'Israel has a Jewish Problem: Self-Determination as Self-Elimination'
Much has been written about the outcomes for Palestinians who have been excluded and marginalized by the Zionist project. This event adds a layer of complexity by asking about the outcomes of popular sovereignty for those presumed to be at the center of an ethno-national state, “the people” themselves.
Based on theories of nationalism and colonialism, Joyce Dalsheim argues that national self-determination is not only exclusionary for those who fall outside the national category or are figured as its enemy. It also becomes a form of self-elimination as it produces the ethnos for the nation, inevitably narrowing the possible forms of personal and cultural identity. Dalsheim’s talk is based on her forthcoming book, Israel Has a Jewish Problem: Self-Determination as Self-Elimination. It examines the multiple struggles over Jewishness in the modern state of Israel.
While many scholars explain these struggles as a conflict between the religious and secular, this talk suggests the explanation lies in the modern concept ‘religion’ itself. While ‘religion’ is generally thought of as separate from the ‘nation’, those two categories are conflated in the figure of the Jew, resulting in all sorts of conundrums. Although Israel was founded to liberate the Jews, some Israelis must leave the country to get married in order not to violate their religious principles, while others are denigrated for trying to live the Torah life. The Kafaesque nature of such struggles illustrates how modern democratic nation-states, meant to liberate citizens through rule by ‘the people’ and for ‘the people’, instead create and maintain ‘a people’ for the state and its projects.
Hilla Dayan and Yolande Jansen will give brief responses to Dalsheim’s talk. Noa Roei moderates the discussion.
About the speakers
Joyce Dalsheim is a cultural anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Global Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dalsheim has carried out extensive fieldwork in Israel/Palestine, studying controversies over historical narratives, nationalism, religiosity, and the secular. Her previous publications include Unsettling Gaza: Secular Liberalism, Radical Religion, and the Israeli Settlement Project and Producing Spoilers: Peacemaking and the Production of Enmity in a Secular Age.
Yolande Jansen is Associate Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam and a board member of the Amsterdam Centre for Globalization Studies. She is also a Special Professor for the Socrates-foundation at VU University, where she holds the chair for ‘humanism in relation to religion and secularity’. She wrote several books and articles on migration, secularism, religion and the European history of assimilationism.
Hilla Dayan teaches Comparative Democracy, Sociology of the Other and Global Civil Society at Amsterdam University College. She studied comparative and English literature at Tel Aviv University in Israel, and completed her Ph.D in political sociology at the New School for Social Research in New York. She served as international relations advisor for the Coalition of Women for Peace, Israel and is a co-founder of gate48, platform for critical Israelis in the Netherlands.
Noa Roei is Assistant Professor in Comparative Literature and Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam and a research fellow at the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis. Her research focuses on the relation between nationalism and militarism, and on the representation of this relation in visual arts and popular culture. Further research interests include critical theory, aesthetics and politics, national identity, gender and the body.
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