Critical, neo-Marxist Scholarship Enables Falsification and Poseur: Smadar Lavie as a Case in Point


Editorial Note

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) recently published an article, “Confession and Mirage: Professor Mas`uda and the Ashkenazim-for-Palestine in Israel’s Academe.” It was written by Professor Emerita Smadar Lavie from UC Berkeley who argued that “Ashkenazi upper-class Israeli faculty make Palestine advocacy their international career.”   This is a bold admission that rings true.  As IAM has repeatedly demonstrated, activist academics have used Palestinian advocacy to build flourishing international careers.  

Lavie’s mother was of Yemeni origin, and her father was a Jew from Latvia who escaped the Holocaust and settled in Palestine. By her account, Lavie had a good childhood in Israel. She became a youth journalist in the Maariv for Youth Journal, where she met many of the Israeli elite, including Prime Minister Golda Meir.  She was well-integrated and suffered no ethnic discrimination or prejudice.  

While at Hebrew University, Lavie focused on the South Sinai Bedouin Tribe of Mzeina and was interviewed twice on the radio station Galei Tzahal.

She had won a Fulbright scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley.  Known as a Mecca of anti-Israeli scholarship, it was one of the first to propagate the idea that Israel was a colonial society created by Ashkenazi Jews who subjugated the native Palestinian population.  It took Lavie little time to catch on to the colonial tune, as her co-written article demonstrated:  

“The Zionist leadership had to invent an Israeli national tradition on account of the immigrant Eastern European Jews’ rapid transformation from a disenfranchised, persecuted ethnoreligious minority to a colonial settler minority among a Palestinian majority, itself colonized by the British. In the Zionists’ aspiration to become the independent majority in Palestine, they had to rupture the European textual continuity of their victimized diasporic Jewish past and create a new fictionalized continuity of bold Jewish experience qua text in the biblical promised land… And colonialism, even when practiced by a persecuted minority, wreaks terror upon not only the colonized peoples but the colonizers themselves. To justify their methods of terror, the colonizers have to invent the colonized as a dangerously bizarre beast… Primitivizing the Bedouin served two purposes for the Zionists and was accomplished with contradictory discursive strategies. The Bedouin were savage because they were Arab, and therefore colonizing them was morally just.”  

During this time, she “converted” herself from being an Israeli to an “Arab Jew.”  In a 1989 interview, she stated:  “As an Arab Jew, I noticed that none of the Israeli leaders ever bothered to find out if I was interested in the image that the Ashkenazis had created of me as part of that exotic and semi-civilized in their society.”  

With her new identity as a Mizrahi victim established, she was on her way to engaging in serious political activism.  In 2002, during Operation Defensive Shield, she signed a petition calling to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions.

She joined the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow in 2004, recalling, “from Mizrahi and Palestinian positionalities, Rafi Shubeli and I led the first-ever academic conference to contextualize Ashkenazi Jews in whiteness studies. On the conference day, we had unexpected guests—dozens of retired Ashkenazim who came to remind us that without the education they bestowed upon us, we could not have put on such a conference.”

Also, in 2004, Lavie worked on a project with like-minded activists, submitting a grievance against all Israeli research universities. The grievance complained that there was a nearly complete absence of tenured Mizrahi and Palestinian faculty, mainly women, from their anthropology departments. The grievance urged the ombudsman to investigate—and undo—”the intellectual community property violations committed by Israeli academic faculty who profit from the Mizrahi and Palestinian cultures from which they build their careers. It also requested that the state comptroller investigate why Israeli anthropologists performed their studies without adhering to a research ethics code. To this day, we’re still waiting for an answer.”  Following the grievance, Lavie joined forces with the Palestinian NGO Mossawa and founded the Mizrahi-Palestinian Coalition against Apartheid in Israeli Anthropology (CAAIA) to conduct an “international campaign against the denial of cultural rights for Mizrahim and Palestinians.”

When visiting Israel, she grieved, “The immediacy of Israel-Palestine and the normalization of the occupation constrict my body like the barbed wire of the apartheid wall that cuts deeply into the flesh.” 

With so much time spent on political activism, she had little time for scholarly work.  She wrote, “Unfortunately, my economic hardship and the daily demands of activism took time away from academic research… my professional CV marred by a large gap in scholarly publications.”   

Somewhere along the way, her radicalization as “an Arab Jew” feminist had deepened.  After participating in peace forums for years, she attacked her camp comrades. She wrote that the “peace-industry” of the Israeli-Ashkenazi feminists is “turning magic into science in order to be funded, published, and promoted… With the post-Oslo economics, Mizrahi and Palestinian women trudge around the poverty line and thus often resort to charities.” In late 2002, “the whole dialogue industry rolled about 9 million dollars of US and EU tax deductible donations a year… Almost all peace and coexistence funding comes from abroad. In my work I’ve always argued that the Left is part of Israel’s hegemony. No wonder, thus, that ‘Mizrahi feminist critique is always abhorred by hegemonic discourse’.

Lavie continued, “Without an oncle d’Amerique, the racinated Mizrahi feminist is not allowed to enter either the peace-club or any sites of the tight-knit Israeli cultural and/or economic elites… The Israeli feminist peace camp practices elaborate theatrics – petitions in major newspapers, whether The New York Times or Haaretz, well- televised demonstrations, marches, and teach-ins, cyberspace e-group discussions, or sisterhood weekends with upper class Palestinians in wonderland retreats. These are almost 100 per cent Ashkenazi… there is a paradoxical incongruence between the oracular of the wealthyly-married and the lived experience of everybody else. The feminists’ peace discourse is thus consumed by those who can pay the hard cash necessary to enter the cosmopolitan Ashkenazi intellectual sphere… ‘good Jews’ as performers, audience and constituencies both at home and in the Western abroad. Such Israeli ambiguous peace and co-existence practices are forms of… colonialist witchcraft.” 

Lavie gained further notoriety in a petition calling for the boycott of Israel at the American Anthropological Association business meeting on November 20, 2015. 

She also attracted the attention of radical feminist Judith Butler who professed to be fascinated by Lavie’s “revelations”.  She wrote her a letter saying, “I think you are showing me that the Mizrahim, and Mizrahi women especially, lead lives that do not ‘count’ in the Israeli public and cultural world. What a profound irony for the leading Ashkenazim to find out that by insisting on their racist demand that Jews always maintain majority rule in Israel that they will be, in effect, relying on the majority of Jews from Arab descent. They will then act as if that majority is Ashkenazi, but they will be exploiting the population’s numbers that the Sephardim and Mizrahim secure for them. And also, within the peace camp, it seems incredible that there can be this strong criticism of the occupation, of the treatment of Palestinians under colonial rule, but that somehow no recognition is made that citizenship within Israel is, by definition, racist, and that not all Jews have the cultural and political rights of citizenship. These matters are linked, and in a social movement that put peace and social justice together, they would have to be thought in their systematic relation to one another… I apologize for the fact that my eyes were not fully open before. In solidarity, Judith.”

Had Butler investigated Lavie’s life trajectory, she would have uncovered the truth.  Lavie is a Mizrahi poseur; she grew up in privileged circumstances as part of the Israeli elite and made a switch to a pro-Palestinian “Mizrahi” to promote her career.


Copyright American Association of University Professors, 2021
Confession and Mirage: Professor Mas`uda and the Ashkenazim-for-Palestine in Israel’s Academe*

Smadar Lavie

This autoethnography unveils its thesis as the biographic narrative unfolds. Ashkenazi upper-class Israeli faculty make Palestine advocacy their international career. When threatened, North American–Western European white colleagues, employing the dualism Israel-Palestine, obtain for these Ashkenazi upper-class Israeli faculty cushy Western positions. Mizrahi anti-Zionist intellectuals and activists are not the secular Ashkenazim with whom Western academics are familiar. Shunned from professorships due to the whiteness of Israel’s academe, their activism is in dialogue with the traditional Judaism of right-wing Mizrahi communities. Ashkenazi anti-Zionists have minimal constituencies in Israel and converse in English with Palestine scholars and activists outside Israel. Their impact on Israel’s Mizrahim (roughly half of Israel’s citizen body) is negligeable. Mizrahi exiles, however, converse in Hebrew with their constituencies.
The front-page story published in Haaretz Weekly Magazine got me on a strange Shavuot 2020 holiday eve, sheltering in place in San Francisco with my son and his partner (Littman 2020). It told the story of Israeli leftist professors in exile, mostly Ashkenazim, who left their university appointments for cushy academic positions in Britain and the United States. It triggered my own longings for the homeland. Rippled images of
 For Carol Bruch.
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the anemone fields on the Gaza border. The mulberry tree in my granny’s Jerusalem backyard. Fig season. I yearn for the relative quietude of Tel Aviv at Shabbat eve’s dusk and ache for the cacophony of El Nora `Alila melodies, the prayer that climbed to the skies from the synagogues of my granny’s ‘hood at the end of Yom Kippur.
I am an academic political exile, but my story—personal and professional—is radically different from the one told by Haaretz. Mas`uda (Arabic for “joy”), from the title to this essay, is a common Middle Eastern woman’s name. It is also the colloquial Hebrew slang for the Mizrahi Big Mama from the barrio, often far from Tel Aviv: heavyset, loud, and uneducated. Professor Mas`uda’s destiny lies outside academe. Her college application would be tossed aside for the name alone. Israel’s fifty percent citizen majority is the Mizrahim, or Jews with origins in the Arab and Muslim World and the margins of Ottoman Europe. The other two segments of Israel’s citizenry are the twenty percent Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and the remaining thirty percent Ashkenazim, or European Jews of Yiddish-speaking origins. Ashkenazim control the division of power and privilege in the state.
Haaretz regularly publishes items about the anticolonial struggle of Palestinians, brazenly reports Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians, and is well read by the Palestinian intelligentsia and in Palestine solidarity circuits in North America and Europe. What Haaretz won’t publish are pieces exposing the racism of Ashkenazi pro-Palestine intellectuals toward Mizrahim. The textual benevolence of these anti-Zionist Ashkenazi intellectuals provides absolution for their daily racist practices toward Mizrahi plumbers, cleaners, nannies—toward all Mizrahim. Thus, my framing complicates the Palestine-Israel binary characterizing much of the critical anticolonial and anti-Zionist dialogue. It highlights the Israeli Ashkenazi intelligentsia’s own in-home, intra-Jewish racism. Israel’s Mizrahi majority is racialized into a disenfranchised minority. Nonacademic Israelis—most of whom are Mizrahim—use the term “Ashkenazi Academic Junta,” or “the Academic Junta” to indicate their estrangement from the impenetrable networks of the Israeli academic elite (Blachman 2005; Zarini 2004). 1
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A Halfie Kid
Since childhood, I’ve known I’m a guest—an occupier—on this land, a fact that doesn’t detract from my love for it. Unlike many of my comrades in the Mizrahi struggle, I’m a halfie. I grew up in Holon, a Tel Aviv satellite city, in the Labor A neighborhood, a bastion of the Ashkenazi middle class. My Yemeni mother said, “You can’t trust the Arabs. I know them from before the state’s foundation,” but my Litvak father, a Dachau survivor, was highly critical of the Zionist operation (Lavie 2018a). My Jerusalemite Yemeni granny divided history into “before the state burst out” and “after the state burst out.” When I was in third grade, my father told me about the Nakba. “Don’t talk about it or the kids at school will beat you up,” he advised. In sixth grade, he told me about the Haganah commandos expelling the Palestinians from Lubya—the village neighboring his kibbutz, Beit Keshet. “The State of Israel is a historical mistake and a ‘no choice’ fact on the ground. One can always fix mistakes.” This is how, as a child, I was introduced to the One State vision.
My mother worried I would get brown brown. “You have enough problems as a smart gal. Go practice your piano, forget politics, and sign up for Weight Watchers.” My dark skin, wide hips, loud voice, and ever-increasing consciousness of state injustices enforced on Mizrahim made it impossible to enjoy my father’s Ashkenazi privilege. “Shaynele Schwartzele” (Yiddish for “beautiful little black girl”), cooed the neighbors growing up.
During elementary school, I was “a young journalist” for a children’s weekly magazine. At the end of sixth grade, right after the June 1967 war, while everyone was ecstatic about the victory of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), I published an essay condemning the destruction of the Mughrabi quarter and the expulsion from the Western Wall Plaza of Palestinian locals whose ancestors had been there for centuries.2 In 1971, as a youth reporter for another weekly, I interviewed Yitzhak Halutzi and Vicki Shiran—the founder of the 1990s Mizrahi feminist movement—on their Black Panther theater.3 I also interviewed my peers from Kafr Qasim, asking whether their parents’ memories of the Israel Border Police massacre would facilitate our coexistence.4 Despite our political
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differences, Maariv senior journalist and Stern Gang alum Geula Cohen mentored me in journalistic writing.5 Later on, Geula’s son, Tzachi Hanegbi, who would become Israel’s justice minister, whipped me with a bicycle chain during the Hebrew University students’ protests against the dispossession of the Bedouin from their lands.6 “You got what you deserve!” Geula laughed.
Givat Ram, the Hebrew University
After adventurous military service as an IDF hiking guide and a year of fieldwork among the South Sinai Bedouin, I arrived at the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus. Appeasing my mother, I registered and was admitted to the very selective medical school.
But I wanted anthropology. The admission committee rebuked me, “Whaat?! A Yemeni studying anthropology?! Why not a stable profession like medicine?”
I owe much of my anthropologist identity to my mentors, Emanuel Marx and Don Handelman, even though we were so divided on politics. Emanuel oversaw my field research, and Don was and still is one of my theoretical lightning rods. On Don’s balcony, discussions on “the historical mistake” and discrimination against Mizrahim always ended in a screaming match followed by heavy silence. Years later, during a visit from Berkeley, Don said, “So . . . now Baruch [Kimmerling] is saying the same [on “the historical mistake”], so you were probably right” (Kimmerling 2004).7
I spent most of my BA years doing anthropological fieldwork in the Sinai. In my student circle, I was the only Mizrahi activist in the Palestinian-Israeli non-Zionist student movement (see Greenberg 2019). At the end of my sophomore year, Don told me, “You are so talented, original, and hardworking, but you don’t stand a chance here. Go to America. They have excellent anthropology departments, and you can get a full scholarship.” Later on, I passed my knowledge of “how to get admitted to US PhD programs on a full scholarship” to generations of Mizrahim and Palestinians who couldn’t realize their full potential due to the choke chain of Israel’s social sciences and humanities.
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In September 1979, I landed in Berkeley straight from the Sinai, my untamed curls woven, Bedouin girly style, into four braids. Officially, I had not received a BA. In the final course, I received a “fail.” My father and Don filed an appeal with the dean. The external committee the dean convened to evaluate my final paper gave me a 96/100. My BA arrived together with my Berkeley MA. In the spring of 1980, way before the birth of queer theory, I wrote my MA paper on Papua New Guinea initiation rites as drag performances. One teacher, a junior faculty member, gave me an A+, but the senior professor failed me. He told me his parents were best pals with Golda Meir. “You don’t belong in the program!” he announced. “You can’t be more than a typist!” Due to the dispute, all the cultural anthropology professors read the paper and decided that I indeed deserved an A+.
My second-year scholarship was dependent on a teaching assistantship. The anthropology department thought it best used on a Hebrew language course. Word likely got around about my activism to the professors administering the Hebrew teaching assistantships, and they too probably didn’t want me on campus. But they did appoint the Ashkenazi elite Israeli students, who participated in activism critical of Israel, as TAs for Hebrew language courses. Was it because I joined the campus’s Arab Student Union, where Israel was still “the Zionist entity”? Or because during lunch breaks, I argued with the Hillel House campaigners?8 When Middle Eastern studies are at stake—specifically the Palestine-Israel conflict—there is no academic freedom in the United States (see Deeb and Winegar 2016).9
And yet, at Berkeley, I could live up to my agency. It was acceptable to discuss Zionism within the framework of the colonialist-settler project and analyze it through the optics of critical race theory. We were a tight cohort spread between Santa Cruz, Stanford, and Berkeley—the first generation of PhD candidates to contextually analyze comparative colonial discourse and challenge the traditional format of academic writing.
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In 1981, together with a group of Palestinians, Arabs, Arab Americans, Ashkenazi Israelis, and American Jews (Ashkenazi by default), I cofounded the Committee for Academic Freedom in the Israeli-Occupied Territories (CAFIOT). The only two Mizrahim in CAFIOT were myself and a sociology PhD candidate, a former member of Matzpen, a revolutionary socialist, anti-Zionist Israeli group.10 A devout Marxist, he argued that identity politics interfered with class struggle, and thus he ignored the Mizrahi struggle. Despite this, he could not land an academic position in Israel.
In the summer of 1982, just before the Lebanon War, I teamed up with a Palestinian PhD candidate to teach Berkeley’s first-ever student-initiated course on modern Palestine’s history. We also discussed the complicated relationship between Mizrahim and the Palestinian struggle. Hillel conducted a smear campaign to cancel the course. Assisted by the student-of-color unions, we achieved a majority vote in the general assembly. Shortly thereafter, my Palestinian colleague and I were summoned to the president’s office. The two professors who had prevented me from TAing in the Hebrew language courses were already waiting for us inside. “Why teach about Palestine? It ceased to exist in 1948,” said the historian among them. “But you teach about the Ottoman Empire,” I replied. “It ceased to exist way before 1948.” The president, who presented himself as a Jew, approved the course. It was a hit. Its students subsequently organized mass demonstrations on campus after the Sabra and Shatila Massacre.11 Hillel deployed its requisite pair of Yemeni Israeli students as its “diversity assets,” who frequently showed up to interrupt our campus events. But even this didn’t help them secure tenure-track positions at Israeli universities.
I received my PhD in 1989 with four articles published in refereed journals, several articles in press, and a book contract with the University of California Press. Together with me, a CAFIOT member from another department marched down the aisle to receive her doctorate. Two years prior to graduation, she returned to Israel and immediately landed a tenure-track position at the Hebrew University. All she did was submit the proposed chapter titles for her doctoral thesis. For the first time, I understood that as long as you are an elite Ashkenazi, criticizing Israel is
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profitable. Moreover, the university uses you as a trophy to prove its academic freedom.
I wanted to go home. In the final year of my doctoral studies, Emanuel and Don suggested I apply for the Hebrew University’s Alon Scholarship—a postdoc for outstanding young scholars returning to Israel. My application was rejected. The scholarship was granted to another Jerusalemite elite Ashkenazi who lived in Berkeley. Her doctorate was from a study-by-correspondence university with no accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges under the US Department of Education.
I landed a tenure-track position at the University of California, Davis, and commuted from Berkeley. Many of my generation doing critical anthropology about the Israel-Palestine conflict could not secure academic appointments and went to law school or pursued an MBA. Others were stuck in remote universities. US elite universities are fearful of being labeled “anti-Semitic” by the pro-Israel lobby and its Jewish donors (see Deeb and Winegar 2016). “Fortunately, your ethnography is about the theater of Egyptian Bedouin,” remarked my US colleagues. Only after September 11 did the generations of young PhDs in critical anthropology of the Middle East land positions at elite US universities. Still, in today’s star-studded anthropology department at Berkeley, not one faculty member specializes in Israel-Palestine. “Israeli studies” have been exiled from the humanities to Berkeley’s law school.
My career flowered. I obtained generous research grants, invitations to conferences, publications in prestigious periodicals, quotations, and prizes. These led to an accelerated tenured associate professorship after a year of postdoc and three years as faculty. I enjoyed a loving support system of students and colleagues protecting me from the campus’s powerful Zionist lobby. Nevertheless, I wanted to go home. I applied to every job opening in Israeli sociology and anthropology departments. I wanted to be part of the Mizrahi consciousness revolution that started in Israel in the early 1990s, to teach Mizrahi and Palestinian Israeli students. But I was always rejected. Those who rejected me still asked that I pull strings for their abstracts to get admitted to conferences or departmental colloquia.
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In 1990, I shifted my research center from Egypt to Israel, studying the disjuncture between Ashkenazified Mizrahi and Palestinian hybrid poets and authors who write in Hebrew but whose mother tongue is Arabic (see Lavie 1992). My American colleagues started to shift their focus inward to study their own cultures rather than those of faraway places. I, too, wanted to shift from “fieldwork” to “homework” (Lavie and Swedenburg 1996). I understood that research and publication of critical scholarship on Israel-Palestine was a career risk. In 1990, I was a US-based scholar. I knew that studying intra-Jewish racism in the homeland of the Jews could alarm the highly influential pro-Israel lobby. Nevertheless, I thought my tenure-track position would provide safe harbor for “Hebrew as Step-Mother Tongue,” my next project.
In 1993, when visiting Israel, anthropology and sociology departments invited me to lecture. At the Hebrew University, I spoke about the intersection of race(ism) and gender in the lives of Mizrahi women poets. As the lecture went on, faculty left the seminar room one by one, slamming the door each time. From then on, I was boycotted by the Israeli academic establishment. They argued that “racialization,” “racism,” “border crossing,” “silencing,” “hybridity,” or “intersection-ality” were not suitable for analysis of Israeli identities, and that feminism of color lacked a scientific foundation (see Hess 1994). Even so, these same concepts sometimes made their way into Israeli academic and public discourse. My work was appropriated without credit.
Southside Tel Aviv
My Berkeley Camelot ended abruptly in 1999, on the eve of my becoming a full professor. Even with my academic success and activism, my son and I lived the nightmare of domestic violence. In February 1999, we fled to Israel. During the abduction trial, the Israeli courts confiscated our Israeli and US passports, and in 2001, the Israeli Supreme Court (verdict 4445/96) cleared me of any and all allegations brought by my ex-husband in the United States, Israel, and The Hague. After the verdict, my son and I received our US passports but not our Israeli ones. So, we were stuck in Israel until receiving our Israeli passports in October 2005. Israeli citizens
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having multiple citizenships must enter or depart from Israel using their Israeli passports.
These were the years of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. Haim Beresheeth, an old friend and a Mazpenist returning from Britain, invited me to the Sapir College in Sderot—a small, largely Mizrahi desert town about five kilometers from the Israeli border with Gaza. Haim hired me as a tenure-track professor to establish a cultural studies department in the communication school he founded, but the college withdrew its promise to allocate tenure lines for other faculty. I couldn’t understand how I, alone, was expected to establish a department, run it, and teach all of its courses. The college aspired to attract “quality students,” that is, affluent Ashkenazim, rather than Mizrahim from the local disenfranchised communities, and relied on inexpensive adjuncts. So I resigned. The October 2000 Palestinian uprisings, Al-Aqsa Intifada,12 and the college’s unfulfilled promises shipped Haim back to Britain and sent me to Israel’s welfare lines. Under abusive employment terms, Beit Berl Teachers College hired me as a part-time adjunct.
In 2001, Haaretz published an article on Ashkenazi women professors who complained about discrimination in academia (Caspi 2001). In response, I wrote “In Search of the Mizrahi Woman Professor” (Lavie 2002a). Haaretz rejected it due to “lack of interest and space.” Yet after I sent it to email lists of Israeli academics, it went viral. It caught the attention of Billie Moscona-Lerman, a senior journalist at Israel’s largest daily, Yediot Aharonot.
Billie’s front-page story, “For You, a Mizrahi Woman Is Just a Maid,” got me on prime-time TV, where I was introduced as the “Mizrahi unemployed professor from Berkeley” (Moscona-Lerman 2002). The leftie Ashkenazi producers cast me as “the angry Mizrahi feminist.” Though it was the habitual TV screaming match, I put on my polite American smile and waited quietly until the ruckus died down.
“The Ashkenazim, in their Mt. Scopus bunker-like campus, have the memory of an elephant, and you must stay sane!” ordered the great mother and soul sister Vicki Shiran. “Come join Ahoti [Israel’s Mizrahi feminist movement]!13 We need you! You have your Berkeley activism and great English. Connect us with similar organizations globally!” One
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of the joint projects Vicki, Yifat Hillel, and I worked on was writing weekly to all academic conferences’ organizers who published ads in Haaretz. We asked why no Mizrahi women were in their list of speakers. We sent follow-ups but never received an answer.
During my Israeli years, I fought against the treatment of children as property. In cases of divorce, children are often shuffled from one parent to another, or even worse, taken from their parents’ homes and forced to attend boarding schools. I assisted dozens of mothers, mostly Mizrahi, to face Israel’s aggressive family courts, welfare authorities, and psychological and psychiatric establishments. In 2002, my essay “A Pedophile Father Is Better than an Alienating Mother” was published on an influential Israeli legal website and submitted to Israel’s Supreme Court as an expert opinion (Lavie 2002b). From then on, the powerful deadbeat dad lobby has denigrated my reputation and threatened me in all possible ways.
In 2004, I cofounded the Coalition of Women for Mothers and Children with Esther Herzog and Hanna Beit Halachmi. It was the widest coalition in Israel’s feminist history, including Islamist feminists and Orthodox Jewish settlers from the Occupied Territories. University feminists opposed my activism, labeling me “an extremist,” but appropriated my ideas for their English-language academic publications. “It’s not because of your politics or ethnic origins,” chimed an Ashkenazi professor who identifies with Mizrahi feminism. “You’re too old to fit in with the academic faculty.” I was forty-seven.
In the spring of 2002, during Operation Defensive Shield, Vicki phoned me.14 “Are you out of your mind? Why did you sign the petition for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions by those British loonies?! How did your name creep into Haaretz’s Hebrew edition? (Levy-Barzilai 2002). I got a phone call that they’ll cut off your NSB allowance!15 What are you going to live on?”
The majority of Ahoti activists were left of Israel’s political center. But our constituencies were right of center and conceived the discussion of justice for Palestine as the territory of the smolavan, the white-leftie-minnies. In Mizrahi lingo, smolavan is a term for Ashkenazi lefties who enjoy white privilege. Conjoining smol (“left” in Hebrew, but also evoking
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the English small) and lavan (“white”), smolavan signifies this miniscule privileged group loathed by Israel’s Mizrahi majority.
Ashkenazi feminists from affluent Jerusalem or Tel Aviv focused on “ending the occupation.” Guided by Vicki, Ahoti’s strategy was to avoid the Palestine conflict. We focused instead on employment security, housing rights, and nutrition stability. In right-wing, working-class communities, the liberation of Palestine wasn’t the major concern—getting food on the table was.
Vicki ordered me to write to the organizers of the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions petition explaining that my inclusion was a mistake. She would then pass on this letter to the entities determined to cut me off the welfare roster. Even though seven other Israeli professors signed the boycott call, no one threatened their academic positions. They were all Ashkenazim, after all.
I also joined the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow.16 In 2004, from Mizrahi and Palestinian positionalities, Rafi Shubeli and I led the first-ever academic conference to contextualize Ashkenazi Jews in whiteness studies. On the conference day, we had unexpected guests—dozens of retired Ashkenazim who came to remind us that without the education they bestowed upon us, we could not have put on such a conference.
Also in 2004, along with Rafi Shubeli, Reuven Abergel, and Shira Ohayon, I researched and initiated a grievance submitted by Ahoti against all Israeli research universities. This was due to the near complete absence of Mizrahi and Palestinian tenured faculty, mainly women, from their anthropology departments. The grievance urged the ombudsman to investigate—and undo—the intellectual community property violations committed by Israeli academic faculty who profit from the Mizrahi and Palestinian cultures from which they build their careers. It also requested that the state comptroller investigate why Israeli anthropologists performed their studies without adhering to a research ethics code. To this day, we’re still waiting for an answer (Lavie 2005).
Following the grievance, Rafi and I joined forces with the Mossawa Palestinian nongovernmental organization (NGO) and founded the Mizrahi-Palestinian Coalition against Apartheid in Israeli Anthropology (CAAIA). CAAIA conducted an international campaign against the denial
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of cultural rights for Mizrahim and Palestinians, and joined forces with similar NGOs and scholar activists throughout the world.
Unfortunately, my economic hardship and the daily demands of activism took time away from academic research. In addition, in Israel, I was blacklisted. With my Israeli passport confiscated, I could not travel abroad to network. I was stuck, my professional CV marred by a large gap in scholarly publications.
Berkeley, Again
In 2005, on the eve of Yom Kippur, my son and I finally got our Israeli passports after the family court recognized that I am my son’s mother. Right away, we took our first trip abroad to Dahab, in South Sinai, Egypt, to visit my adoptive Bedouin family. Despite our legal freedom, we were stopped from crossing into Egypt because the family court had “overlooked” recording its verdict with Israel’s National Police. “They hold their grudges forever and will always seek revenge,” was one of Vicki’s mantras.
On August 20, 2007, we left Israel. On July 31, while en route to Dahab to say goodbye to my adoptive family, my son and I were stopped at the Taba border. The border police informed me that I had to pay $16,000 bail to leave Israel—supposedly for the child support debt I owed my ex-husband while he was in California. Due to the Israeli courts’ refusal to grant me custody, he was still the legal parent of our son even though I was the sole provider. Again, my magnanimous colleagues helped and paid the bail so that I could leave on time and not lose my job opportunity.
Once back in the United States, I embarked on a series of essays for a book about the web of relationships between the rightward move of the Mizrahi public, the racial formations of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and Mizrahi feminism. I queried how the logjam at the intersection of Mizrahi identity politics prevents social movements, such as Ahoti or the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow, from achieving the long-term success that might improve the material lives of Mizrahim in central Israel’s low-income neighborhoods and forlorn periphery. I wanted to understand how the Mizrahi love for the homeland results in populism led by an Ashkenazi elite advocating white supremacy. My book Wrapped in the Flag of Israel:
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Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture won awards and gifted me with a lecture tour of the United States and Europe (Lavie 2018b). But the pain that my publications are not translated into Hebrew and available in Israel won’t go away.
With the return of my academic success came the pro-Israel lobby. Assisted by improved Internet technology, various online platforms spread fake news about my colleagues and me. These scare campaigns are run by Israeli hasbara (official propaganda) against the critics of Israel on US campuses.
The smolavan professors who leave Israel for cushy positions in the United States and Britain focus their research on the dualism of the conflict: Israel against Palestine and vice versa. They enjoy the support of both the pro-Palestine academic community, whose members praise their bravery, and the liberal academic community, who points to them as exemplars of the academic freedom to criticize Israel. Diaspora Ashkenazim never ponder whether these white-leftie-minnies have any constituencies in Israeli communities, as opposed to Mizrahi intellectuals who were exiled out of Israel’s academe yet continue to be woven into the fabric of their communities. And as for Israeli Mizrahi scholars abroad, it is better to adore them as colorful diversity jewels in departments of Jewish and Israeli studies, financed by the pro-Israel Jewish lobby, rather than house them in their disciplinary departments (see Traubmann 2006). Through a handful of Israeli-Mizrahi scholars who research Mizrahism as if it were not embedded in the Israel-Palestine conflict, departments of Jewish and Israeli studies become a counterpoint to departments of ethnic studies.
In the summer of 2012, my son graduated from college. I returned to Israel to gather the belongings we left in storage before our exit in 2007. Every sweltering day, when I was sorting out objects and memories, I wanted to cry. I knew this was the end. I would live here and there, between time zones and continents. No home. Today, I binge everything possible in Hebrew and am overjoyed as Mizrahi discourse expands its reach into Israel’s public sphere. But alas, this is not reflected in university tenure lines. My fear of the Israeli public’s populist rightward move keeps escalating due to the relentless hijacking of Judaism into the structure of
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Israeli citizenship (Lavie 2018b). Whether here or there, I continue to keep in touch with friends and assist Mizrahi students navigate the academic obstacle course.
Despite my longing, visiting Israel is emotionally taxing. When there, I grieve over my exilic loss. The immediacy of Israel-Palestine and the normalization of the occupation constrict my body like the barbed wire of the apartheid wall that cuts deeply into the flesh. When my friends warn me, “Israel today is not the same. Shut up about politics around commonfolk on public transport or they’ll beat you up,” my heart breaks.
I learned how to daven in the major key, Reform style, but it feels jarring. When I started writing this piece on Shavuot Eve, I envisioned a short response to the Haaretz article, and here, I give a confession. These are pandemic times. My son, his Asian American partner, and I are locked down in San Francisco. It felt so odd for us to participate in my shul’s Zoom for a midnight study of social justice issues in relation to the Torah.17 We changed into white shirts, shut off our laptops and iPhones, lit the candles, blessed and ate takeaway bourekas and cheesecake. We sang holiday tunes. After the meal, we went down memory lane to our lives on welfare when we were stranded in Israel. Our memories, translated into English, feel as if we’d lived in a mirage. They cut less into the soul than in Hebrew, our mother tongue.
Smadar Lavie is professor emerita of anthropology at UC Davis. She authored The Poetics of Military Occupation (1990), which received the honorable mention of the Victor Turner Award, and Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture (2014/2018), which received the honorable mention of the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies. The book was finalist in the Clifford Geertz Competition of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion. Lavie won the American Studies Association’s 2009 Gloria Anzaldúa Prize and the “Heart at East” Honor Plaque for lifetime service to Mizrahi communities in Israel-Palestine.
15 Confession and Mirage
Smadar Lavie
1 The only available statistics on the Mizrahi-Ashkenazi-Palestinian women faculty in Israel can be found in Zarini’s MA thesis (2011). She counted 1,032 women professors out of the five thousand or so associate and full professors in Israeli universities and community colleges, and in government services, such as hospitals or agricultural research facilities. Mizrahi women number thirty-seven out of these 1,032. Of these thirty-seven, almost all are married to wealthy and well-placed Ashkenazim. Only six of these thirty-seven were in the non-applied humanities and social sciences. Zarini reports that all thirty-seven self-identified as Zionists. Even more marked is the present state of Israel’s Palestinian academics. In 2011, of Israel’s five thousand total professors, a mere sixty-nine were Palestinian. There was only one woman among them, in the Tel Aviv University School of Education. Since then, as far as I know, only two other Palestinian-Israeli professors have received tenured professorships at Israeli universities.
2 The Mugrabi Quarter was a nearly 800-year-old neighborhood located in Jerusalem’s Walled City.
3 Born in Cairo, Dr. Vicki Shiran was a pathbreaking founder of many Mizrahi social movements and is considered the mother of Mizrahi feminism.
4 The Kafr Qasim massacre took place on October 29, 1956, when Israeli Border Police executed forty-nine Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as they returned from work to their village, Kafr Qasim. They were unaware a curfew had been decreed earlier in the day.
5 Geula Cohen was a Stern Gang leader and a senior Maariv journalist. Between 1974 and 1999, she was a Knesset member from the Tehiya party. The Stern Gang, also known as Lehi, was an extreme right-wing Zionist paramilitary organization that sought to evict British authorities from Palestine by force.
6As of August 2020, Hanegbi was minister of settlement affairs.
7 Baruch Kimmerling was a Hebrew University sociologist, the first from inside Israeli academe to question Israel’s creation.
8 Hillel House is the largest Zionist organization present on North American and Western European college campuses. It creates a framework for campus Jewish life while disseminating pro-Israel propaganda disguised as student activism.
9 Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar (2016) provide an excellent analysis of the obstacles US scholars encounter when teaching critically about the Middle East.
10 Matzpen (Hebrew for “compass”) was active between the 1960s and 1980s.
11 The Sabra and Shatila Massacre was the murder of 3,500 Palestinian refugees by Christian Phalange militiamen and was masterminded by Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s defense minister.
12 The October 2000 Palestinian uprisings broke out within the 1948 borders of Palestine or the State of Israel in solidarity with West Bank and Gaza mass demonstrations in response to Ariel Sharon’s uninvited pilgrimage to the Temple Mount
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or Al-Aqsa Mosque. During this insurrection, the Israeli police executed twelve Palestinian youth demonstrators in the Galilee. Al-Aqsa Intifada was a 2000–2005 insurrection of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.
13 Ahoti is Israel’s feminist of color movement. It no longer has a website, so see their Facebook page.
14 Operation Defensive Shield was a 2002 large-scale IDF response directed mainly against Palestinian civilians of the West Bank during the second Intifada.
15 Israel’s National Security Bureau (NSB) is similar to the US Social Security Administration.
16 The Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow is an antiracist, social justice NGO.
17 Tikkun Leil Shavuot is the practice of going to the synagogue for Maariv after a Shavuot holiday meal and studying the Torah into the night.
Blachman, Israel. 2005. Mizrahim in the Faculty of Israeli Research Universities. Master’s thesis, Tel Aviv University, Israel [Hebrew].
Caspi, Arie. 2001.”Cherchez la Femme.” Haaretz, December 19.
Deeb, Lara, and Jessica Winegar. 2016. Anthropology’s Politics: Disciplining the Middle East. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Greenberg, Lev. 2019. “Once It Was Successful: The Story of an Arab-Jewish Partnership at the Hebrew University” [in Hebrew]. Siha Mekomit, December 12.
Hess, Yizhar. 1994. “Sell-Out Mizrahi and Highbrow Ashkenazi” [in Hebrew]. Shishi—Musaf, no. 7 (January 21): 13–15.
Kimmerling, Baruch. 2004. Immigrants, Settlers, Natives: Israel between Plurality of Cultures and Cultural Wars [in Hebrew]. Tel Aviv: Am Oved.
17 Confession and Mirage
Smadar Lavie
Lavie, Smadar. 1992. “Blow-Ups in the Borderzones: Third World Israeli Authors’ Gropings for Home.” New Formations 18: 84–106.
Lavie, Smadar. 2002a. “In Search of the Mizrahi Woman Professor” [in Hebrew]. Tel Aviv Weekly Magazine, January 18.
Lavie, Smadar. 2002b. “A Pedophile Father Is Preferable to an Alienating Mother: Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and Israel’s Supreme Court” [in Hebrew]. Psak Din, October.
Lavie, Smadar. 2005. “Israeli Anthropology and American Anthropology.” Anthropology Newsletter, January 8, 8.
Lavie, Smadar. 2018a. “Acceptance Speech for My Father’s Posthumous Degree Ceremony.” Facebook, April 13.
Lavie, Smadar. 2018b. Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Lavie, Smadar and Ted Swedenburg, eds. 1996. Displacement, Diaspora and Geographies of Identity. Durham: Duke University Press.
Levy-Barzilai, Vered. 2002. “Boycott Us!” [in Hebrew]. Haaretz, April 24.
Littman, Shany. 2020. “After Losing Hope for Change, Top Left-Wing Activists and Scholars Leave Israel Behind.” Haaretz, May 25.
Moscona-Lerman, Billie. 2002. “For You, a Mizrahi Woman Is Just a Maid” [in Hebrew]. Maariv Weekly Magazine, February 1.
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Traubmann, Tamara. 2006. “A Different Way to Fight Academic Boycotts” [in Hebrew]. Haaretz, May 23.
Zarini, Iris. 2011. Mizrahi Women Professors in Israel’s Academe. Master’s thesis, Ben Gurion University, Israel [Hebrew].


Anthropology and American Anthropology: Our “Special Relations” / Prof. Smadar Lavie

The following article by the brilliant Mizrahi activist author of one of the most insightful books of anthropology The Poetics of Military Occupation is a detailed argument which definitively shows the racism that exists at the very heart of the Israeli academic system.


In March three registered NGOs, Ahoti (Sistah, Hebrew), Israel’s feminists-of-color movement; the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow; and Mossawa, the Advocacy Centerfor the Palestinian-Arab Citizens of Israel, filed an official complaint to Israel’s State Comptroller against anthropology departments in all Israeli universities.

These NGOs advocate Mizrahi (Arab-Jews of Asian and North African origins) and Palestinian-Israeli human rights. The complaint was researched and co-authored by Yif`at Hillel, Nurit Hajjaj, Vardit Damri-Madar, Rafi Shubeli, Smadar Lavie and by the late Vicki Shiran, founder of Israel’s feminist-of-color movement.

In these NGOs’ complaint, clarification is sought on the almost complete absence of tenured Mizrahi faculty, and the total absence of Palestinian-Israeli faculty in anthropology departments in Israeli universities. Such absences are in complete violation of any principal of equal opportunities employment. Mizrahim and Palestinian citizens of Israel consist of about 70% of Israel’s citizenry.

The complaint also noted the total absence of Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli women in both junior and senior faculty positions in Israeli universities’ anthropology departments, violations of our Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli intellectual and cultural property rights, and the complete absence of an ethics code for the practice of anthropology in Israel.

The complaint argued that Israeli Ashkenazi (European Jewish) anthropologists have made social and financial gains through the appropriation of Mizrahi and Palestinian cultures. Sixty-seven percent of Israeli anthropologists study Mizrahim and/or Palestinians. Ashkenazim consist of about 30% of Israel’s citizenry and over 90% of Israel’s university faculty body.

The complaint juxtaposes the data about Israeli academic apartheid practices with data about the present gendered-ethnic FTE distribution in major US anthropology departments. It also reviews the careers and influential publications of Mizrahi and Palestinian anthropologists who, after being rejected by Israeli academia due to alleged “collegial incompatibility,” have made names for themselves in Western European and US universities.

International and Israeli Responses 

The Ahoti-Rainbow-Mossawa coalitional team emailed and faxed English translations of the complaint to the AAA, the Royal Anthropological Institute of Britain, the European Association of Social Anthropologists, and the Canadian Society for Anthropology and Sociology. The Society for Cultural Anthropology and the American Ethnological Society, sections of the AAA, discussed the complaint this spring, along with the AAA executive board, as it continues to generate ongoing discussion on the AAA Middle East Section’s listserv.

The Israeli State Comptroller has yet to substantially address the concerns raised in the coalition’s complaint, although he acknowledged its receipt.  Currently the Israeli Anthropological Association is developing an ethics code in response to the complaint.

We find this ironic given the benevolent colonialism of the so-called progressive edition of Israeli anthropology. Even those Israeli anthropologists who pose as radical – and as part of this pose have even expressed their support in our activism – actually preserve the master Ashkenazi-Zionist narrative of anti-Arab apartheid when deciding about their choice of departmental colleagues, whether in FTE allocations, merits and promotions. In some instances when the coalition has tried to address alleged issues of Ashkenazi ethnographic beneficence or institutional racism it has been silenced through threat of lawsuit, on the one hand, and hegemonized cajoling, on the other. Yet the silence ought not be interpreted as evidence that that such acts of racism do not exist.

US Anthropology’s Role

In May, UC Berkeley anthropologist Lawrence Cohen visited Israel as the keynote speaker of the Israeli Anthropological Association and the Israeli Queer Studies Group. Members of the coalition met with him on May 9 to discuss the reasons for the American-focused campaign, and to request further assistance. Cohen was generous with his time and ideas, and also suggested that we organize or consult with Native American activists. Nevertheless, he expressed the fear that by siding with equal opportunity anti-racist struggles outside the US, the AAA might appoint itself a cop of the world, so to speak, Bush- administration style. Considering the so-called “special relations” between Israel’s and the US’s white neo-conservative elites, however, such a fear is difficult for us to grasp.

From the onset of the Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli anti-racist struggle, Israeli anthropology has been applied as an arm of governmentality to better suppress it and to design pacifying policies of cooptation. This was done through in-situ cross-cultural application of the works of Victor Turner or Talcott Parsons on our transit camps, neighborhoods and villages. Paradoxically, however, Israeli anthropologists cynically quote US anthropology from the 1960s on, focusing on the liberation struggles of women, minorities, immigrants, queers, and other subjects under post-colonialism. The coalition finds this an empty gesture of interpolation in order to sail through the anonymous review procedures of scholarly periodicals and grants.

A largely decontextualized version of US anthropology has dictated appointments, promotions, research grants and publications politicking of Israeli anthropology at least for the last two decades. For example, many endowed visitors invited to speak at annual meetings, seminars and to guest teach in Israeli anthropology departments are Ashkenazi Jews who are on the faculty of US Ivy League and elite universities. Non-Ivy-League and elite anthropologists are not considered worthwhile of invitation. Perhaps because about 85% of diaspora Jewry is Ashkenazi, these US anthropologists overlook the apartheid practices of Israel’s academe.

After such visits to Israeli anthropology academics, US anthropologists are then requested to reciprocate with weighty career evaluation letters that decide the fate of Israeli anthropologists’ merits and promotions, invitations for sabbaticals, and assistance in getting Israeli articles admitted to prestigious periodicals and edited US-based university press collections.

Israeli anthropologists get promoted in Israeli universities on the basis of English-language publications mainly in US periodicals. Academic English is not accessible to the majority of Israelis. The coalition worries that given the monochromatic, elitist and insular composition of Israeli anthropology faculty, these scholars’ English-language publications, written in the absence of any human subjects procedures, thereby provide a slanted view of Israeli society, and concurrently hurt the scientific reputation of academic US periodicals.

Through the public media, Israelis often learn about US intellectual interventions in sites of grave injustice outside the US, where the principals of human rights are at stake.  The .Ahoti-Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow-Mossawa coalition to end Israeli anthropology’s apartheid merits AAA intervention and support.

From The Anthropology Newsletter, January 2005


New Texts Out Now: Smadar Lavie, Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture

By : Smadar Lavie  

Smadar Lavie, Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2014.

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?

Smadar Lavie (SL): In February 1999 I was a star academic, on the eve of becoming a full tenured professor at University of California, Davis. I had to pack two suitcases, the family dog, and my son’s cello, and flee with him from Berkeley to save our lives. We were both victims of domestic violence that I kept secret from my colleagues. The California courts had proven unable to help us. So I fled to Israel-Palestine, where my family resides. Upon arrival, our Israeli and US passports were confiscated.

In 2001, I was cleared of any wrongdoing revolving around taking my son away to Israel. My US passport was returned to me. The Israeli state took advantage of the situation, however, to gag me—an outspoken scholar and activist against the state. Israelis with dual citizenship are required to use their Israeli passports to enter and exit the country. When I was cleared, I should have received both of my passports. Instead, the authorities kept my Israeli passport and issued a stop-exit order against me. The revolving door between Israel’s regime and its academe hoped to halt my research—the first of its kind in English to empirically document Israel’s lived, everyday Ashkenazi (“European Jewish” in Hebrew) racism against the Mizrahim (“Easterners” in Hebrew), Jews with origins in the Muslim and Arab World or the European margins of the Ottoman Empire. Mizrahim constitute the majority of Israel’s citizens, at fifty percent. The other two groups of Israeli citizens are Palestinians, at twenty percent, and Ashkenazim, or Jews of Yiddish speaking origins, at thirty percent. The Ashkenazi minority holds the power and privilege in the state.

For six and a half additional years, my passport remained confiscated, trapping me within the state, and barring me from gainful employment by my politics and skin color. I became a single mother dependent on welfare. To stay sane, I joined the effort to build Ahoti (“Sistah,” Hebrew), Israel’s Mizrahi feminist movement. I led many successful initiatives to expose and try to remedy the state’s structural apartheid between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim.

My latest book, Wrapped in the Flag of Israel seeks to expose and explore the predicaments and conundrums facing Mizrahim in Israel and how intra-Jewish racism relates to the Palestine-Israel and Arab-Israeli conflicts.

Statistics officially kept by the Israeli state largely downplay the demographic disparity between Israel’s Mizrahi majority and Ashkenazi minority. Until the last couple of years, Israel’s intra-Jewish apartheid and its impact on Palestine and the Arab World have been rarely discussed in major print and electronic Hebrew media, let alone in the international media.

Diaspora Jews are Israel’s broadest support base in all areas. Most are Ashkenazim themselves, and relate to Israel’s Ashkenazi minority. Many have also been at the forefront of civil rights movements in the United States, anti-colonialist movements in Latin America, and anti-apartheid movements in South Africa. How would these progressive diaspora Jews react to the fact that European Jews in Israel design ideologies and enact practices that can be perceived as colonialist and against civil-rights for Jews inside the Homeland of the Jews?  

During my years in Israel as a welfare mother and Mizrahi feminist leader, I noticed the propensity for Mizrahi social protests to fail. A breaking event such as violence in Gaza, military conflicts with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, or a soon-to-happen Israeli bombardment of Iran’s nuclear facilities would blanket news outlets just as a protest started to gain momentum. This effectively crushes the movement, as Mizrahim would abandon their causes and unite with the Ashkenazim as the last line of Jewish defense against the threatening goyim (“non-Jews,” or “enemies,” in colloquial Hebrew).

I observed that one of the most efficient tools to squelch Mizrahi protest is to get its leaders entangled in a lethal web of bureaucracy. If they dare to complain, they will be silenced by the argument that national unity has to be maintained due to an acute threat to the Jewish state’s survival. Wrapped in the Flag of Israel analyzes this bureaucratic web as it was used against the 2003 single mothers march on Jerusalem led by Vicky Knafo. Then it further illuminates the relationships that tie Mizrahi protest movements, state bureaucracy, and the Arab-Israeli conflict together.

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?

SL: Wrapped in the Flag of Israel focuses on a specific segment of Israel’s Mizrahi population—single mothers on welfare—as a case study. Social work practice, policy, and research focus on circumstances surrounding single mothers’ reliance on welfare, policies that keep them marginal to the workforce and actions that may break mothers away from the poverty cycle. Rarely is bureaucracy itself examined as a ritual inflictor of pain on welfare mothers. Moreover, rarely is there anthropological discussion of the relationship between an ethno-religious state and the sanctity of its military conflicts, on the one hand, and family welfare policies, on the other.

To my knowledge, there are no ethnographies on single, welfare mothers in the Middle East. Yet throughout the Global South, single mothers and their children are one of the populations at highest risk when the nation-state sacrifices human dignity to global neoliberal restructuring. My book discusses state bureaucracy through the intersectionality model employed by feminists of color and critical race theories. In so doing, it exposes some of the problems of this model when it encounters a divine, authoritarian state formation and Arab family dynamics.

In addition, most studies of bureaucracy hold that bureaucracy follows rational logic. Wrapped in the Flag of Israel follows in the footsteps of Don Handelman, who challenges Max Weber’s model of rational, secular bureaucracy and argues instead that bureaucracy is ritualistic. My book builds off Handelman by analyzing bureaucracy as a divine cosmological order whose rituals are constructed around the classifications of race, gender, and religion—the categories that form citizenship in the State of Israel. Among Israeli Jews, race and class almost completely overlap. I therefore do not discuss class as a separate category.

This book also challenges anthropology’s tendency to study subjects the ethnographer is personally comfortable or familiar with. In urban settings, the groups anthropologists prefer to study are often progressive and left leaning. As a result, there are far fewer studies that employ ethnographic compassion or have a deep, experiential understanding of right-wing ultra-nationalist groups. In Israel, this ethnographic “comfort zone” has served to trivialize the victimhood of Mizrahim.

Wrapped in the Flag of Israel attempts to engage foundational theories such as Durkheim’s concepts of organic and mechanic solidarities in order to re-analyze the concept of agency. Alongside critiquing current theories of identity politics and agency, this book hearkens back to anthropology’s theories of classification—one of the discipline’s historical pillars.

At the same time as I address these academic fields analytically, the book also means to address the heavy personal and professional price activists pay—often their own lives—as they fight for justice, dignity, and freedom for communities robbed of their languages, histories, homes, and gainful employment. These activists do not leave obvious traces after they depart from the tangible world. As a scholar-activist, I have the education and opportunity to leave some written traces of failed Mizrahi struggles for social justice in the State of Israel. Perhaps in the future, scholars, policymakers, and activists of the Global South will be able to use my research and writing to break out of the cycle I outline in the book: Mizrahi social protests leading to Israeli-Palestinian bloodletting that, in turn, contributes to the protest’s failure. Without Israel’s Mizrahi majority, there will not be any chance to achieve a just resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict.

J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous research?

SL: Between 1975 and 1990 I conducted intensive fieldwork among the Mzeina Bedouin of the South Sinai. My first book, The Poetics of Military Occupation: Mzeina Allegories Under Israeli and Egyptian Rule (1990), described and analyzed a handful of charismatic characters who performed the paradoxes and absurdities of Sinai Bedouin life under Israeli rule by means of ritualistic story-telling. It focused on transnational identity politics and agency in both anthropology and cultural studies.

In 1990, when my son was one year old, I shifted my center of research from Egypt to Israel-Palestine. I continued my relationships with the Mzeina Bedouin. These had gone beyond research. The Mzeina became family with whom I still keep close today. The change in my research focus seemed like an exciting switch at the time. My American colleagues were starting to shift their focus inward, to study their own cultures rather than those of faraway places. I, too, wanted to shift from “fieldwork” to “homework.” My research among the Mzeina had addressed the cultural conflicts and conjunctions in modernist colonial systems, and it was set in a context where postcolonial nation-states clashed with indigenous cultures in a transnational setting.

My new project, “Hebrew as Step-Mother Tongue: The Lives and Works of Arabic Speaking Jewish and Palestinian Authors and the Rupture of Israel’s Eurocentrism,” was to explore similar problems yet in a complex, urban, postmodern setting. I studied the lives and words of authors, both Mizrahi and Palestinian, who crossed borders by writing Hebrew literature and poetry even though their native tongue is Arabic. My project was to focus on their life histories, including family, kinship, and their problematic sense of belonging in the Ashkenazi intellectual milieu. These authors tried to avoid what Stuart Hall termed “the burden of representation” of their own communities of origin by avoiding writing about Ashkenazi Zionism’s negative effects. The Mizrahi-Palestinian borderlands provided a setting where articulating and living through the cultural concept of nation was itself under racialized scrutiny from experiential, political, and literary perspectives.

My shift was also practical. I was a young mother in Berkeley. I was without any communal or familial support. Many of my female colleagues had forsaken children in favor of achieving tenure. They had little sympathy for the balancing act I was struggling to maintain. They did not even know about the turmoil at home that I kept private. If I were doing research in Israel, I could at least get communal and emotional support, as well as childcare, from my family and friends.

I understood that research and publication of critical scholarship on Israel-Palestine was a career risk. In 1990, I was a US-based scholar. The pro-Israel lobby was and still is highly influential in North American universities. I knew that studying intra-Jewish racism in the Homeland of the Jews could alarm the lobby. In those days, I could not count on any allies in the burgeoning field of Palestine Studies. The field was not yet nuanced enough to consider any conflict other than the simple Israel vs. Palestine divide. Nevertheless, I thought my tenure-track position would provide safe harbor for “Hebrew as Step-Mother Tongue.” At any rate, my tenure was to be decided on my research on the Sinai Bedouin of Egypt. There was no pro-Egypt lobby meddling with academic freedom. Funded by scholarly grants, I had conducted my first segment of ethnographic research in Israel between 1990 and 1994. The theoretical framework of “Hebrew as a Step Mother Tongue” served as the basis for my collaboration with Ted Swedenburg on Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity (1996). Other fragments of “Hebrew as a Step Mother Tongue”—both published and unpublished—also survive today as uncited parts of articles by Mizrahi Studies scholars.

Soon after I arrived in Israel in 1999, I embarked on another segment of my research, lasting until 2007. This time, I was funded mostly by Israel’s National Security Bureau’s (NSB) income augmentation checks and the pittance I received as an adjunct professor at the Beit Berl Teachers College. Between 1999-2007, I did not travel to “the field” from the comfort of a university position. I thus did not have the pleasure of returning to the university after a couple of years of fieldwork. I was stranded in Israel for eight and a half years. My new book provides statistics on the ethnic-racial-gendered distribution of tenured faculty in Israeli universities. Less than one percent of tenured women professors are Mizrahi, mostly in the applied sciences. None of them has questioned the oxymoron of a democratic ethno-religious, Jewish state in mandatory Palestine. I thus was forced to take hourly low-wage, part-time jobs and rely on welfare income augmentations to survive and support my son.

While at the University of California, I focused on the Arab-Israeli borderzone and the hybridity and tactical essentialism at the intersectional crux of Mizrahi identity politics. Ted Swedenburg and I argued that agency sparks up at the borderzones where identity and place grate up against each other and are forced into constantly shifting configurations of partial overlap.

Wrapped in the Flag of Israel diverges away from my old work by going against these two key concepts: identity politics and the agency immanent in its enactment. Likewise, it defies the feminist injunction against binary logic as it analyzes the intersection of gender-race-class with religion as a space of primordial divinity.

Integral to my discussion of Mizrahi single mothers is their distinct lack of personal and communal agency when dealing with the state bureaucracies they depend upon to survive. Much of North American and Western European social anthropology and feminist theory tend to insist that agency is intrinsic—that all oppressed people have it no matter what their situation. By delving into how Israeli citizenship is made into a transcendental essence, I argue that the sanctity of the state on its bureaucratic apparatus short circuits agency and its capacities to resist oppression.

[Single mother at an appointment with an employment bureau placement clerk. His office is stocked with wines and spirits, as well
as a parody of prayer above the clerk`s head in the same font as the Torah scroll: “All are governed by the creator of the universe.
Thus, woe to you if you waste anyone`s time.” Photo by Meir Azulay, Beer Sheba, 2003. Image provided by the author.]

And why is the agency immanent in identity politics impossible to enact? Well, when I, welfare mom, stood in front of the bureaucrat, I couldn’t state that I existed at the intersection of my identities as former UC professor, single mother, repatriated citizen from hip Berkeley, Mizrahi identified with an Ashkenazi father, anti-Zionist, and semi-observant Jew. A Mizrahi welfare mama was all I was allowed to be.

J: Who do you hope will read this book and what impact would you like it to have?

SL: This book is both very accessible and narratively innovative in its write-up of ethnography, weaving multiple genres that cohere into a cohesive whole—subaltern theory and autoethnography, translations of handwritten descriptions and dialogues, printouts of official documents and emails, newspaper clippings, classic quotes from feminist of color theory, poetry, and even Kabalic-style curses. It presents secular government bureaus as sites of sacred, religious pilgrimage, because receiving aid relies not on civil rights, but on serendipity. Moreover, the psychic and somatic effects of single mothers’ bureaucratic encounters—whether standing in line or in their own homes—amounts to torture inflicted upon them by the state.

So my hope is that Wrapped in the Flag of Israel will appeal to many different audiences, including university faculty and students, welfare policy makers, NGO leadership and membership, and a general readership interested in Israel-Palestine. The number of policy-makers, diplomats, foundations, community organizations, and activists devoted to solving the Israel-Palestine conflict keeps growing steadily. Much of the research they base their activities on revolves around the same binary thinking that has dominated the Israel-Palestine conflict since the 1948 beginnings of the state: Israel vs. Palestine; Israel vs. The Arab World; and Jews vs. Arabs (mainly Muslims). Some of these practitioners and policy-makers are starting to suspect that the traditional binary thinking on the Israel/Middle East conflict cannot yield any lasting, positive results.

Longitudinal, participatory studies about Mizrahim, written from a position that is not (post)Zionist, are quite rare. Most critical Mizrahi studies come out of history, literature, or cinema studies. In addition, there are currently few, if any, English-language studies on how bureaucratic entanglements in the Global South—or anywhere, for that matter—promote the deterioration of physical and mental health over time. Thanks to the ever-widening adoption of neo-liberal economic practices, the disenfranchised populations I write about in the book—single mothers—are exploding in number. In coming years, policy makers in governments all over the world will have to take actions to deal with this expanding demographic.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

SL: Wrapped in the Flag of Israel started as a chapter in a book of essays, Crossing Borders, Staying Put: Mizrahi Feminism, Palestine, and the Racial Formations of the Israeli State. The essays all focus on the relationships that exist in the Arab-Israeli borderlands between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi feminists, and between Israel’s Mizrahi majority and the state’s Ashkenazi-dominated regime. Crossing Borders describes and analyzes the ways that the intersections of religion, gender, race, and class interplay with the logjam of the Middle East Peace Process. This interplay serves as the building blocks for the lived experience of Mizrahi women’s everyday lives.

The paradoxical fusion of anti-racist activism and communal right-wing politics on the Israel-Palestine conflict delineates the contours of Mizrahi feminism. This quandary thus transcends the constructivist, coalitional identity politics typical of US-European Feminisms of Color or Third World feminisms. To function in the political, cultural, and racial Arab-Israeli borderlands with efficacy, Mizrahi feminists often deploy foundational strategies that both improve the welfare of their disenfranchised Israeli constituencies, but also alienate them from the feminist fabric of the Arab World or the Global South.

It was in the midst of working on the essays that the timeliness of the Wrapped in the Flag of Israel chapter came to light. Now that Wrapped in the Flag has become its own independent work, I look forward to returning to Crossing Borders and finishing the project.

J: How does the book’s specific focus on Mizrahi single mothers allow you to talk about what you call “bureaucratic torture” in Israel?

SL: Wrapped in the Flag of Israel examines state welfare bureaucracy as a system of torture for its single Mizrahi mother clients. It might seem strange to equate bureaucratic entanglements with torture, but according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the first definition of torture is “anguish of body or mind” or “something that causes agony or pain.” In Israel, bureaucracy is one of the state’s gross crimes, even though it might not fit the narrow legal definition of “torture.” Some crimes are unspeakable. Yet anthropologists appreciate the said and often overlook the unsaid. They record discourse and transform it into text. It is difficult for bureaucracy’s clients to notice and articulate the cumulative pain the bureaucrats inflict upon them. Oftentimes, even though the pain is palpable, it is non-representational, and therefore it rarely becomes a discourse readily available for ethnographic description and analysis.

People in all parts of the world, in all classes, have run-ins with bureaucracy. Those with means can either ignore or sidestep bureaucracy’s ill effects. But for disenfranchised populations, who often do not have the ability to voice their concerns to those who would listen, bureaucracy’s lethal webs cannot be easily brushed aside.

The focus on Mizrahi single mothers on welfare is a case study that demonstrates how Israeli bureaucracy operates in all arenas. At bureaus, single mothers on welfare often have to wait in long lines with no promise of a resolution to their problems. Many times, they reach a bureaucrat, only to be sent away to another bureau. Other times, they are offered precious income assurance checks only in exchange for sexual favors. This existence—bouncing from bureau to bureau and back—forces single mothers to live in a constant state of torturous anxiety that is almost impossible to escape.

Israeli bureaucracy is organic to the state’s non-negotiable religious character. I thus identify bureaucracy’s twin “divinities” that operate simultaneously as two claws in a pincer. I term the first “The Divinity of the Jewish State.” This divinity emanates from its very definition—the promised land, the homeland of the Jewish people. No longer imaginary, it is a sovereign state with an army to guard its territorial claims. Jews religiously conceive of themselves as “the chosen people,” and their religiously conceived “chosen land” is Eretz Israel, or historic Palestine. I term the second “The Divinity of Chance.” This divinity is defined by the goals that the faithful have when they go on pilgrimage. A welfare mother petitioning a bureaucrat is like a pilgrim beseeching the jawbone of a saint. Mother and pilgrim are bound by the strict script of religious ritual, on the one hand, and by the serendipity of good luck and divine intervention, on the other.

Yet both mother and bureaucrat conceive themselves as integral parts of the miraculous ingathering of the Jewish diaspora in the promised land. This is the land of divine bureaucracy governed by etsba` Elokim, or “the finger of G-d” in Hebrew. Citizenship is a guaranteed miracle, so long as one can prove five generations back of Jewish mothers. The other guaranteed miracle for Israeli Jews is an IDF draft notice to report for duty at age eighteen.

Excerpt from Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture

From Chapter Six: The Price of National Security

Knafoland—The End

The Knafo struggle ended the day after the conversation with Ilana about the Israeli regime’s ethnic cleansing of Mizrahi single mothers. On the evening of 19 August 2003, a Palestinian suicide bomber dressed as an Orthodox Jew carried an explosive device aboard Bus #2 from the Western Wall into Jewish Jerusalem. The device detonated just past Peace Rd. #1 at the American Colony Hotel crossroad—the old 1967 border between Palestinian Jerusalem and Mizrahi Jerusalem. Three hundred meters (around one thousand feet) away from my granny’s house. Twenty-three people died. Over 130 were injured. Most of the casualties were ultra-orthodox Jews. One Filipina domestic worker also died.

This ended the hudna between Israel and Hamas.

Before the bombing, the national and international media whiled away the uneventful days of the hudna in their own encampment near Knafoland. When their beepers, cell phones, and two-way radios buzzed with news of the bombing, they all leapt up in unison. In a press corps’ caravan, they sped across town to cover the carnage at the border. Afterwards, they went to the American Colony Hotel Bar to get drunk. So did I, with my converted food coupons to purchase a drink I would nurse for hours and my California English to gather information. Forever the anthropologist, forever collecting data.

Without media coverage, the sotzialits took advantage. They offered mothers minimal incentives to leave, and reminded them that if their children were not in school come 1 September, they’d be reported as delinquents to the Youth and Family Courts. The judges could then order the removal of the children from their homes to be forcibly placed into boarding schools (Hertzog 1996, 2004b).

The plight of the single mothers was completely off the public agenda in favor of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Most mothers left the encampment within a few days of the bombing. Only Vicky and a few die-hards stayed until 23 September 2003, when Vicky herself departed.

For Jewish New Year 2004, Vicky Knafo, strapped for cash, posed nude for an Israeli porn website. For this photo-op, she had written on her breasts: “The State Milks Single Mothers.” Later, she sued the owners of the site because they didn’t pay her what they promised.

On the eve of Jewish New Year 2005, Vicky’s son committed suicide. Right after Jewish New Year 2006, Vicky joined the Meretz Party, the predominantly Ashkenazi, left-leaning, land-for-peace party, and started giving speeches about peace. Shortly thereafter, she completely disappeared from the public sphere.

From 2006 until January 2009, Bibi Netanyahu, head of Likud, led the Knesset’s parliamentary opposition. Between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, the IDF conducted Operation “Cast Lead.” Its name was borrowed from a lyric about the miracle of Hanukkah written by Haim Nachman Bialik, Israel’s national poet. “My teacher gave me a dreidel cast from solid lead,” Bialik wrote, to the tune of an Ashkenazi folk song. In Arabic, Operation “Cast Lead” is referred to as “The Gaza Carnage.” The operation involved a massive three-week bombing and invasion of the densely populated Gaza Strip. This was prime scheduling, as the United States would be deep in President George W. Bush’s lame duck period after the November 2008 elections and before the January 2009 inauguration of Barack H. Obama.

On 20 February 2009, after parliamentary elections, President Shimon Peres followed procedure and appointed Bibi prime minister to form a new government—on the Mizrahi vote, yet again.

This is Exactly What We Did

On 21 February 2005, I attended a convening of Israel’s Women’s Parliament. The day’s topic was “Minimum Wage: A Woman’s Perspective.” One of the speakers was Dr. Linda `Efroni, a brilliant Iraqi economist and labor attorney. She is a prominent consultant for Israel’s major labor unions on issues concerning income and work conditions and a member of the Israeli Council of Higher Education. At the time, she also had a weekly opinion column in Globes: Israel Business News. Yet she has only been an adjunct at Tel Aviv University. In the discussion after the speeches, she told the following story:

Around 2001, I was invited by the Israeli College of National Security, where military officers are groomed to become generals, to give a lecture at Haifa University. Haifa University regularly hosts events of the college. The audience was made up of students in the special program, but also senior members of the SHABAK—Israel’s secret police—military intelligence, the Israeli police force, and other senior officials in the national security apparatus. There were about forty people in all sitting around a large conference table.

This was around the time of the social unrest following the collapse of the Argentinian economy. They wanted to know if similar unrest was possible in Israel because of socio-economic gaps, and how these gaps could be minimized. I offered my analysis: we have problems with security and with borders. These transcend socio-economic protests. It would take nothing less than a miracle for any social protest to succeed.

If social unrest appeared in the news, I would not be surprised to hear about Hezbollah Katyusha rockets falling on Kiryat Shmona the next day. This would immediately shift public discourse back to security. I could not rule out that the Katyushas on Kiryat Shmona were a response to the IDF Air Force provocation of their fighter jets crossing the border deep into Lebanon. I told them that I didn’t have the knowledge, but my intuition as an analyst told me that.

Everyone was quiet. Everyone was quiet. No one said a thing. And then we broke for a buffet lunch.

At the buffet, a corpulent man approached me. He said, “Shalom, my name is [NAME REDACTED]. I used to be the media advisor for the Minister of Defense. And this is exactly what we did.”

On 9 October 2010, I called Dr. `Efroni from Minneapolis to verify the quote. She said:

Yes, this is exactly what I said. And this is what he said. He didn’t say that it was off the record. As for Vicky and the end of the hudna, I was in a meeting with Bibi in Jerusalem. She wanted me to join her. The man was very stressed. He sweated a lot. Very stressed. In hindsight, even in the Finance Ministry, they didn’t believe it was going to be so easy. Hok HaHesderim nullifies out the legislature. Israel is not a democracy. In the 2003 amendment, they saved five billion NIS.

They transferred the money to the upper echelons in the form of a tax refund. They could have done other things with this money. They were so surprised at how easy the transfer was. I think it is not impossible that they let the suicide bomber slip through.  
[Excerpted from Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture, by Smadar Lavie, by permission of the author. © 2014 Berghahn Books. For more information, or to purchase this book, click here.]


שושנה גמליאלית-לביא

בשירותה הצבאי הכירה גמליאלית את קצין התרבות זלמן לוינסון (לביא). היא נישאה לו, והם קבעו את מגוריהם בתל אביב ואח”כ בחולון. 

לאחר נישואיה, לבקשת בעלה, פרשה גמליאלית מבמת הזמר והתיאטרון, והקדישה את זמנה למשפחתה ולפעילויות מוסיקליות אחרות. הופעתה האחרונה הנזכרת בעיתונות, התקיימה בדצמבר 1953(1), והיא בת 25 שנה בלבד. לזוג נולדו שני ילדים – סמדר ויואב(2)

קריירת הזימרה שלה הייתה קצרה יחסית; הפרישה המוקדמת משידורי הרדיו, מהבמה ומהתודעה הציבורית גרמו לא אחת לבלבול בינה לבין הזמרת אסתר גמליאלית, שגם היא, בהיותה צעירה, פרשה מהופעות לאחר נישואיה. לשתיהן היה הרבה מן המשותף: בנוסף לקולן הערב ושם המשפחה, שתיהן הופיעו בתיאטרון “המטאטא”, שתיהן שרו שירי ילדים שהלחין נחום נרדי, ואת שתיהן הוא ליווה בנגינתו בתקליטים. בכתבה ב”מעריב” אודות סמדר לביא, בתה של שושנה גמליאלית, ציין העיתון בטעות, שהיא  בתה של ה”זמיר התימני” אסתר גמליאלית(3). אכן, קול זמיר היה לשושנה גמליאלית, אבל, היא הייתה “גמליאלית אחרת”.

שושנה גמליאלית עסקה בהוראת מוסיקה וזמרה, בתחילה בתל אביב ואח”כ בבית ספר “ביאליק” בחולון. אחדים מתלמידי אותו בית ספר התפרסמו כאמנים ידועי שם; ביניהם, הכנרים שמואל אשכנזי, שלמה מינץ ונגן הכינור, הוויולה והמנצח פנחס צוקרמן(4). בביתה, פתחה גמליאלית סטודיו פרטי למוסיקה, בו לימדה אחר הצהריים נגינה בחלילית ובפסנתר, וכן זמרה. באותן שנים היא גם הדריכה מקהלות, והופיעה איתן כסולנית.אחרי מות בעלה ביוני 1981, עברה גמליאלית לגור בנתניה, שם התגוררה עד פטירתה ב-2011, והיא בת 83 שנים. במודעת אבל על מותה, תיארו אותה בני משפחתה כ”זמרת ומורה שהנחילה אהבת השירה והנגינה למאות רבות של תלמידים”.  


1. על המשמר, 25 בדצמבר 1953, עמ’ 7. 2. סמדר לביא, פרופסור לאנתרופולוגיה ופעילה חברתית; יואב לביא, נהרג בן 25, בהתהפכות אוטובוס, שהחליק בכביש רטוב. מעריב, 2 באוקטובר, 1986 עמוד שער.3. מעריב, 2 באוקטובר 1986, עמ’ 5.     4. שלושתם למדו נגינת כינור אצל אילונה פהר, תושבת חולון, כנרת ידועה ופדגוגית, שרבים מתלמידיה התפרסמו בארץ ובעולם.

===========================================——-he-20–1–img-txIN%7ctxTI————–1⁨⁨מעריב⁩⁩, 2 אוקטובר 1986
  סמדר קיבלה אישור להשאר בארה”ב אך היא חוזרת ארצה
כדי להשתתף בלווית אחיה יואב שנהרג אתמול בתאונת דרכים
מאת דן דגוני, סופר “מעריב” בניו־יורק סמדר לביא, האנתרופולוגית הישראלית שחגגה בתחילת השבוע החלטה הפוטרת אותה מהצורך לשוב לישראל והמתירה לה להישאר בארה”ב עמ בעלה השחור, חוזרת היום ארצה בעקבות תעלול אכזרי של הגורל: אחיה של סמדר, יואב לביא, נהרג אתמול בתאונת דרכים ליד קריית גת. סמדר לביא, בתה של אסתר גמליאלי‭”, ‬הזמיר מתימן”, 31, ‬נחלה ביום ו’ ניצחון על הביורוקרטיה האמריקנית וקיבלה היתר להישאר בארה”ב יחד עם בעלה האמריקני, אע”פ שחתמה על התחייבות לשוב לישראל בתום לימודיה בארה”ב. לביא הגיעה לארה”ב ב־ 1979 ולמדה באוניברסיטת קליפורניה בברקלי לאחר שקיבלה מענק מקרן פולברייט. אחד מהתנאים לקבלת המענק הוא שהמקבל ישוב לארצו בתום לימודיו. ב־1983 נישאה לביא לפורסט ראוז, אזרח אמריקני שחור. סוכנות האינפורמציה האמריקנית, המפעילה את קרן פולברייט, דרשה מלביא לחזור לישראל, כפי שהתחייבה. סמדר, הלומדת אנתרופולוגיה, סרבה בגלל שני נימוקים: החיים בארץ יגרמו לה ולבעלה סבל, מפני שהבעל השחור יסבול מייחס עויין בארץ. יתר על כן, בעלה, המשלים לימודי דוקטורט בפיזיקה, לא יוכל לעסוק בישראל במקצועו. בני הזוג פתחו במערכה ציבורית, שחבקה את וושינגטון וירושלים יחד. סמדר הצליחה להביא מכתב רשמי משגרירות ישראל בוושינגטון האומר שלישראל אין התנגדות להישארותה של סמדר בארה”ב. אחת ההתפתחויות שאולי סייעו לסמדר להשיג את האישור המבוקש היתה התערבותם של עזר וייצמן ומזכיר הממשלה יוסי ביילין למענה. שלשום, בשיחה ל”מעריב‭, “‬אמרה סמדר: ניצחנו, אנחנו נשארים בקליפורניה‭.”אתמול אמרה: אני חוזרת מהר הביתה להלוויתו של אחי היחיד.


מעריב לנוער בגליון השבוע 32 עמודים היש תרבות נוער בישראל? מחקר כתבי נוער *** ראיון מיוחד עם ניסים אלוני מאת כ”נ איציק לץ ***
צייד הפרפרים – כ”נ סמדר לביא ***‬ הצד הרביעי שיל יהונתן גפן – מאת כ”נ ליאורה גיין 

מעריב⁩⁩, 1 אוגוסט 1971

ערב־ראיונות לנוער \ המראיינים: כתבי הנוער סמדר לביא, יצחק לץ ואוריאל בן־עמי \ המרואיינים: ‭* \‬ אפרים קישון * שייקה אופיר ‭* \ \‬ אורי דן \ ישעיהו פורת \  אהוד מנור * שמחה הולצברג: ‭”)‬אבי הפצועים)”‬ וכן תוכנית אמנותית

מפנקס הכנסת מאת יצחק שוד גולדה נפגשת עם נוער אתמול אירח יו״ר הכנסת, ראובן ברקת, מאות חברי פרלמנטים לנוער, יהודים ערבים ודרוזים. שלוש שעות “הפגיזו” את גולדה מאיר ואהרון ידלין בשאלות בוערות של מדיניות, חברה וחינוך לימינו של יו״ר הכנסת ישב מתחרהו הצעיר, אבי בן־שיטרית, מאשדוד, שניהל את הרב־שיח ביד חזקה ובפטיש נטוי. שואלת סמדר לביא : האם ערוכה ישראל למקרה שיפרוץ השלום, או שמה תפרוץ כאן מלחמת אזרחים ? האם אין סכנה כי תתפתח הרגשת עליונות ישראלית על פני שכנינו הערבים ? משיבה גולדה מאיר : אדרבה, יתנו לנו שכנינו שלום אמת ונראה כיצד נצליח לקיים חברה, תוך ויכוח דימוקראטי. הפער, החברתי עדתי מהווה חומר־נפץ מסוכן. אילו היה הדבר תלוי בה, היתה ראש־הממשלה דואגת להטבות למעוטי־הכנסה, ואילו היתר ימתינו. היו ימים “בטלניים ותמימים”, כאשר אדם השתכר לפי גודל משפחתו ולא לפי תפקידו. באותם ימים קיבל מזכיר ההסתדרות משכורת נמוכה מזו של פקיד מודיעין. אך היום קובעת ועדת התיאום של הארגונים האקדמאיים, שהפער קטן לאחרונה ב־l 7 אחוזים. גם הנוער יכול לעשות להקטנת הפער, אם יטול על עצמו את התפקיד לעזור לתלמידים חדשים בלימודיהם ולמצוא דרך ללב העולה החדש, כדי שיהיה לו עם מי להתיעץ. ללא התנדבות בני־נוער לא תוכל אף ממשלה להתגבר על הפער בכוחה בלבד. אשר ליחסינו עם השכנים, אילו עשו מדינות ערב שלום עם ישראל, היינו חיים איתם בהערכה וכבוד. יכולנו להגיש להם סיוע טכני כשם שאנו עושים באפריקה, לא כאנשים עליונים, אלא כאדם אל אדם. בישראל עובדים ערבים רבים בעבודות בלתי־מקצועיות. גולדה לא היתה רוצה שתיווצר כאן חברה, שבה לא יהיו עובדי־בניין, סנדלרים וחייטים יהודיים.


דבר⁩⁩, 27 יולי 1979
גלי צה”ל‭16. 05‬ . פגשתי נוודים אצילים – סיפורה של סמדר לביא בת ה ־‭,24‬ סטודנטית בחוג לסוציולוגיה, ואנתרופולוניה חברתית באוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים ‬ששהתה במשך ארבע שנים בחברת הבדואים של שבט “אמזנה” בדהב, החחקתה אחר אורח חייהם של הבדואים בדרום סיני. ‬הדימוי של הבדואי — הנווד האציל — ההולך במדבר מ”שום מקום” ל-“שום מקום” הוא רק אחד מהדימויים המופרכים בתוכנית זאת. עורך ומראיין אריאל כהן.  


דבר⁩⁩, 25 אוגוסט 1981
גלי צה”ל ‭23:05‬ פגשתי נוודים אצילים — סיפורה של סמדר לביא, סטודנטית בחוג לסוציולוגיה ואנתרופולוגיה באונ’ העברית, ששהתה במשך 4 שנים בחברתם של הבדואים משבט “אמזניה” בדהב, התחקתה אחר אורח חייהם ולמדה את דרכי אירגונם החברתי שבטי. עורך ומראיין: אריאל נתן.


חדשות⁩⁩, 12 אוקטובר 1989
המילוי המתובל, הסמוי, של הבורקס
יהודה ג’אד נאמן
כמעט כל האנתרופולוגים בארץ הם אשכנזים, בעוד שהקהילות אותן חקרו הן של יהודים שעלו ארצה מארצות העולם השלישי. מעירה על כך האנתרופולוגית סמדר לביא: “כיהודייה ערבית, שמתי לב שאיש מבין המנהיגים הישראלים מעולם לא טרח לברר אם אני מעוניינת בדימוי שיצרו עלי האשכנזים כאותו חלק אקזוטי ומתורבת למחצה ־בחברה שלהם;”


הנה פרופסור מגולגל בתוך נייר עיתון
סיפורים על מובטלים המתפרנסים בקושי יש למכביר. סיפור על פרופסורית בעלת שם עולמי המתקרבת לחרפת רעב הוא קצת יותר נדיר. ynet מביא לכם את סיפורה של סמדר לביא, מהמומחים החשובים בעולם בתחום האנתרופולוגיה, הנאלצת לגדל ילד בן 12 עם הכנסה של 2,700 שקל בחודש ובלי משרה קבועה. את עבודת המחקר הבאה שלה היא לא יכולה לפרסם, כי המחשב מקולקל ואין מי שיממן את תיקונו
דקל שחרור עדכון אחרון:  27.01.02 , 11:07
“אני ובני בן ה-12 חיים מהבטחת הכנסה של 2,700 שקל ומעזרה בשכר דירה של חלמיש”. הציטוט הזה לא לקוח מעוד סיפור של משפחה במצוקה מעיירת פיתוח. הדוברת הפעם היא סמדר לביא, ליתר דיוק פרופסור סמדר לביא, בת 47, מומחית עולמית באנתרופולוגיה.אף שמאחוריה שלושה ספרים שזכו לתפוצה בעולם, מחקרים שראו אור באוניברסיטאות המובילות במערב וקריירה אקדמית חובקת עולם, מגדלת לביא בתל אביב בדוחק רב את בנה הקטן.עד לא מזמן הרצתה כמחליפה, תמורת סכום פעוט, במכללת בית ברל. הסטודנטיות שלה ל”חינוך ושיוויון הזדמנויות” לא ידעו על מצבה הכלכלי הקשה. “היו לי סטודנטיות נפלאות”, אומרת לביא, “לא רציתי לערב שמחה בשמחה. זה לא היה המקום”. עתה, משתם הסמסטר ופרופסור לביא מסיימת את תקופת ההחלפה בבית ברל, לא ברור לה מהיכן תוציא את לחמה ואת לחמו של בנה הקטן.”אנו חיים בדוחק רב”, סיפרה השבוע. “גם אם הייתי רוצה להתקדם מקצועית, אני לא יכולה לעשות זאת כאן, כי המחקרים שלי תקועים עמוק בתוך מחשב. המחשב מקולקל ואין לי כסף לתקנו”.בעיריית תל אביב מכירים את המקרה של לביא ואומרים, כי ללא שירותי הרווחה העירוניים היו מגיעים לביא ובנה לחרפת רעב. “זה פשוט לא ייאמן, שמישהי עם קורות חיים מפוארים כאלה, מגיעה למצב של אין עבודה”, אמרה השבוע בתסכול עובדת רווחה, המנסה להתמודד עם סיפורי המובטלים הרבים הנוחתים על שולחנה.
מברקלי ללשכת הסעד
“המדהים הוא”, מוסיפה העובדת, “שמדובר בפרופסור שוויתרה על המשרה שלה באוניברסיטה הציבורית הטובה בעולם – אוניברסיטת קליפורניה, כדי לשקם את בנה בארץ”.לא בכדי מדברים בשירותי הרווחה של עיריית תל אביב על לביא כידועה, ונדהמים גם שם מסירובה של האקדמיה הישראלית לשכור את ההון התרבותי שלה. גם טענות, אם יהיו, של ראשי האוניברסיטאות, על כך שלביא אינה מתאימה לאקדמיה, בטלות בשישים אל מול הקריירה שלה, שמעט ממנה יכול כל גולש לגלות באתרי אינטרנט ידועים. עיון באתרים של כמה מהאוניברסיטאות המובילות מעלה כי הדוקטורט של לביא, שנעשה באוניברסיטת ברקלי בארה”ב, הוא רק ציון דרך בקריירה שלה. שימוש קצרצר במנוע החיפוש google מביא עשרות פרסומים של מאמרים אקדמיים פרי עטה במגזינים אקדמיים נחשבים. באתר היוקרתי של אוניברסיטת קליפורניה, למשל, תוכלו לקנות את ספרה הנחשב The Poetics of Military Occupation ב-22 דולר, ולקבלו עם שליח עד הבית. הספר מפרט מחקר ומסע אנתרופולוגי מרגש לעולמם של הבדואים. ספר זה, אגב, נחשב לאחד מנכסי הצאן-ברזל של האנתרופולוגיה העולמית.
מה שווה תואר בישראל
לביא מוערכת בעולם, אך לא באקדמיה הישראלית. כאן מעדיפים, כנראה, שהפרופסור תישאר מובטלת. סיפורה ממחיש עד כמה התואר הראשון, השני או השלישי, מכובדים ככל שיהיו, גם אם נרכשו בעמל רב (ולא בסמטה אפלה של אוניברסיטה מפוקפקת תמורת חופן דולרים), הם חסרי משמעות בישראל 2002. הניגוד החמור בין מעמדה העולמי, לבין תנאי החיים של לביא ובנה, עומדים להקיש על דלת האקדמיה הישראלית, וניתן להעריך, שבתוך ימים יתפרס סיפורה על פני עמודים רבים במוספי העיתונים ובראיונות טלוויזיוניים, לפחות עד שהסיפור האנושי הבא יכה בנו. אפשר למשל, לשאול את ראשי המוסדות להשכלה גבוהה בישראל, הממומנים בידי המדינה, מדוע טרקו את הדלת בפני פרופ’ לביא, והביאו אותה ואת בנה לספו של הביטוח הלאומי, ולנזקקות לשירותי הרווחה של עיריית תל אביב.ואם יש למי מהגולשים הצעה לפתרון, הוא מוזמן לפנות למערכת ynet באמצעות התגובות לכתבה.

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