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Discussing Orientalism, Colonialism and Israeli Culture

Celie Hanson

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Discussing Orientalism, Colonialism and Israeli Culture

About Dr. Yaron Peleg and this TKS episode:

Prof. Yaron Peleg is a Kennedy Leigh Professor in Modern Hebrew Studies at the University of Cambridge. In this episode of The Know Show Podcast, Prof. Yaron Peleg talks about his work that focuses on modern Hebrew literary history, Israeli cinema, and Israeli culture more generally. Listen to hear him critically engage in discussions around Zionism and orientalism, colonialism, and Israeli culture. He draws on his research that focuses on various cultural constructs in Israeli cinema, among them gender formation, ethnic identities (Ashkenazi/Mizrahi), and religious identities.

 

A brief synopsis:

Prof. Peleg studied as a filmmaker in the United States and later completed a PhD in Hebrew literature. He brought his expertise and training in film into his academic career, through focussing on Israeli cinema and literature. He notes that students and the public are increasingly interested in visual art and media. 

He goes on to critique the relationship between Israeli film and the political arm of Zionism. He explains how the state of Israel is linked to the cinema industry, where you have to apply to film councils to get your film script funded and produced. More often than not, politicians choose these councils, and thus the projects funded tend to reflect the political views of the state of Israel.

Hussain and Yaron talk about the double standards in Israeli cinematography. They highlight the role of cinema in society, and thus the moral implications and responsibilities filmmakers hold in relation to a specific subject(s).

Most of the films that come out of Israel reflect these kinds of Western-leaning liberal politics. However, some politically identified filmmakers try to whitewash some of Israel's less popular and just political directions in the past decades in ways that can be very problematic.

Prof. Yaron Peleg

 

Prof. Peleg outlines the colonial mindset, where Western Europeans saw colonialism as something positive and beneficial both for themselves and the places and people they colonised, used to justify their actions. This attitude underpins Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine. Ever since its colonial project was set in motion, Zionism has insisted that it seeks to colonise Palestine ‘peacefully’, to ‘benefit’ the native population. However, without power or an army, Zionists had to buy land in Palestine to gain power.

Yaron continues by shedding some more light on the Zionism movement. He describes how Theodor Herzl, the founder, approached the German Kaiser, the Ottoman Sultan, and English politicians to leverage the Zionist ’cause’ and to gain support. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 is rooted in the Balfour Declaration created and enacted in 1917 by Britain and the Foreign Secretary Balfour. Even though Palestine was technically still part of the Ottoman Empire, the declaration turned the Zionist aim of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine into a reality when Britain publicly pledged to establish ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ there. 

Prof. Peleg explains the ways the Zionist movement has used othering to justify its settler-colonialism:

White Christians were using paradigms that they knew, and imposed them on colonised people. One of the things that Zionists did in Palestine was looking at the cultural affinities with Arabs. One point of contention in one of the aspects of modern anti-Semitism that did not allow Jews to comfortably become a part of nationalising Europe in the 19th century was that they were the so-called 'others'. They were named oriental and Arab-like. Some of the earlier Zionists leveraged this problematic feature and used it to connect with Palestinians.

Prof. Yaron Peleg

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TKS take home points:

In this TKS episode, we discussed colonialism, settler-colonialism, Zionism, and Israeli cinematic art. We learn how Israeli culture, especially the cinematic side, often tries to reflect the complexity and injustice of everyday life, and the way funding impacts this. Yaron highlights that importantly it is up to the viewer to question what they see, be open to multiple opinions, and to learn more about the subject(s) of the film. 

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