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Mizrahi Mothers, Wrapped in the Flag: Ultra-Nationalism, Apartheid, and the Divinity of Bureaucracy in Israel

A lecture by Professor Smadar Lavie, U. C. Berkeley


Date: 29 October 2014

Time: 5.00

Venue: Ramphal 03/4

A wine reception will follow. All are welcome.

Smadar Lavie is a scholar in residence at the Beatrice Bain Research Group, U. C. Berkeley’s critical feminist research center. She is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century, University College Cork. Lavie spent nine years as tenured Professor of Anthropology at U.C. Davis, before fleeing California for Israel with her son as a result of domestic abuse. Once inside Israel’s borders, Lavie became a target of the regime due to her lifelong, outspoken scholarship and activism for gender equity and social justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli authorities confiscated her passports and issued an eight-year-long stop-exit order that trapped her within the country’s borders. Barred from gainful employment due to her politics and skin color, she was forced to rely on state welfare to survive. Even so, she turned her efforts to help establish feminist, anti-racist social initiatives, including Israel’s first Feminist of Color social movement. Lavie is the author of The Poetics of Military Occupation, receiving the Honorable Mention of the Victor Turner Award for Ethnographic Writing, and co-edited Displacement, Diaspora, and Geographies of Identity. She is the winner of the American Studies Association’s 2009 Gloria Anzaldúa Prize and the recipient of the 2013 “Heart at East” Honor Plaque for service on behalf of Mizrahi communities in the State of Israel.

Prof. Lavie's new book, Wrapped in the Flag of Israel (Berghahn Books, 2014) posits a model of state bureaucracy that operates by theological decree. In this system, the categories of religion, gender, and race become the ironclad rubric used to sort citizens into binaries: Jews versus Goyim, rich versus poor, Men versus Women, White versus Black. In so doing, Lavie explores the relationship between social protest movements in the State of Israel, violence in Gaza, protest movements in the surrounding Islamic World, and the possibility of a third intifada or a nuclear conflict between Israel and Iran.

Wrapped in the Flag of Israel details Smadar Lavie’s life as a welfare mother and her leadership in Ahoti, Israel’s first Feminist of Color movement. It also exposes the structural apartheid between Jews from the Muslim and Arab World, or Mizrahim ―Israel’s majority citizenry―and the state’s European Jewish ruling minority. Through the lens of the 2003 Single Mothers’ March led by welfare mother Vicky Knafo and the “Tel Aviv-Tahrir” mass demonstrations of 2011, Lavie reveals how bureaucratic entanglements lead directly to pain, or what arguably can be seen as torture. Lavie uncovers the conundrum of loving and staying loyal to a state that uses its bureaucratic system to repeatedly inflict pain on its non-European majority who, despite this pain, is willing to sacrifice their lives for what they conceive of as the state’s security.