Exile, History and the Nationalization of Jewish Memory: Some reflections on the Zionist notion of History and Return

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The essay tries to analyze the notions of “history” and “return” in Zionist discourse in order to clarify their political and cultural implications. I investigate the meaning and function of the phrase “return to history”, commonly used for the description of Zionism, in two different sets of terminologies: the theological terms that defined Jewish-Christian polemics and the terms “culture,” “civility,” and “ethnicity” as used in the discourse of modern nationalism and colonialism. Accordingly I argue that the consciousness embodied in the phrase “return to history” meant the acceptance of the very terms and principles that generated the exclusion of the Jews in Europe. Thheologically and in the terms of premodern Christian-Jewish polemics, the phrase expresses an acceptance of the Christian perception of history of the Jews and their exile. On another level, the use of the modern national model of history for the representation of the Jewish past reveals the obvious Orientalist dimension of the secularization of the concept of history, as referring exclusively to the Christian West. In Zionist discourse both the theological-redemptive and the Orientalist aspects were integrated in a way that illuminated them both. Finally, the return to history and the return to the land meant the obliteration of the history of the land and the existence of its inhabitants. It also determined the removal of the Jews from the multiple local histories in which they had existed in exile in order to include them in one common, separate narrative. As a conclusion, I suggest to re-consider the options embodied in the concept of exile for an alternative way of thinking Jewish-Israeli existence and collectivity.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)37-70
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Levantine Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


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