Partners for Progressive Israel mourns the passing of one of the pioneering giants of Israeli feminism, Alice Shalvi, at the age of 96. May her memory be a blessing.
Shalvi is most well known as the founder of the enormously influential Israel Women’s Network (IWN) in 1984, a time in Israel’s history when the very concept of women’s rights was considered by many to be radical, if not bizarre and dangerous. Shalvi and the IWN would be instrumental in the establishment of Israel’s groundbreaking “National Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women”.
“The work she did for women in Israel could not be done by anyone else,” Shalvi’s friend, the documentary filmmaker and our past president Lilly Rivlin eulogized. “She will be missed by us all.” In March 2021, Shalvi delivered remarks at a Partners for Progressive Israel Women’s Initiative Be The Change award ceremony (held virtually due to the pandemic), which honored Rivlin for her work promoting and protecting human rights.
While Shalvi’s primary efforts focused on gender equity, she was deeply committed to the principle of equality universally. She identified the occupation as a force that was corrupting Israel and supported wholeheartedly the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. She took part in dialogue meetings with Palestinian women and, at the Pelech experimental high school for Orthodox girls that she founded in 1975, she allowed pupils to meet with their Arab peers. These “unpatriotic” activities contributed to her forced resignation from Pelech in 1990.
Less well known is that Shalvi, together with Shulamit Aloni, was one of the founders of the Ratz party, and its successor, Meretz, and she frequently received the honor of being listed as a “ceremonial candidate” (a candidate not expected to serve in Knesset) on the party’s Knesset slate.
Since the installation of the current far-right Israeli government, Shalvi has lent her voice and presence to the protests on behalf of democracy. “With her last bits of strength,” wrote Zehava Galon, the former chair of Meretz, “Alice Shalvi showed up to defend her life’s work”. Just a few months ago, Shalvi, in a wheelchair, attended a protest outside the home of Economy Minister Nir Barkat (pictured above) because of the grave threat to women’s rights, and all minority rights, posed by the current government’s agenda. This past July, for example, the Netanyahu government initiated legislation that would essentially dismantle the National Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women for whose creation Shalvi had long campaigned. Zehava Galon continued, defiantly: “We will not let them reverse the rights of women that have been achieved through long years of struggle by resolute women like Alice Shalvi”.