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  • The American Diaspora in Israel:Intersecting Identity, Ideology and Politics
  • Ben Herzog (bio)

“If the Supreme Court says ‘no’, it would be a miscarriage of justice and a slap in the face of Israel”,

Lawrence Rifkin, Jerusalem Post, 25.5.2011

“However, this case has nothing to do with the actual capital of Israel and everything to do with the constitutional power of the president.”

Sam Kleiner, New Republic, 21.4.2014

Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, a 12-year-old American boy born in Jerusalem filed suit against U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for a passport stating that his place of birth was Israel. Since the US considers Jerusalem disputed territory according to international law, it has never agreed to register any country for a citizen born in Jerusalem since the end of the British Mandate in 1948. While this case highlights American legal issues regarding the relations between Congress and the President or the role of the US Supreme Court in the international controversy over Jerusalem, it also offers a perspective on the relations between the American public, American Jews and the American Diaspora in Israel. I analyze the media coverage and institutional connection related to this case in Israel and in the United States. I argue that looking at the different narratives presented allows us to understand the intersecting identity, ideology and politics of the American Diaspora in Israel. International relations are also transnational relations. [End Page 49]


Many diaspora studies begin with an attempt to clarify the term Diaspora and to define this social construct, many times even linguistically.1 This is not surprising as diaspora as a concept has come to mean various things at different times and for different groups. Moreover, the term has proliferated, and its meaning has been stretched to accommodate various intellectual, cultural and political agendas.2 As Gabriel Sheffer aptly articulated: “Such groups—whose historical origins are in different territories, nations, and historical periods, who reside in various host countries controlled by different nations and regimes, and who command a range of varying resources—are in fact parts of the same general social and political phenomenon.”3 I do not argue for a particular definition of the notion of diaspora, but to utilize this analytical framework to analyze a group which traditionally has not been seen as such.

I analyze the discourses and politics of American Jews in Israel. By examining the interactions around the Zivotofsky case, both in Israel and in the US I argue that American Jews in Israel hold dual national identity and thus, can be seen as part of a double diaspora. On the one hand, they were members of the Jewish Diaspora who made Aliya (immigration to Israel) and on the other hand they are currently part of an American diaspora outside the US.

This analytical stance is not self-evident or customary. The Jewish Diaspora is commonly perceived as the prototype for all other diasporas, both historically and analytically.4 Several scholars assert that expanding this term to include a plethora of different groups detaches this concept from its analytical and historical meaning. A possible option is to insist on distinguishing between the “classic” Jewish Diaspora and other “generic” ethno-national diasporas.5 Moreover, whether the Jewish Diaspora refers to Galut (exile) or Tfutsa (dispersement), making Aliya to the state of Israel would end this social condition. Jews (or members of other diasporas) who immigrate back to their “homeland” are not seen as part of diasporas any more. Of course, from a sociological perspective, the process of immigration is never immediate or complete, but the assumption is that at least the diasporic condition ceases to exist. Consequently, it is a customarily accepted position that American Jews who make Aliya to Israel are no longer in a diaspora.

There are only a few contemporary scholars who debate whether Americans in general can be seen as a diaspora in the classic sense.6 While there are numerous studies which examine the many diasporas in the US,7 [End Page 50] most studies do not see Americans abroad as a unified social group, not to mention as...


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