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  • Orly Benjamin (bio)
Hannah Safran Don't Wanna Be Nice Girls: The Struggle for Suffrage and the New Feminism in Israel Haifa: Pardes Publications, 2006.

We live in a time of powerful forces that operate to isolate us—to disconnect us from each other, from women who struggled against injustice and oppression in the past and those who are still engaged in the very same struggles. Powerful disputations disconnect us from feminist women who are resisting power structures around us, and from women who took part in feminist endeavors over the years. Our separate struggles for success in careers, intimate relationships and inner growth, and for our own economic survival, often expose us to individualist ideologies and practices that help us forget the enormous amount of human effort invested in our current understanding of women's lives.

Hannah Safran's book, Don't Wanna Be Nice Girls: The Struggle for Suffrage and the New Feminism in Israel, is an attempt to challenge these forces and connect us to significant feminist projects that took place in Israel—projects that we didn't know of, or knew of but have forgotten. This sense of connection to Israeli feminists in the 1920s and 1970s generates an exciting journey of encounter with their courage and persistence, but at the same time a terribly sad one. Safran's account of the complex feminist struggle to enhance the legitimacy of the movement and its cause in the wider society is both optimistic and pessimistic: Wonderful women devoted the best of their resources to improving Israeli society, yet so very little was achieved. In many ways, things are now worse.

Even more devastating is the issue of relationships among feminist women, which are portrayed in this historical account as vicious Women in Israel, who shared the goal of improving women's lives, had great difficulties cooperating [End Page 265] with each other. Each felt that the other threatened her and the women's movement as a whole. Safran, who touches delicately on these internal conflicts in an effort not to rekindle them, connects us, too, with this basic difficulty in Israeli women's activism. We have beautiful ideas of a nurturing femininity, of self in relation and care for others, but the women around us often and terribly easily become those against whom we fight.

Current theoretical discussions of globalization, gender and the women's movement ask important questions about the way feminist ideas have traveled around the world and the processes by which the ideas of the international women's movement have been localized. For example, Susan Stanford Friedman writes:

The notion that a given social order privileges the masculine does not, I believe, have a single origin. Nor does the advocacy of gender equity. Rather, these constitutive components of locational feminism have emerged differently in particular times and places and have travelled from one culture to another, producing hybridic cultural formations of indigenous feminism influenced by other travelling forms of feminism.

Friedman's argument is important, because it allows for multiple directions of development and for recognition of various sources and forces that may have contributed to the process of localization.

Safran, however, appears to promote a different line of argument. Throughout the book, she attempts to convince readers that the roots of Israeli feminism are American. To be sure, she mentions the east European background of many feminist leaders in the 1920sand describes European developments from which they drew support, particularly in the Zionist movement. Nevertheless, she systematically returns to underscore the American connections of feminists in Eretz Israel and the State of Israel, both in the 1920s and in the 1970s. This line of argument traps itself into generating an implicit hierarchy between those feminists whose biographies fit into the "American connection" and those who do not, who are somewhat excluded.

Furthermore, Safran's historical account focuses on three feminist groups in Israel's three largest cities who, by naming themselves feminists, differentiated themselves from other, more traditional forms of feminist activism. As a result, women who actively promoted women's issues elsewhere, in different groups or by different means, are hardly mentioned. In the last chapter, Safran goes [End Page 266] back...


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