IMA Lederer

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“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.”

Peace Activism
1973 – 1986
Americans for Progressive Israel
Breira
American Jewish Committee

Interview Date
October 27, 2014

Interviewer
Aliza Becker

The Interview

 

I.M.A. Lederer was an outspoken pioneer in activism for civil rights and progressive Jewish Socialist Zionism. Lederer, a refugee from Austria, was one of few female leaders in the early days of the movement for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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…”

The French writer Tereska Torrès, wife of American novelist Meyer Levin, introduced Lederer to Breira. She served as treasurer and as a member of the Executive Committee. Lederer worked for the American Jewish Committee at the time. She remembered with some bitterness that some people “would make jokes about the fact that I always made a point of saying that we…have to be careful if we need a job to stay alive…I take risks for Breira, but…I'm also worried. Will this be the thing that costs my job?”

“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.'”

What did Breira accomplish? “Well, first of all we did raise consciousness… Breira was something totally new. It was the first Jewish organization with rabbis… It introduced and opened up the subject for American Jews for the first time.” However she warned, “I think you have to be very careful… [not to turn] Breira... into something more than it was….”

Lederer was the only female delegate from the November 1977 20th Anniversary Conference of New Outlook  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.”

Every so often, Bert Gold, Executive Vice President of the American Jewish Committee would say to Lederer, “With Breira you're going to get fired one of these days. I said, ‘Well, if I am, then I will just make a case out of it because most of the Jews who work here, they have places in the Hamptons and they go to Europe a lot, and they've never gone to Israel. They're waiting for a free trip. They pressure me for a free trip to Israel…I didn't understand how you could work for a Jewish agency and be personally so little involved in anything Jewish. Most of my colleagues... didn't belong to synagogues, didn't belong to Jewish organizations, and if they were ever going to Israel, they were going to get a free trip.”

Lederer remembers Gold simultaneously bragging about the uniqueness of the American Jewish Committee, “What other Jewish agency has Inge Gibel on national TV talking about self-determination for the Palestinians?”

As a refugee, Lederer considered herself “a child of the Shoah.” She took offense at Jews who didn’t hesitate to buy German cars or take vacations in Salzburg, yet “don't want to deal with the fact that these people in my lifetime killed us, murdered us, enslaved us”  and “won't even give a Palestinian an opportunity to talk…. What did we ever do to the Germans or the other European Christians for what they did to us?  But we did something to the Palestinians. We don't want to see it. We don't want to admit 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.

Biography

I.M.A. Lederer, also known as Inge Miriam Lederer Gibel, was born in Vienna, Austria on October 25, 1930 and passed away on June 9, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Her peace-related work included serving as treasurer of Breira in the mid-1970s and as president of Americans for Progressive Israel (API), a predecessor of Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI), to which she was appointed/elected in 1985. She was the only female in a delegation from the November 1977 New Outlook Conference to meet with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat on his historic trip to Jerusalem.

Lederer grew up in a Zionist family. In 1934, her father traveled to Mandatory Palestine to decide if he and his family should make aliyah. He decided life would be too hard. Lederer describes how he “couldn’t believe it would get worse, couldn’t imagine the gas chambers. This is the land of Beethoven; this is the land great science, great art. Then, of course, we couldn't get out.”

Lederer’s family was eventually able to obtain visas through her mother’s sister who worked as a nurse in the U.S. “My mother called her “and said “in her very down-to-earth, not dramatic way that unless she could get us an affidavit, she would turn on the gas so that” my family “could die together instead of being dragged off one-by-one.”

Soon after she arrived in the U.S. at age eight, Lederer became involved in the Habonim youth movement. It became her “home away from home.”

From 1972 to 1985, Lederer worked for the American Jewish Committee as a program specialist for the Interreligious Affairs Department. In 1976, she organized a 25-woman interreligious study tour that traveled to Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Israel. In 1981, she coordinated a conference of “Women of Faith in the ’80’s,” bringing together ”a leadership group of women of faith” — Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Evangelicals – to discuss commonalities.

In 1985, Lederer made aliyah, but returned to the USA in 1996 due to ill health. She then became the assistant to the president of the College Board.

Gibel wrote extensive commentary on race, gender, and class issues in the U.S. and Israel. Her writing was published in Harper’s, Judaism, The Christian Century, Response, Worldview, Israel Horizons (occasionally under the pen-name “Savta Mimi”), The Reconstructionist, Christianity & Crisis, Lilith, and other publications.

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.

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