High-Risk Transnationalism: Why Do Israeli-Americans Volunteer in the Israeli Military?*

Lior Yohanani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates how second-generation Israeli Americans explain their voluntary enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). By using 63 interviews, I compare enlistment motivation narratives of three groups: IDF enlistees with a background in Tzofim, an Israeli-Zionist youth movement in the U.S.; same movement participants who did not enlist; and IDF enlistees with no movement background. The findings illustrate the importance that life circumstances, instrumental considerations, and a search for belonging have for enlistment. Respondents whose future life course was clear were more likely to opt for college, while those without a clear life course joined the IDF in a quest for belonging and future opportunities. Ideological motives were mostly subsidiary, and enlistees without a movement background were even less likely to express them. The study brings together the scholarship on migration and nationalism with the sociological theory of high-risk participation. It thus investigates the largely uncharted territory of homeland military service among diaspora members, an underexplored yet highly relevant topic in the current era of mass migration. The study also offers a novel contribution to high-risk collective action theory as it brings attention to two largely overlooked groups: non-participants and participants who have not undergone movement socialization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-556
Number of pages24
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • diaspora
  • high-risk collective action
  • military
  • return migration
  • transnationalism
  • volunteering


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