Hebrew and Zionism: A Discourse Analytic Cultural Study
Language, Power and Social Process 5, Mouton de Gruyter

excerpt from the Afterword

The Zionist position most vulnerable to the civic territorial option of postzionism is the Labor-Zionist position of a "Jewish democratic state", in which "democratic" is read as civic. Numerous Supreme Court decisions in Israel of the past two decades indicate that the justice system falters between the two poles, but more often leans towards its civic option. The most striking example is the ruling of the High Court of Justice on 8 March 2000 that the exclusive allocation of state land to Jews, which has been carried out directly by the state or indirectly by the Jewish Agency since Israel's establishment, is illegal. The vulnerability of this Labor-Zionist ideology lies to some extent in the fact that "democracy" is a well discussed concept in the West, with quite clear principles phrasable in legal and political argumentation, while "Jewishness" is not.

The problematization of "nation" in the discourses on globalization, ethnicity, multiculturalism, postcolonialism, and others with relevance to the nation, has informed some streams of current Israeli scholarship, which Silberstein (1999: Chapter 6) has defined as postmodern postzionist. This academic discourse, which is occasionally also discussed in literary and cultural supplements, is now at the early stages of public acquaintance and is often represented in hostile terms. It has not penetrated the political discourse yet. On the other hand, more and more developments in Israeli society make Israeli reality increasingly more open to new phrasings that take their inspiration from the discursive framings of these academic disciplines.

One might speak of a "postzionist condition" which produces voices which are subversive to Zionism. Various social factors have radically changed in recent decades. The Israeli Arabs have been demanding individual and group rights in an unprecedented way. The immigration of close to a million people from the former Soviet Union has brought with it a whole array of problems: many among these people are not recognized as Jews, a few try to preserve their Christian identity in a society that is not supportive of such practices, and many could not care less about religious Jewish identity. Immigration from Ethiopia presents another set of problems, but adds also a racial aspect to their difficulties. The presence of a growing number of foreign workers, some with families and children, constitutes another group of collective and individual problems. I have mentioned only the demographic destabilizing factors, but Israeli society is changing also in other ways that affect its perception of collective identity. All these have been interacting in new ways that may culminate in rephrasing.

This "postzionist condition" does not yet have a unified discursive framework that would collectively articulate its different voices. This is why it is hard to speak of a postzionist discourse in Israeli politics. But I think that the input from the postmodern postzionist academic discourses along with the partial stabilization of the Middle East in some pax Americana, the continued pressure of internal destabilizing factors, and the growing impact of the "normal" West through globalizing discourses such as are accessed via the Internet or cable television, may deem the traditional discourses of the nation formulated both in Zionism and in its rival discourses irrelevant, and may produce new ways of phrasing the identity, or perhaps the hybrid and multiple identities of Israeli society.

Discussing his own Caribbean identity, Stuart Hall says:

	Cultural identity is not a fixed essence at all, lying
	unchanged outside history and culture. It is not some 
	transcendental and universal spirit inside us on which
	history has made no fundamental mark. It is not once-
	and-for-all. It is not a fixed origin to which we can 
	make some final and absolute return. Of course, it is 
	not a mere phantasm either. It is something - 
	not a mere trick of the imagination. It has its histo-
	ries - and histories have their real, material and sym-
	bolic effects. The past continues to speak to us. But 
	it no longer addresses us as a simple factual "past",
	since our relation to it, like the child's relation to 
	the mother, is always-already "after the break". It is 
	always constructed through memory, fantasy, narrative 
	and myth. Cultural identities are the points of identi-
	fication, the unstable points of identification and
	suture, which are made, within the discourse of history
	and culture. Not an essence, but a positioning. 
	Hence, there is always a politics of identity, a 
	politics of position, which has no absolute guarantee in
	an unproblematic, transcendental "law of origin".
					(Hall [1990] 2000: 24)

Despite all differences between the Israeli and the Caribbean conditions, it seems to me that we are now "after the break", not in it. For all Israelis - whether along the fault lines of religiosity, ethnicity, class, or nation - there is no longer an option of "some final and absolute return" to original Jewishness, to genuine Zionism, to the formative Labor movement, to ashkenazi or sephardi-mizrakhi distinctiveness, to a Jewish Israel, or even to a re-Palestinized Israeli-Arab root. A postzionist discourse will negate all these as points of departure and will own and negotiate their effects as "points of identification and suture" in a rephrasing of Israeli cultural identity, without any "absolute guarantees" transcendentally truthful.


I have used "revivalism" in the context of language to designate an ideological property of linguistic discourses from several periods variously harmonious with pre-Zionist, Zionist, and Canaanite political discourses. Revivalism prototypically comprises a discursive framing that encodes the emergence of Israeli Hebrew in terms of a process of revitalization of ancient Hebrew in a singular way that defies normal linguistic scholarship. It has been shown in the different chapters of this book how different discourses on the genesis of Israeli Hebrew displayed different degrees of prototypical revivalism in them, and how the discourse of structuralism was an oppositional force which, though not totally free of revivalist connotations, was revolutionary enough to throw significant sections of linguists, Hebraists, and cultural critics into a bitter debate.

Revivalism in the historiography of the emergence of Hebrew is the most obvious facet of this ideology. In Chapter 1 I have shown that there are disciplinary alternatives to the singularity of the revival, in which the process is broken down into different components which have parallels in the development of many languages. Non-revivalist research of the genesis of Hebrew does exist, but it has not fully recognized the ideological problem and the different approaches have not been collectively articulated in a pronouncedly non-revivalist framework.

Beyond the obvious effects of revivalism on historiography, other, more subtle effects have been discussed. Scholarship of Hebrew up until the 1950s was carried out exclusively in historical linguistic terms within the framework of nineteenth century philology. This framework was revivalist and prescriptivist. In the 1950s structuralism appeared on the Israeli linguistic scene headed by Rose'n. This framework identified Israeli Hebrew as a normal language worthy of synchronic treatment. The 1960s brought with them the penetration of generativism into the linguistic scene. I have shown how Ornan's non-canonical generativism of the 1960s harmonized with his other linguistic and political discourses and was revivalist and prescriptivist, thus in fact also harmonious with Zionist revivalism. The cooptation of Ornan's generativist discourse by mainstream revivalism, and the ability to contain and ignore Ornan's political inclination proved successful and beneficial to both sides. In the 1970s a new generation of Israeli generative linguists received its education in the United States, and since the 1980s generative research takes the normalcy of Hebrew for granted, and is non-revivalist and non-prescriptivist. Nevertheless, Ornan's central position as a scholar of Hebrew enabled him to introduce an international standard of phonemic transliteration based on his version of the generative approach. Taking the phonemic structure as stable throughout the entire history of Hebrew has awkward results with respect to Israeli Hebrew.

The short discussion in Chapter 1 of the issue of English as an international language and its desired equilibrium with Hebrew demonstrates that the effects of revivalism are felt to this day. If the problem of world Anglo-bilingualism is defined as the "menace of foreignism" and "danger to the revival of Hebrew", then the ground is set for seeking the best ways to fight it. A first attempt at formulating the linguistic agenda of Israel from a non-revivalist perspective has recently appeared, authored by Bernard Spolsky and Elana Shohamy (1999) and entitled The Languages of Israel: Policy, Ideology and Practice. As a book published in English it has taken - even if tacitly - the same course of decision making with regard to its language of publication as this book, and it has risked not becoming relevant enough to Israeli culture unless translated into Hebrew. There is a meaningful distance between academic scholars of language planning, who will not be able to ignore it, and policy makers, who will.

The book raises a range of issues unprecedented in the discourse on the linguistic situation in Israel. The chapters of the book deal with Hebrew as a mother tongue, Hebrew language diffusion among immigrants and among speakers of Arabic, Arabic as the language of the "minorities", Arabic as a second language of native Hebrew speakers, English as everybody's second language, the native languages of the immigrants, the loss and maintenance of Jewish languages, and languages of recent immigrants. All these issues are identified as standard sociolinguistic situations with an extensive discussion of their parallels in other countries.

The book is evidently non-revivalist due to the authors' basic commitment to viewing Israel as a case within a general discipline. Thus, for example, the treatment of English as a second, rather than as a foreign, language signals the authors' recognition of world Anglo-bilingualism and their discussion of this question is carried out from this perspective.

The inclusion of the language problems of foreign workers in the chapter on recent immigration is another example of the book's implicit non-revivalist and postzionist position. It puts on a par the second wave of Russian immig- rants (that of the 1990s), Ethiopian immigrants, and foreign workers. Though the Jewishness of Russian and Ethiopian immigrants has often been challenged, these waves of immigration are considered an integral part of the Zionist project. Foreign workers, on the other hand, are often treated in Israel as non-entities, and their presence in the country is viewed as temporary despite clear evidence that many of them have established stable residency in the country. The novelty of Spolsky and Shohamy's discursive practice is manifest: it identifies the presence of foreign workers and their families in Israel as "immigration", and it makes no distinction between the linguistic needs of Jewish immigrants favored by state ideology and non-Jewish immigrants rejected and ignored by it.

Spolsky and Shohamy also discuss ideology, defining "language ideology" in the following way:

	Language ideology, following Silverstein's definition,
	is a set of beliefs "about language articulated by 
	the users as a rationalization or justification of 
	perceived structure and use" (1979: 195). In his 
	use of the term, Silverstein is particularly concerned 
	with beliefs about language structure. Our use of the 
	term comes more from Dorian (1998), who refers in par-
	ticular to the post-French Revolution Western European
	"ideology of contempt" for anything but the 
	standard national language as one possible language ide-
	ology. We use the term then to designate a speech 
	community's consensus on what value to apply to each of 
	the language varieties that make up its repertoire. Put 
	simply, language ideology is something like language 
	policy with the policy maker left out, what people think 
	should be done.
                           (Spolsky and Shohamy 1999: 34)

The definition of ideology - in this case, language ideology - as a "set of beliefs" does not disclose its sources and its dynamic nature, and leaves it in isolation, unrelated to other politico-cultural fields. The shortcomings of such a view come through in the following observation and recommendation regarding the status of Hebrew and English in the classroom:

	Finally and paradoxically, the fear of interfering with 
	Hebrew seems to have led to a desire to keep the languages
	apart. English teaching is still under the influence of a 
	now outdated assumption that the goal is to produce near 
	native speakers, rather than to produce plurilinguals cap-
	able of carrying out needed functions in their second 
	language. An approach that recognized this, that allowed 
	for using the languages side by side as appropriate, that 
	brought Hebrew and English and other languages into a 
	dynamic multilingual classroom, would be a major step 
	towards a stronger language policy
                      (Spolsky and Shohamy 1999:184-185)

It is not only "paradoxical" and not only out of a psychologically framed "fear" that the message of this passage might be rejected by Israel's policy makers. An analysis of texts that phrase the ideological premises of language education in Israel will take the paradox out of the motivation to prevent the formation of a "dynamic multilingual classroom" in the educational system, if it links the "desire to keep the languages apart" with revivalism that has political affinities.

The definition of ideology as consensual and pervasive obscures the ways ideology is diffused and contested. "Subject positions" are more refined concepts in this context; they are the (psychologically metaphorial) sites in which the details of ideology are discursively formed. Subject positions might be in line with or subversive to hegemonic or counter-hegemonic ideologies. Ideological persuasion, therefore, is not a black box; it is a process in which an agent manages to reach, become relevant, and eventually alter subject positions in other subjects.

Different subject positions of the speaker of Hebrew have been discussed in this book: that of the proud speaker at the beginning of the genesis of Hebrew and that of the insecure speaker once the language was standardized. Both were instrumental in the ideology of the revival of Hebrew. The former enabled people to make the crucial step of changing their language, the other provided the rationale for the continued guidance of the speakers by ideological authorities and interests. This subject position has been harmonious with political subject positions of a person ready to accept the authority of national priority with little questioning.

The subject position of the insecure speaker is less dominant today. More and more authors openly ignore prescriptive rules, and the language of actual discourse, both official and intimate, gets broader representation, without the inhibitions of earlier generations. The polarization between the language authorities and the speakers is radicalized. The insecure speaker of olden days, still surviving and being reproduced, is now challenged by an emergent uninhibited speaker of a more liberated idiom.

The language planning authorities, primarily the Ministry of Education and the Academy of the Hebrew Language, are lagging behind. Despite some pronounced "openness", which leads to some leniency in ruling, the policies have not changed radically, and the system is still feeding insecurity and guilt into the speakers of the language. A language education plan which would take the new uninhibited speaker as the native role model for writing school grammars and for teaching good language practices would look very different from what we have now.

The seam between national and linguistic issues runs along the line of revivalism. A strong version of language revivalism today is usually harmonious with nationalist political positions. It is easy for linguists to slip into the convenient revivalist terms, when there are no academic checking mechanisms. But in the same way that awareness to sexist implications of language use has become central in academic writing in the world, peer awareness to nationalist implications of discursive practices in Israeli scholarship may present a set of trade-offs that will be more taxing than the benefits of warm ideological consensus.

There is no single political stance that might uniquely harmonize with a non-revivalist scholarly program, just as not every revivalist position is simply harmonious with extreme nationalism. By now I have made my own political preferences quite clear, but my critique of language revivalism does not imply that my political preferences are the only option. The formation of a non-revivalist research program is, therefore, and should be an act of building an alliance, and I believe it has been wanting for too long.

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