Below is the Obituary for Irene Bruegel published in The Guardian
“Life’s not fair” – that was the advice the feminist, economist and socialist Irene Bruegel, who has died aged 62, gave to her children. She deployed her prodigious appetite for life to fight for equality and against injustice, inspiring and cajoling others to do likewise until a chronic liver disorder stopped her. In 2002, she founded Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), today one of the largest and most influential of Jewish voices against the Israeli occupation.
Irene was born in London to German-speaking Jewish social democrat refugee parents. The family returned to Prague while she was still a baby, but her parents had to flee soon after without her, and it took some time before they were reunited in north London. Other refugees often passed through that intensely political household, an experience that fuelled Irene’s drive to fight for the dispossessed.
She attended Henrietta Barnett and South Hampstead high schools before studying economics at Sussex University (1964-67) and taking an MA in urban planning at University College London. Her career spanned education, policy research and local government. Her first job was at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies in Birmingham (1968-70), followed by a year at the Centre for Environmental Studies, Lanchester Polytechnic and the Architectural Association (1971-76), what was then North East London Polytechnic (1976-80), the National Children’s Bureau (1980-83), the Greater London Council in its glory days until it was abolished by the Thatcher government in 1986, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies in Manchester (1986), the London Strategic Policy Unit (1986-87) and the London borough of Ealing (1987-89).
She returned to academia at South Bank University in 1990, where she was promoted to reader in urban policy in 1995 and professor in 2000. Since her retirement in December 2006, she had taught an evening course at Birkbeck College on researching London’s localities, a subject she loved.
Irene was a gifted teacher who expected high standards from students, while understanding their needs and never patronising them if they did not have conventional qualifications or felt unsure about whether they belonged in a university. As a researcher, she never lost sight of the big picture, though her work was meticulously grounded empirically. She made a significant contribution to the understanding of gender and class as a system spanning both the labour market and the family.
All the while, Irene was politically active – starting with the Young Socialists, the Labour party, and the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. She was part of the 1970 Ruskin conference that founded the new women’s movement in the UK, and was active in campaigns for equal pay and abortion rights. She took part in debates about the relationship between feminism and socialism, and scorned the idea that one had to trump the other.
In the 1960s, she joined the International Socialism group (now the Socialist Workers party), which provided the framework for her activism for more than a decade in trade unions, the Conference of Socialist Economists, and other organisations. But Irene never subordinated her free-thinking to demands for political orthodoxy, and, as the space for debate within IS/SWP shrank, she grew increasingly distanced from it. The final straw was its hostility to autonomous women's organisation, and she left in 1979.
Soon afterwards, she rejoined the Labour party, but quit over the first Gulf war. She supported Women in Black for Justice against War, the European Forum of Socialist-Feminists, and more recently campaigns over adult education, the treatment of refugees and the impact of climate change. Local issues were also important, such as a fight against London Underground’s refusal to renew a local dry cleaner’s lease, and she hurled herself into a campaign to keep her beloved ladies’ pond on Hampstead Heath open and free.
After visiting the West Bank in 2001, she rounded up some dozen like-minded Jewish friends, mostly women, to found the JfJfP to campaign for an end to the Israeli occupation and a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now more than 1,300 strong, the group has been instrumental in shattering the illusion that all Jews unconditionally support the Israeli government.
Irene’s partner, Richard Kuper, was JfJfP’s co-founder. Theirs was a remarkable relationship; each was intellectually autonomous, but they often worked together. They also raised four children in a highly political, intellectually vibrant household that welcomed activists from all over the world with Irene’s wonderful soups and cheesecake.
No matter how much Irene persuaded her friends to do, she would always be doing more – too much, as it turned out. But somehow she managed to reconcile being in a rush with always having time for people, and never made one feel small for not managing the level of activity that she did. She died peacefully, surrounded by her family: Richard, her children Dan and Jo, and stepchildren Martin and David. Her rare gift for friendship transcended political and intellectual differences, and she would have been astonished and delighted at the huge turnout at her funeral.
Irene Bruegel, academic and activist, born 7 November 1945; died 6 October 2008