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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Scholar discusses Israel feminism

Published: October 26, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

Israeli feminist scholar and activist Hannah Safran gave a presentation on Americas possible influence on the feminist movement in Israel on Tuesday at the Womens Studies Research Center.

During the course of the lecture, entitled America in the Promised Land: Is Feminist Activism in Israel Local or Imported? Hadassah-Brandeis Scholar-in-Residence Safran gave both an objective and personal perspective on feminism in Israel.

Safran said she was prompted to examine this topic after reading Marcia Freedmans book, Exile in the Promised Land. The memoir, which recounts Freedmans struggle to promote womens liberation in Israel in the 1960s and 1970s, also examines the concept of a promised land through a feminist perspective.

There is a promise in every place where one is born that one will have the right to food, water and a place to live and to have security, education and health, Safran said.

In the realm of feminism, there is an additional hope that we women will share in this cake, whatever the cake is. The promise of the hope is that women will be considered as least as human beings, Safran added.

After reading Freedmans book, Safran began asking herself questions, such as what is feminism? and what deserves to be included in the realm of feminism? Safran explore these questions in her recently published book, Don't Wanna be Nice Girls: The Struggle for Suffrage and the New Feminism in Israel.

Safran came to the conclusion that feminism depended on what individual women felt was feminist.

Feminism is where women, call themselves or what they did feminist activism, Safran said. Its not for the outsider to say what is feminism.

In examining feminism in Israel in the 1970s, Safran described her own introduction to and experience in the womens liberation movement. She described the confusion she felt when was first invited to a feminist protest.

I said, Feminism? What is this? I dont need feminism. I was equal. I was brought up in a feminist household. I always had the same as my brother, same education, same attitude, Safran said.

However, Safran decided to go to the demonstration, marking the beginning of her interest in womens studies and activism.

Theres no where Im really at home, but at a demonstration, Safran said.
Safran came to Boston in the early 1990s to pursue a degree in womens studies at Simmons College and realized the overlap between what she was learning in class and what she had been doing in Israel.

The discussions we had in class really related to what my experience was in a totally different environment and different place, Safran said. It was important to notice that theory had something to do with the practice of daily life and it doesnt necessarily have to be in the same place.

Safran noted how many womens liberation issues overlap in Israel and in America.

She described a recent incident in Israel that was similar to the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, criticizing how in both countries, the issue was somewhat swept aside and the focus shifted from womens rights.

She compared the status of women in the U.S. and in Israel, explaining, We are both living in cultures that distinguish between justice and womens rights.