleansed, colonized and marginalized constituencies can attain their full rights and entitlements.” ―Uri Davis, AL-QUDS University, Jerusalem/Abu Dis & FATH Revolutionary Council

About the Author

Nahla Abdo (Ph.D.) is an Arab feminist activist, Professor of Sociology at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. She has extensive publications on women, racism, nationalism and the State in the Middle East with special focus on Palestinian women. Among her recent publications: Gender, Citizenship and the State: The Israeli Case. 2009 (Arabic); Women and Poverty in the OPT: Some Conceptual and Methodological Notes, 2007; Violence in the Name of Honour: Theoretical and Political Challenges, 2004 (co-edited), and Women and the Politics of Military Confrontation: Palestinian and Israeli Gendered Narratives of Dislocation, 2002 (co-edited). In addition, Professor Abdo has published numerous articles in academic journals. She has recently returned from a 6-month research trip to Palestine/Israel where she worked with various civil society organizations and conducted research on Palestinian Women Political Detainees.

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