Yaron Peleg

 

On his book Israeli Culture between the Two Intifadas: A Brief Romance

Cover Interview of April 21, 2009

The wide angle

The book relates primarily to theories and practices of postmodernism and globalization, two of the most central intellectual trends of the last few decades.  The book shows how the arrival of postmodern critique in Israel in the early 1990s and its adoption by a growing number of academics and other critics changed the intellectual climate.  This change, among others, opened up the culture to outside influences and eventually led to the reexamination of many of the country’s old, hallowed truths about its heroic establishment, about the relations between its various immigrant communities, and about the relations between Jews and Arabs.  Postmodernism undermined Zionist ideology by its very essence as a deconstructive critique.  Whereas Zionism offered a unified theory about Jewish history as well as a practical solution to the Jewish problem it raised, postmodernism undermined its raison-d’être by doubting the need for a Jewish state on philosophical grounds.  The fact that Israel’s history, like that of any other country, was a checkered one, filled with unflattering chapters, was used by the new critics to undermine that history and in some respects also delegitimize it.  Israeli Culture between the Two Intifadas shows how these complex developments led to the growing disillusion of younger Israelis in the 1990s with their state and to their search for an alternative national narrative that would not be as loaded or as controversial.

Globalization also played a role in this dynamic since it enabled Israel to take a more active part in world or global culture.  The inspiration for some of the new alternatives to Israel’s own, familiar, old and tired reality came precisely from outside, from global culture.  As the economy soared, the standard of living rose, and the media was deregulated, Israelis were progressively more exposed to popular global culture, through the consumption of luxury goods, through travel, and through various entertainment media products (TV, films, commercials).  Chief among these cultural alternatives was the lure of romance as the central idiom of western popular culture.  Thus, young Israelis who resented the dreary Middle Eastern reality but were too dispirited to get politically engaged in order to change it, preferred instead the comfort of romantic escape.  The book shows how in the 1990s several leading writers abandoned the preoccupation with the central affairs of the nation, and developed instead an alternative “literature of romantic relationships.”

Israeli Culture between the Two Intifadas came out of my two previous research projects, about homoeroticism in Hebrew culture and about Orientalism in early twentieth century Hebrew culture and combines my interest in Jewish sexuality and Israel’s place in the modern Middle East.