Date of Degree
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Political Theory
migration, citizenship, domestic work, carework, Israel/Palestine, migrant labor
This dissertation explores the relationship between migrant caregivers and their employers in Israel. Based on interviews I conducted with migrant caregivers from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India, and their Jewish-Israeli citizen-employers, I illustrate how the daily glances and exchanges comprising this relationship are shaped by the transnational racialized, gendered, and sexualized division of labor and ethno-racially hierarchical citizenship law. I also examine the many ways migrant caregivers navigate debt bondage, Israeli laws and policies legally “binding” them to their employers, and de jure exclusion from the body politic. I therefore contextualize the reproductive labor done by migrant caregivers within Israel’s broader ethno-racial Zionist project of nation-building, and the ongoing occupation and colonization of Palestinian land. Throughout my dissertation, I highlight how networks of mutual aid, service provision, and community-buliding unfold at the local and transnational levels, considering the implications for transnational feminist solidarity.
I thus treat Israel/Palestine as a case study for rethinking how the segmentation of transnational labor markets and the privatization of labor recruitment under neoliberal forms of governance intersect in particular ways with a de jure ethno-racially hierarchical citizenship regime. In undertaking this analysis, I foreground the affective, relational components of migrant labor and citizenship in addition to the political and legal. This project contributes to transnational feminist scholarship on migration and the racialization of labor and to empirically grounded theories of transnational care migration. It also intervenes in debates about nationalism, occupation, and settler colonialism in Israel/Palestine by providing an intersectional analysis of legal exclusions and state violence as they differentially unfold across lines of gender, ethnicity, race, class, religion, nationalism, and citizenship status.
The introduction situates the migrant caregiver/citizen-employer relationship in Israel/Palestine within the broader context of domestic and care migration transnationally, and the neoliberal turn to labor outsourcing in Israel. It also addresses the mutually constitutive relationship between citizenship and labor as it has unfolded within the context of Israeli settler colonialism, and considers the impact of Israel’s perpetual state of emergency on the daily lives of migrant caregivers. Finally, I examine the racialized, gendered, and sexualized construction of migrant caregivers by migrant-sending countries, private recruitment agencies, and Israeli employers.
Chapter one explores migrant caregivers’ political orientations towards the Israeli government, looking in particular at interviewees’ narratives about the government’s treatment of Palestinians and Eritrean and Sudanese refugees. I argue that the support migrant caregivers demonstrate for the Israeli government and the Zionist project are partially explained by the high cost of political dissent in Israel. I also examine how migrant networks of service provision and community organizing publicly represent themselves so as to appear, out of necessity, non-threatening to the Jewish body politic.
Chapter two addresses migrant caregivers’ experiences working inside Jewish-Israeli homes, and their strategies for navigating debt bondage, Israel’s “Slavery Law,” and for gaining greater control over the work process. In doing so I treat the household as a site of race, class, and gender conflict that reflects, perpetuates, and contests hierarchical social relations in Israel/Palestine. I illustrate how migrant caregivers are at once treated as intimate members of the family and as “foreign” interlopers, a pattern reflecting the state’s legal classification of migrant caregivers more broadly. While their treatment as workers performing an exceptionally intimate form of labor creates the conditions for task expansion and under-compensation, their constitution as threats to the ethno-racial state justifies surveillance practices within the home.
Chapter three examines the migrant caregiver/citizen-employer relationship through the narratives of Jewish-Israeli citizen-employers, focusing upon two of the most common tropes arising within my interviews. The first, what I term the “kinship trope,” portrays migrant caregivers as “one of the family,” while the second trope depicts migrant caregivers as individual agents of economic development. I illustrate how both of these discourses naturalize the division between citizen and non-citizen labor, and reinforce social ideologies about domestic and carework as a racialized and gendered form of labor. I also argue that both discourses depoliticize live-in migrant carework by obscuring relations of power within the home.
In chapter four I delineate the ways migrant caregivers use Internet Communication Technology (ICT) to contest and navigate the gendered and racialized naturalization of their work. I argue that within the asymmetrical migrant caregiver/citizen-employer relationship, they use ICT for self-expression, to fortify relationships of support with family and friends, and to strengthen community networks of mutual aid and solidarity. I suggest how each of these strategies can inform our understanding of state power and illuminate some of the potentials of virtual mobility.
In the conclusion, I suggest how the narratives of migrant caregivers and their employers in Israel/Palestine can inform transnational feminist solidarity efforts aimed at supporting migrant caregivers’ rights and the Palestinian right to self-determination and liberation from occupation. Finally, I propose future lines of inquiry that can further illuminate the intersection between neoliberalism, gendered and racialized forms of labor, citizenship and national belonging in Israel/Palestine.
Brown, Rachel, "Four Years, Three Months: Migrant Caregivers in Israel/Palestine" (2017). CUNY Academic Works.