'What makes one an Israeli?' Negotiating identities in everyday representations of 'Israeliness'

Rakefet Sela-Sheffy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines the construction of a sense of Israeli identity which is not deducible from the public political discourse. It analyses common verbal representations of 'being an Israeli person', namely, what people in contemporary Israeli culture repeatedly say about Israelis, and how they position themselves vis-à-vis the commonsensical agreements they exchange, assuming that the massive use of such clichés in certain contexts creates a discursive routine that has 'a life of its own', through which people constantly negotiate their self-images and their sense of belonging. It investigates the ways these representations create solidarity or demarcation and how such current popular representations relate to canonical veteran images of Israeli identity, notably that of the pre-state 'Native Israeli' (Sabra) archetype. The analysis is based on 295 anonymous open responses to the question 'What makes one an Israeli?' published weekly in the Weekend Supplement of Maariv, the second largest newspaper in Israel, between 1996 and 1998. The analysis has led to the following observations: (1) Instead of the most expected grand ideological (ethnic, national, religious, etc.) issues of conflict, the responses reveal a 'pursuit of culturedness', using an implied scale of mastering good manners and possessing a 'genuine culture' which form the dominant parameter of judging the 'Israeli person'. (2) A tension between mainstream and marginalised groups is shaped by a 'chase and flight' dynamic of embracing and rejecting the mythological Sabra image (in asymmetry with these groups' assumed political stances), which image is believed to be a symbol of the once hegemonic veteran elite. (3) This tension paradoxically contributes to the persistence of the canonical image of the Sabra that is currently delegitimised by much intellectual discourse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-497
Number of pages19
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2004


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