Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Israel in Search of Identity: Reading the Formative Years

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Israel in Search of Identity: Reading the Formative Years

Article excerpt

Israel in Search of Identity: Reading the Formative Years, by Nissim Rejwan. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999. ix + 178 pages. Notes to p. 184. Index to p. 1988. $59.95.

Nissim Rejwan is a founding member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. His premise in writing this book is that Israel today faces the same three problems that it did in 1948: acceptance by its Arab neighbors; "meaningfully integrating itself into its habitat"; and integrating its non-Jewish citizens into Israeli civic and political life. These concerns relate to "Israel's intra-ethnic problem": how to integrate Sephardic Jews (i.e., those from Arab lands) into Israel's social, political, and economic fabric.

Dr. Rejwan, who himself was born in Baghdad, approaches these questions in chapters that deal with Zionism's view of Palestinian Arabs, issues pertaining to Jewish nationalism and its relationship to religion, and the place of the Sephardic population in Israel. Rejwan is highly critical of the Zionist ethos espoused by its Eastern European leadership. This ethos reflected an "exclusiveness and imposed cultural segregation" existing in their European milieu. The result was an Israel that embodied this exclusivism, which "perfectly appropriate though it had proved to be for a ghetto existence in a hostile environment-- was hardly suitable for an enlightened modern nation" (pp. 73-74).

In contrast, Rejwan aspires to an integrated Middle East where separate nationalisms are blurred by a merging of ethnic and cultural identities. He believes that Jews from Arab lands could play a key role in leading Israel away from its exclusivist tendencies. Here, he challenges the idea that the Oriental Jewish vote for Likud in 1977 reflected a more hostile attitude toward Arabs and potential peace than the views of Ashkenazi (i.e., European) Jews.

As a series of essays challenging what the author perceives as an exclusionist mentality dominating the labor-Zionist elite in Israel, this book is somewhat interesting, especially given the author's Sephardic background. A long-time editor of New Outlook, Rejwan clearly believes in cultural integration as the path to a more civil society in Israel and a more stable environment in the Middle East generally. …

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