Women warriors: Israeli feminist to discuss radical views at S.F. conference

Raya Fidel believes that the only way Israel can achieve peace is for both Israelis and Palestinians to live together in one socialist, secular and democratic state.

A radical view for a Jewish Israeli woman? According to Fidel, that depends on your point of view.

Fidel, a college professor and the author of “Shattered Hopes in Palestine: Which Way Forward for Arabs and Jews,” will speak about her “radical” views during the 41st annual Radical Women Conference, Oct. 3 to 6 at the Women’s Building, 3543 18th St. in San Francisco.

Fidel grew up in Tel Aviv and attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She moved to the United States in 1977, and since then has been a vocal critic of Zionism and the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians.

An outspoken Jewish feminist, she will speak on a panel entitled “Magnificent Warriors: Female Leadership in the Global Freedom Struggle.”

The panel is about “women fighting back in different parts of the world where there’s extreme violence and hardship,” said Toni Mendocino, a member of Radical Women who has helped coordinate the conference.

“We don’t often hear about women’s resistance, and a woman’s role is so important for fighting back against oppression.”

Radical Women is a socialist, feminist, grassroots activist organization that trains women to be leaders in social and economic justice movements. It has chapters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Portland, Seattle and Melbourne, Australia.

“This is not a conference where someone sits there and tells you how it is,” Fidel said, recalling her experience at previous Radical Women gatherings.

“It makes you think in a different way because you’re always talking to people, from various countries and across the United States, who have a lot of experience and knowledge about feminism,” she added. “Sharing an understanding of what’s going on in other parts of the world is really invaluable.”

Fidel said Israeli and Palestinian women are very involved in the struggle for peace, though it’s not always apparent since “their involvement is not in political leadership,” she said.

During a phone interview, she highlighted a Palestinian organization led by women that encourages parents to send their young daughters to school.

She said women are also making strides in public service. Rim Hazan, a 25-year-old secular Arab woman, is running for city council in Akko, a town near Haifa, and if elected would be the first female to hold the position.

Jewish women are also making gains in Israel, Fidel said. She commended Women in Black, a group of Jewish women who have met every Friday afternoon for 15 years to protest the Israeli occupation in the territories.

She also praised Machsom Watch, a group of Israeli women who monitor checkpoints in the West Bank to ensure IDF soldiers do not abuse Palestinians while they travel through a checkpoint.

“The resourcefulness of women under such difficult conditions gives me a lot of hope and shows the many different ways women can assert their position in society,” Fidel said.

Though Fidel is a passionate advocate for equal rights in Israel and for Palestinians, she spends most of her time teaching and conducting research at the University of Washington’s Information School. There, she focuses her work on “how people interact with information,” she said.

She’s currently studying how technology can benefit the city of Seattle’s sanitation workers, though what she really wants to do is figure out how women abroad — without an education or a job outside of the home — could better access and use technology.

“My mission is to find ways to develop technology that is not exclusive, that is accessible and easy to use,” she said.

The 41st Radical Women Conference, “The Persistent Power of Socialist Feminism,” will be Oct. 3-6 in San Francisco. For a complete schedule, visit www.radicalwomen.org/2008_conference.htm.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.