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

Written by admin  •  Sunday, 14.10.2012, 12:48
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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.

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