What do we talk about when we talk about 'national identity'? : Jewish-Israelis in Britain negotiating 'national identity' between Zionist ideology and diasporic reality
Topics: Israeli Expatriates, Israel-Diaspora Relations, National Identity, Zionism, Interviews, Psychology, Psychotherapy / Psychoanalysis, Diaspora, Main Topic: Identity and Community
Abstract: This is a psychosocial research project investigating ‘national identity’ amongst middle class Jewish-Israelis in Britain. Its aim is to map key contents and highlight social categories that subjects draw on in their construction of ‘national identity’ and to study how they negotiate these categories and contents when narrating a story of ‘who they are’ as Israelis in Britain. The first part of the thesis provides historical and theoretical background to the study of national identities, with a focus on Jewish-Israeli identity in the context of Zionism. An empirical study is then presented, in which twelve Israelis living in London were interviewed in depth about their views on Israeli national identity, what it meant personally to them to be ‘an Israeli’, and what it meant to be ‘an Israeli in London’. Interviews were transcribed and a critical narrative approach was used to analyze the resulting texts, taking account of reflexive interview processes as well as exploring links with the broader cultural and political context. The findings reveal the elasticity and fluidity of ‘Israeli identity’. Subjects drew on a shared cultural reservoir - Zionist images, preconceptions and signifiers - to describe their personalized experience of belonging to or alienation from an acceptable notion of ‘Israeliness’ while living abroad. ‘Israeli identity’ was constructed against stereotypical images of ‘the others’ which, at times, applied racist discourse. Subjects constructed ‘Israeliness’ differently depending on the context they referred to (e.g. Israeli or British society). Each context had its distinct ‘others’. Within the British context Israeliness was constructed against the images of ‘the local Jews’, the ‘English’ and the ‘local Arabs and Muslims’. Constructing an Israeli identity was also influenced by the social position that subjects were implicated in, in relation to their class, ethnicity, gender, or occupation. This also shaped their experience of dislocation in Britain. Most of the participants conformed with a mainstream perspective on Israeli nationalism and refrained from criticizing it. This was interpreted as a discourse reflecting their privileged socio-cultural position in Israel and their commitment to a Zionist ethos which condemns emigration. Such a portrayal of Israeliness both initiated and contributed to a sense of unsettledness characteristic of this middle-class group. Subjects moved back and forth between two identificatory positions (‘Ha’aretz’ and ‘Israel’) as their points of identification constantly changed. The research contributes to the analysis of nationalism phenomena and associated concepts such as diaspora and belonging among a middle class group of migrants. It outlines cultural, material and political forces that sustain nationalism yet also demonstrates ways through which subjects negotiate or resist the discourses and social categories offered to them for the construction of a ‘national identity’.