Israel’s Identity Still European
By: Rubik Rosenthal Translated from Maariv (Israel).
We may be in the Middle East geographically, and act like America, but ultimately Israel belongs to Europe.
About This Article
Although Israel is located in the Middle East and strategically connected and affected by the US, writes Rubik Rosenthal, its cultural identity is deeply European — from historical roots to intellectual references to its favorite soccer team, Barcelona.Publisher: Maariv (Israel)
A country in search of its identity
Author: Rubik Rosenthal
First Published: May 21, 2012
Posted on: May 23 2012
Translated by: Al-Monitor
Categories : Israel
Europe is in one of its most painful periods of turmoil since the end of the Cold War. The crisis is mostly economic and financial, but it also unearths complex questions about nationalism and identity, and about the intersection between Europe on one hand, and Asia and Africa on the other, under threat by the latter’s waves of migrants who will change its identity.
These matters touch on an old Israeli question: are we part of Europe? In the eyes of the immigrants arriving here in waves, we are a European country for all intents and purposes, offering work and asylum, even if not completely lawfully. Or in the words of one Eritrean migrant worker, “Israel, sababa [awesome].” But this specific common fate isn’t what creates a common identity. In a conversation on Israel Radio between Yitzhak Livni and Avi Primor, the latter said that Europe sees us as a part of it, regardless of political disagreements. However, we aren’t part of the European Union, and certainly not the euro bloc. So what is the significance of this sense of European belonging?
We should add the fact that there are two additional groups to which Israel possibly belongs. One is defined by Shimon Peres’ vision of a “new Middle East,” referring to our economic and social integration into the region in which we live. This vision has receded, and it is hard to imagine if and when it will come true. The second group is defined by the saying, “America’s 51st state.” This belonging or association to the United States is the strongest, and it has unprecedented significance. Our economic reliance on the United States is obvious, and for better or worse, Israel is part of the US military and political strategy in our volatile region. What does all this have to do with Europe and its debilitating problems?
The answer is linked to the short history of “new Israel” and to questions of culture and identity. America is engrained in new Israel’s culture, in technology and economy, and in some of the new world’s art forms, like cinema, television and music. Europe, on the other hand, is in new Israel’s DNA. Zionism is a European movement, and the terms we use in our cultural and political discourse are European. Our distant and recent history are European. The waves of migrants to Israel from countries in the east were supposed to change this alignment, but this did not happen. The Arab states are considered political and military enemies, and there is no way to visit them. They did not create a real alternative to Europe’s cultural hegemony and this remains true to this day.
Israelis gallop to the United States in order to find work and develop themselves economically and academically. Israelis gallop to Europe to revisit their individual and national roots, along with the tragic and emotional Jewish story of the last 100 years, most of which took place on European soil. Israel’s cultural capital today, despite the allure of New York, is Berlin, and it used to be Paris. The country’s soccer team is Barcelona, and Israel’s cities are dotted with Italian, Spanish and Jewish restaurants, the latter being basically Eastern European. From America we got only McDonalds.
Today, Israel takes the best from all possible words, influenced only marginally by the European crisis and enjoying the strategic iron dome of the United States. But deep inside, even in the age of multi-culturalism, Israel is part of Europe.
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