Pro-Israel Peace Activist Speaks in Piedmont

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday January 23, 2007

Marcia Freedman went to Israel in 1967 when her then-husband landed a temporary job as guest lecturer at Haifa University. She stayed for decades, becoming an Israeli citizen, a member of the Knesset (1973-77), an author, an out lesbian and a self-defined peace activist.  

She speaks now from her base in Berkeley for the organization of which she is president, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. She will address issues of Israel-Palestine on Friday at 8 p.m. at the Kehilla Community Synagogue, 1300 Grand Ave., Piedmont.  

Freedman’s early impetus to go to Israel was, in part, a desire to leave the United States. “Remember the bumper sticker, ‘love it or leave it’?” she asked, in an interview Friday in her Berkeley home. In 1967 she saw Israel as a “struggling social democracy” and a place where one could find neighborliness and community.  

“We had never since we were children experienced that,” she said. 

In the 1970s, Freedman began to be active in what she describes as “the Israeli peace camp.” She sees the answer to the Israel-Palestine conflict, for which she continues to work today, as a two-state solution “that provides viable settlement for the Palestinians and security for Israel.”  

This solution encompasses the concept of “land for peace.” Palestine would be “a state established in the West Bank and on the Gaza strip, including East Jerusalem as its capital,” she said. The Palestinians would cede about 2.4 percent of their land to Israel, land on the West Bank, which comprises about 80 percent of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  

“We believe it is not an idealistic solution. The international community has made progress [toward a settlement along these lines] but then backed off.” 

The two-state solution would include a “demilitarized” Palestine, in which Israel would keep its army and Palestine would not be allowed armed forces, she said. Freedman contends that a majority of Palestinians want this solution. “Whatever is good enough for the Palestinians is good enough for me,” she said. 

Known at the time, she said, as “the major organizer of the women’s movement,” Freedman was elected to the Israeli Knesset in 1973. 

“My mandate, as far as I was concerned, was to represent women’s interests. And I needed to carry the Israeli-Palestinians peace issue as well, as there was a very small minority voice [in the Knesset] on those issues.” 

She is an advocate for abused women. “When you have a society that almost perpetually is embroiled militarily and has a culture of masculinity that is highly militarized, given its history, what you’ll find is there’s a bump in the level of violence against women,” she said, noting that this condition applies to Israel, but is not unique to that country. 

Freedman has also become a champion for the rights of gays and lesbians—she came out as a lesbian after her stint in the Knesset. During her term as a legislator, it was an issue that was not discussed, she said. 

Asked about the rights of Arabs living in Israel, Freedman said: “They do not have equal civil rights and liberties. There is a long way to go on that.” Arabs may find it hard to rent an apartment or get a job. 

“Arabs in Israel do not serve in the Israeli army. There are certain benefits associated with army service,” she said. 

On the other hand, Freedman noted that Israel has just named its first Muslim-Arab minister. 

Asked why there is need for a Jewish state today, Freedman asked, “Are we still arguing about that?”  

The answer has nothing to do with the claim, argued by some, that God gave Israel to the Jewish people, she said.  

“That’s not what the U.N. said in 1948. In 1948, the U.N. proposed that there be a state of Israel and a state of Palestine along partition lines,” she explained. “If you ask me as a Jew if I believe the Jewish people have a right to a state of their own, I say ‘Yes indeed.’ We are a religion, but we are also a nation, and have always been, with our own language, our own culture, our own history and our own legal system. And we have lived as a stateless people for a very long time. Under Christianity, they were very oppressive to us.” 

Freedman said she prefers living in Israel. “I think that when one is among one’s own kind, a certain self-consciousness about your being different falls away,” she said. “I could forget in Israel that I am Jewish. I can’t forget that I am Jewish here. And you never know when you’ll be walking into the next anti-Semite, as rare as it may be.”