I.M.A. Lederer, formerly known as Inge Lederer Gibel, passed away on June 9, 2015 at age 84. A Zionist since her childhood in Vienna, Lederer was outspoken and one of few female leaders in the early Israeli-Palestinian peace movement. She served on the Executive Board of Breira, and as president of Americans for Progressive Israel (API), a predecessor of Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI), while also working as a Jewish community professional with the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Lederer garnered significant media attention for her innovative work, which included 25-woman interreligious study tour of the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Israel in 1976.
In an October 27, 2014 interview with Aliza Becker for the American Jewish Peace Archive, Lederer formulated her personal ideology:
“I am first, second and third a Jew. Then I’m a feminist. Then, I’m a socialist. When I was growing up, Zionism was what I lived for. Nationalism by itself is neither pure nor evil. It’s what you do with it…I love Israel, and I’m desperately concerned with its survival. I want Israel to be what it’s supposed to be, which is not what it is…To accept that Ben Gurion gave orders to cleanse certain areas of Palestinians is painful. We don’t want to see it… Some people aren’t willing to struggle with the truth. They reject any possibility that the Jewish community has anything to worry about except those that want to kill us.”
Lederer described the Ashkenazi racism she saw in Israel in 1966:
“I took my daughter to Israel when she was 14. I had always promised her that one day I would take her to the country that was ours; where there were a whole lot of other dark-skinned Jews, mostly from North Africa. I was told over and over again, ‘Well, maybe in a hundred years Moroccan children will be able to catch up with, say, a Hungarian child.’ It was incredible to me.”
She worked for AJC as an Interreligious Program Associate from 1972 to 1985:
Bert Gold, Executive of Vice President of AJC, recounted to Lederer what he said in a meeting: “What other Jewish agency has Inge Gibel on national TV talking about self-determination for the Palestinians?”
Her unrelenting honesty could be directed to those closest to her as in this critique of Breira:
“The Jewish Defense League picketed Breira’s national conference in 1977 and at one point they tried to break in. So, I stood up at the dais and said, ‘Let’s be honest with ourselves. Who are we who are willing to talk to Palestinians, which we should be, but not willing to talk to other Jews? These are the Jews who haven’t made it. They’re not college professors; they’re not rabbis; they’re not important. Their kids don’t go to private school; their wives ride the subway and some of them are very prejudiced; they’re very bigoted. Why can’t we be honest about that? Why can’t we try to sit down and talk to them and explain to them why we take the positions that we do.'”
She was the only female in a New Outlook Conference delegation that met with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during his historic visit to Israel on November 21, 1977:
“Immediately after it was announced that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was coming to Israel, Simha Flapan and David Shaham of New Outlook Magazine sent a wire to Sadat saying, ‘We hope you’ll do us the honor of even the briefest of meetings…’ On the last day of his three-day visit, we were told to go to the King David Hotel. We all went up to the Presidential Suite… When we had our picture taken, most of the men pushed in front of me. Begin said, ‘Madame, in the front.’ That’s how I wound up in the middle of the picture. Otherwise you wouldn’t have seen me.”
Advice to young activists:
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but then work very hard on what you decide that you want to chew.”
Lederer’s parting words:
“I would like to think that maybe one day I might be a tiny footnote in history. I can’t claim that I did some major thing. I’m not Sadat; I’m not Begin; I’m not Rabin. Nobody with little power and no money can make that kind of difference by themselves. But an organization of people who don’t individually have a lot of money, and who don’t individually have a lot of power, can certainly build power by making clever decisions and by not fighting.”
Selected writings by I.M.A. Lederer
Letter to the Editor in “Breira Pro and Con,” Commentary Magazine, June 1, 1977.
“To a Certain Young, Christian Radical” by Inge Lederer Gibel, Worldview 1977, Volume 20, no. 6, June, 1977. (Retrieved June 15, 2015 from http://worldview.carnegiecouncil.org/archive/worldview/1977/06/2870.html).
“A Zionist at Bir Zeit: In Search of a Palestinian Who is Not Anti-Israel” by Inge Lederer Gibel, The Christian Century, November 28, 1979, pgs. 1186 – 1188.
“On Terrorists and Heroes: Reflections of a Refugee” by Inge Lederer Gibel, Christianity and Crisis, October 13, 1980, pgs. 283-286.
“Radical chic in Israel: Excluding the Sephardim,” by Inge Lederer-Gibel, Christianity and Crisis, Vol. 4, No 16, October 15, 1984.
Other posts from the American Jewish Peace Archive:
- Tom Smerling, Israel-Palestine Peace Pioneer, Part 1
- Tom Smerling, Israel-Palestine Peace Pioneer, Part 2
- Jerome M Segal, Israel-Palestine Peace Pioneer
- Rosalie Riechmen Pressman, Israel-Palestine Peace Pioneer
- American Jewish Peace Activists Tell Their Stories