This text was written in conjunction with the video art program, This and That: Complexities of Israeli Identity, held at Kunsthaus Aussersihl’s OG9 location, Lagerstr. 98, Zurich, March 20 and 21, 2013, 7pm-9pm
Entire brochure can be downloaded here: brochure
Dor Guez, 40 Days, video still, 2012
The questions of who we are, what makes us so, how we define ourselves and how we are perceived are universally relevant in the age of globalization, mobility, and constant cultural interchange.
But the issue of identity in a state that defines itself as existing for only a part of its citizens, namely its Jewish ones, becomes much more complex and difficult to determine. And yet about 20% of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish – they are Arab Muslims and Christians. As compared to France where only 10% of the population is Muslim (emigrant as opposed to the indigenous in Israel), and yet questions of national identity are at the center of every political debate, with pressure mounting to turn everyone into a fantasy version of a Frenchman, the Israeli statistic raises many issues: how does this minority, in itself diverse and fragmented, see itself in Israel? How is it seen by the majority? Can the conflicting narratives of both peoples be integrated into one narrative that respects and accepts both of their national aspirations and the minority’s legitimate demands for equality and accurate representation? And what about the children from mixed parentage in Israel: Arab and Jewish? What is their “identity” in a world that sees them as neither this nor that, and has little imagination to conceive of them as “both”?
In light of a recent study revealing that a majority of Palestinian Israelis prefer to remain citizens of Israel rather than of a future Palestinian state, as well as the recent trend of East Jerusalem residents who request Israeli citizenship [1 ], the issue of identity becomes even more complicated. Can “Israeli” ever come to define all citizens of Israel regardless of religion, background, or ethnicity much like the American “myth” promises, but barely delivers, thus allowing for a pluralistic democratic society? Or will “Israeli” and “Palestinian” define ethnicity and national aspirations, separating Jews from Arabs in Israel for the long haul? And what is the path to normalization of relationships and acceptance between co-citizens?
There are many elements that divide Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel besides the 45 year occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the most urgent of which is equal rights for the minority, seen by some Jewish Israelis as a fifth column. Despite existing on paper, equality for Arabs in civil and social matters is not implemented consistently, and most Arabs experience discrimination, which undermines their feeling of belonging, or willingness to invest themselves personally. But remaining unengaged entirely as a form of resistance to the Jewish cultural and political hegemony is self-defeating in the end.
Therefore, even despite a higher than expected turnout in the current election, with 56% of Arab citizens voting, under-representation of this population’s needs and voices remains an issue. Many Jewish and Arab analysts  stated that by demanding their rights politically (for example with 66% of Arabs voting) Arabs would have had Israel’s second-largest party, and society would ultimately transform in their favor.
The question of identity is something that Jewish Israelis wrestle with too. What is a Jew, and by extension, who is the Jewish state for? Is it a religious affiliation, is it an ethnicity? How do secular Jews fit within this picture, or converts to Judaism, or non-Jewish spouses of Jewish Israelis? And how can this nation’s future finally escape the clench hold of its past, one full of trauma and wounds that continue to dictate its identity and policies today? And ultimately, can Israel remain a Jewish state and a real democracy when similar attempts from the Christian and Muslim world have failed?
Maybe on the backdrop of the recent elections, with centrist-left and Arab parties winning half of the seats in the Knesset (parliament), a peace settlement is still too Utopian, but hope that the emergence of a more secular and inclusive Israeli identity, one that embraces all ethnicities and religions as equals, could become a reality.
In this program, video artists from Israel tackle their identity, their relationship with their history and nation, and their hopes for the future. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and sometimes sweet, the videos attempt to offer an idea of the complexities associated with being and feeling Israeli today.
[1 ]http: //972mag.com/quietly-east-jerusalem-palestiniansarebecomingisraeli-citizens/46298/