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Reviewed by:
  • The Arab Public Sphere in Israel: Media Space and Cultural Resistance
  • Matt Sienkiewicz (bio)
The Arab Public Sphere in Israel: Media Space and Cultural Resistance by Amal Jamal. Indiana University Press 2009. $65.00 cloth; $24.95 paper. 208 pages

Amal Jamal's The Arab Public Sphere in Israel engages a set of crucial questions that have been largely swept aside in contemporary debates over the relationships among media, resistance, and political upheaval throughout the Middle East. In the wake of the Arab Spring and its ostensibly populist orientation, scholars have quite understandably turned their attention to the ways in which repressed majorities employ alternative modes of communication to effect antihegemonic change in the region. Jamal's work, however, considers Israel's Arab minority, focusing on the subtler, but no less important, issue of communicative practice among groups lacking the critical mass of people or power required to mount large-scale protests.

In this slim but tightly packed volume, Jamal makes the case that although Palestinian citizens of Israel engage with the nation's dominantly Jewish mediasphere out of economic and political necessity, they have simultaneously crafted a unique and even resistant "media orientation."1 Arguing against scholarship that has conceptualized the Palestinian Israeli populace as a "trapped minority" unable to access either the Israeli or Palestinian public spheres, Jamal reframes the situation as one in which Arab citizens are able to achieve a "double consciousness" through the concurrent use of both Hebrew media and alternative Arabic information sources.2 The result is a compelling account that deftly mixes historical, theoretical, and empirical approaches, creating a multidimensional study that should be of interest to both scholars of the region and those concerned with minority media practice across the globe.

The book begins with a conceptualization of the issue of minority resistance through cultural practice. Drawing on Homi Bhabha and W. E. B. DuBois, Jamal argues that the circumstances that have lead Palestinian [End Page 179] Israelis to be described as "trapped" ought to be reinterpreted. Culturally and linguistically literate in both the Jewish-Hebrew and Arab-Arabic worlds they must straddle, Palestinian Israelis, like African Americans and other marginalized communities, can find avenues for resistance in their ability to connect "to two different cultural worlds simultaneously."3 By picking and choosing media sources from hegemonic, counter-hegemonic, and foreign sources, minority communities are able to actively craft a media environment that provides for their local, informational needs while nonetheless quenching their desire for emotional and cultural identifications suppressed by the national majority. This possibility has been further advanced through the growth of globalization, whereby state apparatuses no longer possess (or are afraid to employ) the technological capacity to stop the spread of messages that originate abroad or in alternative local sources. Extrapolating from his case study, Jamal provides a concise and intelligent overview of the ways in which scholars might conceptualize media usage in communities ranging from Turkish Kurds to Latino Americans and beyond.

Jamal then turns to the specific history of the Arab minority in Israel, approaching the question in terms of both general political tendencies and specific media policies. This narrative is a gut-wrenching one in which Israeli policies are shown to be aimed at marginalizing the Arab citizenry for the purpose of entrenching the state's "Jewish" culture and populace. It is important, however, to note the slippage that inevitably takes place between the words "Jewish" and "Israeli" in this context. Although Jamal makes some effort to denote that Israel's notion of Jewishness is not universally accepted, he could do more to make clear that the country's "Jewish" culture is neither homogenous nor identical to that of Jewish communities across the world. Nonetheless, Jamal's account is persuasive, detailing the ways in which the Israeli government has consistently crafted policies that limit the growth and prosperity of Arab communities.

In providing this history, Jamal establishes the need of the Palestinian Israeli minority to find innovative approaches to media consumption that express their unique informational and cultural needs. Looking specifically at the world of media, Jamal offers a narrative in which Israel's government and media elite have also exacted a consistent and...