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Reviewed by:
  • Identity Politics on the Israeli Screen
  • Yaron Shemer
Identity Politics on the Israeli Screen Yosefa Loshitzky Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001246 pp., $21.95 (paper)

In Identity Politics on the Israeli Screen, Yosefa Loshitzky explores the negotiated nature of the struggle for identity as expressed in Israeli films, mostly of the past two decades. This book is an important and timely addition to the limited body of works on the formation of identity groups as expressed in contemporary Israeli society and culture. Loshitzky's work, and particularly her conceptualization of the various facets of the sociocultural strife Israel has been witnessing, is a valuable resource for scholars and students in the fields of Israel studies, media and film studies, and cultural studies.

Loshitzky identifies three sites of this struggle: the Holocaust, the question of the Orient (mostly as it pertains to Mizrahi Jews), and the Palestinian issue. In her introduction, Loshitzky underscores the discursive and practical importance of identity issues in the late twentieth century because of globalization trends and the emergence of postmodernist theories. Following Stuart Hall's scholarship, Loshitzky steers away from an essentialist position by maintaining that identities are always "in the making" and, therefore, never fixed or discrete Loshitzky purports to articulate how key discourses in Israeli cinema construct identity groups by marking them symbolically (often, also stereotypically) and by drawing the boundaries between one group and another.

The title of chapter 1, "Screening the Birth of a Nation," is clearly meant to conjure the specter of D. W. Griffith's racially explosive film Birth of a Nation in order to allude to the confluence between nationalist agendas and racist positions in early (pro-)Zionist cinema. In her analysis of the Hollywood-made film Exodus, Loshitzky sets out to reveal the contradictions embedded in the Zionist ethos and the extent to which its realization implies the suppression and elision of competing discourses and narratives. Loshitzky suggests that this influential film sets up the tone for future Israeli films in its formulation of the Sabra (a native-born Israeli Jew) character. In Exodus, this new breed of Jew is constructed as the binary opposite not only of the Arab but of the diasporic Jew as well. Loshitzky reveals how the film attempts to reify the humanistic and universalist Exodus myth while it is concurrently oblivious to the controversial colonial dimensions on which this epic is predicated.

In the two chapters that follow, Loshitzky charts the cinematic representation (or the lack thereof) of Holocaust survivors and their children. Chapter 2 explores the significant role the Holocaust has played in the creation of Israeli identity, and, more specifically, how the sons and daughters of survivors have formed a distinct identity group within the dominant national view of the Holocaust. Whereas in the first three decades after the establishment of the state of Israel Israeli cinema foreclosed the subject of the Holocaust (mainly because of its potential to signify victimhood), since the mid-1980s it has provided the space for these second-generation survivors to express their unique positioning within the identity matrix of Israeli society. Loshitzky employs Alain Finkielkraut's notion of the "imaginary Jew" and Marianne Hirsch's discussion of "postmemory" (both apply to second-generation survivors who, by definition, have no personal memories of the Holocaust) to articulate the conflictual nature of this identity formation as expressed in Israeli cinema. Chapter 3 of Identity Politics on the Israeli Screen focuses on three such documentary films: Because of That War, Don't Touch My Holocaust, and Choice and Destiny. Taken together, these films undermine the official, exclusionary discourse about the Holocaust. Interestingly, Loshitzky proposes that the Holocaust resulted not only in its appropriation by an official discourse (e.g., "never again") but also in specific ethnic identity formations. Thus second-generation Ashkenazi survivors construct their identity not against the Mizrahi ethnic group but against the old-timers of the country, mostly Ashkenazi themselves. Likewise, Don't Touch My Holocaust explores the extent to which Moroccan Jews may participate in the putatively exclusionary "Ashkenazi discourse."

Another "other" that Loshitzky addresses is the Israeli Mizrahi. Chapter 4 centers on the film Schur and its...


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pp. 488-489
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