17.565 | Spring 2019 | Undergraduate

Israel: History, Politics, Culture, Identity


I. Theoretical and historical considerations

Opening remarks:

  • Israel today—the complexity of contemporary Israeli society
  • Theoretical underpinnings: individual and collective identity formation
  • The Zionist metanarrative: basic characteristics of the Zionist metanarrative—the New Jew and the return to the old-new homeland
  • Palestine and the Palestinians before Zionism
  • The Zionist movement
  • Zionist colonization
  • The British Mandate period (1917–1948)


  • World War Two—the Holocaust
  • 1948—the establishment of the State of Israel and the Palestinian “catastrophe” (al Nakba)
  • A brief survey of Israel’s wars, 1948–present
  • The Palestinians today: the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank, the Hamas and the Gaza Strip
  • Israel’s formative years, 1948–1967 [I]: Civil religion in Israel and the formation of Israel’s core identity, the “Sabra”

Reading assignment #1 due

Israel’s formative years, 1948–1967 [II]: Political, social and geographical foundations:

  • Israel’s political and municipal systems
  • The three branches of government
  • The educational systems
  • The military
  • The economy
  • Types of urban and agricultural settlements: kibbutz, moshav, development towns, major cities, the Arab towns and villages
  • Post-1948 Jewish immigration to Israel

II. The great divide

  • The watershed of 1973–1982 and the shattering of the old civil religion and the New Jew myth
  • Israel as a Jewish immigrant society: Jewish-ethnic relations—the Mizrahim [I]

Reading assignment #2 due 
III. Israel’s history and identity revisited

  • The shattering of the old civil religion (cont.)
  • The Mizrahim [II]
  • Modest food feast: Israeli culinary tradition as an expression of the country’s identity


  • 1948 revisited: the debate over the 1948 war, the Palestinian refugees
  • The presence of the Nakba in contemporary Israel

Reading assignment #3 due

Theoretical underpinnings:

  • The role of emotions
  • Israel’s occupation and settlements’ projects
  • The messianic component in Israeli identity and politics, Gush Emunim
  • The Palestinian national movement, the PLO, Palestinian Authority, Hamas

Reading assignment #4 due

  • The Haredi (Jewish Ultra-Orthodox [fundamentalist]) communities in Israel
  • How Jewish is the Jewish state?
  • The role of the Holocaust in Israeli identity


  • Israeli economy, globalization in Israel
  • Technology and environment in Israel today
  • Israeli cinema


The Palestinian-Arab minority in Israel—history, identity

A talk with Sinan AbuShanab


  • The Israeli Diaspora
  • Israeli popular music
  • Concluding remarks: Is there an Israeli identity?
  • Preparations for the peace conference

12 A staged Israeli-Arab-Palestinian peace conference Final paper due

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2019