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In an interesting confluence of local events, USM brings to town Marcia Freedman, an influential voice in the fight for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, just as the Maine Jewish Film Festival, which recently lost a grant because of its decision to show a Palestinian-produced film, opens its programming. Half way around the globe, the decades-old dispute still resonates with people of all religious and political stripes.
For her part, Freedman was an early and influential member of Israeli feminism. From 1973 through 1977, she served in the Knesset, where she was one of the more assertive voices making womenís issues part of the Israeli national dialogue; she co-founded the Womenís Party in 1977. Feeling she was more of a grassroots organizer than a politician, however, she left formal government and turned to advocacy. In 2002, she became President of Brit Tzedek víShalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, a grassroots organization of American Jews working to promote a two-state solution.
World and local events being what they are, the Phoenix couldnít pass up the opportunity to interview Freedman ahead of her keynote address at next weekís Womenís History Month celebration at USM.
Phoenix: Do you find a particularly strong coherence between womenís movements and peace organizations?
Freedman: Thereís a very strong womenís peace movement in Israel and I think that womenís peace movements all around the world are very strong.
Q: How are womenís peace movements different from movements not created and driven by women?
A: Womenís peace movements probably work on a more collective basis than the menís movements . . . Why should there be a kind of tendency of women to drift toward political activism that has to do with issues concerning war and peace? I think that thereís lots of different reasons for that. One of the reasons is that these movements are usually a little bit more marginalized in every society than the March of Dimes, letís say. Women have a lesser stake economically and in other ways in terms of status within the society and therefore have less to lose. The generic experience of parenting, which is largely a womenís experience, teaches compromise, teaches protecting, teaches the value of life, teaches nurturing, and these are all values more associated with harmonious rather than conflictual society.
Q: So could cultural changes make men more able to operate along these lines?
A: Absolutely. And it could make women less able to do it. I think as men grow more into the role of parenting in the last 10 to 20 years, you see a change in menís political behavior as well. Youíll find more interest in state and national legislatures, in issues that were always considered softer, womenís concerns: education and health and so on.
Q: How do you see the role of women in Arab social-justice movements?
A: The issue of womenís rights is central to progressive as opposed to conservative or fundamentalist development in Muslim countries. Itís the litmus test and the lightning rod. This happened in Western democracies a century ago. Thatís the kind of struggle they have right now.
Q: Driving movements the same way Western women do?
A: Theyíre driving their own movements. One of the really good thing thatís happened because of technology is that the womenís movement is global, and no women in a particular country have to stand on their own. We saw this in Afghanistan, and itís surfacing as a primary contention in drawing up a constitution in Iraq.
Q: But things are apparently not going so well in Afghanistan.
A: Well, exactly right because there was never any real monitoring and peacekeeping in Afghanistan other than Kabul. Thereís no attempt to keep the Taliban out, or the other Muslim warrior groups who arenít much better where women are concerned. That was very hypocritical, but the organizing that went around it and behind it was the first test, really, for the global womenís movement.
Q: What did the Israeli peace movement look like in your first years of involvement?
A: At that time there were rallies, demonstrations, petitions, that kind of thing. And the rallying cry at that point was in support of the idea of a two-state solution, which was a very radical idea at that time. It became normalized in 1993, but at the time it was a minority view.
Q: Normalized to the extent that even Ariel Sharon is behind it now.
A: Well, I donít think heís exactly behind it. For a long time heís been on record saying heís prepared to see a Palestinian state on 42 percent of the West Bank. I think that would be a disaster for Israel.
A: Because itís going to perpetuate the state of conflict. It will further isolate Israel in the international community. I think it will be a real challenge to Israeli democracy because the Palestinians will not accept it and will begin demanding a one-state solution, a bi-national solution. Itís laying the ground work for an ongoing bloody struggle that could be ended tomorrow.
Q: Is it possible that Sharon wants this kind of conflict?
A: Thereís a very strong commitment that heís always had to Israeli sovereignty on as much of the West Bank as he can hold onto, which to him means 60 percent. I think heís always been prepared to sacrifice Gaza for that.
Q: What have your interactions been with Palestinian peace groups?
A: The Palestinian groups we would have contact with werenít peace groups, they were resistance groups. Some of them were in favor of violent resistance, others nonviolent. The ones that Israeli groups would contact were nonviolent. The Palestinians arenít looking for peace; theyíre looking to establish a state. The moderate Palestinians are accepting of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and those are the ones with whom weíd have had contact.
Q: Do they have any political clout there?
A: They represent 70 percent of popular opinion, and they are in fact those who are running the Palestinian Authority right now. The Palestinian who headed the negotiating team for the Geneva initiative was number three in the PLO and a former minister of culture in the Palestinian Authority and a close confidant of Yasser Arafat. Political will on the Palestinian side still exists for a two-state solution. On the Israel side weíve got a problem right now.
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Issue Date: March 12 - 18, 2004
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