The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Loyalty, Belonging, and Treason: Questioning National Israeli Identity

This paper seeks to unveil the mechanisms that create differential citizenship in Israel, formed by the intersectionality of liminal identities such as gender, ethnicity and class. I do so by analyzing four cases of four Jewish Israeli citizens: Udi Adiv, Mordechai Vanunu, Tali Fahima and Anat Kam, who were perceived in Israel as traitors: two men and two women of different ethnicities, social class and geographical peripherality. Their cases took place between 1972 -2013.

Israeli law declares treason to be one of the most serious crimes citizens can commit against their country, as the penalty for it can reach the death sentence. It would have been expected that the response to the four would be indicative of the seriousness of their offenses and the political climate in which the cases took place. Yet, a close examination of the Israeli media’s response to their cases reveals that the intersectionality of their identities, their class and the geographical periphery, reflect the ways their actions were perceived as subversive or traitorous. The media’s response was also indicative of their ability to “return” and become normative members of Israeli society. Furthermore, for the media the motivation of the traitors was not seen as relevant. It rather simultaneously reflected and shaped differential expectations of loyalty and belonging of the various subgroups to which they belonged in Israeli, and their intersections of gender, class, ethnicity and peripherality. The differential response to the four serves as a social laboratory to unpack how stratified and hierarchical citizenship is constructed both for those who are at the margins and, implicitly, for those who are at the "center" of society. While traditionally the margins are used to examine group oppression, I suggest a reverse move that examines the margins to understand the "center" that seeks to construct them as such.