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Vicki Shiran

1947 – 2004

by Henriette Dahan-Kalev

In an interview published in the daily Yedi’ot Aharonot Vicki Shiran said: “Freiha (a female Moroccan name) is a beautiful name … because the Moroccan men and women are one of the best things God spilled on this country [Israel] and because Freihas are amazing grandmothers.” In an article she wrote on Mizrahi feminism she said: “… against distortion, twisted words, disinformation, apathy and ignorance, one must take a deep breath, and write.” These two quotations put in a nutshell both her political ideology and her strategy regarding the opposition to Israeli discrimination against women and Mizrahi Jews (Jews originating from Arab or Muslim countries).

Shiran was born in Cairo on February 28, 1947 to Salvo and Forttunée Ben Natan. Salvo was born on August 10, 1910 in Alexandria, Egypt. He earned a degree in accounting and worked as a textile merchant. He married Forttunée on July 6, 1941. Forttunée, who was born in Cairo on July 12, 1922, completed her high-school studies and was a homemaker. Shiran’s parents immigrated to Israel from Cairo in August 1951, when Vicki was four years old. Vicki had two sisters—Odette (b. 1944) and Rejane (b. 1950), and one brother, Uzi (b. 1956). On January 20, 1974, Vicki married Haim Shiran, a Moroccan-born filmmaker. The couple had two children, Alma (b. 1975) and Ofrit (b. 1978).

Shiran was raised in the Hatikvah quarter, a slum in Tel Aviv, and was forced to abandon her formal education at the age of thirteen and a half in order to work and help support her family. She continued to study in the evenings and completed her high school education when she was seventeen. Continuing to higher education, Shiran gained a B.A. in Hebrew literature and history of Israel and an M.A. cum laude in criminology at Tel Aviv University. She also studied at the City University of New York and at John Jay College, gaining a second M.A. degree and a Ph.D. in 1991, both in criminal justice. Her dissertation, exploring the topic of white-collar corruption in Israel, was entitled Political Corruption—The Power of the Game: The Case of Israel.

During the last decade of the twentieth century Shiran taught criminology and gender studies at Beit Berl College and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2003 she launched the Gender Studies Program at Beit Berl, which she chaired.

A woman of great talent, Shiran invested all her abilities in struggling against all forms of human oppression in Israel. She was a freedom warrior who left her mark on three major fields in Israeli public life—peace activism, feminism and the Mizrahi struggle for social justice—which she perceived as interconnected.

As a peace activist Shiran resented the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and believed in the rights of the Palestinians to have a state of their own. In the 1970s she was the spokeswoman of two NGOs: The Mizrah (Orient) Toward Peace and The Mizrahi (Oriental) Front—two Mizrahi initiatives which stressed the contribution of Arab Jews to the struggle against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank territories. Thereafter, she participated in conferences and demonstrations in Israel and Europe in the service of the peace cause.

As a feminist, Shiran participated in grassroots feminist activities. She was one of the founders of Ahoti (my sister), For Women in Israel, a movement founded in 1999 by women of Arab-Jewish origin, which aimed at promoting the labor rights of lower-class women in Israel. She was also one of the prominent leaders of the campaign against pornography in the media. Uncompromisingly, Shiran insisted on the “quarters” principle of representation according to which resources should always be equally divided between Israeli-Palestinian, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi and lesbian women.

Above all, Shiran invested most of her energy in fighting discrimination against the Mizrahi population. An activist of the Mizrahi cause since she was a teenager, she began with grassroots activism in slums such as Hatikvah, where she grew up, and continued as a community theater supervisor in the Jaffa Community Theater Project (1969–1975).

In 1981 she appealed to the high court, leading a fierce legal struggle against the Israel Broadcasting Authority. She claimed that the historical production series Pillar of Fire, which documented the history of the people and the state of Israel in the spirit of “From Holocaust to Rebirth,” was blind to the existence of Mizrahim and denied their part in the nation-building project and in the history of Israel. Shiran demanded a ban on broadcasting the documentary until this bias was mended. Though Shiran lost the case, the court’s decision—later referred to as the “Shiran Appeal”—became a hallmark in the Mizrahi struggle against discrimination in Israel (Bagatz Shiran 81/1 Court Decisions #35 365 (3)). In the same year Shiran joined the Mizrahi political party, TAMI, and became its spokeswoman. In 1996 she was one of the founders of The Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow, a movement which combats social, economic and cultural injustice in Israel. In 2003, together with other activists in the Rainbow, she won a high court case against the Israel Lands Authority’s unjust distribution of land (High Court Decision 244/00, 29.8.2002).

Diagnosed with a malignant disease, she invested all her talents and spiritual powers in promoting public cultural welfare. During the final six years of her life Shiran, who published many articles, was a member of the boards of directors of the Israel Broadcasting Authority (2001–2004), The Second Authority for Television and Radio (2000–2004) and the Am Oved publishing house (2001–2004). She served as a reader for the New Israel Film Fund (1999, 2001) and won awards for documentary films that she produced and directed: The Children of the Jews (1999), a documentary on the lives of children of the Holocaust, won the gold medal in its category at the Festival for Independent Films in the United States. She was the scriptwriter for The Salt Statue (1981), produced by Israel Educational Television, which won the International UNESCO Award and the prestigious Israeli David’s Harp Prize.

Shiran’s health deteriorated severely at the beginning of 2004 and she died of cancer on March 15, 2004. She will be remembered as the first Mizrahi feminist public persona.

How to cite this page

Dahan-Kalev, Henriette. "Vicki Shiran." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 30, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/shiran-vicki>.

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