Sub-states were independent countries


Johannes Becke

Dr. Johannes Becke, born in 1982, is a junior professor at the Ben Gurion Chair for Israel and Middle East Studies at the University of Jewish Studies in Heidelberg. His professional focus is on Israeli-Arab relations and comparative perspectives on Zionist and Israeli history.

While Israel has long since become part of the Middle East region, especially in cultural terms, it remains excluded from the regional alliance systems of the neighboring Arab states. Hardened positions on both sides stand in the way of a sustainable peace solution.

Regardless of its European roots, Israel is part of the Middle East region in many ways. Shopping at the Mahane Jehuda Market in Jerusalem 2017. (& copy Photo library via Getty Images)

Israel - beyond the Orient and Occident

Using the metaphor of the Zionist project as a "villa in the jungle", the former Prime Minister Ehud Barak described the state of Israel as a European-colonial enclave in the midst of the chaos, violence and lawlessness of the "Orient". The powerful image reveals the orientalist, condescending view of some European-Jewish immigrants on the peoples and cultures of the Near East, which have evolved from the beginning of the Jewish repopulation of the land of Israel (according to the Jewish perspective) or Palestine (according to the Arab perspective) to the present day continues: After the Jews in Europe had been marginalized as supposedly "oriental foreigners", the Zionist project now offered them the possibility of self-determination as self-modernization and self-westernization.

But the image of Israel as a "villa in the jungle" is deceptive - the Jewish nation-state has become part of the region politically, culturally and, last but not least, religiously, even if there are clear differences - for example in the areas of parliamentarism, civil liberties and the economic order. exist: Contemporary Israeli pop music is based on Middle Eastern models. The same applies to Israeli cuisine: falafel, hummus or shakshuka will be much easier to find in Tel Aviv than the classic Eastern European Jewish dish "Gefilte Fisch". The influence of the army and security services on Israel's political decision-making processes is closer to Egypt than to Western Europe. Israel dominates and settles areas that are disputed under international law (the West Bank), similar to Turkey (Northern Cyprus) and Morocco (Western Sahara). The close connection between statehood and religious law connects the State of Israel with most of its neighbors.

In fact, the "Orient" (or at least romanticized ideas of a biblical-archaic Orient) was in many ways a model for the Zionist project: when the Hebrew language was revived, the closely related Arabic was used. European-Jewish immigrants - especially the members of the armed militias from the time before the founding of the state - enthusiastically imitated the way of life, clothing and speech of the Bedouins and the Bezalel Art Academy of the interwar period propagated a clear aesthetic turn to the Orient.

Not least for the many Oriental-Jewish refugees and immigrants from the Arab world, the "Levantinization", according to the Egyptian-Jewish author Jacqueline Kahanoff, of the Zionist project in no way included its cultural decline, but on the contrary the precondition for the existence of a Jewish nation-state in the Middle East. For this reason, Kahanoff recommended that the young nation-state orient itself on the model of the multilingual and cosmopolitan port cities of the eastern Mediterranean, i.e. the Levant, and consciously open up to the languages ​​and traditions of the region.

Despite the increasing Middle Eastern influence on the state, society and religion in Israel, the cultural positioning of the Jewish nation-state between Orient and Occident remains as ambivalent as the relation to its neighboring states: decades of war, border closure, enclave existence and boycott have inter-societal relationships between Jewish Israelis and Arabs much more difficult; the "cold peace" with Jordan and Egypt remains a project of the political and, above all, the military elites; the sometimes excellent interstate relations with the North African states (especially with Morocco) and with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf will remain in the area of ​​secret diplomacy until there is a functional two-state solution and an extensive withdrawal of the Israeli armed forces and settlements from the occupied territories comes.