Israelis have long been grappling with their cultural and political affiliations. Geographically, the Jewish State is part of the Middle East. Yet due to the continued enmity of most of Israel’s neighbors towards the state, Israelis have been aligning themselves with Europe and its political and cultural institutions in many ways. This does not make Israel a European country, however. While the Zionist movement originated in Europe, many Israelis have their roots in North Africa and the Middle East. Culturally and politically the country shares more with its neighbors than most Israelis like to admit. Still, Europe and its institutions continue to have a profound impact on the Jewish state. The panel analyses these influences and the way in which Israelis define and understand their relations towards Europe.
In order to explore the contested visions of Europe in Israeli history, this panel brings together four papers by scholars who are working on Israeli history and Israeli-European relations. The individual papers explore discursive shifts in Israel’s perception of Europe, Israel’s self-understanding as a Western democracy after the establishment of the state, the question of Israel’s cultural belonging within the framework of the Eurovision Song Contest as well as shifts towards a cultural integration (or Creolization) in the cultural realm of the Middle East. The individual papers will be chaired and discussed by Miriam Rürup (Universität Hamburg).
In June 1949, a bill annulling the death penalty was brought before the Knesset. The law was adopted in February 1954, relying heavily on European precedents. Concomitantly while debating another bill aimed at curbing Palestinian infiltration, most members of the foreign affairs and security committee supported a clause allowing military courts, to mete out capital punishment to Arab offenders. In the final wording of the law, however, adopted on August 1954, capital punishment was omitted. Yet, in the following years initiatives to change the law resurfaced. While deliberating these laws, the IDF was engaged in a prolonged military struggle to defend the porous borders. I will show that both reprisal raids and these laws were shaped while having the image of the civilized European in mind.
Passionate debates of the Zionist movements in Eastern Europe and Mandatory Palestine about their relationship to the Old Continent maintained their explosive potential for Israel’s self-understanding after the Second World War. As early as 1960, the Israeli government submitted its first application for association with the EEC, which was rejected without any prospect of success. Countless attempts later led to a first agreement in 1975. The paper explores who shaped Israel’s discourse towards Europe throughout this crucial time period. It analyses the core arguments for and against Israel being a European enclave in the Middle East, by theorizing the images and perceptions of Europe in Israeli discourse, with a focus on the ambivalence of attraction and rejection.
The annual Eurovision Song Contest is an event that many Europeans love to hate. Ironically, Israel, one of the most ardent participants in the competition, is located outside of the geographical borders of Europe. The paper investigates Israeli entries to the contest and the discussions surrounding them to trace the country’s dealings with its cultural and political affiliations, its place between Europe and the Middle East. Analyzing Israeli participation in European pop-culture, the paper argues, can deepen our understanding of the country’s complicated attitudes towards Europe, and shed light on the changing character of European-Israeli relations.
The paper develops a Creolization perspective on the emergence of Jewish-Israeli culture: While European Jewish immigrants built the foundations of the State-in-the-Making, contemporary Israeli culture is significantly influenced by the large wave of Middle Eastern Jewish immigration in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, the study of Jewish-Israeli culture and society might benefit from a comparative perspective on the diverse history of immigration and transculturation in the Caribbean.