World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


MINORITIES AND IDENTITY IN ISRAEL - 2/2 (471) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: FRI, 23 / 2.30 - 4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description:
Chair: Linde Lindkvist (Lund University)

Paper presenter: Cathrine Furberg Moe (PhD Candidate, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK), “Negotiating Ethnicity, Race and Class: Being Mizrahi in an Israeli border town”
After the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian population in 1948, the Israeli state embarked on a massive immigration program aimed at bringing Jews from Arab countries to settle and populate the newly established state. The town of Kiryat Shemona, situated near the Lebanese border in the Upper Galilee, was like other Jewish towns and cities, built on the ruins of a village in which Palestinian once lived. Israel's most northerly, and in time largest immigrant camp was built on the ruins of the village of Al-Khalsa as a part of a strategic policy of population dispersal. Jewish immigrants from Arab countries were placed in the outlying town in order to supply the existing Ashkenazi settlements with cheap labour, populate remote districts to prevent the return of the displaced Palestinian population, and create a 'frontier' against the neighbouring Arab countries. Jews from Arab countries were crystallized into a particular kind of object of knowledge as Mizrahim ('Easterners'). Scholars have tried to deconstruct the markers of 'Mizrahim' demonstrating how they become frozen in social categories or even institutionalized by a combination of legal, bureaucratic and political mechanisms. Although research at the macro level reveals the discursive constructedness of Mizrahim, it tells us less about the diverse subjective experiences within that category of belonging. Based on data collected during a ten-months anthropological fieldwork in the development town of Kiryat Shemona, this paper thus explores why essentialist identities continues to be invoked and often deeply felt in everyday life. It argues that both historical and ongoing policies of population dispersal and absorption of new immigrants continue to impact social experience and self-identification among Mizrahim in a border town.

Paper presenter: Elian Weizman (PhD candidate, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK), “The Anti-Zionist Resistance in Israel: Participation or Withdrawal?”
This paper will explore the boundaries of resistance to hegemony in the context of the Israel. The paper will evolve around the concepts of hegemony, law and resistance and their interrelations both theoretically and with special reference to the Israeli case study. The prevailing hegemonic principle in the state of Israel is Zionism, which functions as the official ideology of the state, embodied both in the legal system and in the consciousness of the Jewish-Israeli public. The contemporary (narrow) meaning of Zionism is that Israel is and should remain a Jewish state. Since hegemony is maintained by means of both coercion and consent, and therefore prevails in the ‘state’ and in ‘civil society’, it limits the possibility of resistance against it.
Nevertheless, resistance to Zionism in Israel does exist, and is exercised by Palestinians and Jews, citizens of the state. I will explore two opposite spheres in which resistance occurs, in order to elucidate their weaknesses and strengths: On the one hand, resistance inside the institutions of the state - political and legal (the parliament and the courts) and on the other hand, resistance outside them - a strategy of withdrawal and boycott of the institutions of the state.
I will suggest that law plays a fundamental role in sustaining hegemonic rule, since it is both educational (norm creating) and repressive (defines criminality and subversive activity and punish accordingly). I will argue that law, particularly in the Israeli case, serves as the basic limit for resistance to hegemony, while at the same time providing a limited space for it to occur, since Israel is defined legally as both Jewish and democratic. The paper will expose the inherent limits embodied in resistance within the institutions of the state and will attempt to suggest other ways to think about resistance to hegemony that can bypass or minimise these limits.

Paper presenter: Linde Lindkvist (Ph.D. Candidate, Lund University, Sweden), “Religious Freedoms in Israel”
The overall aim of this paper is to explore the relation between secularism and religious freedom in the Israeli education system. Religious freedom is often equated with government neutrality towards all kinds of religious expressions; a view not least echoed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. According to the American constitutional tradition the realisation of religious freedom necessitates a completely secular government that does not give preference to any religious branch or denomination. By mere logic this seems to disqualify the State of Israel from being religious free since its Basic Law explicitly confesses the state’s Jewish character. However, in the same sentence it claims that the state also is democratic, and it is precisely this combination of being both Jewish and Democratic which motivates Israel as a case for this paper. Does the state’s ‘religious’ character in any way limit its possibility of guaranteeing religious freedom to its citizens? At the heart of this question lies a tension between religious freedom as a right guarding primarily the individual’s conscience and religious freedom as a right protecting religious minorities. A central battleground where this tension is visible is the hot potato of religion and education. The sphere of education in the State of Israel has for a long time been marked by a struggle between the policy of educational uniformity, and the demand for religious autonomy. The education system of today includes secular state schools, religious state schools, independent schools and private ultra-Orthodox schools; a chaos that can partly be traced back to Ottoman Millet system and the British Mandate. This paper will commence by exploring how the attitudes towards religious education have evolved in Israel since the beginning of the 20th century, with a special emphasis on the impact of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1989. It will then examine how contemporary state regulations, Supreme Court decisions and national policies in the field of education relate to the different conceptions of religious freedom. Finally, it will critically analyse the U.S State Department’s 2009 report on International Religious Freedom in Israel. The conclusion suggests that the concept of religious freedom itself is too often equated with government dissociation with religion, which influences how the status of religious freedom is assessed in Israel, just as well as in other countries of the Middle East.