THE Clare branch of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign will have a public meeting next Tuesday with guest speaker Smadar Lavie.
Ms Lavie is from Israel and is an anthropologist, professor and author whose mother’s family are Jewish Arabs from Yemen, while her fahter’s people are Jews from Lithuania. She is an ardent activist against racism towards Palestinians and Jews of Arab descent in Israel. Based at the University of California Berkeley, she has written or co-authored four books.
Speaking in advance of her visit to Clare, Ms Lavie said that Israeli society is quite fractured between Jews of European descent, called Ashkenazi Jews, and Jews of Middle Eastern descent, or Mizrahi Jews.
“Fifty per cent of the population are Jews from the Muslim and Arab world, from the margin of the Ottoman Empire, like Bulgaria or Turkey or the former Yugoslavia. Only 30% are Jews from Europe. However there are less than one per cent women professors who are of Mizrahi or oriental origin, it’s not that we are stupid but we just don’t get employed so we go abroad. Less than five per cent of men who are professors are from Mizrahi origin. Our schools are inferior, our access to English is inferior, the population of the prisons is full of Mizrahi Jews, the slums are full of Mizrahi Jews. There is a 1:1 co-relation between ethnic origin and class. Class is race.”
She believes that the power structure in Israel uses the presence of an outside enemy to perpetuate the status quo internally.
“The topic of my book which I will be reading from is how whenever the internal racial tensions in Israel between the Ashkenazi minority and the Mizrahi majority seem to blow up there’s always a war which creates this feeling of unity and then yet again you have the Jewish frontline against the Goyim and everyone is united and the Palestinians pay the price with lives. The best way for Israel now to pass neo-liberal legislation is to use a veneer of unity while passing the laws.”
Ms Lavie believes that the conflict this summer started in part as a means of keeping internal Israeli protest at bay.
“This year the Mizrahim decided to have a violent protest because right before Gaza the regime and its real estate tycoons started demolishing a Mizrahi neighbourhood on the outskirts of Tel Aviv as part of the gentrification of the city. The neighbourhood used to be a Palestinian village before 1948. Another Mizrahi slum neighbourhood built on a pre 1948 Palestinian village in what is now south Tel Aviv was near completely demolished during the Gaza operation. People felt uncomfortable to resist because they didn’t want to break the national unity around the Gaza war”
Israeli behaviour towards Palestine has been widely condemned in Europe in recent years and she says that many in her own Mizrahi community understand this, but believe they benefit from a Jewish state.
“The paradox I talk about in my book is that almost every Mizrahi will tell you in one breath that Zionism is racism but how happy he or she is in a Jewish state and with Jewish sovereignty. It’s a very big paradox, particularly in the era of social media and alternative media there is an acute awareness of racial discrimination among Jews, but it doesn’t translate into any liberatory politics for Palestine but exactly the opposite, it translates to fascism.”
She was stranded in Israel for seven and a half years in Israel at one point, as a stop exit order was issued against her, at a time when she was a tenured associate professor, about to become a full professor with tenure.
Her belief is that stopping her returning to America was an attempt to derail her research. “One of the main purposes of that was to halt my research on intra Jewish racism which is one of Israel’s best kept secrets. Before that I was working on Egypt, I started working on that in 1975 and when I shifted research the regime weren’t happy with the testimonials I collected on the kidnapping and selling of light coloured Mizrahi babies for adoption, also about medical experiments and the experience of everyday racism that Mizrahi encounter in every facet of their lives. It was a good way to get me stuck there and I’m not allowed to work there now because I’m not a Zionist.”
There is little prospect of a solution in the near future, she feels.
“I’m afraid that the Israeli interest to squelch resistance from home and to have the Zionist principle of maximum land and minimum non Jews is to have blood-letting cycles periodically in order to deflect any international pressure on a settlement, be it one state or two state. I’m very pessimistic about it. In the long run it’s clear that the two State solution is dead. You go into Israeli cities that used to be on the green line and they’re completely integrated so what are you going to do? Split them up? Offer some land south of the Gaza strip to the Palestinian Authority, why should they take it, right?
“It’s very difficult to disturb and the way Israel dealt with its Mizrahi majority, they created a real estate bubble in the centre of Israel pre-67, where most of the jobs are and that’s where the Ashkenazi live. If you are Mizrahi and you want to live near employment, which is in the centre of the country, what you have to do is go to one of these large settlements which are inside the West Bank but not in the heavily populated areas on the mountains of Judea and Samaria. These are like fait accompli big cities that are impossible to move.”
She believes that Ireland has a uniquely informed perspective on the conflict.
“Ireland has been colonised for 800 years so the most sophisticated audience for the nuances of the Israel/Palestine conflict in my experience is in Ireland.”
* Smadar Lavie will speak at the Temple Gate Hotel on Tuesday night at 7.30pm.