HER STORY #38 - smadar
I grew up in Herzliya, Israel. I studied in Tali [the Tali School for "Enriched Jewish Studies"], a masorti [Conservative Judaism in Israel] in Hod HaSharon.
My parents were conservative, conservative in the religious way. It's called dati masorti [conservative religious]. I'm not like this today. Many Anglo-Saxons in Israel are not secular like Israelis are. They want their children to learn about [Jewish] traditions.
You also have Noam, Noar Masorti [acronym for "Noar Masorti," a Masorti youth movement], where you pray in the morning, but you don't need to wear a kippah, and you keep kosher, but girls go to the Torah [the Torah ark in the synagogue], and there is much more equality between men and women.
I like religion a lot, on the intellectual level, but I don't keep kosher or keep Shabbat or anything like this. It's more of a personal thing for me. I'm very connected to it,but I don't have to keep kosher to feel spiritual. It's not something that I feel connects me to Judaism. To give tzedakah [charitable giving among Jews] seems much more spiritual to me.
I think that Judaism, for me, is much more about loving human beings and giving tzedakah and doing good and thinking about less fortunate people and things like that than keeping kosher and putting up a mezuzah [piece of parchment placed on doorframes in Jewish homes inscribed with Hebrew verses from the Torah].
I wasn't very politically active before the army, but I was always a leftist. It comes from the home as well.
In the army, my commander was killed in an attack, which affected me a lot. It was before I began studying Government [as an undergraduate degree at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya]. Politics affect our lives, so it's important to learn them, and it also sounded like something cool, to study subjects such as international relations.
I wanted to be a diplomat, an ambassador. It's not nice to say this, but I thought about prestige. It sounded really cool, and I speak English very well, because we spoke English at home. I thought about how it would be cool to live in many places in the world. I think it was more of a career-choice–to do interesting things and to meet people, more than anything else.
When I studied Government, I also joined One Voice [One Voice movement, grassroots movement, amplifying the voices of Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives towards a two-state solution]. I was less interested in representing Israel and more interested in fixing things that weren't okay.
Today I don't feel like I can represent Israel and say only good things [about Israel]. I enjoy the research [in political psychology] a lot, and I think that it's important to make a connection between research and real solutions instead of going to talk about how perfect Israel is.
I have a little bit of a problem with hasbara ["explaining" in Hebrew, referring to Israeli public diplomacy]. First of all, I don't like the need to go and explain, when other countries do things and don't need to go and explain themselves. They just do it. I don't see a need for a country to explain itself. If you think that you have something to explain, fix it and then you won't have to explain it.
I don't think it's a very popular opinion today in Israel, but many things are not popular in Israel today, like being a leftist.
Lost Its Way
As I have discovered that there are more and more differences between Jews and Israelis, I would say that culturally and mentally I'm more Israeli than I am Jewish.
I've been abroad for three years. I miss Israel a lot; mostly friends and family and also the Israeli culture that feels more comfortable for me, but economically it's very difficult in Israel for academics.
Politically it's also difficult, and sometimes I feel like I need to go back and fix things and do something, but I think that I do contribute with my research.
I think that the time of when people were supposed to stay in Israel, as a way of being loyal to Israel–that kind of thought has passed. I can love Israel a lot and also do something that is good for me and my family, so I think that eventually we'll move back to Israel, but right now there are more possibilities abroad. I'm still very connected to Israel. I read Israeli newspapers every day, an my research focuses on the conflict here, but I don't think I could do everything that I do here [in the U.S. presently], if I was in Israel.
I think that Israel lost its way, also when I look at the field that I work in–in terms of how people within academia are supposed to finance themselves. It's very difficult for academics in Israel. Once we were a country that accepted and encouraged knowledge, but today there's the common thought of academics not doing anything important. There is no finance for anything, and it's very difficult.
Like to Speak My Mind
My parents are not very politically active, but they were just always voting for the left. They also raised me with certain values.
We didn't think of Arabs as being bad. I think it had to do with the fact that they didn't grow up in Israel. My father, for example, grew up in Oakland [U.S.], which is very diverse, so there wasn't a fear at home of people who were different. They were just people, and people are people, and that's what I think is different.
I'm also really opinionated. I really like to talk about what I think is right and wrong. I have very strong feelings of what is right and what isn't, and I like to speak my mind. When people say racist things, I won't sit on the side and remain silent.
It's just because I'm very loud, and I like to be right, and my mother is also like this, so maybe it's a little bit from her. I've always been like this.
We would have arguments in class, in high school. I would call people chauvinistic and racist. But, at the same time, I don't think it ever made me get into trouble, because I'm good at getting along with people, so I'll just say my opinion, and it's okay.
I think that usually I get along with people (well, not always), so I'm not scared of saying, what I think. It's very Israeli I think. I'm sure that there are many people, who don't like me, but I don't really care.
I've always had right-wing friends as well as friends who are religious. I have many friends, so I think that I can shout a lot, but at the end of the day I love people, because of who they are and not because of their opinions.
I was in the army during the Second Intifada. It [the Second Intifada] began when I was in high school.
I had a commander in a course, whom I really liked. One day I was in the north, at the Northern Command [Israeli Northern Command], and she [the commander] took a bus from Tzrifin [area in central Israel], which was our bus, and it just exploded. That was very difficult.
It was also because I hadn't known anyone else who had died in an attack, and it was also the bus that I'd usually take, and just because I was in a guiding course, I hadn't taken it.
When I got released from the army, during the Second Lebanon War, my very good friend was killed. He's actually world-famous, Michael Levin. He was a lone soldier [a soldier in Israel without immediate family in Israel] from the U.S., and he was killed in the Second Lebanon War . It happened a couple of months before I started my Bachelor's degree, and I think it's one of the reasons why I joined One Voice. It will have been ten years exactly in October since he died.
I think that many people would have interpreted these experiences as a way of becoming more committed to the conflict, while I interpreted them as a way to end the conflict because it can't work like this.
I felt a lot of sorrow (with the death of my commander) as well as fear, which irritated me a lot. What also irritated me was that you go to the army and you don't really understand the political situation that you are in.
I didn't really know what occupation was, or what disengagement was [reference to Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005]. I just knew that we were in a conflict with the Palestinians, that they were trying to kill us, and then we tried to hit them back, and that the settlers were bad, as they always were trying to harm the soldiers, and that's the reason why I didn't like the settlers. They would, for example, cut off water supply for soldiers in specific places and do other similar things.
So there wasn't really an understanding of what went on. That's the thing though. You are 18 years old, and you go to the army, and you don't really know, what political situation you are entering. I know that as someone with left-wing [political] views, I wasn't really supposed to want to kill people, but when Mike was killed, I was much more politically involved.
It didn't have so much to do with Palestinians. I was angrier with Israel - that they got us into such a situation, leaving soldiers to die, and there were a lot of complaints from soldiers in terms of how they didn't have food, water, or equipment. This was one of the first things that irritated me about the army.
I think that during the time that I was in the army I became a little bit like this. I voted left, but I didn't think I was a leftist.
This is very embarrassing to say,but when I was enlisted to the army, I was interviewed to become a Sarel instructor [in the Sarel army unit]. It's one of the best positions for girls in the army, in my opinion, as those are soldier guides for tourists, who come to Israel. You basically become a travel guide for people from abroad, who come to Israel. It's not really army service.
That's what I wanted to do, but I didn't get it. I wanted to be in a uniform and to be a soldier but not really, at the same time. I wanted to be cool. I was 18 years old.
As I didn't get the position, I went to a telecommunications course, and then I was sent to a base, where I did an instructor and commander course, and I became a software instructor.
I really enjoyed the army service. I traveled to different places and met interesting people, and I had a very fun unit with very nice people. I really enjoyed my time in the army.
Then when I got out from the army, I became a computer guide in Beit Loewenstein [Rehabilitation Center in Ra'anana]. There is a department in Beti Loewenstein that helps people with disabilities get into the job market, so I helped them with their computer skills. It was a really weird and uninteresting experience. After that I began my bachelor's degree.
My army experience was really fun, which is weird, because you're very involved in the conflict but not really at the same time. Although, I had some interesting experiences. For example, I once traveled to Division 91 in the north, on the border with Lebanon, and I got stuck inside during a curfew, as there were snipers who shot soldiers who had gone to fix something on the border with Lebanon. I also went to Gaza once, and mortar bombs were falling on us. I had confrontations, but in the army it's like a frat house. There are many girls and many boys, and there are all sorts of arguments about who should be doing this and that. You're really involved with the conflict but not really. It's more of a social thing, being 18 years old. It's a strange experience.
In all honesty, I felt like I was doing something meaningful for my country, and that I had a place and that I belonged, so it was a veery positive experience for me.
First of all I learned about how to instruct, and I acquired tools that I still use today. I met a lot of people that I wouldn't have met in Herzliya, which is also a very positive experience.
I think that I had a lot of maturing experiences, such as losing friends and being in scary situations. It makes you more mature, so I think that I would have been a less mature Smadar (without the army service). It's not that I'm very mature today, but on a personal level, I would have been less mature.
I also met my partner in the army, and that was also a very maturing experience, because Avi [partner] was in Netzarim [Israeli settlement in Gaza, pre-2005] in Gaza, so there were things happening to him, such as attacks on his base, and I worried a lot about him being okay. He also lost friends.
Although we didn't really talk so much about the army, and although we didn't serve together, I stayed up entire nights because m boyfriend went to operations. It's very maturing. I don't think that people elsewhere at that age go through such things. I was 19-20 years old at that time.
I don't think that if I'd do it today, I would be as devoted. I felt like I was doing something important and meaningful, and perhaps because of that they don't enlist people in their thirties, because at that age you begin thinking about why you're doing it. I wouldn't do it, but I wouldn't give up the army experience.
I did two hours of reserves, during the time of my first degree.
I went to the reserves and had an interview that lasted two hours. After those two hours, everyone [other reservists and Smadar] sat down in a room with civilian clothes. They [other reservists] had other work places or studies. Then they asked us to enlist here and there, and I thought to myself, "Who are you? Don't tell me what to do." So back then I already didn't like people telling me what to do. They told us things like, "Don't talk on the phone," and I thought to myself, "Who are you to tell me not to talk on the phone?"
And during the interview they told me that I couldn't do reserves in my unit [from her army service], and they asked me, if I wanted to do reserves as a receptionist. I told them I would only do reserves in my unit, and that I didn't want to be a receptionist. I have a big mouth. Since then they haven't called me.
Nobody can tell me to do this or that, especially when I'm there for a week, and older. I had an 18-year old telling me what to do. That's the weirdness of the army.
But they didn't call me from the reserves besides the one time, when they called me saying that if I heard a specific code word on the radio, I had to get to the base. There is a code word on the radio, and you learn it, and then you need to go and enlist. I have no idea what it is. It's also a really stupid word, so they call and update you about the word. I think I was 26 years old at the time, and the girl [from the army] said, "Don't be scared," to which I answered, "If you got to the stage where I am needed in the reserves, you need to be scared!" But she didn't find it funny. She didn't like the joke.
We came for a visit to Israel during the last war in Gaza , when we would have to run to the shelters. It wasn't so weird because when I was in first grade, during the Gulf War, we had to run to the shelters as well. It's not that different, and back then we didn't have an Iron Dome [air defense system that intercepts and destroys short-range rockets]. I have a very strong memory of it.
First of all, again, you could feel the conflict, but not really, because I remember that my parents and I went to the shelter and we would play games, and we had a really good time. That's what I remember. I also remember that I would make gas masks for all of my dolls, which is really sickening and weird, when I think about it. But I don't remember that I was in need. I was really small, so I don't know, but for me, running to a shelter was normal. It wasn't so impressive.
Either way I don't feel the conflict too much when I go home. I'm also in Herzliya and Tel Aviv.
I am more scared of extremism than the conflict itself, about how people feel comfortable being racist, and how they don't have hope in terms of the conflict. It's very nerve-wracking to say that you're left-wing in some places. That's scarier than attacks.
The fact that people keep voting for Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] is also hard for me. It baffles me.
Although my [academic] research explains it, I still don't understand it. We have dealt with this conflict for many years, and clearly more violence hasn't helped the situation, so it doesn't make sense to use it. There have been more escalations and extremism in this conflict than attempts to solve the conflict, and people still think that the violence is more effective. It's not rational.
And besides that, with the rising costs of living and things like that, I don't understand how you can continue choosing this horrible man. That bothers me, along with how people can be racist and hate so much. It's difficult for me. Perhaps it's a very fancy thing to say, but that's simply the truth.
I really, really love Israel, and I really miss the days, when I was proud of being Israeli. I also think that the Palestinians are doing things that are wrong, but it's difficult for me to feel that my group, my main identity, is behaving like this, in a way that doesn't fit my values.
I believe that human beings are human beings, and that there has to be equality, and that we shouldn't terrorize another people and occupy them. I think that people in my group are not supporting me in those values, and that's difficult for me. I don't share those values, and there is also a difference between defending the people and between saying that it's okay to kill Palestinian children, because they are not human beings. It's a value I can't connect to.
I've seen people being happy about the death of a Palestinian or Arab-Israeli. That's difficult for me, because when I was young, I didn't think it was like that. It was about how we were supposed to do something because we were defending ourselves, or that's what we said. I don't think that people were celebrating in the streets, when Palestinians died. That was the behavior of the Palestinian side actually. When Jews died, the Palestinians would celebrate, and now I feel like we have become the same thing. The extremism is on both sides, and it's difficult for me.
I don't want me children to come home and say that all Arabs should die. I can't support those values It's a rational thing.
After we left the territories (in Gaza) I said, "Now we do what we are supposed to do, and then if there is a terror attack or shooting of mortars, then we have a right to defend ourselves." But I can't connect to how it's okay that settlers abuse Palestinians. On the emotional level, I can't be put in a group with people like this. It's difficult for me.
There is a psychological construct, called the ethos of conflict. There is a psychological infrastructure in a group, when it has been in a conflict for a long time. From a psychological viewpoint we always have to feel like our group does good and is good. Then we have a psychological foundation saying that we always wanted peace, and the other side is guilty, and since there is no hope for the conflict, and we did nothing bad, there is nothing we can do about it [the conflict]. I understand it, but I can't connect to this.
It's not that I really love Palestinians. I have Palestinians friends, but I don't love their culture. I can't connect to values of constant victimization and lack of respect for women. It really bothers me. It's not like I'm walking around saying, "Wow, the Palestinians are really okay." They are not in my group, so I don't care what they do. If the Palestinians do not respect women, the Palestinian feminist movement will have to deal with that.
Also, I'll meet someone [Palestinian] my age, who says that he is a refugee, and to this I respond, "No, you're not a refugee. Your grandfather is, but my grandmother is also a refugee. My grandmother fled Austria and went to England, and I don't say that I'm a refugee." The constant victimization on the Palestinian side bothers me as well as the lack of taking responsibility. I meet Palestinians, and they do exactly what right-wing extremists in Israel do. They say that whoever does terror is not okay, but it's the other side's fault. The lack of responsibility is on both sides.
I also don't want to promote the end of the conflict because I care about Palestinians. I think that all the money of Israelis goes to settlements. I think that they could do a lot of good things within the Green Line [the Israeli pre-1967 borders]. Also, the constant occupation with this conflict makes everyone stop thinking about the future. Nobody respects rights, so now Sudanese refugees are also not okay. We became a nation blaming the poor for their own situation, so it’s not about a love for Palestinians but a will to belong to a group that I can be proud of.
That’s also why I’m researching hope instead of empathy. I don’t think that there’s a lot of empathy on either side, while hope is all about “me and my group,” hope “for us”, for a better future without mortar bombs, stabbings, attacks, etc. It’s all about us. That’s why it’s such an interesting topic for me.
Less Respect for Thoughtfulness
Maybe I was very naïve when I was young, but I felt that we are a very resourceful, creative, thoughtful people—and I still think it. There’s a reason why we’re a start-up nation. People have great ideas. I just don’t think that the institutions promote this thing.
I think that Israelis are very charismatic, and they go around the world and do a lot of good. People that visit Israel say that Israelis are very open, funny, interesting, and charismatic people, and I’m very proud of that culturally, but I think that little by little there is less respect for thoughtfulness.
When you say that you have a doctorate, people and institutions don’t have much respect for that. It’s difficult.
When I tell people in Israel that I have a doctorate, they say, “How do you make money off that?” I think that there once was a respect for knowledge, but today academia is just perceived as “disconnected and leftist.” I don’t connect to that.
I think that a lot of it has to do with the conflict – the need for unity and survival is more important than intellectualism. Once I think that there was a space for criticism. Today criticism is a bad thing.
When I go to Israel, and I’m only with my family and my leftist friends or with people at the research center at the IDC [Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya], it’s okay, but that’s not what happens in the rest of the country.
I say that I’m Israeli, and I won’t be ashamed of it. I’ve never hidden that from others. I don’t agree with everything that Israel does, but I’m Israeli, so I won’t be ashamed of it.
I get into discussions. I’ve had some Palestinian taxi drivers, and I refuse to sit and say horrible things about Israel, but I also refuse to say the opposite. However to those who say that the army needs to be cancelled or to say that Israel shouldn’t exist, I say, “Okay, let’s cancel all armies.” I don’t think that there should be double standards for Israel. I think that Israel should have an army, but it shouldn’t be occupying the [Palestinian] territories.
To someone who says that there is an apartheid, I say, “Okay, there are elements of racism.” But I think that everyone should take responsibility for what they do. I’m not pro-Israeli nor pro-Palestinian. I’m just pro-peace.
To those who say, “God, why can’t they all get along?” I say, “Get over yourselves.”
My mother is very feminist. So is my father.
It’s very difficult for me to be with people that are chauvinists; very, very difficult.
Someone in my research lab does interesting research. She shows that groups that connect a lot are less likely to fix inequalities or to be part of an activity that supports equality. The example she uses is the relationship between women and men. She says that Israelis and Palestinians meet, they eat humus together, they play football, and then they feel like they have solved problems between themselves, and they are less likely to solve structural problems of inequality.
Everyone has a mother, and every woman has a brother, father, (male) partner that they love, and then it’s more difficult to fight institutional equality, because “my father is a good person. I don’t want to say that all men are like this or that, so I will fight for this less.”
My father never imposed gender roles in our family. He never said “No, you should play with dolls.” I always had to do sports and learn how to read a map, which I never succeeded in doing. He was more interested in my success than in me getting married and being feminine. So the feminism came from home.
But then when I went out, people would say, “Why do you bite your nails? It’s not very ladylike!” Or, “Why don’t you have children already? Why do you have a doctorate? Get married and have kids. Why don’t you cook?” My husband cooks. I clean. Anyhow, I encounter those attitudes a lot, especially in Israeli society that is not politically correct. I’m fighting this a lot.
When someone is right-wing, I’ll say: “Okay, I can understand it.” Perhaps it’s because I do research about fear and indoctrination. It’s difficult for them [Israelis] to disconnect from it, because it’s not like they meet Palestinians every day. It’s much easier to be right-wing.
Once we went to my husband’s friends, and someone there said, “You know, I’ve never met an intelligent woman.” I thought to myself, “Wow, you meet someone like this, and you already define what his role in life is based on gender.” And some people think that it’s okay for their father to have a career, while their mother gives up hers. They see it as okay, while they meet a lot of women. That’s very difficult for me.
It’s not that I have a problem with women who want to stay at home with the children. That’s fine; I respect that, but I don’t connect to it if a woman does it because it’s her role. I think that feminism is about everyone doing what they want to do because they are human beings, not because of a gender-defined role.
It also angers me to see women in the same position as men getting less compensation. For example, when I got this new job [at University of Surrey, England], my boss told me that women don’t negotiate. Women negotiate less, because they are so happy about getting the job that they will take it without negotiating. She really forced me to negotiate, which I did.
It was a very empowering feeling, and that’s my take on feminism.
Interview conducted on August 21, 2016