Gender and ethnicity in the Zionist nation-building project: The case of Hannah Helena Thon

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According to Nira Yuval-Davis some of the most important ways in which women are involved in national projects concern their capacity as biological and cultural reproducers of the nation and guardians of its boundaries. In this article I argue that Jewish women in Mandate Palestine not only guarded and reproduced national boundaries, but also redefined them. Middle-class women's organizations acted as agents of 'nationalization' and westernization among Mizrahi (lit. Oriental) Jewish communities, who were largely excluded from the imagined community of the nation by Ashkenazi Zionists. I explain the conjunction of gender and ethnicity in the Zionist nation-building project through the life and letters of journalist and social activist Hannah Helena Thon. Two main factors serve as an explanation: the countries from which the leaders of the organizations emerged and their traditions of social work; and the position of middle-class women in the Jewish social field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-292
Number of pages18
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Part of the research for this paper was conducted during a postdoctoral fellowship at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I wish to thank Yaffa Berlovitz, Tammy Razi, Rhona Seidelman, Smadar Sharon, Margalit Shilo and the anonymous readers of Ethnic and Racial Studies for their helpful comments on different versions of the paper. All translations from Hebrew and German are mine.


  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Mizrahi Jews
  • Nation building
  • Women's organizations
  • Zionism

RAMBI publications

  • Eretz Israel -- History -- 1917-1948, British Mandate period
  • Medicine -- Eretz Israel
  • Science -- Eretz Israel
  • Thon, Hanna Helena
  • Wizo
  • Women in Zionism


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