'Arab Jews' after structuralism: Zionist discourse and the (de)formation of an ethnic identity

Yehouda Shenhav, Hannan Hever

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We revisit the term 'Arab Jews', which has been widely used in the past to depict Jews living in Arab countries, but was extirpated from the political lexicon upon their arrival in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. We follow first the demise of this discourse and then its political reawakening in the 1990s, which was carried out mostly by second-generation Mizrahi intellectuals and activists. We review this surge of the 1990s, distinguishing between structural and post-structural interpretations of the concept, although we also show that they are often interwoven. According to the structural interpretation, the term 'Arab Jew' was founded on a binary logic wherein Jews and Arabs are posed as cultural and political antagonisms. The post-structural interpretation rejects the bifurcated form in lieu of a hybrid epistemology, which tolerates and enables a dynamic movement between the two facets of 'Arabs' and 'Jews'. We spell out the differences between these two heuristic modes of interpretation and speculate about their relevance to the political conditions in the Middle East today.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-118
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Identities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Arab Jews
  • Arab nationalism
  • Hebrew literature
  • Jewish studies
  • Zionism
  • ethnicity
  • nationalism
  • post-structuralism
  • postcolonialism
  • structuralism


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