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Journalist speaks at Mills as part of Jewish lecture series

Prize-winning journalist Linda Gradstein recently spoke to a full audience at Mills College, detailing her experiences as a female reporter in Israel and describing current politics in the region.

Gradstein, an Israel correspondent for National Public Radio, gave a clear and engaging presentation Oct. 28 as part of the 2009 Friedkin Lecture series. The program was created by longtime leaders in the Bay Area Jewish community, Amy and Mort Friedkin, to shed light on the accomplishments of Jewish women in society.

Gradstein uses a map during her talk.
Gradstein uses a map during her talk. (Jennifer Courtney)

Gradstein’s lecture focused primarily on the roles of women in Israeli society and her thoughts concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“If women were to rule the world, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict would be solved,” Gradstein said. “We all want the same thing, a place that’s safe to raise children in.”

Gradstein went on to say that though certain aspects of Israeli society do offer benefits to women, it is still a place of gender unrest.

“Israeli society is a bit schizo when it comes to women,” she said, commenting that though the Israeli government supplies women with many social programs, the social construct of the region is still holding women back. She noted that the government offers day care services for children and that many women now participate in the workforce. Yet the average income of a woman is still 63 percent of every dollar that a man makes. She also talked about the difficulties facing women who wish to divorce their spouses in Israel, as legal settlements are handled by religious courts.

Gradstein further mentioned how Orthodox Judaism within Israeli society keeps women from leadership positions in the workforce, politics and religious institutions. In most synagogues women sit above the men in balconies and even at the synagogue Gradstein attends the seats are split down the middle, men on one side and the women on the other.

“We’re pushing the envelope,” said Gradstein about her synagogue, even though the separation still remains. “The solutions are already there, but Israel remains patriarchal.”

Israel’s laws are progressive but the country still enforces conservative values. According to Gradstein these values are holding the region back from achieving peace between Israel and Palestine.

Gradstein hopes her position at NPR will show other women in Israel that the doors are open to them.

“Israelis and Palestinians are on separate trains that never meet,” said Gradstein. Even though both Israelis and Palestinians live among one another within the region, they hardly ever meet socially even within their own sects. “You put your child in a certain school, and they are only going to meet children like them,” she said. She stressed that in order to solve such problems between the two states, people have to meet different people.

Gradstein also talked about a hopeful future with more communication happening between both states concerning women’s health issues.

“It’s coexistence through weight loss,” said Gradstein. Programs that are bringing together both Israeli and Palestinian women are popping up all over the region. These programs support a common goal among women: a healthy body.

As for the future, Gradstein feels the region still has a long way towards achieving peace.

“I don’t foresee any progress,” she said. “The majority of Israelis and Palestinians say there should be separate states, but both think the other is not serious about peace,” she explained.

Gradstein also fears the day when the conflict evolves to more of a religious war. If that happens, “then it will never be solved,” she said.

She acknowledged the region’s need for more American support, but was reluctant on placing more responsibility on the Obama administration.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to think America is going to get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” she said. Gradstein recognized that with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America is in no position to take part in the conflict at present, though she feels that the United States is the “key to peace.”

Gradstein found her passion for journalism through her talent for picking up foreign languages. She fell in love with Arabic as a student at Georgetown University and in 1987 landed a job as a translator for the Jerusalem bureau of The Washington Post. She worked under Glenn Frankel who became her mentor and, according to Gradstein, first taught her the ropes of journalism.

In 1989, Gradstein took an internship at the St. Petersburg Times. After turning down their offer for a full time position, Gradtein began looking into NPR.

“I got the job because I came cheap,” said Gradstein about her first position at NPR in 1990.

“She is inspiring for young women and journalists,” said Faith Adiele, a visiting writer at the College.

During the question and answer session one audience member expressed her disappointment with Gradstein’s bias towards Israel, and that there was a lack of reporting on the suffering of Palestinian territories.

“I try very hard to humanize both sides,” Gradstein explained. “I think that bias is in the ear of the beholder,” she said, remarking that she’s been accused of being biased from those that are pro-Israel and pro-Palestine.

Gradstein spoke with a few members of the audience and promoted her summer seminar on international reporting in Jerusalem after her talk.