Israel Studies 5.1 (2000) 41-64
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McIsrael? On the "Americanization of Israel"
Drive up to Golani junction in the hills above Tiberias at nearly any time of day, and you'll find dozens of soldiers, hitchhiking home or back to their bases. A few meters away stand the stone and concrete structures of the Golani Memorial--a national shrine to the fallen of that crack infantry brigade . . . Since last year, some of the structures have been partially obscured by a new kind of monument: the golden arches of a McDonald's franchise. Welcome to the new face of Israel 1
Opening a McDonald's in the immediate vicinity of a national shrine not only modified the character of the place, traditionally associated with national memory, bereavement, and national history. 2 It could also serve as a symbolic statement. As the above comment demonstrates, the juxtaposition of a McDonald's and a national shrine seemed to be emblematic of what the commentator described as "the new face of Israel," referring specifically to the process of the "Americanization of Israel." What remained unclear, however, was the meaning of the "new." Did it refer to the "Americanized" character of the place, or did it refer to the possibility of a friendly co-existence of a local tradition and a newly-imported American icon? Did the "new" mean a cultural conflict or a cultural fusion? Or perhaps the "new" meant simply a state of cultural confusion.
The ambiguity exuded by the new character of the Golani Junction is inherent to the issue of "Americanization." It is a relatively simple matter to enumerate the traces of "Americanization" and their impact on various cultural genres and social and political institutions. It is much more difficult to locate Americanization in a broader framework of socio-cultural changes. Generally speaking, in the sphere of culture, "Americanization" denotes the impact of mainly popular American culture on cultural contexts outside of the United States. Basically it involves cultural importation and transplantation. [End Page 41] Americanization means a cultural change. Yet beyond the well-known and frequent referrals to global appeal of and fascination with America in general and American mass culture in particular, Americanization takes place in distinctly local contexts and cultural settings.
What seems to be a global process of Americanization is actually a set of different Americanizations, each representing the impact of America and American popular culture on the local cultural context. But each case of Americanization should also be explained in terms of the local social and cultural context in which it takes place. Ignoring these contexts amounts to a rather reductionist view of Americanization as a mechanical process of change that occurs as an aspect of a global "shock wave," regardless of specific local conditions.
The modified personality of the Golani Junction concretized in terms of place and local landscape the emergent "new Israel." Referring to the "Americanization" of Israel highlighted one aspect of the process, albeit highly visible and publicly prominent. As evident in sporadic public utterances and media commentaries, Americanization seemed to epitomize the nature of the "new Israel" emerging in the 1990s. 3 Focusing on Americanization as the main feature of a rather elusive and perplexing process of [End Page 42] change is understandable, since the introduction of the "American way of life" was easily accessible in terms of the prominent icons of American popular culture which became an aspect of the Israeli experience. Yet beyond the intuitive understanding that the "Americanization of Israel" in the 1990s suggests a major change in the ideological and cultural make-up of Israeli society, some questions arise: What actually does the "Americanization of Israel" mean, and is it a feature of the 1990s, or, rather, the culmination of a long process? Is it only a local variation on a global theme, or does it resonate with, and reflect deeper, changes in Israeli society and culture? A further issue is the manner in which references to Americanization are employed in a wider debate; namely, about the new character Israel is...