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Smadar Lavie’s lesson on global neoliberal restructuring, Israeli style

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Smadar Lavie

Smadar Lavie is an Israeli anthropologist and a visiting scholar at Berkeley. She’s written an important manuscript, The Knafo Chronicles : Marching on Jerusalem With Israel’s Silent Majority, about Israel’s social justice movement viewed thru the sociopolitical context of single mothers from Negev towns used by the Israeli government in the 1950s as a dumping ground for Mizrahim.

But on closer examination it opens an important window into understanding how global neoliberal restructuring takes place utilizing a state’s disenfranchised citizens as pawns furthering geopolitical goals. It’s a jarring read implicating state facilitated or initiated terrorism as a means of stifling dissent, shutting down protest movements, and creating unity around nationalism.

In an email exchange with Mondoweiss Lavie explains:

International media has thus far glossed over or completely ignored this link. With the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran, it is imperative that this relationship be exposed so that the public can finally understand the rationale of the decision-makers at the highest levels of the Israeli state.”

AFFILIA, the Journal of Women and Social Work (pdf):

On February 21, 2005, I attended a convening of the Israeli Women’s Parliament. The day’s topic was ‘‘Minimum Wage: A Woman’s Perspective.’’ Dr. Linda `Efroni, a brilliant Iraqi economist and labor attorney, was a speaker. She is a prominent consultant for Israel’s major labor unions on issues concerning income and working conditions and a member of the Israeli Council of Higher Education. Yet, she has been only 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 FBI—military intelligence, the Israeli police force, and other senior officials in the national security apparatus. There were about 40 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 socioeconomic 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 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 XY. I was a media adviser for the minister of defense. This is exactly what we did.’’

On October 9, 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 the legislature. Israel is not a democracy. In the 2003 amendment, they saved 5 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.”

[ed note: Hok HaHesderim (Arrangement Law) is the Israeli version of the U.S. Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985—a ‘‘Reaganomics’’ initiative to deregulate government, reduce public spending, decrease taxation of the upper class, and ease inflation through monetary control.]

In summer 2011, tens of thousands of young Israelis, priced out of their rental leases or foreclosed upon, protested the state’s slashing of public services, echoing the Single Mothers’ Protest of 2003, but on a larger scale. The protesters referred to this as ‘‘Tel Aviv’s Tahrir,’’ after the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo, Egypt, that toppled the Mubarak neoliberal regime.


Thanks to a lull in the Israel–Palestine conflict in summer 2011, the protest succeeded in getting international media attention. On August 18, 2011, a suicide attack by Sinai Bedouin guerrillas struck an Israeli bus. This attack prompted the IDF to bombard Palestinian civilian populations in Gaza. Hamas responded by bombarding civilian populations in Israel’s South. The Israeli regime used this attack to divert attention from the protest. But the protest has not completely died as of this writing. So any in-depth analysis of it would be premature. Major mainstream Hebrew media outlets have reported that SHABAK and the IDF both had intelligence on the date, time, and place the bombing would occur. Netanyahu instructed them to shut up when the Knesset inquired about their lack of preventive measures (Azoulay, 2011; Melman, 2011; Pepper, 2011).

Back to our email exchange:

Just last week Netanyahu called for a dismissal of the Knesset in the next couple of weeks, and for early elections closely following the inauguration of the new (or incumbent) U.S. president. The reason for the parliament and government dismissal is the gridlock in the Knesset over Netanyahu’s draconian national budget for 2013. But, conveniently for the regime, the call for elections also defuses the threat of more social protests not only on the budget, but also ever-increasing rent, food, and gas prices. I don’t think the present protest Dafny Leef is organizing will lead anywhere. Presently, due to Bibi’s tough stance toward Iran, he is the leading candidate for the prime-ministership after the next elections. His hope is to once again deflate any social protest movement that could threaten that position.

Moreover, the timing of Netanyahu’s call for new elections is ominous. In 2008, in the months between Obama’s election and his inauguration in early 2009, Israel conducted the bloody military actions of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The Israeli regime took advantage of George W. Bush’s lame duck presidency to get away with actions that may otherwise be stopped by Israel’s biggest ally, the U.S.

Israel follows the same script over and over again, as my research data shows, and as Dr. Linda `Efroni states outright at the final chapter of the manuscript.

Lastly, my favorite part of The Knafo Chronicles is Lavie’s unveiling thru the diary of a scholar trapped inside the life of a welfare mother. All politics is personal and this is Lavie’s story all the way thru. She offers us a vivid feminist view of the racist misogynistic dismal conditions of Israel’s underbelly scholars rarely expose, probably because few have lived it or if they have, they haven’t written about it or if they did, no one published it. Thanks to the author and a prestigious feminist social work academic journal, we’re afforded a glimpse.

So you avoid me. You make valiant efforts to set yourselves apart from the regime as feminists and pacifists. How long can you keep your lies going? There’s a boycott going on. Academics and NGOs now document your compliance. Never mind that you have cultivated your precious Mizrahi and Palestinian academic pets.

The Education Ministry may surveil your syllabi. But the Propaganda Ministry sends you across the Atlantic to universities that dare let students have an Israel Apartheid Week. The ministry pays your honoraria to entice their cash-strapped Mideast Centers to place you on their speakers’ lists (Traubmann, 2006). But you will not acknowledge that you are willing participants in the Nicer Face of Israel’s antiboycott campaign.

You prattle on in English about transnational feminist alliances. With whom? Your donors? At your conferences abroad, when you schmooze with editors of academic journals to get your papers published? And for whom? Not moms in the ‘hoods. These mothers graduate from underfunded slum schools barely proficient in standard Hebrew. Proper English is not even on the menu. From the podium, you quote Frankenberg (1993), but do you ever contemplate creating a support group to undo your own intra-Jewish apartheid?

A must read.

(Hap tip Karen Platt)

Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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16 Responses

  1. Graber on October 14, 2012, 7:51 pm

    Thank you so much Annie!

    • annie on October 14, 2012, 8:21 pm

      hey matthew, thank you. Lavie’s written quite a blockbuster.

  2. doug on October 14, 2012, 8:25 pm

    Saw that happen to a well known liberal rabbi in NY in the 2006 war. A guy I really like. It’s like all the critical thinking went away.

  3. gamal on October 14, 2012, 9:07 pm

    I attended a talk by her in Cork city under the aegis of the UCC sociology dept, discussing the parlous political impasse that the generally “right-wing” Mizrahi community in Israel has reached, it was fascinating and my response was that until the surrounding Arab peoples are able to throw off their oppressive regimes and offer some kind of political hopes for this community they are helpless prey to their own neo-liberal elite, it was before the much vaunted “Arab Spring”, it was early 2010 i think. She made the excellent point that we have to have a way of talking to people who espouse extreme right wing views rather than right them off, I couldn’t agree more, she was very impressive. I accidentally referred to her as my Smadar Levie, in a another thread, an embarrassing typo, as she clearly belongs to the world.

    That the Israeli masses are victims of the national security state is a no brainer, how this can be addressed is not so easy, they are surrounded by abysmal rentier states and have few credible avenues of resistance, their Arab bretheren and sisteren are fighting as best they can but are also subject to easy manipulation and repression, mutual solidarity is the key but how is it to be framed? Religious and ethnic politics are so much garbage, as many in the Arab world understand but with the demise of International Socialism we may have to come up with something of our own, note how quickly the Muslim/Christian solidarity in Egypt was quashed, by agent provocateurs and whole sale slaughter, the Arabs and Jews of the region do not need a Ghandi they need a Guevara and a well worked out home grown ideology of social and political justice. Fear is palpable in Egypt at the moment, fear and exhaustion, we are not Iraqis or Afghans after all, and the powers are unconstrained in their determination to avoid unwanted political alliances, perhaps that is too conspiratorial of me in this “shit happens” world. It is beyond dumb to think that our rulers are stupid, they have the best technocrats that money, duplicity and soulless malevolence can supply.

  4. Stephen Shenfield on October 15, 2012, 7:14 am

    I think that in order to counter misuse of the Holocaust it is necessary (rather than refusing to talk about it, for instance) to integrate that event into the broader context of colonialist racism and genocide. The intellectual groundwork for that has been laid by progressive historians, but the ideas need to be popularized and disseminated. At the moment I am reading Mark Mazower’s “Hitler’s Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe.” He argues a point that I have often thought to myself — the point in contention between the Nazis and their Western colonialist opponents was where to draw the line between “European civilization” and the “inferior races.” The area of agreement was wide. Not only did both sides draw a firm line between superior people with rights and inferior people without rights. Both also saw the difference in basically racial terms and identified the superior side with “Europe.” The difference was that the Nazis included among the inferior races not only the natives of Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas but also the peoples of the East European borderlands, especially Slavs and Jews. For instance, the Nazi boss in Ukraine, Koch, was in the habit of referring to the Ukrainians as “niggers.” The Western powers viewed these peoples as Europeans — perhaps somewhat inferior to West Europeans, but not deserving the treatment they themselves meted out to Africans etc. They blamed the Nazis not for brutal exploitation and genocide as such, but for committing these crimes IN EUROPE. No one (except socialists) had complained when imperial Germany committed genocide of the Hereros in southwest Africa.

    It is also significant that one important method used by “peripheral” Europeans like the Russians, Jews and (in a certain sense) Japanese to assert European status was to join in the colonialist game themselves. They sought to prove — not without success — that they were real Europeans by colonizing and exploiting non-European peoples (the Russians in Central Asia and the Caucasus, the European Jews in Palestine, the Japanese in Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria etc.). I count the Japanese as Europeans because I am using the word not in a geographical sense but to refer to those who successfully claim superior status in the racial division of the world.

    • LeaNder on October 15, 2012, 12:51 pm

      The difference was that the Nazis included among the inferior races not only the natives of Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas but also the peoples of the East European borderlands, especially Slavs and Jews.

      The Hereros are often on my mind too. Consider, the Germans were not only a late nation, but also late imperialists. They needed a unified state first, a foot soldier power base so to speak.

      The German empire is not so easy to find in the English section about Germany in the English Wikipedia. One seems to encounter the same lacunae in US minds. Occasionally I have the impression people make a shortcut from the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations to the German Empire and avoid the specific problems of the Weimar Republic or the post nobility attempt at democracy in it’s specific time frame to move on to Nazi Germany. The German Empire lasted from 1871 till 1918, the Nazis reign is well known.

      The Herero and Namaqua Genocide only happened after Germany became an Empire in 1871, a short empire to be sure, it only lasted from 1871 to the end of WWI.

      As Empire they had to take what was left by other European nations, using the tools that had been used before with a bit of German perfection, irony alert, just as the empire elites felt they had to define who belonged and who didn’t, after all couldn’t however defined foreigners be trusted to not spread the French disease? Whom best to choose but the ones that gained civil rights in Europe in that context? Strictly from my perspective that ideology started around 1848 and there was no empire yet. Thus it’s no accident for me that Moses Hess shifted from socialism to Zionism under the pressure and prejudices of times.

      • on October 15, 2012, 8:14 pm

        “The German Empire lasted from 1871 till 1918”- Lea
        The German Empire, the ‘Deutsche Reich’, the official term for Germany, lasted till 1945. – West Germany was the legal heir of the Deutsche Reich
        after WWII. – Just for the record. (I don’t understand why a comment of mine saying this was cancelled.)

      • LeaNder on October 17, 2012, 12:28 pm

        OK, Klaus, maybe I really should shut up finally and leave the stage to you and less burdened Lefty to represent the Germans on Mondoweiss.

        I am no historian, I never think about the Weimar Republic–maybe due its interesting democratic trends, e.g. like attempts and developments to legalize the freedom of the journalist versus his subservience to the publisher, which obviously the Nazis not only cashed in, but … –as “das Deutsche Reich”, a term, admittedly that makes me sick, and triggers the images of picket helmets and a subservient spirit (Untertanentreue). I think more in terms of artistic revolts or literary artistic epochs against the superficially religious and subservient spirit of the 19th century and/or Prussia? I was never in favor of any ideologues, and on the left found only the “Sponti Szene” post 1968 scene interesting, which you probably hate, if I understand correctly from your notes or whatever else I found about you on the web?

        You are right, if the “German Empire” hadn’t been very present in people’s heads at the time with all it’s imagery of submission to power, and not the complicated attempts at democracy in the Weimar period, the Nazis couldn’t have succeeded. I happen to find Weimar interesting in relation to Israel.

        I made another mistake, which you didn’t bother to concentrate on: The “Heilige Römische Reich Deutscher Nationen” isn’t really German for the English speaking audience, it is the “Holy Roman Empire” only. Stricly I knew, but did I consider it above? I haven’t even begun to ponder this little bit of “German historical labeling evidence” and what it could have possibly triggered on the Nazi mindset, and I probably never will.

        Let’s cut it, I shut up now and give you full reign to represent “us Germans” here. Ist das ein Wort?

        In every statement there is a little error and the error gets bigger and bigger until the snake is scotched. Henry Miller, Black Spring

  5. LeaNder on October 15, 2012, 8:29 am

    Thanks Annie, for posting this.

  6. seafoid on October 15, 2012, 9:35 am

    Very interesting stuff. Of course the people of Israel have to be kept in a state of fear that allows their oligarchs to continue minting it.
    Nothing like a Khezbollah attack to put Zionist lefties back in their place.

    • annie on October 15, 2012, 1:11 pm

      seafoid, when the attack in southern israel happened during the j14 the crowd segued the protest into a memorial march of sorts, not that deaths are unworthy of a march..but it perfectly co-opted the movement. then, as i recall the runor of gov to call in reserves for the possibility of an iran attack.

      The Israeli regime used this attack to divert attention from the protest. But the protest has not completely died as of this writing. So any in-depth analysis of it would be premature. Major mainstream Hebrew media outlets have reported that SHABAK and the IDF both had intelligence on the date, time, and place the bombing would occur. Netanyahu instructed them to shut up when the Knesset inquired about their lack of preventive measures (Azoulay, 2011; Melman, 2011; Pepper, 2011).

      i did not take the time to research smadar’s footnotes for her sources (bolded below) but our own sources, and we picked it up here (i could find it in archives lazy sorry) was gurvitz, multiple sources they knew about an attack coming. also, they plummeted gaza and blamed them , during ramadan for more than a week and killed many many many. so the combination of coopting the protest for the memorial march and then the attack on gaza basically squelched the protest.

      by the time of the knesset inquiry, which they refused to testify under orders from netanyahu, the protest was already completely dead. then this year youmay recall they started visiting protestors at their homes and asking them their plans for the summer. they also questioned gurvitz and there was a lot more to that, under the pretense of something else but i think the exposure he provided during the southern attack period was obviously a massive threat to their narrative.

      • seafoid on October 16, 2012, 3:36 pm

        They use their own grunts as pawns, annie. The ideology is so cynical. Afterwards they laud the “fallen” on Mt Herzl and on yom ha whatevever it is, the day of the dead of their wars of choice, but the sacrificial nature of the conscripts is something that I often think about.

  7. pabelmont on October 15, 2012, 10:33 am

    Yes, Israeli statements of (actual or near) fact regarding the Holocaust itself ARE GROTESQUELY MISUSED WHENEVER (AS OFTEN) THEY ARE USED AS IF they constituted or even supported Israeli claims to predominantly-Jewish control/ownership/possession/use/domination over some/much/all of Palestine’s land and water.

    What the facts of the Holocaust at most point to (regarding the world outside Germany, Poland, etc., where the H occurred) is a NEED by Jews for a safe place to live, even a homeland, even a state, even a Jewish-dominated state. What they do not point to is a JUSTIFICATION for a military takeover of some/much/all of the land and water of Palestine (or any other place).

    Well, Jews could probably not have acquired a country by any means other than the terrorism that drove the British out (1945-1948) and the terrorism and warfare that drove most Palestinians out (1948-2012 and counting).

    So, even if someone supposes that NEED generates a RIGHT to otherwise ILLICIT means, it does not answer the other question: Is Israel entitled merely to “some” or to “much” or “all” of the land and water of Palestine?

    If NEED is the sole justification, how much land and water do they “need”? Surely, an argument that ends justify means limits the means to justifiable ends, and what is justified may well turn out to be merely “some” of the land and water of Palestine.

    Of course, what we’ve seen is this: Zionists decided they had a need or a right to use terrorism and warfare to take land and water and to expel the People of much of Palestine. So they did it, and developed HABITS of what in other circumstances would be generally considered criminality, that is, taking what they want without regard to anyone else’s rights. This has gone on for 64 years or more (1948-2012 is 64 years) (1945-2012 is 67 years).

    Whatever the Holocaust justifies — if anything — it cannot justify continuous dispossession and land and water grabbing by Israel in Palestine.

  8. on October 15, 2012, 11:21 am

    The Israeli pollster Tamar Hermann wrote in an article in Germany (March 2012):
    – “In fact, today Israel is second only to the US in terms of the gap between the rich
    and the poor.” (She meant among Western industrielized countries.)
    The cynical way of the Israeli government to keep it that way is ‘interesting’.
    But: Would a more egalitarien Israeli society be less ideological Zionist?

  9. gamal on October 15, 2012, 11:33 am

    And nothing like a destroyed society of untermenschen to provide a constant source of bogey men and atmosphere of threat, is it anything like the Projects in the US, it is axiomatic that a disenfranchised lumpen population will at the very least act as a disciplining force for the overlords of any society, as well as providing a downward pressure on labours share of the social product, declining or stagnating in the west since 1973 and the current ‘asylum seeker’ or ‘illegal’ status accorded to elements of the workforce allows hyper exploitation and permits the removal of rights from the general population, on the grounds of securing the homeland, leading to more efficient repression of any dissenting forces, Israel is a world leader in this respect and has fully availed itself of its unique comparative advantages in this sphere. For the Israeli political and business elite the lassitude for action is very wide.
    One of the key ways to address the weakness of civil society in the face of this is to unpack the bleak ideology of the ‘conflict’, the situation, how this will be accomplished without what Finkelstein described as a strategic defeat is unclear, perhaps a slow erosion of its regional power, sadly in terms of politics the surrounding states are strikingly similar, the Arabs locked into their nations and now with any that bucked the regional model, Libya, Iraq and to some extent Syria, Iran and Lebanon under severe stress and facing possible collapse, a general and effective regional non-sectarian movement for social justice seems somewhat far off, though it is being discussed, it is to prevent such from ever arising that local planners are investing in the promotion of Israeli or Lebanese (thank you France and Great Britain) style confessionalism, and many external groupings particularly supporters of Zionism and Islamophobes in the west and sectarians in the east are adding great fuel to this process of forcing communities in to mutually antagonistic blocks, also somewhat reminiscent of aspects of American pluralism, but a souped up version, organic social groupings in the middle east have found no answer to this new strategy as yet, except the tribe or the family, on our uppers as it were, because this is precisely what the planners envision, atomisation or modernisation is well on the way in many states, Egypt for one, family is both the site of protection and repression, dare i say it sometimes the fundamentalists have a point, both Jewish and Muslim, its just that when weighed against their proscriptions it is unclear as to what is worse, the pathology or the therapy.
    thank you for your generosity and red editors pen Annie, nuf said.

  10. Smadar Lavie on October 17, 2012, 9:51 pm

    Thank you, Annie, for the writeup. And thank you all for the talkbacks.
    I am saddened that so many discussions on Mizrahim end up in the Holocaust.
    As for comparisons, when I visited the Loyalists’ barrios in Derry, I felt as if I was in the Mizrahi ghettos of South Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

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