Panel 3c. The Politics of Identity in Israel

Chair: Raffaella A. Del Sarto, European University Institute

Beyond Arabised-Jews: Young Radical Mizraḥim and Arabness in Israel
Zachary Smith, SOAS, University of London

The identity of ‘Arab-Jew’ has attracted significant scholarly attention since its re-introduction into the discourse surrounding mizraḥim, Jewish Israelis of MENA origin, in the 1990s by Ella Shohat, Sami Shalom Chetrit, Yehouda Shenhav and others. In attempting to bring analytical purchase to this category, Moshe Behar proposed the new category of ‘Arabised-Jews’ in the MENA, denoting ‘Jews who were culturally and linguistically Arab but who did not define themselves primarily as Arab’ (Behar 2007:584). Yet, Behar’s article did not seek to expand these processes of ‘Arabisation’ to the case of Middle Eastern Jews in Israel, nor did it closesly address the question of who or what ‘Arabised’ the Jews in their Middle Eastern environs. This paper, the product of thesis work at SOAS, University of London, seeks to expand and apply Behar’s framework to mizraḥim in Israel, proposing a division into phases of ‘allo-Arabisation’ and ‘auto-Arabisation’ in mizraḥi lives. In doing so, it draws on Latour’s (1993) exploration of modernity as characterised by ‘hybridisation’ and ‘purification’, two processes that also mark mizraḥi existence in Israel. Behar’s ‘Arabisation’ is but the first of many processes that manifest themselves in different ways and with different agents. I explore ‘allo-Arabisation’, ‘Arabisation’ by others (primarily ashkenazi Jews), and ‘auto-Arabisation’, ‘Arabisation’ by the self, utilising interviews with young second- and third-generation mizraḥi radicals to explore the limits and extent to which ‘Arabness’ is being reclaimed by mizraḥim in Israel. In ‘auto-Arabising’, young mizraḥi radicals exist as Levantines, at the edges of Israeli culture and society.

No longer “trembling before God.”
Sophie Bigot-Goldblum, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)

This paper is an attempt at exploring the phenomenon of “yotzim bish’ela” meaning, the deliberate process of self -estrangement from the ultra-orthodox (haredi) community in contemporary Israel. This topic comes within the scope of the struggle for freedom of religion and self-definition in the Middle-East. Leaving Mea Shearim, the ultra-orthodox district, costs more than a bus ticket. The psychological and social outlay for the individual cannot be understated: it requires nothing less than a complete redefinition of one’s identity in addition, often, to a complete rupture with of one’s family and community of origin. What are the means for the individual to break off from the ultra-orthodox community? What is the nature of the organisations at his/her disposal, and what are their means and approach? Those are some of the questions that the paper will explore. We would also try to explore the panorama of responses offered by the lay society to those newcomers, which range between inclusion, segregation and victimisation. This process of “liberation” from what the individual regards as an oppressive surrendering raises the question of the governmental response to such a phenomenon, particularly in the “Jewish State”, where the reprobation of jewish-orthodox organisations or behaviour remains an uneasy topic, if not a taboo. Considering the array of questions raised by the yotsim bi’shela, this phenomenon can only be investigated with a pluri-disciplinary approach taking into account sociology as well as political theory and religious studies.

Unruly Resistances and the Fault Lines of Colonised Spaces: The Struggle for Palestinian Space in Israel
Sharri Plonski, SOAS, University of London

On January 19th, 2014, a group of activists executed a small act of guerilla politics – a moment of unruly disarticulations – in the Ajami neighbourhood of Jaffa-Tel Aviv: they removed all street signs highlighting Zionist history (and its appropriation of Palestinian space), and replaced them with the names of Palestinian icons. With this action, and its disruption to the norms and habits of ‘power’ in the public sphere, these activists attempted to reclaim the streets of Jaffa. Acts of subversive cartography have become a common practice of Palestinian-citizen resistances inside Israel. Intertwined as part of the dialectic, if asymmetrical, relationship that exists between ‘power’ and ‘resistance’, they act as a window both into the apparatuses employed to colonise Palestinian space inside Israel and the insurgent practices different communities have articulated in response. This encounter – between Zionist erasures and the struggle to root and re-entrench Palestinian space – produces the particular story, the particular space, in which both are housed, the lines and boundaries of which are articulated and disrupted through unique spatial relations. Based on three years of ethnographic field-work with three contemporary cases of community land-struggles in Jaffa-Tel Aviv, the Galilee and the Naqab, this paper explores the everyday and catalytic resistances that disrupt the colonial ordering of Palestinian space inside Israel. Through an exploration of this spectrum of practices, we investigate how power is activated, disarticulated and reshaped through struggle that is both present and absent from Israeli-Zionist productions of space; and how struggle is articulated and mediated by the same conditions.

Gendered Spatialities and the Cultural Nationalist ‘Right’: Space, Place, and the Settler Colonial Politics of Zionist Women
Akanksha Mehta, SOAS, University of London

Women for Israel’s Tomorrow/Women in Green was established in 1993 as the first women-only organization under the Zionist umbrella in Israel. Committed to the security and Jewish heritage of the Land of Israel, the organization calls itself a ‘grassroots’ effort, organizing a variety of public spectacles and events. Women of the organization hail mainly from educated and ‘upper class’ backgrounds and mobilize via street activism, charitable and educational work, and violence. Their mobilizations render the ‘streets’ and the ‘nation’ as deeply gendered and contested public spaces that are being constantly (re)imagined, (re)produced, (re)constructed, (re)negotiated, and (re)transformed. In this paper, drawing from ethnographic research conducted in Israel-Palestine, I deploy gender as an analytical category to examine the aforementioned Zionist women’s organization’s interventions with public space. I argue that women from the organization intervene with spatialities of the street and the nation in varied ways to negotiate their own presence as agents and not mere discursive markers in the larger male-dominated Zionist patriarchal project(s). I also argue that gendered public space remains vital to the women’s symbolic and ritualistic construction of discursive regimes as well as their cultural/religious/political iconography. Lastly, I assert that agency frameworks deployed in dominant feminist analyses of right-wing women focus exclusively on maternal and familial themes. These analyses are therefore unable to capture the complex ‘everyday’ politics and social transformations within women’s militant politics. This paper, therefore, aims to be a step towards beginning a conversation on ‘difficult’ gendered narratives of settler-colonialism and their impact on politics.

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