Tales of the Israeli Diaspora

March 29 2016

In her short-story collection entitled The Best Place on Earth, recently published in the U.S., Ayelet Tsabari writes about Israelis who have left their native land, Israelis who have returned there from abroad, and Israelis who have stayed home. Adam Kirsch writes in his review:

[E]ach story in the book comes at the question of Israeliness from a slightly different angle. Several of the characters we meet are, like the author, expats in Canada; others are spiritual seekers trying to find themselves in India. But even the ones who stay in Israel are haunted by a sense of belonging elsewhere. Tsabari writes about Yemenite immigrants who cherish the old customs (her own background is Yemenite), a Filipina nurse who sends money home to her daughter, and a girl who is homesick for the Sinai settlement where she grew up, now part of Egypt. To be Israeli, she suggests, is to feel the tug of war between Israel and abroad, no matter where you live. In such a young country, virtually everyone can call somewhere else home. . . .

In each case, Tsabari shows that Israeliness is not an answer but a question, one that must be continually posed even when it seems to have been left behind. In this sense, Tsabari’s stories are in the main tradition of Jewish literature, which is similarly obsessed with the meaning of identity, the way it is inherited, and how it shapes and misshapes the soul. To read Tsabari is to see Israeliness, which was intended as a remedy for the ills of Diasporic Jewishness, turn into a new kind of Diasporic identity. It is a fascinating transformation, and The Best Place on Earth may be the herald of a whole new genre of Jewish literature.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Canadian Jewry, Israel, Israeli literature, Jewish literature, Yeridah


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount