Maia S. Brown & Sandra Silberstein. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education. Volume 11, Issue 2. 2012.
A diasporic identity places the dispersed between a shared past and potential futures. Self-identified diaspora communities share a site of origination. More often contested (within communities and across generations) is whether there is a shared future. Theorizing diasporic identity formation, one can think of diaspora as an imagined community in the sense that Benedict Anderson (1983) describes nation states: They are imagined, he tells us, “because members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (p. 6). While in graduate school in the American midwest, for example, Silberstein was asked to help someone she did not know—the sister of someone she did not know—acclimate to the campus because, she was told/positioned, the sister was a landsman (a term Silberstein had never heard but instantly understood). Linguistically, the use of the term resonates with several themes that recur throughout this volume. One is the use of Yiddish (a heritage language) as a symbolic resource among those who, in fact, do not know the language. (See Canagarajah, 2012 [this issue], for a discussion of the strategic language practices through which diasporic speakers negotiate relationships and construct in-group solidarity.) In this case, the term landsman allows multiple readings and the referencing of multiple diasporas: from the old neighborhood (New York) or multiple “old countries.” Linguistic references to a “homeland” abound throughout this special issue. Language lies at the center of imagined and contested pasts and futures, mediating desire and identity. Like the other articles in this issue, this discussion explores discursive constructions of identity.
The article began with Maia Brown’s research. At the time it was begun, she was an (undergraduate) historian at Oberlin College tracing intellectual histories of American Zionism and anti-Zionism—recovering a political/intellectual/religious/cultural lineage of contestation that has, for the past half-century, been largely eclipsed by the more hegemonic discourse of American Zionism. It is the discursive nature of her data that intrigued applied linguist Sandra Silberstein. Throughout we take a critical approach to discourse analysis, which sees language use as a form of social practice. We assume a mutually constitutive relationship between text and context, discursive and social structures, such that they are in fact indistinguishable. We believe that the ideological histories and rhetorical genealogies we trace here have material consequences. In her research, Brown came to argue that over the past century, the continuing conversation between Zionist and anti-Zionist thought formed the contours of North American Jewish identity as a response to diaspora.
This article explores the writings of four prominent Jewish thinkers, propounding conflicting Zionist and anti-Zionist perspectives, from two different eras. It begins with leaders of Jewish Zionist and anti-Zionist movements in the United States before the creation of the state of Israel—before and after the Shoah (Holocaust). In the first generation, we use the writings of Rabbis Abba Hillel Silver and Elmer Berger, contemporaries and rivals in the U.S. Reform movement, the largest denomination of North American Judaism. Silver was active in the Zionist movement, while Berger was founder of the American Council for Judaism (ACJ), the first Jewish organization formed in opposition to Zionism in the United States.
In a second generation, we contrast the prolific writers Norman Finkelstein and Yossi Klein Halevi. Finkelstein and Halevi are inheritors of the Berger-Silver years, growing up after the creation of the state of Israel and coming of age in the era of Israel’s military victory in the Six Day War (1967). Halevi’s memoir explores his evolving American Zionist perspective in the shadow of the Holocaust, culminating in his emigration to Israel. Finkelstein explores how anti-Zionist perspectives can also emerge from the Shoah and how he negotiates his Jewish voice within the Palestinian solidarity movement. Rhetorics invoked by both generations highlight stark contrasts but also surprising commonalities that complicate easy bifurcations of Jewish Diasporic relationships to a Jewish state.
Which Promised Land? The Rise of Zionism in North America
As is typically the case in diaspora, at issue in these rhetorics is not the source of dispersal. Although some American Jews argue that they are products of two diasporas, Europe and the Middle East, there is little discursive slippage between the (capitalized) term Diaspora and Israel/Palestine as a site of origin. Contested in creating an American Jewish identity has not been so much the past but, rather, the imagined future. Linguistically, at issue is the definition of the so-called “Promised Land.”
In immigrant narratives of early 20th-century America, one often encounters the vocabulary of “The Promised Land,” subverting religious tropes to name the New World (Antin, 1912). “Home” and the end of an Exodus journey served as motifs to narrate these authors as fully American, lovers of their new nation. But for some American Jews and their political organizations, “The Promised Land” came again to mean (Biblical) Palestine. Though most had no intention of leaving the United States or their national loyalties, this rhetorical shift marks the beginning of the complex and contested American Zionist movement and posed ongoing challenges to an American Diasporic identity.
Between the world wars, Zionism and its rhetorics remained “peripheral” to American Jewish life, which had increasingly focused on “rapid integration” (Cohen, 1992, p. xi). In 1933, the year Hitler rose to power, some of the most powerful Jewish organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee and all of organized Reform Judaism, opposed Zionism (Berman, 1990). But, with the news of Hitlerism, Zionism emerged from the margins. Previously ignored, Zionists became leaders of the American Jewish community, which needed answers for the plight of European Jewry.
American Zionism gained new legitimacy with the refugee crisis. The fact that European Jews who fled Nazism had been assimilated and influential, called into question the safety of world Jewry even in locations where Jews had been historically prosperous. Even an American sense of safety was destabilized. Discursively, the project of a Jewish homeland became an urgent and practical response (Berman, 1990).
Between 1933 and 1948, the American Jewish political landscape was entirely transformed. At the end of 1947, with close to one million members, the Jewish community was (in the words of historian Aaron Berman, 1990) “hegemonically controlled” by Zionist organizations (p. 13).
We can watch the discursive shift. The 1885 Declaration of Principles or the Pittsburgh Platform represented the first codified doctrine of the Reform movement and included a statement on Jewish nationalism: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore [do not] expect … a return to Palestine.” Jewish messianic hope, instead, was for “the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men” (Mendes-Flohr & Reinharz, 1995, p. 469). But even by the 1930s an anti-Zionist consensus in the Reform movement had begun to weaken.
In 1937, the movement revised its principles and relationship to a homeland in what was known as the Columbus Platform: “We affirm the obligation of all Jewry to aid in its upbuilding as a Jewish Homeland by endeavoring to make it not only a haven of refuge for the oppressed but also a center of Jewish culture and spiritual life” (Kolskey, 1990, p. 34). Palestine as a Jewish homeland would become another “center” for Judaism, another location for Jewish thought and cultural production to flourish alongside the Diaspora. For a growing community of Zionist Reform rabbis this was a great victory.
But the Reform movement was far from unified around the new platform, which passed by only one vote. In response to an increasing shift toward Zionism, the American Council for Judaism was formed in 1942, representing the first American Jewish organization explicitly opposed to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In 1943, the council would come under the leadership of Rabbi Elmer Berger (1908-1996) (Kolskey, 1990).
Rabbi Elmer Berger: Discourses of American Anti-Zionism
Recalling the early 1940s, Rabbi Berger’s Memoirs of an Anti-Zionist Jew (written in the 1970s), locates his anti-Zionism within an American Jewish identity, politically American and only religiously Jewish.
I became convinced—above everything else—that Zionism was contrary to every principle I cherished as an American. I had experienced Zionism’s distaste for free and open debate. I had witnessed its efforts to impose economic and social sanctions against any who articulated public disagreement. I knew that the basis of its nationality claims was—when all was said and done—a religious criterion. I knew that its state had, from the beginning lied about the Palestinians who were “non-Jewish people” nationals of Palestine. I knew that Zionism deceived American Jews and intimidated Americans generally. … When such a national ideology became married to a religion … I feared for the integrity of the religion; and, for many of the same reasons I feared the corrosion of American democratic values if the United States continued its support of this anti-democratic nationality. (Berger, 1978, p. 2)
A Jewish Diasporic identity for Berger was profoundly American. With its separation of so-called church and state, American discourses invited Jews to fully identify with the public sphere. And strands of American Jewish religious thought have found themselves fully comfortable in the American imaginary. Recall that the Pittsburgh Platform had accepted a messianic hope of peace and justice within the context of America. This was not a discourse unique to a historical document or moment. It was a discourse that continued to circulate, within the constructions of an American Diasporic identity. As late as the 1960s, Silberstein was taught in Reform Sunday School that a Jewish messianic age yearned for paradise on Earth and was instantiated in America, in the goals of Johnson’s Great Society: “Peace, Prosperity, and Justice.” For generations of American Jews, the United States was the Diasporic promised land, a Diaspora that looked forward rather than back.
Even Zionism did not necessarily rupture the attachment to America. As Berger (1978) explains, “The image of a non-nationalistic, non-state Zionism had been cultivated for years among American Jews and, in no small part, it accounted for the passivity with which so many American Jews accepted the Zionist movement” (p. 2). In putting forth an anti-Zionist identity as a Jewish American, Berger argues for the dangers of Zionism to America and to Jews:
When Zionism and Palestine became issues of public debate in the 1940s I came early to the conclusion that the Zionist plan for handling the problem of Jews in Europe who could escape—or might survive Hitler—was a trap. The energetic and skilful Zionist propaganda campaign to put American power and prestige behind Zionism’s territorial political aspirations was clearly, even that long ago, inconsistent with American interests in the area. Zionism could not “normalize” the life of Jews throughout the world and I knew most Jews had no intention of seeking “normality” by expatriating themselves to live in a “Jewish state.” The complications which plagued Jews through the years as they struggled to know—and have others know—who and what they are would be compounded by legitimatizing a Zionist state making claims upon them and bestowing national prerogatives upon them. In a word, the Zionist program, I became convinced, was deleterious to Jews and to the long-range interests of the United States. (p. 2)
Toward the end of his life, Berger comes to see Israeli state policies toward Palestinians as evidence of Zionism’s “pollution” of Judaism. Zionism for Berger contradicts the values he attributes to his best Jewish and American selves—an integrated Diasporic identity.
Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver: Discourses of American Zionism
Both Rabbi Berger and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963) are referred to as lifelong advocates of their respective positions. By the 1940s, Silver led the American Zionist movement from Cleveland (Ganin, 2005, p. 5). Berger mentions Silver extensively as a primary rival in the Reform movement. In his words, Silver brought Zionism into Reform doctrine “thinly disguised with religious semantics and symbolism” (Berger, 1978, p. 7).
Silver did, in fact, base his criticism of anti-Zionism in Biblical text. In 1935, Silver wrote a “scholarly attack” of the Pittsburgh Platform and a defense of Jewish nationalism called “Israel” (Meyer, 1988, p. 329). Beginning with the destruction of the first and second Temples, he narrates Jewish survival itself as a Jewish tradition that finds its apex in Zionism—a Zionist position represents continuity with Jewish history and religion: “A messianic hope not bound up with the restoration of Israel to Palestine is simply not found in the Jewish religious literature” (Silver, 1941, p. 134).
In his historical focus, Silver builds a contrasting Diasporic narrative to Berger’s. But there are also important parallels as the two build American Jewish identities. Like Berger, Silver locates Jewish identity religiously: Zionism for American Jews was narrated, not a nationalist commitment to another country, but an affirmation of Jewish identity and the unity of a Jewish people with tradition. For Silver, a Jew who did not believe in Zionism was not only rejecting membership within the world community of Jews, but held a theologically flawed position. Within Judaism, Silver saw a rabbinic responsibility to preach Zionism as the modern wellspring of Jewish messianism. Just as Berger saw Zionism as a dangerous perversion of Judaism, Silver narrates the anti-Zionist movement as a distortion, “in keeping with the sad and futile tactics of so many Jews in the last one hundred years who tried to whittle down the content of Jewish life in order to meet a temporary political emergency” (Silver, 1941, p. 135).
Similarly, both rabbis locate positions within discourses of liberal American values. Silver imagines a new Zion—“a fairer and nobler way of life,” a “land in which there is room for all,” and where “the progress and well-being of any one group need not be purchased … at the expense of any other” (p. 135) (which Berger does not see possible in a Jewish state). Silver’s vision is based in the very same liberal American values that he envisioned for a better future in the United States (Diner, 1997, p. 69). Silver’s Jewish homeland resembled what he called a “reformed America.”
Both rabbis locate a Zionist or anti-Zionist stance within a belief in American values of democracy—their hopes for the Middle East and the future of world Jewry parallel their hopes for American society. American democracy and Judaism are two rhetorical anchors from which Berger and Silver argue either for or against Zionism, and in turn, become the ideological model for reconciling a Diasporic American Jewish identity. A complex, ongoing, historically/spacially located, and contradictory negotiation of identity is at the heart of all of the papers in this volume.
Berger (1978) ends his memoir with an appeal to the next generation. Writing after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has inspired the American nation, Berger echoes King’s rhetoric—quoting both King (America) and the prophet Amos (Judaism):
Long after the anachronism of Zionism has disappeared from the Middle East and Judaism, the wells of justice and the mighty stream of righteousness will continue to slake the spiritual and intellectual thirst of the humans who survive and whose agonizing with the hard problems of life will have enabled other humans to survive. (p. 158)
In the next generation, Jews like Finkelstein are to inherit this struggle, taking it in new directions. Berger’s focus, later in life, to reach out to Arab leaders and to recognize Palestinian suffering as central to Jewish anti-Zionism would carry through to contemporary Palestinian solidarity movements.
Thus far we have discussed rhetorical constructions that seek to merge local nationalisms with diasporic identities. But trauma can change that.
Forming Diasporic Identities After Trauma
Berger and Silver’s divergent positions are passed down, but they are complicated by the history of Nazism and the Holocaust. After the Shoah and the establishment of the state of Israel, the boundaries of Judaism and Jewish identity were redrawn, geographically, embodied in the new Jewish state, and ideologically through new relationships to Zionism. After 1948, Israel became the “answer to Auschwitz,” in rhetorics of American Zionism—representing a Jewish redemption that ensured the efficacy of the now-pervasive mandate, “Never Again.” Discourses of Jewish Diaspora focus on survival. But for anti-Zionists, the Holocaust has been exploited for a Zionist cause and continues to be misused to justify the policies and structures of the state of Israel (Kolskey, 1990). The entangled histories of Diaspora and the Holocaust now require a different kind of speaking out.
The memoirs of Norman Finkelstein and Yossi Klein Halevi record the living out of these debates. Both are 1950s children of Holocaust survivors and the first generation born into a world that included the state of Israel. Growing up in the insulated Jewish world of Borough Park, New York, Halevi becomes involved in extremist militant American Jewish activism during the 1960s, later distancing himself from those movements to become a journalist and eventually emigrate (“make aliya”) to Israel.
Finkelstein, on the other hand, growing up in “integrated” New York City neighborhoods, becomes an activist in the movement opposing the Vietnam War. In contrast to Halevi’s more marginalized Jewish militancy, Finkelstein joins the mass protest movements of the time. He finds a home for his activist identity in political scholarship in the American academy and as an active Jewish voice in the Palestinian solidarity movement.
Through the lens of inherited horrors, Halevi and Finkelstein produce documents that explore different joinings of Americanness, Jewishness, the state of Israel, and activist identities. In their memoirs, American and Jewish identities become sites for different responsibilities toward Middle East politics: Finkelstein locates American citizenship (membership in a society whose government provides more financial and material aid to Israel than any other nation) and a Jewish voice as a mandate to speak out against Israeli state oppression of Palestinians. Halevi, however, finds closure for his American journey and his Judaism in a responsibility to Israel as a Jewish state. Rooted in the Holocaust and the foundation of the state of Israel, both of these experiences emerge from a history of the 1960s and 1970s in the United States and an American Jewish context defined by the polar events of 1967 (the “Six Day War”) and 1987 (the first Intifada).
The End of Helplessness or Shameful Aggression?
For Jews like Halevi, the outbreak of the Six Day War and the rhetorics that surrounded it triggered feelings of renewed danger to the Jewish people from Israel’s Arab neighbors. But the overwhelming military victory that extended the borders of the Jewish state (beginning the occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza) brought euphoria. As Halevi (1995) puts it, the world now “admired, if not yet loved” the Jews for their military strength; “the curse of Jewish ostracism seemed over … now I could allow myself to feel not only like a Jew but like a human being” (p. 58).
Finkelstein’s (1996) writing replaces the ecstatic pictures of 1967 with images of the first Intifada 20 years later. Writing from the occupied territories, he echoes descriptions of a Jewish past: “The terror was omnipresent … [the Israeli military’s] most common form of violence in the refugee camps was the pogroms” (pp. 2-3). It is not the pogroms, however, but the Holocaust that ultimately frames these narratives. As children of survivors, they present with heightened intensity rhetorics that pervade the larger American Jewish debate over Israel/Palestine.
Halevi (1995) is fed his father’s stories so early that, born in 1955, he cannot remember a time before the Holocaust—a time of self-consciousness without a knowledge of the Shoah. He is saturated with memories not his own and becomes what he describes as a “surrogate Holocaust survivor” (p. 96). As a “survivor,” his only frame of reference for the world around him becomes the horrors of a war he never experienced.
Through narrative, Halevi is to be prepared to survive, as the Jews of Europe never were. While all things German are reviled, the real rage is turned inwards. Halevi describes his perspective growing up: European Jewry who “doomed themselves with hope,” had been “perfect victims” (p. 9). American Jews had been “the traitors” (p. 15) whose maintenance of assimilated success kept them from action: “We burned so that they could move to Long Island” (p. 11).
In his youth, Halevi rejects his own Americannness. In fact, Halevi knows very few “American Jews” in his Borough Park neighborhood made up of survivors and Hasidim. Everyone he knows is inundated by Jewish memory, that for him reveals a latent danger even for Jews in America. By believing in American safety, one was rejecting the reality of the Shoah and one’s membership in a community and history of survival: “To be an American Jew meant being inherently inauthentic, a spectator to Jewish history” (p. 164). The risk of an inauthentic identity is a hazard of diasporas. We see this theme of authenticity within Choi’s paper in this volume as well. In her case, multilingualism creates a complicated relationship with America. In Halevi’s case, authenticity lies in how he can narrate a location within a history of suffering. His own active role in Jewish history came in his explorations with Kahane militancy.
In contrast, Finkelstein’s (2005) mother, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp, and two slave labor camps, produces very different moral urgencies from her experience. When neighbors attacked the city for considering building a homeless shelter close by, his mother reacts: “You never know where you will be tomorrow”; she had gone from a cultured Warsaw life to the ghetto. Finkelstein’s parents draw a universal lesson to never be a bystander to persecutions of any kind. This stands in stark contrast to Halevi’s father, who scolds him for giving money to a non-Jewish cause. His narratives draw boundaries: Jews have to look out for Jews because no one else will.
By and large, today’s Zionists and anti-Zionists invoke a recent past they did not experience but by which they have been traumatized nonetheless, traumatized through history and its narrations. In Halevi’s terms, “We tried to live with the constant awareness of the Holocaust, the way a mystic invokes the presence of God. And we did so for the same basic purpose: to transcend ordinary consciousness.”
Finkelstein, too, describes the Holocaust as the “primary point of reference” in his “political life.” But for him the urgencies of the Holocaust as a reference are not located in unconditional love for Jews or the inevitable redemption of the state of Israel. The annihilation of European Jews should warn against all forms of racism—which in the wake of the Holocaust always hold the danger of genocide.
Halevi makes aliya in 1982, and what he had sought through American Jewish activism he says he finds in Israel. It is in Israel, where Jews are not a minority, that he integrates a Jewish identity with the exercise of power. What he calls a “homecoming,” allows him to let go of an identity of an “insecure and self-righteous victim,” transforming into an Israeli, with (what he describes as a sometimes troubling) power over others. As he puts it in his memoir: “For one month a year I would become an occupier … we would continue to enforce powerlessness and consign ourselves to historical irony” (Halevi, 2001, p. 245). The fate of Palestinians in this equation “meant that we were no longer entirely innocent” (p. 245) even in the aftermath of the Holocaust. But if that is the tradeoff for Jewish independence, he would take it. Halevi’s narrative of aliya reminds us that for some in diaspora only by going back can they have a future.
But Finkelstein rejects a Jewishness that accepts normative narrations of the Holocaust and Israel that justify occupation. He also recognizes that he bears part of the burden for the actions of a nation that claims him as a vicarious member—even against his will.
For both Finkelstein and Halevi, Israel raises complex issues of Jewish identity. Being a Diasporic American Jew both implicates or ties one to (the actions of) the Israeli state, while it simultaneously distances one irrevocably from it. Halevi’s choice is to bridge this gap by becoming Israeli—the only route to his authentic Jewish self. Finkelstein must leave himself balanced on a razor’s edge. Being a child of the Holocaust repels him from the state of Israel, which he sees as an oppressor, but his Jewish identity ties him to the state and its actions. His Jewishness creates a self that is suspended and fractured by the Shoah and its (very rhetorical) uses by an Israeli state; at the same time a Jewish identity gives him the history and ethical framework to fight the Occupation.
January 2010 found Halevi in Israel doing interfaith work. Finkelstein was leading Palestine liberation groups in Egypt and Gaza demanding an end to the siege. Halevi reconciled his Jewishness by giving up his Americanness and becoming Israeli, returning to an earlier Promised Land (and another language). Finkelstein remains an American Jew, defined by a rejection of the existence of any promised land, and a commitment to fight injustice.
What Is the Promised Language?
For the American Jews documented here there have been multiple diasporas since forced exile from “Zion” created the original, uppercase Diaspora. These have often bred relations to multilingualism and language identity. And these linguistic allegiances and strategies have both informed and been informed by events on the ground. The northern European lingua franca, Yiddish, born of a minority, isolated status, made possible transnational trade routes and a Jewish merchant class. Arguably, Jewish identity was kept alive elsewhere through similar hybrid languages born of Diaspora, including Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic (for a comprehensive list, see www.jewish-languages.org). These languages themselves served as markers of later diasporas and new group identities, preserving more recent remembered pasts.
As Canagarajah notes (2012 [this issue]), diasporic languages can “unif[y] communities by a code that others can’t understand and, in effect, constitut[e] a community distinguished from others” (p. 129). This was an enforced distinction for much of the history of Jewish Diaspora. But as for many of the communities documented in this volume, that (social and linguistic) isolation has become more voluntary and strategic. In the United States, the “Americanization Movement” of the early 20th century (Tollefson, 1989) championed (forced) assimilation, and participation was linguistically marked through English-only ideologies. Fishman’s (1966) foundational sociolinguistic work documents the loss of (diasporic) languages in the United States within three generations. Within that cline, for most in the American Jewish Diaspora, heritage language use (particularly of Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish [often termed Ladino]) has become increasingly symbolic, performative of group/family identity. In some sense, this language loss is indexed by the taking up of tokens (“crossing”) by members of other groups. (Oy vezmir exclaimed the Irish American performer Rosie O’Donnell in a recent Piers Morgan interview.)
But the language of symbolic use can shift. Allegiances to diasporic languages can change depending on the relation to the associated “homeland.” The creation of the state of Israel transformed Hebrew, a language once considered purely liturgical and “dead,” into a “living language.” By the mid-20th century, even the liturgical language was shifting for most American Jews from what had been the northern/eastern European Diasporic pronunciation of the Ashkenazic Jews (now narrated as a language of the ghetto and accommodation) to what was claimed to be a Sephardic (Spanish, Ottoman, North African) Hebrew pronunciation, which was also the national language of Israel. In post-War America, the shift (in the Ashkenazi community) from Yiddish to Hebrew as a language of community allegiance paralleled relationships to Zionism. Once largely a political theory born in the ferment of Yiddish culture’s encounter with European oppression, Zionism and the foundation of the state of Israel rendered Hebrew the language of Jewish multilingualism in America. And its use often implies a necessary allegiance to that state.
At the center of the articles in this special issue of the Journal of Language, Identity, and Education are issues of identity and memory. Several of the other articles report the complexities of multilingualism in the negotiation of identity. In the case of the American Jewish Diaspora, for whom most have lost heritage languages, identity construction takes place largely discursively. But similar themes emerge. Choi (2012) references Kramsch (2006), who notes a tendency of heritage speakers to idealize or demonize a country of origin, often creating a fantasy homeland and mythic past. Choi urges us to explore how ideological understandings come into being and are changed over time. Heritage, she reminds us, is not a homogeneous entity but, rather, a social process that allows one to remember a past while engaging in the present. In this article we see the past narrated in the service of a politically charged present.
Angouri (2012), as well, documents speakers who struggle with the historical construct of a homeland, the shifts and ideological inheritances over generations, and the loss, for some, of the “teleology of return.” She cites Hall (1990) in noting that cultural identities “are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power.”
It is Han’s (2012) article in this issue that, more than any other, underscores the power differentials between new immigrants and the “host country.” But we see this current and historical reality of insecurity and risk in several of the studies, narrated here particularly in the Zionist discourses.
Canagarajah’s (2012) article documents the socially constructed, performative nature of ethnicity and the context-specific creation of ethnicity. The codeswitching to Yiddish, reported at the beginning of this article is a similar example. But for the data reported here, these identity constructions largely occur discursively.
In the discourses documented here, we have seen the development of contested narratives that travel through time and space, discourses that create varying relationships to a “Promised Land” and to “America.” In the end, in this Diasporic discursive context, focused as it seems to be on conflicting relationships to Palestine, the major ideological construction is America. Debates regarding Zion, in fact, create the discursive America and an American Jewish identity. In these texts, whether or how one is a Zionist defines what it means to be American. But it is not only American identity at issue here, the very concept of Diaspora is on trial. In contesting Zionism and understandings of contemporary Israel/Palestine, Jews contest Diaspora itself. Can Diaspora be a (positive) identity, or is it always exile? Is Diaspora a form of permanent limbo or an authentic place in which to live?
Foregoing a teleology of return, being committed to a Diasporic identity is an act of inhabiting the increasingly populated borderlands—it embraces the in between. While centering Diaspora itself as home does not preclude yearning or exclude a concept of returning, it discounts return as a political reality. Diaspora, though born of oppression, becomes a rich place to live—but, paradoxically, not a place one would wish on others.