Disengagement and engaging citizenship: the everyday reproduction of Jewish democracy by Jewish Israeli youth
The apparent tension between Israel as a democracy and Israel as a specifically Jewish state has played a central role in much academic and popular debate about the region. Taking an actor-centred perspective of national subject and citizenship formation, this thesis treats Jewish nationalism and democratic citizenship not simply as abstractions, but as categories lived out in the everyday lives of Jewish Israeli youth. The ethnography focuses on secular and religious Jewish Israeli high school teens as they approach conscription age and begin to make decisions about their rights and responsibilities as Jewish Israeli citizens. This is done in a context of their school, recreational, and family life. Through the engagement of these youth with processes around the Disengagement from Gaza, which saw the radicalisation of existing conflicts between “secular” and “religious” Jews, I show how these teens reproduce Jewish democracy in their everyday lives, taking it from an abstract conundrum to an un-ambiguous way of being Israeli. What might be considered paradoxical in fact resembles what I consider the multiplexity of Jewish Israeli identity that considers the multiple ethnic, religious, and civic resources that constitute Jewish Israeli national subjectivity. The tensions between democratic citizenship and Jewish nationalism are therefore productive of a particular form of identity. The particular focus of the thesis is how and why Jewish Israeli youth reproduce Jewish nationalism, and subsequently how people themselves construct a sense of nationhood through the shared experiences of kin and peers. This ultimately establishes the nation as not only an “imagined community” but a tangible network of shared experiences, rooting it in intimate relationships that inspire feelings of national connectedness. The vagueness of why people would want to contribute to an abstract society is partly understood in an Israeli context through looking at the intimate familial motivations behind doing military service. The fact that the majority of Israeli teens still consider military service a vital constituent of Israeli civic identity and national membership reveals the moral boundaries that continue to be derived from civic republicanism and ethno-nationalism that comprise the experience of being in the army and Jewish democracy as a whole. Through the attitudes of Jewish Israelis and the IDF towards draft avoidance and conscientious objection one is able to appreciate how the ethnic and civic forms of citizenship that constitute the experience of military service establish certain contours of national belonging. This provides a contemporary understanding of Jewish Israelis‟ engagement with civic-republicanism and ethno-nationalism, showing the ways both the state and Jewish Israelis expect other Jewish nationals to show commitment to the Israeli state. My ethnography on state rituals illuminates how official state narratives converge with subjective national experiences. As well as trying to reinforce particular forms of nationalism, individuals take part in state rituals for their own reasons revealing the emotional aspect of nationalism and hence the fresh ways people interpret national discourses.