Taking a Stan

An interview with the 19-year-old Taylor Swift fan who went to prison rather than serve in the IDF.

Jacobin Magazine
April 12, 2019
IDF recruits at a swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Vadim Lerner/Shutterstock

This article originally appeared in Jacobin Magazine.

The proprietor of @LegitTayUpdates, a satirical Taylor Swift fan site with almost twenty thousand followers, went viral recently when she laconically revealed she’d just spent two months in prison for refusing to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The story intrigued the internet and elicited a barrage of online hate from angry Zionists (also known as Israel stans). As @LegitTayUpdates put it, “I never thought I’d see the day Taylor Swift Updates’ main enemy would be Zionists but Tayliberal Swift really did bless me I guess!”

Jacobin caught up with the anonymous nineteen-year-old to talk about how she came to her decision to become a refusenik, the effect of mandatory military service on young Israelis’ political views, and whether or not Taylor Swift is, in fact, a Satanist.

Jacobin: You were in prison for two months. When did you get out?

LegitTayUpdates: Yesterday. It’s been a very crazy day. It’s been weird—immediately after I get out of prison, I go viral.

JM: And then you get inundated with, I imagine, many requests for interviews.

L: Dozens, so many. It’s cool, but I have to be selective. It’s a risky thing to talk about, because I’m still living in Israel. If I was in America, I would be with my face in everything, plastered on any billboard they ask me, but in Israel, it impacts my family, it impacts my friends, it impacts my life. I can’t just do whatever I want. It’s sad, but that’s how it is.

JM: Is that a typical amount of time, if someone refuses to serve in the IDF?

L: Well, here’s the weird thing. People I met in there got out after a week, some got out after ten days. Someone on Twitter that talked to me, he was out after five days, and that was absolutely crazy to me. Then when Israeli activists came to me to try and talk about my story, they were very shocked that I only did two months. People do over ninety days. I believe the longest has been close to two years.

It’s not always just in a single stretch. A lot of people, they get out, and then they immediately get back in, a couple weeks later, if they refuse to join the IDF. What happens when you leave, or when they try to release you, is you talk to a commander, someone in the army, and they try to convince you to enlist. Either you enlist, or you go back to prison.

JM: Is there a chance that you may have to shut down the account again, and go back?

L: I won’t, because they called me today and they said “we’re not going to put you back in prison again.” I didn’t want to confirm anything until I had that. I don’t even have my release papers yet. Technically I’m released, but who knows if they can revoke that?

The IDF works in a very shady way. No one that I’ve spoken to, even the activists who deal with this, have any idea what exactly the IDF does, what is their process. I talked to some who actually used to be in the IDF, and they hated it, almost every moment. They told me that anyone can access the database and find out your name and stuff, and that was very concerning to me, because now there’s a bunch of twenty-year-olds who can find out who I am.

The IDF is very weird. When you go and do the tests to get enlisted, even there it was all very messy. They are very disorganized, for such an elite army, as they say.

JM: That’s interesting, because everyone assumes the Israeli army is this very efficient and, like you say, elite force.

L: No, everyone in Israel knows that the IDF is just a mess. Sometimes there are people who go into the IDF, and they don’t have any super-special skills, or they didn’t do great on their tests. They put them in an office job, and then just let them do that for two and a half years. They aren’t organized, and a lot of people that I know hate being in the IDF. Even on Twitter, people wrote to me, like, “yes, I hated my service, but I still did it, because everyone does it.” It’s this whole culture.

It’s a very common saying in Israel to say, you do it because you do it, even if you hate it. I do have friends who work in intelligence in the IDF, and they’re fine with their positions, because they like computers, or whatever. I also know people who are stuck at a desk doing something they hate, and they have to do that for at least two years.

I do feel bad for those who don’t want to be in the IDF but can’t afford to not be in the IDF. If you don’t go to the army, your future in Israel isn’t very bright. Technically you’re not allowed to discriminate against people who didn’t serve, but it’s harder to get jobs, because a lot of people require army experience. Even if it’s illegal, they usually still do it. People tend to look down on you when you don’t do the IDF. “Oh, you didn’t suffer for two and a half years? You must be lazy.”

JM: So it sounds like, aside from the legal powers they use to make people serve, there’s also this tremendous social pressure.

L: Yes. A lot of the left-leaning parties in Israel, even, they don’t want to talk about the IDF. They don’t want to talk about Palestine, because if you go against the IDF, you go against basically everyone who’s been in the IDF, and there are so many people. You want to get that young vote, the soldier vote. I think less than 10 percent of the entire Israeli population is pro-Palestine.

JM: These potential consequences for your future, was that something you considered when you decided not to serve?

L: Of course, but I didn’t give a fuck. The truth is that the Israeli government is shit, and there’s a reason I don’t want to go with the IDF. On a certain level, I don’t like the things that my country does. It was a bit difficult, because I did have to openly say to the whole world that Israel isn’t the good guy, which is what they teach us in school. It’s always, “They attacked us, and then we defended ourselves, we are heroes, we are the underdog.” I always knew that not doing service basically would ruin my life in Israel, but I also know that I don’t really want to stay in Israel. I want to do my activism, my part, from mostly far away. I’d rather be in politics somewhere else.

JM: When did you decide you didn’t want to serve? Was it something you prepared for in advance?

L: I should have planned in advance, but I didn’t, because I’m a bit of an idiot. The summer when I was seventeen, we had this program where we meet Palestinian people, kids my age, and we talk about peace and stuff. That was very nice, I liked that program a lot. Before I went there, I knew a little bit about the things happening in Palestine, but on some level I thought—this is a very bad thing to think, but I thought they kind of deserved it. Because what we were taught is that it is controlled by terrorists, and that they just won’t let us have our land that we deserve.

So I talked to these Palestinian kids who hadn’t seen their uncle or their grandparents in years, because they can’t get out of the West Bank to go to Gaza, and they can’t pass the checkpoint, they’re not legal citizens, and they can’t vote, and they don’t have many rights. It was ridiculous to me. Why are you treating someone like a second-class citizen, just because they’re not Jewish, or just because they’re Arab?

It was very hard for me to understand that the whole conflict is more complicated than history class. People try to cover it, but there’s a limit to what teachers can say without getting fired. They can’t say that Palestine is being occupied, because that would be a political opinion. Also, most of them don’t give a fuck. They don’t care about Palestine.

That was the first time I considered it. But really, it was when I was eighteen, I decided when I went on a trip to Europe that I didn’t want to go to the army. I remember clearly, I was in London and I saw a newspaper and it had stuff about Palestine. I was so shocked, because in Israel, we don’t talk about Palestine unless Palestine is attacking us. That is when I really decided.

So I kept delaying my draft date by doing stupid shit, and didn’t show up to appointments. I told them I didn’t want to go to the army, and I had to sit in front of the committee that decides if you are a pacifist, if you have a moral objection. Then they asked me all kinds of questions which you shouldn’t ask people. At first it was easy things, like what are your thoughts on violence, what are your thoughts on the conflict. Then they asked the ridiculous question of, what if someone broke into your house and threatened your mother with a gun, and you also have a gun, would you shoot them? I was like, “What is this question?” They asked me if I’d punch a Nazi. I said yes, of course, it’s a Nazi. They didn’t like that. Why would I lie to them? I would punch a Nazi, Nazis are terrible.

JM: What’s your feeling about what to outside observers looks like a scary rightward shift happening in Israeli politics?

L: There is a very scary shift to the Right. But I think a turning point was when Trump got elected. People just thought, I can be racist in public, and it is okay that that is my opinion. I think that validity for Trump really echoed through the whole world. You can see it in Brazil, and you can see it in all kinds of European countries.

But I also think it’s like a pendulum. Right now it’s bad, but it will get better. I am hopeful about that. But for the next election, I can’t be optimistic, because Bibi always wins. I don’t know if you noticed this, but every time there is an election, or Netanyahu is under investigation, he starts a shootout with Gaza, or the West Bank. Like this past week, there have been bombings in Gaza and in Israel. All of a sudden people care about security again, and then he can promise he can keep us safe. Then people vote for him again. That’s his tactic, he does it every time. He’s not a person who loses.

JM: Do you see any glimmers of hope, politically?

L: I do feel that younger people are becoming more and more Left, but I think that because of the IDF, and because of the culture in Israel, that it’s not going to last as much. As long as we have a mandatory army, people will just go in and their perception will be skewed.

JM: What was the reaction from your family and friends, and other people you knew, when they learned that you were going to go to prison rather than serve in the IDF?

L: At first, my parents told me that I was not going to prison, I would go to the IDF if it was the last thing I do. Which was terrifying to hear from your parents, but they came around to me being in prison. They don’t like it, but they understand that they can’t tell me what to do, because I’m an adult.

My friends, younger people, they’re typically more sympathetic, because they’re closer to the IDF age. I think the people above thirty don’t understand what it’s like to be in the IDF today. It’s similar to how it was when they were serving, but it’s also very, very different, because the situation keeps escalating.

A lot of people on Instagram call me lazy, a traitor, a lot of stuff like that. That happens a lot. I also do get some support from Israelis. That is very nice, but a lot of it is hate. “You don’t like it here, go away,” stuff like that. “You’re just so ungrateful, I did my service.” They really do think that the IDF just defends Israel. If it only defended Israel, I would probably be okay with it. But they pretend they defend Israel, and they use that as a cover to attack people.

JM: You run a popular Taylor Swift fan account. I think there’s an assumption that that type of pop culture does not mix with politics.

L: Yes, a lot of people think that because I like Taylor Swift, I’m this blonde twelve-year-old who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The Taylor Swift fan base is quite big. Sure, there’s a lot of white Republicans, because she used to be country, and she scammed them all into giving her money before she was like, “I’m a Democrat.” That was pretty funny.

Also, a lot of her fans are LGBT+, and a lot of her fans are people of color, and a lot of her fans also aren’t the people that are represented in the media. When you see photos of what people think Taylor Swift fans look like, they’re mostly like American girls, probably teenagers, and not very clever. I think the smartest people I know are Taylor Swift fans, to be honest.

JM: One last question. What’s the juiciest Taylor Swift rumor?

L: That’s difficult. I’ve always liked the one that says Taylor Swift is a Satanist. I think that’s funny. When I saw it, I was like, there’s no way, Satanism is bad. But then I read about it, and I was like—wait, maybe she is a Satanist.

JM: I hope you’re not using this interview to spread that rumor.

L: Everyone in the fandom already knows about it. Also, a lot of what I do in my Twitter account is spread false rumors about Taylor Swift. For instance, today I told people that she was going to buy Spain next year.

JM: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I realize a day after getting out of prison, a Jacobin interview is the last thing you’d want to do.

L: No, I like it. You have Noam Chomsky who wrote you a nice review. Of course, I love that guy. 

@LegitTayUpdates is holding an online fundraiser for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. You can donate here.