Smadar Lavie spent the 1970s studying the Bedouin of Egypt and earned her BA from the Hebrew University. She received her PhD from UC Berkeley’s anthropology department in 1989 and started researching Israel’s race relations between Jews from the Middle East and Jews from Europe in the 1990s. She spent the first decade of the 21st century in Israel, where she co-founder of Israel’s feminist of color movement, Ahoti (or Sistah in Hebrew).
An advocate for Jewish women of color, the UC Berkeley scholar in residence, during her years in Israel she was frequently seen and heard stating the case for Jewish women of color on Israeli television, which hasn’t made her terribly popular. When the alt-right visited Berkeley in September 2017, they named her one of Berkeley’s “terrorist professors.”
“Tel Aviv is really divided,” Lavie says. “If I was in north Tel Aviv, which is considered the white city, people would curse me. If I would walk with my dog, they would open their windows and spit on me. And if I took my dog and walked in south Tel Aviv, which is where all the ghettos and barrios are, people would throw all these sloppy kisses on me and say `You really taught them a lesson.’”
Lavie was part of a panel — Women and Gender on the Right — during the Inaugural Conference on Right-Wing Studies, which kicked off Thursday evening in Berkeley and will revolve around a series of nine panel discussions today and nine more Saturday.
Scholars from around the world will explore the history and the future of the right wing, politically and culturally.
Lawrence Rosenthal, chairman of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, says that this conference is the first of its kind at an American university and adds this kind of work is more important than many realize.
“My overall hope is that people will recognize right wing studies as a coherent academic discipline,” Rosenthal says. “You just have to look around and see how many people are studying these issues from disparate departments.
“Obviously, you also find them in universities all over the USA and all over the world. So, the idea of their being a coherent discipline that binds this all is something that I would like to see people take away from this.”
Magali Della Sudda, who is examining the right-wing movement in France from her post at CNRS-Sciences Po Bordeaux, says while white nationalism of the sort that has surfaced in the United States is relatively rare in France, her exploration of the La Manif Pour Tous — a group fighting against gay marriage in France — brought her to a conference with women drawn to extreme conservative values.
“The priest was very worried because initially the conference was to be held in an adjoining room,” Sudda says. “2,500 showed up when they were prepared for just 600. These are mostly middle-aged women with a parochial sensibility. Almost all of them were Catholic and nationalists.
“They were activists in the community. They had strong connections with the pro-life movement. They believe in white supremacy, even though that is quite rare in France.”
The four speakers at the Women and Gender on the Right panel — Lavie, Sudda, Victoria Phillips of Columbia University and Michelle Summer of Berkeley — are not likely to be described as being on the right themselves.
But they agree that those on the left hoping to study and to understand those on the right won’t find the going easy.
Phillips, who is in the midst of finishing a book on liberal-turned-right-winger Eleanor Dulles, the highly influential sister of two of the heavyweights of post-World War II American politics, John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, says one of the lessons that stuck with her from her time as a student at Columbia, was to “let the silences go.”
“You walk in with your label hat off and just listen,” Phillips says. In order to learn, I have to make myself a blank slate. When someone says the most extraordinary thing, my greatest desire is to make my face absolutely blank, and not show any judgment. Because we can’t learn about how people think if they think we are sitting in judgment.”
Summers is doing work on Ballet Magnificat, which she describes as a merger between ballet and evangelical Christianity. Summers, who says she “identifies as a recovering ballerina and a recovering evangelical,” has been able to dig deeply in the Jackson, Miss.-based group because she can speak their non-spoken language.
“Beyond not saying anything, with dance and having a knowledge of the technique goes a long way for them to be able to trust you in a non-verbal way,” Summers says. “The discussion of how to study subjects you are really uncomfortable with is a really important question.”
The conference is sponsored by the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies. A complete schedule of events can be found here.