- Israeli Women's Studies: A Reader
Israeli Women's Studies or Studies about Israeli Women?
Israeli Women's Studies is a collection of eighteen cross-disciplinary articles written about Jewish and Palestinian women in Israel. The editor, Esther Fuchs, has divided them into five thematic sections: myth and history, law and religion, society and politics, war and peace, and, lastly, literature and culture. Most of the articles (as the editor notes) are "classics" written by some of the leading scholars in the field, and their importance is indisputable. All have been published previously elsewhere over the course of the last two decades, which in itself does not preclude their inclusion in a new reader. However, the significance and scholarly contribution of such a collection of previously published (at times overlapping, and at times dated) articles should have derived from the new interpretive framework within which the editor placed them, linking the studies in a manner that would have revealed their interconnectedness, emphasizing shared concerns and themes, and charted (in this case) the evolution of a new field of knowledge. It is on this point that the reader does not live up to expectations.
In the attempt to put together an anthology geared to the sensibilities of a non-Hebrew speaking audience and to include the work of scholars working outside Israel, studies published in Hebrew are disregarded (with the exception of Manar Hassan's early article, which had been translated for a previous anthology), as are those with a more theoretical approach. The collection would also have benefited from the inclusion of the work done by a younger cohort of Israeli feminist scholars, whose research interests have expanded [End Page 270] into science studies, anthropology, philosophy, geography and communication studies (to name a few). Apart from one article by Orna Sasson-Levi, this work is absent. The result is that topics of crucial importance to a nuanced understanding of the lives of Israeli women (Jews and Palestinians alike) and the issues that shape them, such as class, the labor market, sexuality and reproductive politics, are overlooked in favor of issues that may be of more interest to non-Israeli readers. The most disconcerting outcome of this oversight is the total absence of articles dealing with mizraḥiyut (the ethno-political identity of non-European Jews in Israel) and its intersection with gender. This issue has played a significant role in Israeli political life and has been an even more contentious one within the feminist movement; the writings of Pnina Motzafi-Haller, Henriette Dahan Kalev and the late Vicki Shiran clearly fall under the rubric of "classics" and should have been included. The failure to acquaint and alert readers with this issue and its scholarship is a serious one indeed.
Every anthology is a delicate balancing act of old and new; while readers may come up with a myriad alternative selections, the editor could have made a convincing case for her choices. In this case however, the rationale behind the selection is unclear, and the editor does not place the studies in any historical, social or academic context that would clarify it. A discussion of issues pertaining to Israeli women that neither places them within the framework of the feminist movement that framed them, nor elucidates the position of feminist scholarship within Israeli academia, is not a meaningful contemplation of "Israeli women's studies" but merely an aggregate of articles on Israeli women. The end result is that the collection often reads like a supplementary text to some other topic, such as the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict or Women and War, rather than one in which Israeli women or Israeli women's studies lie at its core.
Sharon Halevi is Director of the Women's Studies Program at the University of Haifa. She is a founding member of the Israel Association of Feminist and Gender Studies and was a member of its board. Among her research interests are the relationship between women and the state and the public and political role of wives...