This paper analyzes the failure of Israel’s Ashkenazi (Jewish, of European, Yiddish-speaking origin) feminist peace movement to work within the context of Middle East demographics, cultures, and histories and, alternately, the inabilities of the Mizrahi (Oriental) feminist movement to weave itself into the feminist fabric of the Arab world. Although Ashkenazi elite feminists in Israel are known for their peace activism and human rights work, from the Mizrahi perspective their critique and activism are limited, if not counterproductive. The Ashkenazi feminists have strategically chosen to focus on what Edward Said called the Question of Palestine—a well funded agenda that enables them to avoid addressing the community-based concerns of the disenfranchised Mizrahim. Mizrahi communities, however, silence their own feminists as these activists attempt to challenge the regime or engage in discourse on the Question of Palestine. Despite historical changes, the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi distinction is a racialized formation so resilient it manages to sustain itself through challenges rather than remain a frozen dichotomy.

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Author notes

Smadar Lavie specializes in the anthropology of Egypt, Israel, and Palestine, with emphasis on issues of race, gender, and religion. She published her book The Poetics of Military Occupation (University of California Press, 1990) on resistance theatre of the Mzeina Bedouin of the South Sinai, Egypt. The book won the 1990 Honorable Mention of the Victor Turner Award for Ethnographic Writing. Lavie also co-edited Displacement, Diaspora and Geographies of Identity (Duke University Press, 1996) and Creativity/Anthropology (Cornell University Press, 1993). She was awarded the 2009 Gloria Anzaldúa Prize from the American Studies Association for her paper entitled “Staying Put: Crossing the Palestine/Israel Border with Gloria Anzaldúa.” Lavie has served in several feminist and anti-racist social movements and NGOs. She received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley.