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Identity, Place, and Subversion in Contemporary Mizrahi Cinema in Israel

Yaron Shemer

Publication Year: 2013

In Identity, Place, and Subversion in Contemporary Mizrahi Cinema in Israel , Yaron Shemer presents the most comprehensive and systematic study to date of Mizrahi (Oriental-Jewish or Arab-Jewish) films produced in Israel in the last several decades. Through an analysis of dozens of films the book illustrates how narratives, characters, and space have been employed to give expression to Mizrahi ethnic identity and to situate the Mizrahi within the broader context of the Israeli societal fabric. The struggle over identity and the effort to redraw ethnic boundaries have taken place against the backdrop of a long-standing Zionist view of the Mizrahi as an inferior other whose “Levantine” culture posed a threat to the Western-oriented Zionist enterprise. In its examination of the nature and dynamics of Mizrahi cinema (defined by subject-matter), the book engages the sensitive topic of Mizrahi ethnicity head-on, confronting the conventional notion of Israeli society as a melting pot and the widespread dismissal of ethnic divisions in the country. Shemer explores the continuous marginalization of the Mizrahi in contemporary Israeli cinema and the challenge some Mizrahi films offer to the subjugation of this ethnic group. He also studies the role cultural policies and institutional power in Israel have played in shaping Mizrahi cinema and the creation of a Mizrahi niche in cinema. In a broader sense, this pioneering work is a probing exploration of Israeli culture and society through the prism of film and cinematic expression. It sheds light on the play of ethnicity, class, gender, and religion in contemporary Israel, and on the heated debates surrounding Zionist ideology and identity politics. By charting a new territory of academic inquiry grounded in an interdisciplinary theoretical framework, the study contributes to the formation of “Mizrahi Cinema” as a recognized and vibrant scholarly field.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

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pp. v-7

This work was supported by the University of North Carolina’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities with the J. Scott and Nancy Cramer Faculty Fellowship and by the University of North Carolina Research Council Much gratitude to Ella Shohat whose seminal work Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation from 1989 has been inspira-...


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pp. vii-9

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pp. 1-17

The preliminary work for this study began in January 2004 when I met with the library and archive staff of the Jerusalem Film Center (Jerusa-lem Cinematheque) to discuss my research needs. At the end of my first day there, I was introduced to Lia van Leer, founder of the Film Center and its director at the time, who, four months later, was awarded the ...

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Chapter One. Mizrahi Ethnicity and Israeli Cinema

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pp. 18-48

Following the first Zionist Congress of 1897, the formation of modern Zionism marked a new era in the lives of millions of Jews worldwide. From the turn of the last century onward, the Zionist national movement accrued momentum in terms of ideology, practice, and clout, and it eventually called for a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people, a goal ...

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Chapter Two. The Cinematic Construction of Mizrahi Identity

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pp. 49-91

What is the nature of this “profound research” which drives it suppressed? Or is a quite different practice entailed— not the rediscovery but the production of identity. Not the identity grounded in the archaeology, but in the re- telling of the past? Postcolonial and feminist scholars have shown us that the terms of the ...

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Chapter Three. The Mizrahi Space

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pp. 92-146

In its most extreme formulation, postmodernist thought proposes the de-centering or death of the subject whereby identities and space are defined in phenomenological, relational, and contingent terms rather than ontological or categorical ones. Thirdspace and hybridity, the staples of this theoretical mode to which the following discussions attend, ...

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Chapter Four. The Absence of Power and the Power of Absence: Victimhood, Struggle and Agency

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pp. 147-194

One of the guiding principles in the following discussions is the premise (and promise) that group consciousness and agency can develop not in spite of the group’s marginality but because of it. The dialectics of marginality—absence and power—is succinctly captured in the opening of “Minimal Selves” (an intended...

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Chapter Five. Intersectionality and Alliances

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pp. 195-250

In the effort to pursue the particular conditions of women of color or women in the “Third World,” and to draw differences between them and middle-class white Western women, intersectionality points to the importance of attending to the convergence of gender with ethnicity, race, and class in considerations about women’s subjugation. In my use of “intersectionality,” I do not explore the confluence of all these components; instead, the discussion here will...

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Afterword: What Is Mizrahi in Mizrahi Cinema?

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pp. 251-256

This work has explored the cinematic rendering of Mizrahi dilemmas— the prolonged ethnic marginalization and cultural displacement as well as Mizrahi protest and struggle. My film analysis was chiefly designed to tease out the ethnic by pointing to the problematics when it is sub-sumed within the issues of class, generational gaps, and gender (in the ...

Appendix 1. Israeli Fimls Cited

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pp. 257-262

Appendix 2. Interviews

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pp. 263-264

Works Cited

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pp. 265-282


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pp. 283-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029259
E-ISBN-10: 0472029258
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118847
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118846

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 17 Color Halftones
Publication Year: 2013