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Dafna Nundi Izraeli

1937 – 2003

by Judith Lorber

Dafna Nundi Izraeli, feminist sociologist and peace activist, died on February 21, 2003, in Tel Aviv. She left a legacy of warmth and generosity, political activism, and engaged feminist scholarship.

Izraeli was Professor of Sociology and former Chairperson of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar Ilan University, Israel. At the time of her death, she was Chair of the Interdisciplinary Program in Gender Studies and head of the Rachel and J. L. Gewurz Center for Research on Gender at Bar Ilan, which she endowed in the name of her parents. The Bar Ilan Program, which she initiated, is one of only two M. A./Ph. D. Gender and Women’s Studies programs in Israel.

Dafna Izraeli was born in Strasbourg on September 9, 1937, the daughter of Leo Gewurz (b. Tarnow, Poland, in 1904) and Rachel Salz (b. Dukla, Poland, in 1902). The couple met in 1928 in Wiesbaden, Germany, where Leo established a furniture business, and were married that year. Their oldest son, Werner, was born in 1929 and a daughter, Gisela, in 1931. In 1936, the family moved to Strasbourg. The political unrest of the time led them to move again, first to Paris and then, in June 1939, to Montreal, Canada, where their youngest son, Samuel, was born in 1939.

In Canada, Leo first engaged in textile manufacture, later making his fortune in real estate. In 1976, Leo and Rachel emigrated to Israel, where he died in 1978 and she in 1991.

Dafna Gewurz grew up in Montreal, Canada, completing her B.A. in political science and philosophy and her M.S.W. in social work at McGill University. She emigrated to Israel in 1960, continuing her graduate studies in political science and Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and then in sociology and anthropology at Manchester University in England, where she received her Ph.D. degree in 1972. She spent a post-doctoral year at the University of California, Berkeley, and was a visiting professor at New York University, Northeastern University, Harvard University, and U. C. Berkeley.

The first year she spent at Berkeley proved a watershed in her life, since it was there that she first encountered the then-burgeoning women’s liberation movement and budding feminist scholarship, both of which influenced and inspired her work when she returned to Israel. Devoting herself to women’s studies, at the time an unrecognized field and later a trivialized area of study in Israeli academia, she dealt primarily with women in the work force, examining the structure of employment and the way it impacted on both the status of women and the tension between work and family. She was also among the first researchers in Israel to point out the close connection between the gender power structure in the Israel Defense Force—the military’s reinforcement of gender differences and its award of symbolic capital to men—and the gendered power structure in Israeli civilian society. She argued that retired generals and other career officers monopolized top positions in Israeli work and government organizations—and, in particular, politics—because their prestige and networks gave them an advantage over women who might have been working for years in the organizations as vice presidents and managers, and in the political parties as local officials.

On a personal level, Dafna Izraeli did a great deal to advance women in academia. Having left Tel Aviv University because she was denied promotion to senior rank, she later, at Bar Ilan, became the first Israeli woman to be promoted to the highest academic rank, of full professor, solely on the basis of research in the area of women’s and gender studies. She subverted the rules of traditional academic hierarchy, counseled women students and junior faculty on how to advance, ensured that they received scholarships and grants, and helped establish an active generation of Israeli feminist scholars. The heir to a considerable family fortune, she donated generously to the activities of feminist organizations and opened her home to women students, colleagues and fellow activists. She also diligently and tirelessly spread the message of feminist criticism outside the campus through lectures and interviews.

At the time of her death, Izraeli was on the Advisory Board of Jewish and Christian Perspectives Series, and on the editorial boards of Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, Gender & Society, Israeli Sociology: Journal for the Study of Israeli Society (in Hebrew), Community Work and Family, and International Review of Women and Leadership. She was a long-time member of the American Sociological Association, Society for the Study of Social Problems, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Academy of Management, and Sociologists for Women in Society. She was on the Executive Board of the Research Committee on Women in Society of the International Sociological Association and on the Executive Committee of the Israel Sociological Association, where she was founder and chair of the Section for Research and Teaching of Sex Roles. She was a founding member of the Israel Association for Feminist and Gender Studies, a member of the Israel Industrial Relations Association, and the Academic Council of Jezreel Valley College. She was Co-Chair of the First International Interdisciplinary Conference on Women, held in Haifa in 1981. These conferences have since been held around the world every three years, with the ninth in 2005 in South Korea.

Izraeli worked tirelessly for peace and democracy, primarily as Vice-President of the New Israel Fund, a progressive U.S.-Israeli organization. Through many projects and personal contacts, Dr. Izraeli was personally and professionally involved in bringing Palestinian and Jewish women together and in efforts to bring about a just peace in Israel. She was a founder and long-time board member of the Israel Women’s Network, a feminist advocacy organization established in 1984, and actively involved with US/Israel Women to Women, an American organization that supports women’s projects in Israel.

From 1985 on, Izraeli served as advisor to many government committees on the status of women in Israel. From 1976 to 1978, she was a consultant to the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Status of Women. At the time of her death, she was consultant to the sub-committees on the Advancement of Women and Work and on the Economy of the Knesset Standing Committee on the Status of Women. She was also a founder and board member of Legal Equity Action for Women in the Workplace.

In 1960, Dafna married Dove Izraeli, who was born in 1934 in Ramat Gan, and whom she met when both were students at the Hebrew University. Her husband eventually became a professor of management studies at Tel Aviv University, where he specialized in marketing and business ethics. He died of a long-term illness on January 31, 2003. The couple had three children—Leora Sharon (b. 1962), Sharona Wattemberg (b. 1963), and Haim Izraeli (b. 1965)— eighteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

SELECTED WORKS BY DAFNA N. IZRAELI

Adler, Nancy J., and Dafna N. Izraeli, eds. Competitive Frontiers: Women Managers in a Global Economy. Cambridge, MA: 1994; Ibid. Women in Management Worldwide. New York: 1988; Azmon, Yael, and Dafna N. Izraeli, eds. Women in Israel: Studies of Israeli Society. Rutgers, NJ: 1993; “Gender Politics in Israel: The Case of Affirmative Action for Women Directors,” Women’s Studies International Forum, 2003; “Gender in the Workplace.” In Sex, Gender, Politics (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: 1999; Lewis, Suzan, Dafna N. Izraeli and Helen Hootsmans, eds. Dual Earner Families: International Perspectives. London: 1992; Mednick, Martha, Marilyn P. Safir, Dafna N. Izraeli and Jesse Bernard (eds.). Women’s Worlds: The New Scholarship. New York: 1985; Izraeli, Dafna N., Ariela Friedman and Ruth Shrift (eds.). The Double Bind: Women in Israel (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: 1982.

Izraeli, Dafna - still image [media]
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Sociologist and peace activist Dafna Izraeli, who endowed Bar Ilan University's Center for Research and Gender, did much to advance the status of women on both the personal and professional levels, her scholarship providing the academic underpinnings for her activism.

Institution: Dafna Izraeli

How to cite this page

Lorber, Judith. "Dafna Nundi Izraeli." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 31, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/izraeli-dafna-nundi>.

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