Social Identities, Volume 10, No 1, 2004

Post-Zionist Orientalism? Orientalist Discourse and Islamophobia among the Russian-Speaking Intelligentsia in Israel
DimitryShumskyDivisionsGot Levin t. 14/24Haifa32922Israeldshumsky@study.Haifa.ac.il

DIMITRY SHUMSKY Haifa University

ABSTRACT: This article attempts to shed light on a special kind of Orientalist discourse that circulates in Russian-Israeli literature and press. This discourse feeds on the cultural sources buried in the Russian-Soviet imperialist discourse about ‘Russia’s Orient’, which has been articulated by modern Russian literature, including prominent Russian-Jewish authors, and corresponds to the racially grounded discursive practices currently widespread in post-Soviet Russia with regard to natives of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The article investigates the ways of transferring Orientalist concepts from the (post-)Soviet cultural experience to the Israeli one, identifying the Orientalist discourse’s dual role in shaping the immigrants’ self-awareness on two levels, the local and the global. On the local level, the Russian-Israeli intelligentsia deploys ‘Sovietmade’ Orientalist interpretative tools to read and decipher the reality of a new country, by presenting it as a familiar reality. Identifying and labeling the local Orientals — the Palestinians on the one hand and the Mizrahi Jews on the other — by means of negative concepts borrowed from the Russian-Soviet Orientalist repertoire, a RussianIsraeli intellectual locates her/himself within the Eurocentric Ashkenazi component of Israeli society. On the global level, the extreme Islamophobic rhetoric of the Russian-Israeli Orientalist discourse, according to which today Israel and Russia, as well as the West, all share a common Islamic ‘enemy’, enables a Russian-Israeli intellectual on the one hand to reassert her/his cultural ties with her/his country of origin, and on the other to heighten the validity of her/his self-image as part of Western culture.

Introduction A major issue of interest to researchers in the framework of the discussion about the impact of the large-scale wave of immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union is the immigrants’ relationship with the Ashkenazi elites and where they stand relative to the dwindling of the Israeli-Ashkenazi cultural hegemony. Two opposing arguments have therefore been advanced to elucidate this issue. On the one hand, the immigrants are generally presented as contributing to undermining Ashkenazi cultural dominance. According to another view, however, most of the immigrants are becoming socioeconomically and culturally integrated into the ranks of the Ashkenazi middle class, of which they will therefore become an integral part within the next generation.1
1350-4630 Print/1363-0296 On-line/04/010083-17  2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd DOI: 10.1080/1350463042000191001

constantly challenging the very logic of mono-cultural hegemony (Kimmerling. address the question of the immigrants’ cultural background — something which might perhaps be a crucial factor in shaping their ‘Western orientation’ on moving to Israel. the immigrants’ attitude toward Western culture is characterised by a feeling ranging between suspicion and contempt (Kimmerling. In the cultural sphere. these immigrants are joining the latter in ever large numbers. While the immigrants attach unique weight to Russian culture. such as Israel’s Arab citizens. For Kimmerling. but also to hint at a certain amount of cognitive baggage that predates their immigration and underlies this pattern. they play the role of the ‘new Israeli’. he identifies ‘a strong Western orientation’ on the immigrants’ part (Smooha. the tendencies are utterly different. The theoretical framework for . Smooha does not. as well as to complete it in several other respects.2 thereby boosting the group’s strength vis-a ` -vis the challenge from the weaker strata such as the Mizrahim (literally “Eastern” Jewish communities of North Africa. 41). The opposing interpretation to Kimmerling’s. 64–65). p 66).’ at whose centre lies the discourse containing ultimate denigration of the Oriental ‘Other’. in view of their ethnic affiliation and cultural identification with the dominant Ashkenazi group. in a programmatic essay intended to delve into multicultural discourse in Israel (Kimmerling. p. which supports Smooha’s position on this issue. 1998. 2001a. pp. The present article. concerning the position of Russian-speaking immigrants in respect of the cultural rifts in Israel. the Russian-speaking immigrants should not be considered the allies of the Ashkenazi Jews in the struggle that the latter are waging in order to maintain their cultural hegemony in Israel. the immigrants wish unequivocally to become part of the Ashkenazi middle class. Regarding the material and occupational sphere. they seek to institutionalise their separate Russian-Jewish identity within Israel’s evolving multi-cultural society. and Asia). He argues that. this is a special version of the Russian and Soviet Orientalist discourse that characterised Russo-Soviet colonial perception of the natives of the Caucasus and Central Asia. is primarily advanced by Sammy Smooha. Among the set of factors which Smooha views as contributing to this trend. he also identifies a direct cultural confrontation between them and the Ashkenazi elites. however. built on a perception of ethnic-cultural pluralism. while one of the most striking characteristics of IsraeliAshkenazi culture is expressed in its Western self-image. This distinction would appear not only to indicate the immigrants’ present-day cultural pattern in their destination country. I will seek to shed light on this underlying face of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia’s3 ‘Western orientation. 2001a). 2001a. however. As will be seen below. As part of this process. with which in Kimmerling’s view the immigrants can be credited due to their contribution to cultural diversification in Israel. the Middle East. In addition to this indirect challenge to IsraeliAshkenazi hegemony. He argues that. alongside groups of marginalised citizens. By examining literary and journalistic texts written by Russian-Jewish intellectuals in Israel.84 Dimitry Shumsky The first argument has recently been expressed by Baruch Kimmerling. is therefore designed to fill this lacuna in his interpretation. despite their closeness to members of the Ashkenazi elites in terms of origins.

As one of the seminal essays to have contributed to the shaping of the post-colonial discussion. Russia’s Orient (1997). until recently their attempts to examine the extent to which Said’s insights are applicable to the Russian and Soviet imperialist enterprise in the Caucasus and Central Asia encountered two basic obstacles that originated in two limitations characterising research into Russian colonialism in earlier generations. characteristic of the body of academic. This discourse is based on a structural dichotomy between the ‘rational’. In my discussion. Secondly. the impact of Orientalism considerably exceeded the boundaries of Middle Eastern studies. to find a place within it and situate the self on Israel’s cultural map. by situating the self on the universal cultural map. designates the various ways in which the ‘Orient’ is represented in Western culture as the opposite of the Western experience. these limitations appear to be clearly demonstrated by. of all things. particularly the Muslim-Arab. too immanent and profound to be summed up in such dichotomous terms as ‘we’ Russians versus the Oriental ‘Others’ (Layton. which in its introduction emphasises the need to examine the representations in imperial Russian culture of the natives of Russia’s southeastern borderlands in view of Said’s approach (Brower and Lazzerini. . which tended to present this geographical space as an inseparable part of Greater Russia. literary and artistic knowledge that evolved in Western European culture over the generations. ‘enlightened’ and ‘progressive’ West and the Orient. and more importantly. p 82). ‘uneducated’ and ‘backward’ or alternatively ‘spontaneous’. eventually denying the relevance to it of the Saidian analysis. arguing that the geo-cultural tie between Russia and the Asian borderlands is. investigation into the ways of transferring the Orientalist concepts from the Soviet cultural experience to the Israeli one will be related to the Orientalist discourse’s dual role in shaping the immigrants’ self-awareness on two levels. 1978).Orientalist Discourse and Islamophobia among the Russian-Speaking in Israel 85 the analysis will be provided by Edward Said’s post-colonialist insights.’ taken from Edward Said’s Orientalism. and (2) its role in reinforcing the link with the country of origin’s imperial culture. which is ‘irrational’. 1997). However. Russian-Soviet Orientalist Discourse and the Russian-Jewish Intelligentsia The concept of ‘Orientalist discourse. ignoring the colonial endeavours of its Soviet heir. 1. as it were. was closely bound up with the European colonial enterprise in the Orient and provided the ultimate justification for colonial control over it. 1997. Interestingly enough. Firstly. the use of the concept ‘Russia’s Orient’ to designate those areas of the Caucasus and Central Asia that came to be included within the Empire’s borders as it expanded. when it comes to Slavic studies and Sovietology. This conscious construction. a scholarly collection of essays. as recently applied in Slavic studies. contains a questionable assimilation of the colonial Russian paradigm. the local and the global: (1) its mediating role with the new reality in the destination country. particularly that of England and France (Said. The reproduction of this paradigm at times makes it possible to blur the imperial discourse about the natives of these areas. the research considers only the imperialist enterprise of the Czarist Empire. ‘enchanting’ ‘exotic’ and so forth. helping to decode and make sense of it.

33). Thompson’s insights into the selective nature of Russian intellectuals’ . Those Russian writers who at various times took great personal risks by denouncing the Czarist or Soviet regime. Firstly. Thus ‘Asiatics’ are ‘brutish’. to act as the ultimate representative of their populations. the Russian intellectual tradition has never scrutinised the Russian colonial endeavour through critical eyeglasses. from Pushkin’s and Lermonotov’s works in the first half of the nineteenth century to our own days. ‘primitive’. to the peoples of Siberia and the Far East such as Buriats. 2002. albeit not lacking in a certain heroic. Indeed.86 Dimitry Shumsky These two distortions are rectified in Ewa M. and to refer to them in derogatory terms. pp. reluctantly fighting for its existence. as Russia constantly expanded. on the whole combined with complete anonymity. as was done in ‘her Orient’. involves the analysis of the background to the complete absence of post-colonial debate in Russia itself. a time when it is being widely disseminated in the Russian public awareness in connection with the discourse about the ‘Chechnyan’ and ‘Caucasian Mafia’ (Thompson. 2000. 2000. In the context of this study. in the rhetorical success of Russian discourse on culture and identity. found themselves coming under its authority. in Thompson’s view. In addition. The reason for this lies. By placing Russian literature. One of the main axes of discussion in Thompson’s research. she circumvents the obstacle of viewing the non-Russian territories under Russian and Soviet rule as a kind of ‘Russian Asia’. 29–30. which in Russian colonial culture undoubtedly played a similar role to that of Western discourse about the Orient. were ‘imagined’ in this literature. Thompson’s research (2000) on Russian literature and colonialism. 34). whereby a power with an unbridled imperialist appetite is presented as a country devoid of natural borders. the author highlights the continuity of the Russian colonial enterprise from the days of the Romanov dynasty right up to the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. were used to emphasise a universal dimension of the suffering of the Russian people and the spiritual misgivings of the Russian intellectual. without bothering to consider the individual voices of the conquered non-Russian peoples (Thompson. leaving them bereft of any human identity. the colonial author tends to condemn the natives to demonisation. pp. which has managed to shape the self-image of Russia as a passive. pp. the figure of the ‘despised Asian’ remains a constant in Russian culture over a number of centuries. Hence Russia’s right to annex foreign territories. Thus Russian colonialism acquires a kind of moral stamp of approval and hence it remains outside the domestic critical debates about the Russian past and present (Thompson. 57–74). feminine entity devoid of the slightest hint of aggression. Secondly. in the centre of the discussion (Thompson. was viewed in the Russian national awareness as a perfectly natural state of affairs. a particularly striking resemblance can be identified between representations of the ‘Russian’ Orient in Russian literature and Muslim images in Western European Orientalist discourse. the researcher describes how various ‘Others’ — from the Poles in the West. which is also of great importance for our present purposes. Evenks and Tungus — who. ‘miserable’ and ‘scoundrels’. 2000. p. As Thompson convincingly shows. 41–43). This myth about Russia’s complete innocence has led to a rather paradoxical result. romantic aura.

Addressing this question is likely to have illuminating implications for another question. spanning the twilight years of Czarist autocracy and the initial stages of the Soviet regime. in fact the attitude to this matter of the Russian intellectuals of Jewish origin was no different from the attitude prevalent among the Russian intelligentsia per se. for which they paid with their lives during the Stalinist ‘purges’ of the late 1930s. For the purpose of illustration I will give just two examples of important twentieth century Russian-Jewish writers: Osip E. Babel (1894–1940). It should first be noted that a number of Israeli sociologists. Mandelstam was known for his special affection for Georgian culture and literature. Mandelstam was one of the few intellectuals to openly challenge the regime. insofar as it ignores the essential question relating to the distinction between those strata of Russian and Soviet culture and politics that fell within the purview of Jewish criticism and those that remained outside it. both for their great contribution to modern Russian literature and for their critical attitude to the communist regime. These two literary figures are reasonably wellknown. which is part and parcel of the Russian and Soviet imperialist culture. 17). in the former Soviet Union and Israel alike.Orientalist Discourse and Islamophobia among the Russian-Speaking in Israel 87 criticism of the State and the regime are crucial to an understanding of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia’s attitude towards Russian culture’s discourse about the Orient. when it came to the Orientalist discourse. these two occupy a fairly distinguished position in the cultural pantheon of Russian-Jewish intelligentsia. Furthermore. being particularly enchanted by Georgian poetry. 307–10). pp.5 Such a sweeping claim is oversimplified. As such. and still continued to feel themselves part in Israel also (Golden. is also endorsed wholeheartedly by the intellectuals among the immigrants themselves. special attention should be given to one of his essays from the early 1920s. In the early 1930s. which is not unrelated to the previous one: what do people from the former Soviet Union reject in Israel out of the whole cultural and political panoply of the new country and what parts do they tend to accept? In any event. In the spirit of the tradition of the Russian hegemonic culture. who tend to see Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel as a group with a fiercely critical approach to the Israeli establishment. in which he expounds his thoughts about the position of Georgian art under the youthful Soviet regime (Mandelstam. p. As the representative of ‘civilised Russia’. frequently attribute to Jews from the former Soviet Union a culture of criticising the State as such. the outstanding figures of the Russian-Jewish intellectuals over the previous hundred years contributed to an imperial creative endeavour to shape the image of the ‘Russian Orient’. In connection with the present subject matter. of which members of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia considered themselves part as long as they were in the Soviet Empire. 2001a. 1990. Mandelstam is considered one of the greatest figures of Russian poetry’s ‘Silver Age’. . ostensibly derived from the quasi-subversive approach to the Soviet regime which characterised many of them in their country of origin.4 The myth about the rebellious spirit of the Russian intelligentsia as a whole and specifically and especially its Russian-Jewish form. when in one of his famous poems he attacked Stalin and the members of his entourage in the most vitriolic fashion. Mandelstam (1891–1938) and Isaac E.

p. forced to live cheek by jowl with the local savages — and in this way for the first time discovers his talent as a storyteller. but it had always managed to ‘overcome’ it ‘through the excellent artistic means’. the author advises Georgian culture not to entirely discard its quasi-Oriental exterior — so as to maintain its ‘intoxicating Eroticism’. 1999. The hero finds the way out of his profound mental distress by falling in love with a ‘tall. therefore constitutes an important part of their cultural baggage when they move to the Middle East. which had in the past proven so enticing to Russian poets (Mandelstam. 308). 427) personify the complete opposite of the experience to which the hero aspires — one based on love and creativity. p. pp. Nevertheless. at the beginning of the 1920s. He suffers from loneliness and depression in the suffocating atmosphere of Tbilisi. it must be noted that this stratum’s disagreements with the regime and the Soviet state in no way indicate anything about its attitude to one of the persistent and seminal axes of Russian. Babel’s voice. the Georgian capital. 307). As the faithful heir of Pushkin and Lermonotov. therefore. ‘sympathetically followed’ Georgia’s cultural development for a hundred years. harmonises with the chorus of RussianSoviet Orientalist discourse. Mandelstam’s contemporary and one of the most innovative figures in modern Russian literature. As early as the 1920s he provoked the wrath of the Soviet military elite when his famous ‘Red Cavalry’ stories exposed the Red Army’s cruelty in the Civil War. including the local landscape. like that of Mandelstam. when it came to descriptions of the ‘Soviet’ Orient. Babel.88 Dimitry Shumsky which had. It is obvious that this is a quintessentially negative entity. To Babel. as a journalist for the local Russian-Soviet newspaper. which is both foreign and strange to him. white-faced’ Russian prostitute who stands out in the midst of the ‘simian hordes’ of the natives (Babel. True. . the outcome of the author’s time in Tbilisi. 1999. 1999. Profoundly moved by his tale. 1999. 1999. 419–29). was also not exactly an admirer of the communist regime. the author argues. In view of research into the representations of the ‘Orient’ by these two idols of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia. 421). As he spends time with her. This is manifest in his story ‘My First Fee’ (Babel. Mandelstam has no need of redundant explanations as to the nature of this ‘Orient’. Nevertheless. the hero makes up a story about his miserable existence as a homeless youth from the Russian countryside. who had long since established the image of ‘brutish Asia’. The local ‘simian hordes’ that ‘crush spirits and women’ (Babel. p. Georgia had frequently looked in the direction of Orient. Soviet and post-Soviet culture alike — the Orientalist discourse. The imperial knowledge of the swarthy ‘Asiatics’ that members of this intelligentsia have acquired through the mediation of Russian literature. Tbilisi’s ‘Oriental bazaar’ illustrates precisely what the ‘Orient’ illustrates for Mandelstam — man’s brutish and sterile side. he praised Georgian culture’s special ability ‘not to blend with the Orient’ (Mandelstam. The story is about a young man working as the linguistic editor at the Caucasian command’s military publishing house. A reading of the story clearly reveals the role that the author assigns to the natives of Tbilisi. who wandered throughout the Caucasus. the prostitute refuses to take any payment from him for her services — hence the hero’s ‘first fee’. as he put it. p. the complete antithesis of genuine spiritual creativity. a side that must be ‘overcome’.

what she considers to be the . In this connection. This was the pained reaction to this piece of news on the part of one of the ‘neighbourhood intellectuals’: ‘Beautiful women always fall for these cheeky Georgians … What? He’s Hispanic? … If the truth be told. 1993. The rich repertoire of images of the ‘Asiatics’ drawn from Russian-Soviet discourse — in the immigrants’ eyes tantamount to watertight facts — helps them to interpret the colourful human scenery in their new surroundings. ‘Chechnyans’ and so on simply makes the system more effective. the female protagonist looks back at her life in Uzbekistan. For example. The fact that instead of ‘Georgians’ as a readily identified category there might be ‘Armenians’. It becomes clear that the basis for this feeling is to be found in the bedrock of knowledge about Uzbek culture at the disposal of the author-heroine — knowledge about whose certain nature there is not the slightest doubt in her mind. undoubtedly the most successful novelist of all writers of Russian literature in Israel. However. As an introduction to our discussion of representations of the new land and its inhabitants in Rubina’s books. the all-encompassing confusion that overwhelmed the inhabitants of a Russian-Jewish immigrant neighbourhood in New York on hearing the following shocking piece of news: a beautiful young woman from the neighbourhood was having a romantic liaison with a Hispanic man.Orientalist Discourse and Islamophobia among the Russian-Speaking in Israel 89 2.. Uzbekistan. pp. ‘Uzbeks’. since this blurring of individual ethnic groups makes it possible to simplify an actual cultural reality by squeezing it into a single all-embracing category... we will first focus on the least ‘Israeli’ of them. By putting these words into his hero’s mouth. in the ironic and incisive language so typical of him. primarily as a result of her books reflecting her Israel experience. after publishing a number of stories in the Soviet Union.’ 1993/94). Sergey Dovlatov (1941–1990). ‘A Little Sunny Republic’: The local Dimension of Russian-Israeli Orientalist Discourse In his novel Inostranka (‘A Female Foreigner’). the Uzbek students whom the heroine encountered when she was teaching a musical discipline at the ‘Culture Institute’ aroused feelings in her that ranged between contempt and resentment. one of the great writers of the Russian diaspora in the last generation. Rubina immigrated to Israel at the end of the 1980s. I will first of all examine the work of Dina Rubina. it was her encounters with the Uzbek natives which left the most negative impression in her memory. (‘Camera Approaching! . the author is undoubtedly trying to indicate a particular method by means of which the Russian-speaking immigrants in the USA are likely to identify and mark local swarthy ‘Others’.. 65–66). It can clearly be seen that out of the sum of the heroine’s experiences of life in Tashkent. she established her reputation in the Russian literary world only after coming to Israel. In this clearly autobiographical tale. Does this system operate — and if so how — among the Russian-speaking intellectuals in Israel? In order to consider this question. utterly confident that they are facing a familiar reality. These were issued in the 1990s by prestigious Moscow and St Petersburg publishing houses. A native of Tashkent. it’s the same thing …’ (Dovlatov. while also weaving in her thoughts about her present-day experiences in Israel. Kamera nayeszhayet! . describes.

is the nature of the Uzbek students whom she faces in her lectures. Consider. making a supreme effort to open up to them the world of Schumann and Schubert. p. And so speaking in the first person plural the student admits to his people’s basic inability to fall in love and to love. the female world can be divided into two. But we find more explicit and instructive continuity between the images of the ‘Russian Orient’ and the Israeli Orient in Rubina’s more ‘Israeli’ works. It must be stressed that this kind of image is not limited to an individual description of the Uzbeks alone: rather. ‘After all.. in the writer’s eyes it represents the essence of the ‘Orient’ generally and of the Muslim world specifically. Irrespective of the scenario. emphases added). deserving of their men’s protection. 2002. overcome by fear and terror at her question. The representations of the Uzbek man range here between an enslaver of women in the domestic setting and a cruel rapist outside it. and on the other. And indeed. the sentiment of exalted love remains patently beyond his reach. In the spirit of the Russo-Soviet literary discourse about the ‘Russian Orient’ and out of a very explicit link with the Russian-Jewish voice within it. seeing herself as a kind of ambassador of European culture among these boorish and obtuse ‘shepherds’. As such. pp. whose plot is largely set in the former Soviet Union.. 2002. And yet this civilising mission is doomed to failure. This. In this setting she does not conceal her self-pride.. she allows her Uzbek hero to express himself on behalf of the entire Uzbek people. this tendency is quite conspicuous. the figure of an anonymous Uzbek student comes to personify the essence of the character of an entire ‘Asian’ people.90 Dimitry Shumsky most significant item of knowledge concerns how Uzbek men relate to women and to love between a man and a woman. the way every Uzbek man sees it. Rubina’s ‘Uzbek’ goes beyond the boundaries of the orientalist discourse in her country of origin and starts to become an interpretative tool when confronting the Muslim ‘Other’ in Israel. 2002. since anyone who is incapable of knowing the emotion of love cannot possibly grasp the greatness of classical music. we will have no difficulty in identifying parallels between Babel’s Georgians ‘crushing spirits and women’ and Rubina’s womenenslaving and rapist Uzbeks. who are irredeemable whores and hence legitimate targets for sexual assaults (Rubina. In order to dispel any doubts about the veracity of the writer-heroine’s knowledge of the Uzbek people. the heroine begs one of her students who is practising Schubert’s Serenade. for example when a rude Arab labourer whom the author-heroine has come across in Jerusalem immediately reminds her of her encounter with a drunken Uzbek in Tashkent (Rubina. pp. On the one hand there are Uzbek women who serve their husbands in humility and obedience and are therefore. as it is undoubtedly known to the author-heroine. According to her. ‘Here Comes The Messiah!’ (1995/96). it is a love song … I’m sure you yourself love someone?’ ‘No!’ a young Uzbek student replies to Rubina’s heroine. ‘We … We don’t love! We … want to get married!’ (Rubina. 312–13). her most famous book. all the rest. for example. 254–55. ‘Could you perhaps play this with a little more feeling’. 252). Even in Camera Approaching! . which has been translated into . in the opinion of the author-heroine.

which are. And that way you’ll bring honour and veneration on your family …’ (Rubina. has a personal story that helps to shed light on this murderous act. 1999. do not appear in the book as independent figures: they either provide silent ornamentation.Orientalist Discourse and Islamophobia among the Russian-Speaking in Israel 91 a number of languages. and you’ll stay there with your baby. she discovered that ‘We. The Jews from Islamic countries. It is quite clear to her that from now on. but he is willing to show her what he considers the surest way out of her predicament: ‘Go and murder a Jew’. he told her. are an Oriental people. At this stage the wretched young woman gets help and advice from her teacherlover. Ziama. since ‘there’s no other way’. including Hebrew and English. Compared with her representations of the Muslim Orient. ‘Then they’ll lock you up in jail. The novel’s female protagonist. it is rooted in the character of the Muslims. a young Palestinian woman who lives in a village near Hebron. But the ‘Orient’ that the heroine accepts and even welcomes has nothing whatsoever to do with the concrete Israeli being. pp. with fairly colourful personalities. it would appear. as imagined by her on seeing the landscapes of Judea and Samaria. p. And as if this was not enough. on the other hand. her brothers will undoubtedly kill her to prevent her from bringing shame on the family. falls victim to Palestinian terror.’ She accepted this with perfect composure. True. 15). However. she also got pregnant by him. the Palestinian heroine’s understanding that ‘there’s no other way’ — that is. To put it another way. She is 22 and despite her unattractive appearance she had a fairly good chance of getting married. when she is stabbed in the throat before the eyes of her husband as they are eating out in their favourite restaurant. her days are numbered: when this state of affairs becomes known. Thus. primarily populated by Russian and Ashkenazi settlers. that in the Muslim family it is impossible to deal with cases of extramarital pregnancy other than by executing the pregnant woman. he is not exactly enthusiastic about marrying her. basically. 304–5) Rubina’s story of the young Palestinian woman can be identified as nothing more than an ‘upgraded’ version of the representation of the Uzbek Orient in Camera Approaching! … While the image of the Muslims in Uzbekistan as a people unable to love to a large extent remains a theoretical assertion. Rubina’s discourse on the Jewish ‘Mizrahim’ — Oriental Jews — appears to be more complex. This is the biblical Orient. when the heroine of ‘Here Comes The Messiah!’ arrived in Israel. hence the operative decision to forestall violence with violence in order to try to transform shame into honour — reinforces and provides empirical proof for the Uzbek Muslim’s declaration that indeed ‘We don’t love!’ In this way the author also provides her readers in Israel and in her country of origin alike with an original explanation for the phenomenon of Palestinian terror: that Palestinian terror is not related to the Palestinian-Israeli whirlpool of blood — rather. you’ll give birth there. who know neither love nor compassion. for example. she transgressed and slept with her former schoolteacher. at most supported by a declaration by the Uzbek hero. or they are there to personify what is . 1999. ‘just as a mother welcomes her baby for the first time’ (Rubina. Her assailant. in the Palestinian context this image is expressed in a more concrete form.

Thus a crazy Mizrahi Jew. pp. Ziama meets the real Messiah — who turns out to be her beloved grandfather. 1999. However. special attention should be given to the figure of Mustapha the Weird. that Alexander Voronel — a Tel-Aviv University physics professor and editor-in-chief of 22. complacence. on a fundamental level one can indeed subscribe to the view of those scholars who consider that immigrants read the Israeli reality with critical eyes. for example. p. comprising two basic steps: reading Israel’s cultural map and locating the self on that same map. In the spirit of the Orientalist rhetoric of the great . the most prominent Russian intellectuals wish to see immigrants involved in the cultural war on the Ashkenazi side against Israeli society’s Oriental foundations. he argues. who ‘gives off an odour of sweat. Like Rubina. urine and deodorant’ hands over the role of ‘Messiah’ to a Russian-European Jew (Rubina. 233. beer. pp. a Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jew (Rubina. Voronel identifies the primary characteristics of ‘Levantisation’ as ‘indolence. complacence. Hence Mustapha plays an important symbolic role in the novel: the song constantly on his lips gives the novel its title. In this context. technological ignorance. As the diplomatic process gathers speed and there is a chance of relations between Israel and the Arab states warming up. 17–20). such as indolence. going by the name of ‘Messiah’ because he is for ever singing the Hassidic melody. one must be precise and say that at this point the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia’s stinging criticism is directed first and foremost at what it designates as ‘Oriental’ or ‘Levantine. 16. 1998. or irresponsibility (Rubina. No less symbolic. 17). 1999. 114). here the weight of the language of Russian-Soviet colonialism is no less great than in the case of Rubina’s confronting the Muslim ‘Other. a prestigious journal of literature and ideas that defines itself as the organ of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia in Israel — presents the vocation of Russian Jews. This converting of the Mizrahi ‘Messiah’ into an Ashkenazi one in Rubina’s novel provides us with an instructive reflection of immigrant intellectuals’ discourse about Israel. a mentally unstable Persian Jew who spends his days on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv bus. It is in just such terms. while his strange and mysterious character keeps the reader tensely anticipating what is going to happen to the book’s primary heroine. p. as well as to the peddlers at the central bus stations in both cities. pp. 1999. however.’ This point will help to clarify the meaning of the next stage in the Russian discourse that is locating the self. As far as the first step is concerned. and economic negligence’ (Voronel. He sells items to the regulars on this route. 240). only the RussianJewish immigrants can save the country from the ‘horror of Levantisation’ which is bound up with these dangerous developments. ‘Here comes the Messiah’ (Rubina.’ Firstly. 31). 1999. Tellingly. is what happens to this character at the end of the novel.92 Dimitry Shumsky regarded by the heroine as ‘Levantine’ characteristics of Israeli culture. When it comes to the interpretative means that help the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia to chart its cultural identity in relation to Israel’s Jewish population. this intelligentsia’s criticism of Israeli-Jewish culture’s ‘Levantine’ characteristics emerges from an acknowledged position of ongoing affiliation with the tradition of imperial culture. After her death.

of its actual ‘littleness. as it were. On the other hand. This is a well-known denigratory expression in Russian-Soviet discourse. it is generally far from being simple. Now. the immigrant intellectuals present themselves as bearers of European culture in its improved Russian version. generally we find an extreme and simplistic . Geller gives Israel an extremely telling name — one that should also be perfectly transparent to his readers in the light of their Soviet experience — dubbing it the ‘Little Sunny Republic’ (Geller. while completely ignoring the concrete geographic. the term refers. irrespective. if truth be told.Orientalist Discourse and Islamophobia among the Russian-Speaking in Israel 93 Russian writers and poets. 263–64. transferred to the pages of the highest-circulation Russian-Israeli newspaper as a term designating Israel. the ‘Orient’ must simultaneously attract and repel. Furthermore. p. therefore. is intended therefore to enthral the Western observer and especially to render fascinating the challenge of controlling the Muslim ‘Orient’. pp. when it comes to representations of the Arabs and Islam in the Russian press in Israel. 2003). are supposed to be perceived by the Russian-Israel reader as something perfectly natural. Secondly. 1999. 1978. expertise and objectivity to their approach to the ‘Orient’. On the contrary: while it expresses Western civilisation’s dark and contrasting side. It is with good reason. And as if that were not enough. that at the time could have been applied to any Caucasian or Central Asian republic. in effect this expression is used to spotlight these selfsame two elements. not to a republic’s territorial size. Israel–Russia. Hence images which are on the sketchy side are frequently presented as beguiling and intricate mysteries. as opposed to the image of primitive natives’ inferior culture (Rubina. Beltov. 26). The combination of Arab culture’s enchanting refinements and outrageous inanities. At the same time. as well as to the colour of its inhabitants’ skin — ‘sunburnt’. combines the images of an ‘ignorant Georgian’ from Kutaisi and a ‘boorish Yemenite’ from Israel as the antithesis of an ordinary Russian-Jewish intellectual. the very people who give voice to and shape the Orientalist discourse wish to impart a hint of complexity. insofar as the rhetoric of this discourse is concerned. 3. Persian Jews and so on.’ And indeed. as expressed in Orientalist texts analysed by Said (Said. 228–30). as well as the value differences between them and a Russian Jew. economic and cultural contexts of their lives. pp. the standard Soviet ‘Asian’ images continue to be at the immigrants’ disposal when they need to categorise and label Moroccan. but to its negligible cultural weight compared with the imperial culture. 2003. thereby isolating — through images familiar to the immigrant — that very feature of Israeli existence which must be critiqued above all — its Oriental aspect. is based on the tendency to describe the ‘Orientals’ in as simplistic a fashion as possible. as a body of knowledge intended to nurture an understanding of Western cultural supremacy. that writer Boris Geller (2003). For the associative nexus between swarthy Soviet and Israeli individuals. Israel–Europe: The Global Dimension of Russian-Israeli Islamophobia The Oriental discourse. in a mordantly satirical essay about Israeli society published recently in the Vesti weekend supplement. for example. Yemenite. non-Jewish and Jewish alike.

2003). demonstrating ‘Jewish patriotism’ in view of a ‘feeling of competing with the other leading sectors of the Israeli state’ (Kimmerling. Not only does this fail to make use of the traditional colonialist rhetoric as described above: on the contrary. 2001). 2003). According to the tenets of this variant.7 The Eurocentric axis. As in the discussion about the ‘Muslim problem’ in Russia. on the other hand. the representations of Muslims that fill the Russian press in Israel. which can be best defined by the notion of ‘Islamophobia’. resulting in the Russian press being banished to the furthest fringes of political legitimacy. I doubt. Expressions such as ‘[Muslims are] the ugliest offshoot of the human race’ (Hayenko. or ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Islam’ (Sobol. What lies behind a radical Islamophobic tendency of this kind? One of the explanations advanced for this phenomenon in Israeli research ascribes it to the immigrants’ desire to thereby become an integral part of official-patriotic Israeli discourse.94 Dimitry Shumsky version of the Orientalist discourse. spanning the entire gamut from the prestigious Vesti to tabloids such as Secret and Echo. 2003) and betraying the ‘real’ interests of the Russian people itself. whether expressions of Russian-Israeli discourse about the Arabs and Islam would enhance the Russian public’s prestige in the eyes of Israeli society were they to be translated into Hebrew: even compared with the most extreme right-wing Israeli discourse. The discussion’s Russocentric axis is programmed first and foremost by a view that identifies a shared destiny existing between the State of Israel and Federal Russia in all matters relating to their difficulties in dealing with the Muslims’ rampant behaviour regarding ‘their territories’ — the Palestinians on the one hand and the Chechnyans on the other. which ‘genetically cannot abide these evil Muslims’ (Ben-Ari. 287). Notwithstanding the Israeli political context of the discussions about Islam in the Russian press. European culture’s tendency to be entertained by the romantic images of the Arabs and the Orient. accusing it of complete blindness to the pan-Islamic ‘conspiracy’ against the civilised world (Danovich. As such. it constantly undermines it. however. It seems to me that the role of Russian-Israeli Islamophobia can be elucidated if we pay attention to the focal points of the geo-cultural orientation of the Russian community in Israel. The Russocentric and Eurocentric dimensions of the Russian-Israeli discourse about the Arabs and Islam are made very clear by reading countless articles in the press that deal with these subjects. 2003)6 would likely trigger a public outcry even during the Second Intifada. these focal points are without doubt ‘Russia’ and ‘Europe’. while at the same time nurturing false hopes concerning the possibility of ‘bettering’ and ‘reforming’ the Arabs in the framework of colonial projects. has ultimately led Europe to capitulate to ‘Islamic barbarism’. calling its operative effectiveness into doubt in view of the ‘war of civilisations’ between ‘West’ and ‘East’ (Weiman. are defamatory in the extreme. in this context too the . as revealed in texts of this kind. 2003). focuses on the discussion of the cultural and political ramifications of the immigration to Europe by ‘Third World’ natives generally and Muslims specifically. 1998 p. frequently the Russian-Israeli press expresses amazement and anger at the relative continuity of the Russian government’s pro-Arab position. ‘the Oriental smell’ (Danovich.

Thus in what appears to be a paradoxical fashion. The global narrative fashioned by the Russian-Israeli press. in the West (Raz-Krakotzkin. according to which today Israel and Russia. In this way. Above all. Zionism aspired to define the Jews as a European nation. 317). 1999. p. 2003). which is fast becoming hostage to multitudes from the ‘Maghreb and Persian Gulf’ (Ben-Ari. the constant in such discourse is the image of Israel in the forefront of the European campaign against Islam. the Jews’ departure from Europe and settling in the East ultimately led to their reintegration. such as the Zionist ethos. 44. Israeli historian Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin recently propounded the view that one of the cardinal foundations of the modern Zionist discourse involves the basic acceptance of the Orientalist paradigm. and (2) from a ‘little sunny republic’ in the Middle East to the forefront of the battle for ‘European values’ (Israel-Europe) (see Weiman. as a number of studies emphasise. This being the case. by virtue of being a ‘practitioner’ confronting ‘Muslim barbarity’ on a daily basis. as well as Israel and Europe. 2003). her/his perception of her/himself as having the ability to provide the Russians and Europeans with relevant insights into Islam by virtue of living in the Middle East can help to ‘upgrade’ her/his imaginary geo-cultural position on two levels: (1) from the Russian-Israeli margins of the Russian-speaking diaspora toward the centre of the Russian imperial discourse (Israel-Russia). Conclusion In a series of articles devoted to elucidating cardinal aspects of the Zionist consciousness and Israeli culture.Orientalist Discourse and Islamophobia among the Russian-Speaking in Israel 95 Russian-Israeli intellectuals wish their independent. True. official-patriotic rhetoric. 1998. as it were. They comment unfavourably on the weakness of European countries with glorious cultural traditions. 258. it may be argued that the Islamophobic discourse plays a dual role in shaping the cultural identity of the Russian-Israeli intellectual. highlighting an essential difference between them and their Oriental Middle Eastern surroundings. Raz-Krakotzkin argues that by adopting this view. p. or more broadly against Islamic fundamentalism (Weiman. they can also be extremely critical about the key elements of Zionist-Israeli culture and consciousness. p. 2003) and conversely laud the bravery of leaders such as Joerg Haider who are seeking to reinstate the European Continent’s real nature. which makes a dichotomous distinction between ‘West’ and ‘East’ as two diametrically opposed cultural entities. 2002. all share a common ‘Other’ — Islam — helps this Russian-Israeli intellectual on the one hand to strengthen his cultural ties with her/his country of origin and on the other to heighten the validity of her/his self-image as part of European culture. as it was before it became a ‘paradise for Africans and Asians’ (Borisov. unique voice to be heard — the warning voice of those who know Islam well from their own Middle Eastern experience and have a background of combating it. 2000). like France. Moreover. for the most part Russian-speaking immigrants are not Zionists. or the militaristic nature of Israeli . The extreme tone of her/his rhetoric is intended to reflect her/his unique place in the Russian and European discourse about Islam.

it not only accepts its framework. In this process the local Orientals — the Palestinians on the one hand and the Mizrahi Jews on the other — in the immigrant intellectual’s eyes. So when members of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia arrive in the Middle East.96 Dimitry Shumsky society (see footnote 4 above. As such. This is not the only thing that the Oriental discourse does for the Russian community in Israel. as well as Epstein. extreme Islamophobic rhetoric is of the utmost importance. we must once again unmistakably endorse Sammy Smooha’s assertion concerning Russian Israelis’ Western orientation pattern. including prominent Russian-Jewish writers. which help them in reading and deciphering the reality of a new country. it expresses it even more strongly. they come armed with Orientalist interpretative tools. As a result. the Muslim ‘Other’ acts as a basic code in establishing the common language between a migrant and the country of origin. fed by cultural sources that are buried in the Russian-Soviet imperialist discourse about ‘Russia’s Orient. in view of their special experience in dealing on a day-to-day basis with the Palestinians. the immigrant intellectuals represent themselves to their European imaginary interlocutors as members of the European culture living in the Middle East and who. The Russian immigrant in Israel. In fact. with a culture inferior to her/his own Russian-European culture. are likely to be able to help the Europeans with practical advice concerning the rampant behaviour of the form of Islam imported into their countries. it is also used by a Russian-writing immigrant intellectual as a means of renewing her/his imaginary bond with the culture of the country of origin. which underpins the imaginary Israeli-Russian dialogue that ostensibly addresses a common problem — that of the ‘pan-Islamic conspiracy’. using negative concepts borrowed from the Russian-Soviet Orientalist repertoire. 69– 70). when it comes to the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia’s attitude to the Israeli Orientalist discourse. The Islamophobic rhetoric in the press also operates in a similar fashion in imagining the dialogue about Islam between Israel and Europe. in this way aiding them in situating themselves on the Israeli cultural map. himself likely to be perceived by the Russian and European cultural discourses as someone ‘on the margins’.’ The Orientalist dimension of this discourse contains all the defamatory representations of natives of the Caucasus and Central Asia which have been disseminated first and foremost by modern Russian literature. 2001b. therefore shifts her/his imaginary cultural location to within the centre of the ‘civilised world’. As a result. pp. come to stand for Israel’s character as a ‘Levantine’ state. Golden. In connection with their European self-images in the Israeli context. 2002. As such. It may even be contended that Raz-Krakotzkin’s argument about the Orientalist paradox of . by presenting it as a familiar reality. And yet. structuring on the pages of the Russian-Israeli press the image of Islam as the ‘Other’ — an Other common to Israel and Russia alike. seeking to see her/himself as helping Israel overcome its Orientalness. what we have is a kind of parallel Russian-Israeli discourse. the immigrant locates her/himself within the Eurocentric Ashkenazi element of Israeli society. In addition to its role as a compass that helps them in finding their way around the cultural experience of a new country. The reading and deciphering process is bound up with identifying and labelling dark-skinned locals.

In colloquial Russian. 275–76. including first and foremost writers. The title of the article — ‘‘Pro[to]cols’ of Elders of Islam’ — contains a Russian play on words. in the detailed research by Elazar Leshem and Moshe Lissak about the immigrants’ ways of collective consolidation: Leshem and Lissak. 5. . 6. 1998. this is a form of Orientalism which is ‘made in Russia’. Dimitry Shumsky may be contacted at Got Levin St. as they assert its complete contrast with their new Oriental surroundings. However. Israel. an essay by psychologist Vadim Rotenberg (2003). Kimmerling also identifies the increase in this tendency among the immigrants. p 43.il. but also people from the exact and technological sciences who are interested to some degree in art. For the process of reproducing the Russian-Soviet Orientalist paradigm — a process which affects them as they move to the Middle East — is ultimately bound up with a reaffirmation of their Russian-European cultural identity. p.Orientalist Discourse and Islamophobia among the Russian-Speaking in Israel 97 Zionism. for example. 2. 136–49).Haifa. Notes 1. wearing a T-shirt saying ‘I love Darwin’. e-mail: dshumsky@study. literature and philosophy: Lissak and Leshem. However. 163. does not belong to mainstream Zionist discourse and hence is perhaps best defined as post-Zionist Orientalism. Lomsky-Feder and Rapoport. pp. when they were perceived as ‘evil’ and ‘clever’. 4. 2001. p. 2002. 1999.’ by contrasting the ‘Arab’ of today with the anti-Semitic image of Jews in the nineteenth century. he still tends to primarily highlight the instrumental dimension of immigrants’ affinities with the Israeli-Ashkenazi culture (Kimmerling. p 12. pp. today’s ‘global Arab conspiracy’ is driven by the ignorance and stupidity of the conspirators. Incidentally. The centrality of this issue to studies of the ‘Russian’ immigration to Israel has been underscored. artists and journalists. based on reintegration in the West via a move to the East. who identifies this spirit as being responsible for the immigrants’ sceptical attitude to the accepted norms of Israeli society and culture. the concept of ‘intelligentsia’ denotes a fairly heterogeneous group of educated people. In his other book. 2001b. the word ‘prokol’ means ‘failure’. See. Rapoport and Lomsky-Feder. 25. 3. Lerner. poets. Kimmerling. 14/24. is even more applicable to many members of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia in Israel. intended to present the Arabs as both ‘evil’ and ‘moronic. In connection with social and cultural life in the former USSR.ac. 236–37. pp. this article appears against the background of a caricature showing a monkey dressed as a man. So the author is arguing that while what was formerly perceived by anti-Semites as a ‘global Jewish conspiracy’ seemed to be true because of the Jews’ superior cleverness. 1995. for example. 2001. Haifa 32922.

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