Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture, Revised Edition

Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture, Revised Edition

by Smadar Lavie
Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture, Revised Edition

Wrapped in the Flag of Israel: Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture, Revised Edition

by Smadar Lavie

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In Wrapped in the Flag of Israel, Smadar Lavie analyzes the racial and gender justice protest movements in the State of Israel from the 2003 Single Mothers’ March to the 2014 New Black Panthers and explores the relationships between these movements, violence in Gaza, and the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran.

Lavie equates bureaucratic entanglements with pain—and, arguably, torture—in examining a state that engenders love and loyalty among its non-European Jewish women citizens while simultaneously inflicting pain on them. Weaving together memoir, auto-ethnography, political analysis, and cultural critique, Wrapped in the Flag of Israel presents a model of bureaucracy as divine cosmology that is both lyrical and provocative. Lavie’s focus on the often-minimized Mizraḥi population juxtaposed with the state’s monolithic culture suggests that Israeli bureaucracy is based on a theological notion that inserts the categories of religion, gender, and race into the foundation of citizenship.

In this revised and updated edition Lavie connects intra-Jewish racial and gendered dynamics to the 2014 Gaza War, providing an extensive afterword that focuses on the developments in Mizraḥi feminist politics and culture between 2014 and 2016 and its relation to Palestinians.  

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496207487
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 07/01/2018
Series: Expanding Frontiers: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 236
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Smadar Lavie spent nine years as a tenured professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, and is currently a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Ethnic Studies and a visiting professor at the Institute for Social Science in the Twenty-First Century at University College Cork, Ireland. She is the author and coeditor of several books, including The Poetics of Military Occupation: Mzeina Allegories of Bedouin Identity under Israeli and Egyptian Rule. The first edition of Wrapped in the Flag of Israel won honorable mention from the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies and was a finalist for the Clifford Geertz Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of Religion. Lavie won the 2009 Gloria Anzaldúa Prize from the American Studies Association.

Read an Excerpt


Left Is Right, Right Is Left

Zionism and Israel's Single Mothers

On 14 May 2004, I received an email from Seteney Shami, my Berkeley grad school classmate. She worked for the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) as the program director over the Middle East, North Africa, and Inter-Asia sections.

Dear Professor Lavie,

I am writing to ask you if you would be willing to contribute two articles to the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Women in Islamic Cultures. EWIC will be the first ever encyclopedia on this subject. The project is a five-year effort to bring together hundreds of scholars world-wide, to write critical essays on women and Islamic cultures. ...

The goal is to survey all facets of life (religion, society, economy, politics, the arts, sports, health, science, medicine and so forth) of women in cultures where Islam has made significant contributions. The Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures is envisioned as a broad based, interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, transhistorical, and global project. ...

[W]e are requesting from you [an article] on Zionism ... which risk[s] going unwritten. ... The catch is that, should you accept, the articles need to be completed very quickly. I could offer you a deadline of June 15 for the first draft ... since this volume of the encyclopedia is scheduled to come out in Nov. 2004.

It was absurd for me to accept this invitation, even though I wanted to. EWIC's project head was Suad Joseph, the founder of the Association for Middle Eastern Women's Studies, former president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and, from my graduate school days until today, a mentor, role model, colleague, and dear friend.

Academic writing rarely pays any money. Often publishers expect academics to front their own money for their own research and production, taking the costs as a business loss. Academics must continuously publish in peer-reviewed journals not only to stay at the forefront of their respective fields but also to keep their institutional positions, including the perks, such as generous benefits packages, travel funds, and a staff of inexpensive student labor. High-profile professors attract students, meaning a larger enrollment of tuition payers. Tenure-track professors can take the pressure to publish for granted. I could not. All I had was an hourly teaching position at Beit Berl College that did not pay for rent and utilities, let alone food and transportation. How could I find the time for the copious research required for an encyclopedia entry? I was in survival mode. I had lines to stand in at the NSB, the job placement bureau, the Tel Aviv social welfare bureau, and NGOs for food handouts, among others.

I devoted my nigh nonexistent spare time to community outreach. I was already overwhelmed. I had used my own apartment as the location for the first meeting between Ahoti and Anwar (Lights, Arabic), a '48 Arab feminist NGO. We wanted to work through the animosity and suspicion between '48 Arab and Mizrahi feminists. Mizrahi feminists viewed Palestinian feminists as "kissing ass" with well-funded Ashkenazi feminist NGOs. Palestinian feminists viewed Mizrahi feminists as right-wing Arab-haters with no funding for joint projects.

Esther Hertzog, Hanna Beit Halahmi, and I built the Coalition of Women for Mothers and Children, the broadest coalition in Israel's feminist history. It included veiled Islamists, ultra-Orthodox Jewish women from the West Bank settlements, and everything in between. We fought against Israel's Family Courts and their Family Court Services welfare experts. The courts always favor ex-husbands in child custody cases, even when the fathers are violent abusers. Welfare services ship children who resist court-ordered placement with their abusers into government boarding schools to break them (see Tzur 2001).

Rafi Shubeli and I built the Mizrahi-Palestinian Coalition Against Apartheid in Israeli Anthropology (CAAIA). We also organized Israel's first-ever Mizrahi-Palestinian conference at Beit Berl College on the topic of "Ashkenazim" for the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow. The conference made it onto the popular 7:00 a.m. national radio news — quite a rarity for media dominated by the Israel-Palestine conflict. Huge numbers of activists, scholars, and students turned out. Also unexpected were dozens of retired Ashkenazim, irate at the news, who showed up to remind us that without the education they bestowed upon us, we could not have put on such a conference. In case we had forgotten.

I dove into these movements for my sanity and because I thought I was enacting personal and communal agency. I still believed our NGOs could foster social change. With hindsight, the Palestinian-Mizrahi coalitions were doomed to fail, just like almost all Israeli-Palestinian collaborations. One notable exception is the partnership between the IDF and the PA's security apparatus. Palestinian-Mizrahi initiatives were short-lived because underneath the activism was the binary: the continued existence of the State of Israel means the erasure of Palestine. To Palestinians, we were citizens of Israel, the entity that erased them in 1948 and continued to colonize them. That we were Mizrahim was irrelevant. We Mizrahi activists were part of the occupation machinery. In addition, we faced accusations of treason from Mizrahim because we dared to collude with the enemy. The Palestinian activists who met with us faced similar pressures from their own communities.

On top of my activism, I was a single mother. Had horit. I had to take care of Shaheen. That meant dozens of court hearings over his custody, fighting for his scholarships by filling out endless forms, navigating labyrinthine phone menus, and staging impromptu sit-ins at schools and offices. These all took a toll on my body. While I attempted to manage my health crises, I never considered stopping. Rest meant no money, no food, no method to reconcile how far I had fallen.

I could not take on Seteney's project, let alone meet her deadline. It would take a full-time research project to provide an alternative history that would rescue the entry from the Palestine-Israel binary. But I could not think of anyone else who could do it.

So I wrote back and agreed to write the entry, anyway. But life took over, and I did not have the time and space necessary to begin. It wasn't until September 2005 that I heard anything more:

From: Isabella Gerritsen

Sent: Tuesday, 20 September 2005 14:37

Dear Dr. Lavie,

This letter serves as an advance reminder in order to bring to your notice that the deadline is approaching for your article. ... [W]e need the cooperation of our authors to meet their deadlines. ...

My new deadline was 1 November 2005. It took a whole month for me to find the time to reply:

Dear Isabella,

I hope I can get the deadline extended until 1 December. I've been overextended to the max with previous deadlines. I'm thankful for your consideration. Please resend the instructions for authors. I can't locate them on my hard disk.


In October 2005, the Family Court finally recognized me as Shaheen's legal mother. We got back our Israeli passports and were free to travel outside Israel. Free at last, but at the cost of my NSB income augmentation. I immediately went job hunting, but no allowances are permitted for single mothers traveling abroad to job interviews. Once in the poverty cycle, always in the poverty cycle. Thankfully, my travel costs were paid by the inviting institutions. Yet, to the regime, I was a born-again jet-setter.

A couple months later, I lucked into a scholar-at-rescue grant. Fellow colleagues found a private source who donated funds to hire an assistant for my community advocacy. In return, I promised to write up my Mizrahi research results for future publication in academic journals. I finally had a sliver of time to start my research for the EWIC entry. Over the following months, Isabella and I went back and forth, pushing the deadline a few months at a time. Every time I sat down to haggle extensions with Isabella, I put on the diplomatic gloves of academic speak to guide my fingertips — fanciful intervals in my coarse life. Eventually, we settled on a deadline of the end of July 2006. "No more excuses after that," I wrote.

But on 12 July, Israel started the 2006 Lebanon War. As usual, most of the demonstrations were in Tel Aviv. I felt obliged to join the protest, even though I got into arguments with the usual Ashkenazi BCBGs3 — dubbed "the Regulars" or "the 250" by Mizrahi activists. These were always the same Ashkenazi faces who came to every demonstration against Israel's military atrocities toward Palestinians. Less than a handful came to our Mizrahi demonstrations, however. Predictably, I sparked arguments by pointing out the Mizrahi-ness of most IDF and civilian victims in Lebanon 2006 and in the suicide bombing preceding the hudna.

Would Hezbollah missiles target Tel Aviv? Out of my hands. I had the EWIC deadline to deal with.

From: Smadar Lavie

Sent: Tuesday, 18 July 2006 09:21

ALMOST done. ... The anti-war demos are slowing me a bit, but in sha Allah, will be completely done with the draft over the weekend.

I had to get out of the humid Tel Aviv inferno. My skin longed for the cool, dry nighttime desert breeze. My mind, the quietude to focus. On the morning of 30 July, I made my mandatory weekly caseworker visit at the job placement bureau. The usual — no job for an overqualified University of California professor. Afterward, I borrowed my mom's car and drove south to Mitzpe Ramon.

Past Beer Sheba begins the gradual ascent to Mitzpe through the Negev Desert. Wide, dry riverbeds span the yellows and beiges of windswept limestone plateaus. Waves of heat blur the landscape to the edgeless horizon. And slicing through it is a lone strip of black asphalt — the same road Vicky Knafo walked upon, wrapped in the flag of Israel.

Every now and then, dark dots pop up in the distance, hugging the road. Only when close do they grow into the craggy metal and plywood shacks of the Negev Bedouin. Most drivers in their air-conditioned cars zoom past these "unrecognized settlements," as the Israeli regime has termed them. At high speeds, the shacks are easy to blink away. So much the better to ignore the ongoing, syncopated Nakba amidst the vast expanse of desert lyricism.

Yes! I made it all the way to Mitzpe! And at dusk. How romantic. And to Sigal, a fellow Ahoti member. I hadn't seen her since 2004. How generous of her to invite me to her cramped apartment when I told her I needed a time-out from Tel Aviv. Even with her haphazard schedule as an hourly maid at Mitzpe's only hotel — a high-end boutique spa.

Mitzpe's Ahoti branch has been a hub of Mizrahi feminism, even before Vicky's march. Vicky was not even Mitzpe's first newsworthy Mizrahi feminist single mother. In 2000, Havatzelet Ingber — she got her Ashkenazi last name from her ex-husband — led a rebellion against the closure of a military-uniform sewing workshop. Many Mitzpe women worked there as seamstresses. The workshop was a sweatshop that demanded unreasonable hours and even required employees to bring their own toilet paper and coffee from home. Worse, the women endured months of delinquent paychecks. Still, it was their only employment option in remote Mitzpe.

No one expected Mizrahi women to rebel against their employer. So the media took interest. Donations poured in from Israel's center, and, with the funds, the women purchased the sweatshop and made it into their collective. Two years later, the collective fell apart. The women lacked management training, and they clashed with Mizrahi men who took their goods to market. The government also strangled the collective with bureaucratic red tape. Were it to succeed, it would have posed a threat to Israel's "free-market" industry model.

In the Ingber revolt and the Knafo march, Mitzpe's single mothers had their moments as shining examples for the rest of Israel's Mizrahi single mothers. But neither movement lasted, leaving these women once again completely dependent on paltry NSB allowances.

Once again, they were had horiyot (single mothers, Hebrew plural). Before venturing into when and how I completed the EWIC entry, let me first explain the byzantine etymology of the Hebrew term for a single mother, had horit, and the classification of Israeli Jewish single mothers.

Had Horit: Notes on the Hebrew Etymology of Single Motherhood

Had horit (single parent, feminine adjective) is the Hebrew term used to refer to a single mother. It is shorthand for em had horit, or "single parent, mother." The prefix had (uni-) is notable here, as it is used in Hebrew to mark something singular or an outlier. Examples include had mashma'i (unambiguous and unilateral), had pe'ami (single-use), or had sitri (one-way street). Had usually connotes formal language or terminology.

If used in casual conversation, the staccato utterance, "had horit," creates a hiccup in the conversational flow. Here is an example:

The August morning was already sticky with sweat. I stood in line in front of the Tel Aviv NSB — a sleek high-rise at 17 Yitzhak Sadeh Street, towering above car dealerships and body shops. Exactly on the border between Southside Tel Aviv's "Black City," with its Mizrahi ghettos and barrios, and Central Tel Aviv's posh "White City," a UNESCO world cultural heritage site where Ashkenazim live (Rotbard 2005). I still hadn't gone through the first security checkpoint, where everyone was X-rayed and checked for knives, guns, and other weapons. The man in front of me, his face still crusted over from the night, turned and said:

"Aren't you the Berkeley professor on welfare?"


"What 'hood?"

By referring to "'hood," he already assumed I was from the Black City, or Southside Tel Aviv.

"Tel Hayim, east of Yad Eliyahu."

"We're neighbors," he said. "I'm from Yad Eliyahu. The bus was late today, and then when it came, three of 'em showed up."

"I know. I was on the third. The A/C didn't work, so I almost fainted from the smell. Let me tell you — American deodorants work much better."

We chuckled.

"So why are you here?" he asked. "On TV they said your dad's Ashkenazi. Can't he help you get a normal job?"

"He's dead. I work by the hour, and it doesn't pay the bills. On top of that, it's summer, so the college let me go. I'm on an allowance, and it didn't arrive."

"What kind of allowance?"

"Had horit." Up until now, the conversation flowed easily. But now, a pause.

"Ah ...," he moaned. "Had horit ... du raglit. ...," he kvetched. Had horit, du raglit literally means "single mother, bipedal."

Then he paused again before resuming the previous conversational rhythm:

"I'm here for my allowance, too. Disability. I cut my finger at the plant." He raised his right hand and showed me his chopped pinky. "They decided to replace me with someone younger, even though I can work now. The allowance and my wife's salary don't pay the bills, either."

I proceeded to ask him one of the most common questions among Israeli Jews: "What's your origin?"

"My folks came from Syria in 1951. My wife is Persian. Her family made their way outta the South, but my family's still stuck there."

I had this kind of conversation many times. When "had horit" was mentioned, the same awkward pauses happened, and then, the same spontaneous sing-song of "had horit, du raglit."

Du raglit (two-legged) is itself a term loaded with meaning beyond the dictionary definition. Unlike had, the prefix du (two) does not force the listener to take notice. It is more commonly used in casual speech, such as in du kiyyum (co-existence), du komati (double-decker), and du sitri (two-way street). Du ragli (masculine, and thus the default term), is shorthand for hayot du ragliyot (plural), a zoological term denoting bipedal animals.

Just prior to the 1982 Lebanon War, Prime Minister Menachem Begin applied "du ragli" to the Fatahland Palestinian guerrillas who took Israeli schoolchildren hostage in the Galilee to demand the release of their fellow guerrillas from Israeli prisons. Begin refused and sent the IDF to attack the school. In the ensuing battle, the guerrillas killed twenty-two schoolchildren, all Mizrahim. This incident became known as the "Ma'alot massacre."

The Ma'alot massacre was not the first time that Begin referred to Israel's enemies as "du ragli." During the tenth session of the Knesset in 1951, he spoke against the idea of German Holocaust reparations, referring to the Nazis as "du ragli" (Aviv 2007, n115).

After the Ma'alot massacre, "du ragli" spread into common use in Hebrew slang to refer to all Palestinians. At the onset of the first Intifada (1987–1993), Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ordered the IDF to shoot nonviolent Palestinian demonstrators in the legs. His justification: the demonstrators were "du ragli" — that they were wild and dangerous animals, disorderly and in need of culling.


Excerpted from "Wrapped in the Flag of Israel"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Smadar Lavie.
Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration    

Introduction: Marching on Jerusalem with Israel’s Single Mothers
     “Reaganomics,” Ḥok HaHesderim, and the Oslo Boomtime
     The Hudna
     Knafonomics: Vicky and I
     On Ethnographic Data
     Wrapped in the Flag of Israel’s Bureaucracy: A Road Map
Chapter 1. Left Is Right, Right Is Left: Zionism and Israel’s Single Mothers
     Ḥad Horit: Notes on the Hebrew Etymology of Single Motherhood
     The Typology of Israel’s Single Mothers
     On Zionism
     Why Mizraḥim Support the Right Wing
     Why Mizraḥi Feminists’ Hands Are Tied
Chapter 2. Protesting and Belonging: When the Agency of Identity Politics Becomes Impossible
     Figurations of Agency
     Protesting and Belonging: An Argument in Six Parts
     Capturing and Conveying Elusive Bureaucratic Torture
Chapter 3. Take 1: The GendeRace Essence of Bureaucratic Torture
     Classificatory Schemes of Bureaucratic Logic
     Negative Communitas: Bureaucracy’s “Tough Love”
     The Plus-Minus Model of Torture
     The Zone of Repulsion: Plus-Plus Relationships of Pain
     Documents as Implements of Torture
     Bureaucracy’s Essence: GendeRace
     Response to Bureaucracy: Bracketing
     Impossible Articulation, Impossible Agency
Chapter 4. Take 2: Ideology, Welfare, and Single Mothers
Chapter 5. Take 3: Diary of a Welfare Mother
Chapter 6. The Price of National Security
     Knafoland—The End
     This Is Exactly What We Did
     Epilogue: Israel, Summer 2011
Afterword(s): Gaza 2014 and the Mizraḥi Predicament
     Bureaucratic Torture: When Agency Becomes Impossible
One People One Heart: The War on Gaza 2014
     The New Black Panthers, or HaLo Neḥmadim
     Ḥok HaHesderim 2014
     Labor Hill B-Jamusin
     The Ḥamas Salary Fiasco
     Operation Brother’s Keeper
     The War on Gaza—Protective Edge
     Under the Smokescreen of War
     Elections 2015: The Center Moves Further to the Right
The Mizraḥi Cultural Renaissance
The Steady Drumbeat of Eternal Return
Glossary of Hebrew, Arabic, and Yiddish Terms

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