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Israel, Diaspora, and the Routes of National Belonging

Israel, Diaspora, and the Routes of National Belonging

Series: Cultural Spaces
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 325
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    Israel, Diaspora, and the Routes of National Belonging
    Book Description:

    Many diasporic Jews have strong ties to Israel, but what does a diasporic nationalism mean, and is it necessarily tied to territory? Over the course of four years, Jasmin Habib was a participant observer on tours of Israel organized for diaspora Jews as well as at North American community events focusing on Israel and Israel-diaspora relations. During this time, Habib conducted extensive interviews with tourists and community members. The result is a startlingly honest, theoretically rich, and detailed analysis of official tour narratives and tourist interactions at a range of Israeli archaeological, historical, and military sites, as well as back home in North America.

    In this first ethnographic account of North American diaspora Jews imagining and experiencing Israel, Habib blends anthropological, historical, and cultural studies theories together in an analysis of diaspora nationalism that has broad implications. Reflecting on her personal history as a peace activist of mixed Jewish and Palestinian parentage, Habib looks at community events in North America that celebrate the attachment and sense of obligation to Israel and Israeli Jews, and shares community members' multiple dialogues on the conflict between Israel and Palestine. What emerges from this compassionate exploration is Habib's provocative contention that much of the existing literature about North American Jews and their relationship to Israel ignores their diverse reactions to official narratives and perpetuates an "official silence" surrounding the destructive aspects of nationalist sentiments. As a result of this silence, Habib argues, Jewish studies has been unable to assert disciplinary autonomy from Zionist theory, and modernism, nation-building, and national territory have not been interrogated as analytical categories in these new geopolitical contexts.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7632-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-26)

    To allegorize my approach to this project, I begin with a toy that signifies the spirit of Hanukkah – a four-sided top called adreidlin Yiddish, asevivonin Hebrew. During Hanukkah a popular game is played with this top. On each of the four sides is a letter standing for one word of the phrase ′a great miracle happened there.′ But if you happen to be playing the game in Israel, the last letter stands for ′here′ (a great miracle happenedhere). Thus the words on the top change fromtheretoheredepending on where Jews find...

  5. 1 Zionism, Diaspora, and Israel
    (pp. 27-36)

    In the beginning, there was the Land of Israel, and then there was exile, and the Jews lived as a nation without a land. Until they had a land of their own, there would always be a ′Jewish problem.′ So goes the Zionist narrative. Zionism promised freedom, redemption, revolution, liberation, and normalization, and it was to form the ideological basis for the founding of Israel as the Jewish state.

    On tours of Israel and at community events, key Zionist tropes are presented as part of the narrative of nation. More recently, however, post-Zionists have begun to question some of Israel′s...

  6. 2 Touring Israel
    (pp. 37-41)

    Nations are imagined, represented, and performed for their national audiences. A key component in any understanding of the meaning of Israel is that it is the nation and state of the Jews. What happens on tour – what tourists are told about Israel and the Jews′ identity – is an important focus of this research.

    The tours¹ I accompanied were quite typical of their kind. They were study tours, and they were organized by Jewish agencies that fund projects in Israel – projects ranging from reforestation to democratization. They were designed to forge links between diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews,...

  7. 3 Celebrating Return: One Nation, One Land
    (pp. 42-64)

    Common to all the tours were narratives that linked the Jews to the Land of Israel in such a way that the territory became exclusively associated with the Jewsʹ struggle and historical and teleological mission. Jews are embedded in the Land and the Land is in turn embedded in the Jews′ history. Biblical and archaeological sites were made significant by being presented as evidence of the Jews′ long-term longing for and belonging to the land. But more recent historical events were also reinterpreted in Israel, especially with respect to the Holocaust. In pointing to the nationalist resonance of these narratives,...

  8. 4 Development and Democracy
    (pp. 65-83)

    The infamous statement that Israel was founded for ′a people without a land′ in ′a land without people′ was most clearly articulated during the visits to the Negev Desert. The guides described the desert′s emptiness and barrenness prior to the Jews′ arrival (more often referring to it as the ′return′). The story of the Negev′s development is essential to any understanding of Israeli and diaspora nationalism.

    Narratives of the Negev must be examined for two reasons. First, from the perspective of urban and suburban dwellers – the majority of tour participants – there are few implications to colonizing a desert,...

  9. 5 Settling the Nation, Defending the State
    (pp. 84-106)

    Israel′s military conflicts with neighbour states and the Israel-Palestine conflict were of great interest to both guides and tour participants. In fact, the tourists seemed to be most interested in battlefields and other military sites, and at times the guides and presenters were taken aback by their knowledge and by their divergent perspectives. Israelʹs military history was not my main interest; even so, I found it interesting how the guides discussed the Arab and Palestinian presence in Israeli society in terms of the debate about Israel′s security. Inevitably, Israel was presented as beseiged and as dangerously outnumbered by its enemies....

  10. 6 The Politics of Securing Peace
    (pp. 107-118)

    The first Declaration of Principles, more commonly known as the Oslo Accords, was signed in 1993 between the State of Israel, led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), led by Yasir Arafat. The basic contours of the signed agreement were: the phased withdrawal of the Israeli military from the territories occupied by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967; the creation of a new entity superseding the PLO, to be called the Palestine National Authority, to administer those areas; and continued negotiations over such outstanding issues as the fate of the Palestinian refugees living...

  11. 7 Representing Israel
    (pp. 119-122)

    For roughly four years I attended community events including lectures, book readings, film presentations, and community festivals. I can say with some confidence that the events I have chosen to examine represent the range of mainstream perspectives to which many Jews in a large North American community are exposed.¹ I explore the context of these narratives and the practices associated with attending the events or ′being there,′ including the speaker/audience interactions that followed many of these talks in the next three chapters.

    In this exploration of how Israel is represented to North American Jews, I limit myself to those narratives...

  12. 8 Identifying (with) Israel: Zionism and the State
    (pp. 123-138)

    At all the events where Israel was celebrated or discussed, there was never any question that Israel is the Jews′ nation-state. Yet at the same time, these events raised questions aboutwhichIsrael Jews in North America would want to identify with. I will try to highlight not only the taken-for-granted aspects of these presentations, but also, how they illustrated a much more multifaceted representation of Israel and Israelis than the narratives presented on the tours of Israel. Although some complex issues were raised on the tours, they were never fully addressed, and the overall impression was certainly not one...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 9 Identifying (with) Israel after Zionism
    (pp. 139-164)

    One of Zionism′s primary goals was to normalize the Jews, to bring them into the modern era and into History (capital H). Vital to this was the establishment of their own nation-state.¹ This partly explains why a number of community presentations focused on how Jews were confronting issues of the sort faced by other modern nation-states. These presentations were mainly about the new relationships that Jews were developing with one another (within Israel) as well as with the world (i.e., with neighbouring states). The Jews were no longer a nation without a state; now they could celebrate and meet head-on...

  15. 10 Narrating Relations for Diaspora
    (pp. 165-166)

    Anthropologist Pnina Werbnerʹs definition of diaspora as a matter of ′co-responsibility′ proves useful for understanding diaspora Jews. Studying Pakistani and Muslim migrant workers, her ′argument begins from a definition that seeks to retain a prior emphasis on the compelling nature of the obligations ″diasporans″ feel across space and national boundary.′¹ Her description of diaspora communities is based on an interpretation of them as ′communities of co-responsibility, recognising not simply their loyalty but their existential connection to co-diasporans elsewhere, or in a home country ... This sense of coresponsibility is expressed in tangible material gestures of charitable giving and complex forms...

  16. 11 Longings
    (pp. 167-191)

    Myrna, Warren and Sarah, and Aaron all experienced Israel in its founding years. Each now identifies with and feels attached to Israel. Their personal experiences of anti-Semitism and the Second World War form the background for this relationship. All of these people had travelled to Israel at least once before I met them.

    Myrna has had a long-term relationship with Israel and Israel-related issues. In her late eighties, she was very keen to participate in my research. After only a few days on tour, she invited me to her hotel room, where she was taking an afternoon nap after a...

  17. 12 A Home Away from Home
    (pp. 192-212)

    Those who first visited Israel when that nation was in a euphoric mood – the first few years after Israel′s victory in the Six Day War of 1967 – told very different stories from the ones told by those who had experienced the anti-Semitism of the first half of the twentieth century, including the Holocaust. Relationships developed across the diasporic divide in the 1970s which were possibly the strongest I witnessed in the research period. ′Co-responsibility′ for members of this group seriously shaped their lives and relationships to Israel.

    Marlene′s grandfathers came to the United States from the Ukraine in...

  18. 13 Routes to Belonging
    (pp. 213-241)

    Historian Harold Troper suggested that diaspora Jews′ relationship to Israel changed after 1982, the year that Israel invaded Lebanon and a peace movement began to form within Israel.¹ For some diaspora Jews, this was when they began criticizing Israel openly, its military policy in particular. Yet many North American Jews have developed relationships to Israel only since 1982, and for them the 1982 war has little or no significance. Theirs is a fairly recent attachment to the state. Some of the diaspora Jews I met on the tours were seeing Israel for the first time – an experience that would...

  19. 14 Fielding Questions of Identity
    (pp. 242-254)

    As I entered the final stages of writing this book, I came across the work of Henry Giroux, a social critic and educator. His reflections on the need both to enter into and engage with public sphere texts spoke to my efforts and interests. He writes: ′We need to go beyond questions of literacy and textual critique to issues of politics, power, and social transformation. A new vocabulary is necessary to understand not just how to read texts critically. It is also crucial to comprehend how knowledge circulates through various circuits of power and promotes images, experiences, representations, and discourses...

  20. 15 Diaspora Belonging
    (pp. 255-268)

    A complex array of power relations can be seen in every diaspora′s attempt to make sense of the nationalist narratives it is presented with – power relations that compel it to see and act in particular ways. During my fieldwork, I found that power was involved not only in the relationship between the audiences and the narratives, but also in my relationship as the ethnographer to the rules, assumptions, and practices that defined my life. Understanding these interpretations is useful anthropological work. It is also useful political work.

    The tours generally presented exclusivist, territorialist, Zionist narratives about the Jewsʹ place...

  21. Appendix: Interview Questions/Guideline
    (pp. 269-270)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 271-284)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-302)
  24. Index
    (pp. 303-318)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-319)