Ideology, the Nation and the Unsaid: Sensing the Mission in Israeli Middle East Studies
Copyright © 2018
Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines
Vol 10 (2): 53 – 68
The University of Manchester
This article examines the discursive assumptions arising from a prevalent narrative in
Israeli Middle East studies, as carrying a public mission. Drawing on Foucauldian,
psychosocial and cultural critical discourse analysis, it deconstructs an interview with a key
individual in the field to dislodge the political unconscious layers in the pivotal powerknowledge
agency, and draw conclusions about the politics of knowledge production,
practices of academic elites, and the particularities of language with the specific culturalhistorical
conditions in which it operates. Arguably, the narration of a ‘public mission’ is a
discourse fostered by political suppositions, such as inclusion and exclusion, secularisedreligious
morphologies, and naturalisation of interested hegemonic and academic discourse,
as well as manifests a particular Zionist devotion of the individual to the nation and state.
Key words: academic culture, Middle East Studies, Israeli orientalism, Israeli militarism,
This work identifies forms and modes of formulation in a longstanding selfnarrative,
prevalent among key Israeli scholars in Middle Eastern studies
(MES), as an expertise that bears a public ‘mission.’1 The following analysis
traces the ideological charges of this additional funct'ion of the scholarship, by
interrogating a mode of subjectivity that arises from the said discourse. It
deconstructs extracts from an interview with a professor who heads several
leading local MES bodies and who frequently comments on Hebrew newsmedia
about various current affairs as an expert on the Middle East. Like
nearly all the professors in this field, the speaker is a member of the Jewish
majority (and hegemony) in Israel (and like most researchers in this field, a
man). It must be noted that, unlike in British academia, Middle East studies is
probably the most popular subject in the Humanities in Israel, and this
interested popularity has political and cultural charges, which are at the heart
of this study (Clyne 2018). Moreover, the Israeli academic discipline overlaps
and collaborates with other forms of a uniquely powerful Jewish-Israeli
expertise called ‘mizraḥanut,’ which literally means orientalism, and is a
broader specialisation on Arabs and Islam prevalent and influential in sites of
national security, political NGOs and the Hebrew news-media, as well as in
academia, where it was once called orientalism or orient studies. However,
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unlike orient studies, mizraḥanut topicalises Islamic, Middle Eastern and
Arab matters (hereinafter: ‘Arab/Muslim,’ to reflect this elision), and usually
not other parts of the ‘orient’ (such as south east Asia, south and west Africa,
or the Far East).2
I argue that the informal said ‘mission’ of this expertise manifests, yet
simultaneously camouflages, multi-layered national, ‘sucritised’ (Buzan,
Wæver, and Wilde 1998; Sheffer and Barak 2010, 2013; Abulof 2014) and
interested practices, which interlock with a particular devotion to the Jewish-
Israeli hegemonic ingroup, nation and state.
1.1 Materials and Conceptual Framework
The interview analysed here is part of a larger holistic study of the field (Clyne
forthcoming), which included 45 original ‘ethnographic interviews’
(Fetterman 2009: 40-42; Bernard 2006: 211) that I conducted in 2013-14 with
key figures in the field of Israeli MES, alongside fieldnote ethnographic
observations, conversations, and analyses of Hebrew documents and
publications. The semi-structured interviews were usually conducted in
Hebrew and took place in the interviewees’ university offices for a duration of
1-3 hours each.
The following text-led analysis, which is also informed by, and draws on, the
broader corpus of the study, interrogates the ‘political unconscious’ (Jameson
2007) that informs this account, i.e. the desubjdectified conditions that foster
a text and its formulation, such as contextual epochal ideologies, and with
which it needs to be read. Exploring what is told to us through and beyond the
text, this analysis draws on, and demonstrates, eclectic qualitative critical
discourse analysis strategies, primarily Foucauldian, psychosocial and cultural
critical discourse analyses (Burman and Parker 2016 ; Billig 1999;
Wetherell 1998, 2003; Maier and Jäger 2016; Gavriely-Nuri 2010, 2012a).
‘Discourse’ in this work refers to a set of epistemic knowledge-power
structures that interpellates subjects, i.e. constitutes subjectivities (Foucault
1980 ; Althusser 1972; Burke 1998). In the approach taken here, both
meaning and speech are not (entirely) in the control of the (speaking) subject,
and the key interest is in finding what society is saying through the individual
and language. Furthermore, speech inevitably lets slip the way in which the
speaker-subject is ‘troubled’ by social conventions and positions (Wetherell
2003), and so, like in psychoanalysis, these slippages do not necessarily
manifest in quantity or repetition, as assumed in corpus-based studies, and
therefore explicating them demands more interpretative work, as the
understanding and sense-making of a text necessarily draw on existing
linguistic, discursive, cultural (and, I would add, situational) building blocks
(Barthes 1967; Spivak 2012: 242). Therefore, in such analyses, speakers’
intentions matter less (and remain inaccessible anyway!), and there is an
emphasis on meaning as produced in the interpretive process of reading (e.g.
Fish 1982; Eco 1984, 1991; Eco et al. 1992; Jameson 2007).
Reading, too, while not ‘objective,’ is also not ‘subjective’ (i.e. subject-led) or
arbitrary, but must avoid the risk of absurd and ahistorical possibilities
(Jameson 2007: 2, 7; Eco 1984, 1991; 1992; Ricoeur 2006). The reader’s (and
analyst’s) own desubjectified language, interactions and dispositions are
C l y n e P a g e | 55
equally and inevitably as instrumental for the production and analysis of the
text. In this way, my positional subjectivity and work – as an ethnographer
(Clifford 1988), interviewer (Holstein and Gubrium 1995),
reader/hearer/analyst (Fish 1982), translator (Spivak 2012: 242; Charlston
2014: 12) and author – are (in)formed by being native to the collective of
Jewish Israeli Hebrew speakers, and by the habitus of having studied and
taught in the humanities and social sciences in Israel. These simultaneously
endow my reading with the appropriate intelligibility of producing a
reasonable reading in the uttered context.
It is also significant to aver that the following fragments are inevitably
mediated and processed reductions of the original, situated and preformed
text. They were selected translated, and transcribed from audio-recordings, as
well as reorganised for an analytical purpose. Additionally, the fragments were
not chosen for their ability to ‘represent’ or epitomise the diverse field,
because no quote can (although I should clarify that they were also not
exceptional), but as significant for highlighting indicative structural and
ideological aspects. Four specific reasons guided the choice of interview for
analysis: that the interviewee held key positions in the field, which testifies to
his successful operation within the field’s discourse and praxis; that its
narratives touch issues that are relevant to the field as a whole; that its
analysis would introduce an original outlook which was not previously
discussed; and that identifying and evaluating the arguments being made
requires explication, contextualisation and analysis.
2. Identity Work and Self-Importance
2.1 Opening the interview
It is essential at this point to provide some situational context to the analysed
text. The interview commenced with an open probe and receptive style
(Bernard 2006: 216-23; Fetterman 2009: 46-47; Brinkmann 2013: 8, 31) inviting the
interviewee to narrate his way into the profession. The interviewee replied
that he had studied a mizraḥanut course [already] in secondary school, and
subsequently served a number of years in several roles in the [Israeli
military’s] Intelligence Corp, which he said, ‘had strengthened my familiarity
with the region,’ concluding: ‘I did a course of what people will call, a natural
course.’ Then, he added that curiosity led him to study Middle East [studies]
in university, reiterating: ‘I think that it was truly a natural3 course.’ Once in
university, the interviewee said he ‘fell in [MES]’s charms,’ adding that this4 -
...has something very individual [...] But, on the other hand, I was looking, in
students who are going to specialise in this, for this bug,5 in inverted commas.
To see if they have, after all, [tone of first of two options:] a mechanical
approach to the subject, [i.e. whether] ‘I am doing this because I will find work
here or there...,’ [expected second option here; yet, quickly and in clarifying
tone:] This is [also] absolutely fine! That ministry, [or] in the media... We have,
many of our graduates, actually, are net[work]ed6 in the Israeli society. I think
that this is something, which is an unsurpassable blessing. Because I think
that, in Israel, ultimately, the issue of knowing7 the Middle East, not through
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the pages of newspapers, but in a much deeper and real way, is actually the
order of the day.8 It is something that Israel of the twenty-first century will have
to grow[-up]9 with. It’s something that the next leaders of this state will have to
come with a background in their résumé, of Middle East [studies]. This is
something that we, in that sense, in my opinion, are public emissaries. And I
am definitely saying this with pride.
I am pausing here for convenience of presentation and analysis, and will
return to the text shortly.
In approaching this text, there is, first, an opportunity to appreciate its nature
as an extemporaneous and associative narrative. The speaker takes us through
a convoluted and ambivalent path, until he stabilises on a clear direction. The
intricate route commences with describing a [militarised] professional
development track as something common and normal, but then contradicts it
as reflecting a ‘very individual’ passion, and then supposedly contradicting it
again with ‘But, on the other hand,’ yet continuing to speak in favour of the
individual ‘bug’ in others, thus inferring that the ‘mechanical’ (or
‘instrumental’?) approach is less preferred, then immediately contradicting
the hierarchy he has just devised by stating that other motivations are also
fine even if perhaps not as good. In the final direction, the speaker seems
sufficiently comfortable, or eloquent, or has something more detailed,
organised or urgent to say, and he increasingly comes to express that the
instrumental approach is in fact very valuable, as if the more he speaks about
it, the more he takes pride in his role of training the next generation of
professionals. As we shall see, pride has a key role in this narrative.
2.2 Order of the Day
The speaker’s mission, which is being delivered to us with a sense of
importance and urgency (‘the order of the day’), is one of pulling powerknowledge
strings behind the scenes of the state’s decision-making circles,
training the future leaders of the state, where their graduates are already well
‘net[work]ed.’ In other words, we are being explicitly narrated an Althusserian
ideological fun'ction (Althusser 1984), an influential social institution that
operates not by oppression and indoctrination, but by habituating the
discursive logic, worldviews and beliefs, by making subjects ‘voluntarily’ take
certain things for granted. One conspicuous ideological apparatus that
Althusser has explored was the church, and a metaphor slippage in the text
also reveals a missionary possibility. I translated the phrase shliḥey tsibur
above literally as ‘public emissaries,’ being loyal to the way I thought his words
were intended and understood in context (and I easily found ample examples
of similar literal applications online). However, an ‘accurate’ translation of the
phrase, i.e. its denotation in dictionaries, is cantors, the figures within
synagogues who pray to God on behalf of the community (Chaueka 1997:
1834b), or, figuratively, act on behalf of a public (Even Shushan 1961).
Whether we take the explicit sacred engagement of the denotative meaning at
its social unconscious level, or the secularised and literal ‘messengers of the
public,’ mizraḥans are narrated as being sent by/to the public to undertake a
special role. I return to the theological reading later in the text.
The speaker’s pride continues to frame the next parts of his speech. (Note:
Emboldened words, in subsequent fragments, are added as interpretive
C l y n e P a g e | 57
emphases to indicate manifestations of ‘troubled subjectivity’ and difficulty to
Now, what I am trying to say [is] that this department, or our centres, are,
in the end of the day, also, in my view, working with the broad public. Eh, of
students. And [we] see this [as] a sort of a public mission, and I certainly think
that this thing, in terms of Israel, is very important. And I don’t mean only the
[international] political10 issue, I mean more the social-cultural issue. The ties
that would build inside Israel. The co-existence, as we call it, between Arabs
and Jews. These are things that would need to be built with people who, in my
opinion, will do it only after they will know much better the cultural
configurations of this area which is called [the] Middle East. [E.g.] [tone of
counting:] the mode in which people do memorisation, their past, the[ir]
understanding of questions of identity and memory... A great many
dimensions, which I call [in English:] ‘soft dimensions,’ which we give in our
teaching, without ignoring the hard dimensions of reality, which are also very
important. But, really, to give some kind of comprehensive picture, to tease
the appetite of people with relation to Middle East [studies11] even if they are
not going to be professors in university. Rather, to create a situation, really, of
routinisation - from the word routine - of very many terms and very many
values which are in the Middle Eastern being,12 because Israel is [maybe] a [in
English:] start-up nation, that’s nice, but it is also, to the same extent, a state in
the Middle East.
There is more than meets the eye in this ambiguous speech, but I must first
ward off a spurious possibility which is caused by translation. ‘Israel is
[maybe] a start-up nation’ does not infer that Israel is allegoric to a ‘start-up’
company, or is in its infancy or incubation. This option should be
defenestrated as what Umberto Eco et al. (1992) called an overinterpretation,
or what Frederic Jameson (2007: 2, 6-7) describes as ‘unacceptable’ reading,
where a reading transcends a text from the context in which it was performed.
It would also make no sense in this context... Rather, ‘start-up nation’ is a very
common aggrandising narrative of Israel through its large proportion of
advanced technology companies, (and which is strengthened by a popular
nondistinction between start-up and hi-tech companies, two lexemes that are
normally indicated in English).
Still, the relevance of Israel’s high-tech profile is ambiguous. While possibly
serving an indirect claim about the importance of the humanities [to the
nation] versus the supposed obviosity of applicable sciences’ contribution, this
particular choice still remains significant over other alternatives. Advanced
technology works simultaneously and illicitly to elicit the presupposition that
Israel is ‘advanced,’ ‘successful,’ at the forefront of technology and modernity,
and therefore part of the First World. As such, it is not without significance
that what follows (after giving a [pseudo-]credit of ‘that’s nice’) is a (re-)
validation of it through an orientalist contrast: ‘but it is also, to the same
extent, a state in the Middle East.’ Here, the reminder of Israel’s regional
location assumes an opposition with Israel’s [Western] progress.13 This
disharmony interpellates mizraḥans to become missionaries, because, despite
being ‘in the Middle East,’ Israelis supposedly ‘need’ MES academics to
connect, habituate, ‘routinise’ and harmonise their being ‘there.’ The claim to
ground the ‘detached’ Israelis in the region, or in reality, is particularly
58 | P a g e C A D A A D
noticeable given that Israeli MES is known for overall excluding Israel and
Israeli society from its study of the Middle East, and is engaged in archivebased
history and philology more than in, say, ethnography.
The morphology of this narrative of redemption also poses an implicit
theological option that informs the mission. Seeing ‘the wrong ways’ of their
people, the experts are being sent to the people to correct their ways. In such
sacerdotalist structure (where priests are essential mediators between God
and humankind), the clergy are bestowed with the divinity and knowledge
that the unholy do not possess, and which they gained through endless
worship, practice and piety. This option is reinforced at a later stage of the
interview, where the interviewee refers to [probably postgraduate] students
with the phrase pirḥey kahuna, acolytes or altar-boys (figuratively: cadets).14
Whether this mission is a mission of peace is obscured by the words ‘coexistence,
as we call it, between Arabs and Jews.’ As the ultimate purpose of
an important mission, co-existence is not a term that tells us a great deal
about the relations that are being wished for. The term describes peaceful,
tolerant co-living, but this avoids the question of what is being peacefully
tolerated (e.g. exploitation? Oppression? Victimhood? Terror? etc.). In fact, it
may seem counterintuitive, but in Israel-Palestine there is co-existence of
Jews and Arabs, since, de facto, both Jews and Arabs simultaneously and
jointly exist. There is no need to strive for it, rather to recognise it and explore
its character. The role ‘co-existence’ plays in this text, then, is one of
approximation (‘as we call it’), evasion, equivocation and/or putting ‘under
erasure’ (sous rature) of the power relations at play, and so of ‘peace.’ My
reading draws on the broader Hebrew Israeli cultural-political context where
‘peace’ has ‘gone out of fashion’ after the collapse of the Oslo Accords, around
the turn of the millennium (cf. Gavriely-Nuri 2012b; Friedman and Gavriely-
Nuri 2017). Being passé, unrealistic, and/or naïve, ‘peace’ was replaced by less
explicit and ambitious words like ‘co-existence,’ in the same way that ‘conflict
resolution’ was replaced with the less ambitious, if not opposite, ‘conflict
management.’ Arguably, coexistence synonymises and conceals the way
politics is ‘the continuation of war by other means’ (Foucault 2003).
Additionally, co-existence enforces Arabs’ and Jews’ independent existences,
and infers their mutual exclusivity, , rendering their hybridity irrelevant. Of
course, I do not suggest that the speaker or the agents in the field necessarily
and rationally reject, for example, ‘Arab-Jews’ or ‘Palestinian-Israeli’ as a
theoretical, rhetorical or concrete description. Rather, what we learn from coexistence’s
presence in this speech, over other alternatives, is the discursive
foreclosure of hybridity as an epistemic option.
Another ambiguity about this ‘sort of a public mission’ pertains to the identity
of the public. It surfaces at the beginning of the segment, where ‘the broad
public’ is amended shortly after, by supplementing ‘of students.’ Put simply, is
this mission addressing the broad public, or to the broad public of students? If
it is the general public, then what are the reasons and func'tions of the
subsequent corrective addition? Alternatively, ‘the broad[/er] public of
students’ is an address to all students, perhaps as a response to an assumed
narrower address to outstanding students aiming at an academic career,
where other students, who ‘are not going to be professors in the university.’. In
this reading, academic expertise is said to have something to offer also to
C l y n e P a g e | 59
those who do not (intend to) become professors. However, then, the status of
being a ‘public mission’ is questionable, and the relation to Arab-Jewish coexistence,
or anything that ‘in terms of Israel, is very important,’ becomes
In my reading, the students are (part of) the general public. The broader
public outside academia is represented in the students, whom are the
prospective leaders within the broader national context. And so, there is a
realisation that students are more than ‘just’ students, but are a window onto
the broader public, where most people are not professors. A substantial
subtextual key to this reading lies in the fact that the interviewee did not say
‘also - ,’ but ‘even if they are not going to be professors in university,’ which
distinctly changes the meaning from a marketing narrative that appeals to
more crowds, into joining the criticism of the ‘purity’ of inapplicable research
which is lifeless outside university, and its supposed disregard to life outside
the ‘ivory tower.’ Thus, where university regularly is presumed to ignores the
non-academic masses, academic mizraḥanut is said to have a calling to fulfil
an inclusive social duty. Hence the corrective addition ‘of students’ lays out
another line of mitigation, accepting, yet simultaneously negotiating,
academia’s jurisdiction. Importantly, this reading further disambiguates the
public’s identity, because it goes without saying that that ‘public’ does not
refer to all Israelis, but to the hegemony of Jewish Israelis, because only they,
and not the large minority of Palestinian-Arabs, may lack appreciation of the
surrounding cultural wealth, and only they can effectively lead the country
and its key ministries.15
In fact, uncertainty and political prevarication are also hosted via the ‘Arabs’
being referred to in the mission of fostering co-existence, particularly
following the statement:
I don’t mean only the [international] political issue, I mean more the socialcultural
issue. The ties that would build inside Israel. (Underlines added)
On the one hand, this statement establishes a distinction between ‘inside’ and
‘outside’, and prioritises intra-Israeli ties over ‘the [international] political
issue.’ Such reading must attend to the politics of nominalisation and note the
genealogy of Zionist terminology of the referred group, where ‘Arabs’ and
‘Israeli-Arabs’ deny, overlook, depreciate or ‘unmention’ the group’s
Palestinian identity and history, and ahistorically frames the referenced group
as a sector within Israeli society, forcing a liberal story of civic minority
integration (Rabinowitz 1993, 2002).16 Therefore, saying that promoting coexistence
with Arabs ‘in terms of Israel, is very important’ is a reference to
constructing an Israeli collective, by perpetuating the removal of the group’s
threatening Palestinianhood. However, on the other hand, Arabs could be a
reference to Arabs outside Israel, as suggested in the concerns raised about
Israel’s or Israelis’ unfamiliarity with the ‘Middle Eastern being’ (or character,
or way of life),17 and about its/their disharmony with being ‘a state in the
Middle East.’ But then, why say ‘inside Israel’?
A third possibility is that the mission is to foster co-living with Arabs
regardless of where, both in and out of Israel (giving particular weight to the
order of clauses and underlined words). However, this third option would
make redundant the very distinction and tension that the speaker constitutes
60 | P a g e C A D A A D
between ‘ties inside Israel’ and ‘[international] politics,’ unless it discloses an
assumption that co-existence in Israel has more legitimacy or is less
controversial, and so mentioning it is a mitigating addition for the legitimacy
of the mission. Remaining inconclusive about intra-Israeli or intra-Middle
Eastern relations, we not only gain a sense of the discomfort and confusions in
discussing these matters with a clear and forward approach, but also learn
about the discursive liquidity of ‘Arabs’ and ‘Arabness.’ Regardless of where,
what or who these Arabs are, the one constant that remains is that this is a
Jewish-Israeli discourse, as Jewish-Israelis are presupposed in the ‘us’, where
what is ‘important for Israel’ becomes important for (his) mizraḥanut.
Forging such identity of ‘importances’ between experts and ‘everybody’ is at
the same time the familiar hegemonic means by which the ruling classes
position their interested ideology as the common good. In this case, it is the
interested authority of the class ruling knowledge, which is maintained by two
means in the above: ‘teasing the appetite’ and ‘routinisation.’ The former
positions the speaker at a higher authority, and as in the case of a tasting
stand in a supermarket, it is not a public service but an interested marketing
tactic of audience-building. Then, routinisation explicitly describes the
routine way in which an academic tradition and field accustom subjects to the
rules by which they become a discourse. Saying that the mission is oriented
towards the ‘routinisation [...] of very many terms and very many values which
are in the Middle Eastern being’ – and notwithstanding the vagueness of the
‘terms,’ ‘values’ and ‘being’ – what is being described here is an outspoken
ambition to habituate, to make something a second-nature, automatic,
obvious and therefore less or not discernible. It is only in this unusual
moment that the covert political unconscious is being made more overt.
In the next extracts, the place of the nation also becomes overt and essential.
3. The Politicality of the Non-Political
3.1 Pride and Presumption
As the interview progressed, pride emerged as a fundamental theme. The text
below almost directly followed the last segment:
INTERVIEWEE. [Interrupting a probe about something else:] I... I again...
[Rearticulating:] I want to say again, you know, from what I said now, [it]
can be said, what many say about us... And... [Dismissive tone:] Okay... That we
are serving Israel. We are not serving Israel in that, that we are forging18 now
people who will do the ‘know the enemy’ better. That’s not our role.19 [For] that,
there’s an intelligence corp. I think that for Israel itself - for Is-ra-el itself, for
the sake of the society, for the sake of its future, for the sake of the more correct
understanding of how [to] integrate in an area s-o complex, Middle East
studies is a very very positive grocery [item].20 Without offending [the] start-up
[industry], without offending hi-tech, without... [Interrupted -].
This segment opens with a need to clarify, to declare that academic mizraḥans
are not another form of information gathering about the enemy. A very similar
point was made at the end of the interview:
C l y n e P a g e | 61
Whoever thinks that this is a wing21 of the... I don’t know what, of the Israeli
Mossad or something like that, and there are such people - will continue to
think that. It can’t be helped, you know.
Although both comments give the sense of helplessness, that ‘others will
always think that,’22 the speaker does not truly despair because his very
statement offers resistance. Thus, what is being narrated here is a story of an
underdog waging a lost battle against critics, possibly rooted in the repeated
biblical narrative morphology of the few and just against the many.
Less straightforward is the boundary being patrolled between the mizraḥanut
(the Israeli expertise on Arabs/Islam) of/in the spying and intelligence
agencies and ‘ours,’ i.e. academic mizraḥanut. The high-stakes practice of
constituting and reinforcing demarcations between fields of knowledge has
been recognised by sociologists of knowledge as boundary work (Gieryn
1983). But, the above does not assert that academic mizraḥans are not
creating images of the enemy, but that they (1) are not ‘serving Israel’ as an
intelligence agency; and (2) [because] for these things ‘there’s an intelligence
corps’. So, (1) the speaker leaves room for mizraḥanut to still be serving
Israel; and (2) the first difference that came to mind between the roles of
academic mizraḥanut and the mizraḥanut in intelligence agencies was that
‘know the enemy’ is covered by the latter, thus, arguably, relieving them of
that duty. The statement ‘That’s not our role; [for] that, there’s an intelligence
corp,’ is worthy of a simple test of change of variables, using other groups of
Otherness, for example: We are not providing a ‘know the danger of women’
service, for this there are others; or, We are not improving the ‘know the black
threat,’ there are designated state units for that.’ Notwithstanding the
differences in the first parts of these sentences, the second parts tell an
important story, and academic mizraḥanut is narrated by them as a fun'ction
made possible through the privilege of having other ‘walks of mizraḥanist life’
in the establishment. Acknowledging the separation and allocation of
responsibilities, academic mizraḥanut co-habits with the intelligence. The
former is complementary to the latter, not by providing operational
information on troops or war scenarios, nor by vying or countering them; but
by providing a more holistic background. In addition, academic mizraḥanut is
somewhat dependent on, and has an avowed rich history of, transitions and
co-operations with, security bodies, for organisational, cultural and financial
reasons. The security (and diplomatic) apparatus(es) were also sometimes a
two-way door for faculty, an important trainer and maintainer of Arabic and
Persian languages among prospective (Jewish Israeli) students, and the two
realms share interests and networks (Eyal 2006; Matza 2013; Mendel 2016;
Clyne 2018; Clyne forthcoming).
The separation being constituted is clear, yet intangible, because it overlooks
what was said earlier about a ‘natural’ or ‘normal course’ of Israeli MES
scholars who come from the intelligence. A satirical paraphrasing equivalent
would be: ‘we are not the Intelligence, we only come from there, return for
reserve service, and have friends and colleagues there.’ It is analogous to
soldiers speaking calmly, perhaps about their pragmatic beliefs, as though
their words can be dissociated from the guns they carry, or from the
organisation of violence and oppression of which they are part. The presence
62 | P a g e C A D A A D
of those means of violence, or even their absent-presence, i.e. knowing that
these are available for them elsewhere, or through agents and agencies,
becomes useful when their words are not accepted, or in ‘encouraging’ preemptive
Furthermore, elsewhere in the interview, the interviewee referred to the
respect and platform national security authorities enjoy in the research centre
he leads, saying that he (and his centre) see/s it an honour to host them:
So, listen, we, as I told you, are asked [by non-academic bodies] to voice our
opinion. We are not a body that gives professional services and consultancy to
the Israeli Government. But, if the Minister of Security was hosted in the
[/slap/23] [unit name omitted] a month ago, it is our honour24 [/slap/]! And if
the Minister of Security gives some kind of lecture that, eh, has a large public
interest, it is our honour.
The relationship being described now is more than ‘simply’ cohabiting, or of
mutual respect, or of the responsibilities of respecting esteemed guests. Nor is
it as reactive to external circumstances as the passive utterance ‘we are asked
to...’ conveys. The use of passive voice is a device which does not require
specification of the agent, employed again in ‘the Minister of Security was
hosted in the Centre.’ Grammatically, ‘the Minister’ is the subject, the acting
party, and his action is to be hosted (we now imagine the minister doing that),
whereas the ‘we’ becomes an indirect object (i.e. ‘by us’), the element that is
being acted upon, which then may, and indeed was, removed. So, although in
the referenced world, the academics of the said centre were the ones who
actively hosted, perhaps even invited, the minister (who then actively gave a
lecture), the use of passive allows for the removal and concealment of such
action, or at least downplays it.
After this ideological boundary work with the security apparatus, which has
now developed into what may be called ‘border-crossing work,’ appears a
second comparison of the vocation. This time it is juxtaposed against the
national contribution of the hi-tech industry, which returns for an encore. The
text reads: ‘for the sake of Israel [...] MES is a very very positive grocery[-
item]. Without offending start-up[s], without offending hi-tech, without...’.
The gist here is that MES is most vital for Israel, like groceries (the Hebrew
root of which is ‘need’), as opposed to the luxury of hi tech.25 So much so that
mizraḥanut might (allegedly) shame the acclaimed technology industry, and
thus the speaker feels compelled to state that this is not his intention. Yet, in
an indirect way, the statement does exactly the opposite. It unexpectedly
associates mizraḥanut with the national recognition that hi-tech receives. The
mentioning of ‘hi-tech’ serves as a wish to challenge the uniqueness of this
industry’s national reputation. Consequently, hi-tech emerges not as inferior -
as wishing to avoid offence would imply - but as an object of envy. This
comment makes claims for similar national recognition, where mizraḥanut
would be upheld as highly contributing to the nation’s pride, prosperity and
perhaps modernity. The national remains unsaid and partially anaphoric, as
well as is conveyed in the speaker’s pride to ‘report’ and host in attention
whenever national security funct'ions ‘call’ him.
C l y n e P a g e | 63
The unrecognised contribution of mizraḥanut is described as understanding
what the speaker calls ‘an area s-o complex.’ Stressing ‘complexity’ is itself
complex, for all areas and societies are complicated, unless this is a claim for
exceptionalism or essentialism. Either way, aggrandising the region is
simultaneously self-praise of those who can (or have the power to) cope with
such recondite matter.
3.2 Humble Servants
The public aspect of the profession resurfaced at the end of that interview, and
so did the plea for recognition.
[...] If I want to do, in my close surrounding,26 with my humble power,27 to
contribute something to the society in which I live, I believe that this is what I
need to do. And... I really hope that it would be accepted with empathy.28 Look,
it is clear to me that there are people who won’t accept that. I, however, as I
always do,29 believe that many people will accept it. Always..., You
understand? We don’t need to be caught to this extreme30 or the other. [His
unit omitted] is situated in the mainstream.31 We are trying more or less here to
think what is mainstream here, but the meaning is more to social mission,
and, of course, an academic research mission, which is what we are [/slap/].
[END: The interviewee hastily gets up to leave the room for another
The final fragment in this analysis opens by positing modesty, and limiting the
mission three times: to one’s ‘close surrounding;’ to one’s ‘humble power;’ and
by the circumscribed influence conveyed in ‘to contribute something,’ which is
furthered with the emotive and moral mitigation ‘to the society in which I
live,’ and a proclaimed lack of confidence as to whether people would accept it.
The uncertainty and humility, as well as a depiction of small-scale effects,
stand in tension with the pride, leadership, urgency and import, as well as
with the wide and ambitious influence of national scale, which were narrated
earlier, in statements like: ‘[graduates in leading social positions] is something
which is an unsurpassable blessing;’ ‘the order of the day;’ ‘something that
Israel of the 21st century will have to grow with;’ ‘the next leaders of this state
will have to come with;’ ‘I am definitely saying this with pride;’ ‘[We] see this
[as] a sort of a public mission, and I certainly think that this thing, in terms of
Israel, is very important.’ The shift from pride to humility is accompanied by a
move from social role to individual influence. This modesty can be read as a
bowing of the individual in face of the national, and a performance of fake
modesty, where the interviewee is in fact conveying that he is proud of his
influence, and uses modesty to shelter from potential criticism, also thereby
laying a pleading second line of legitimacy defence for the public mission.
This pretence is particularly incongruous with the pathos at work in two
tropes: ‘in my close surrounding’ (bʹdalet amotay) and ‘with my humble
power’ (bʹkoḥi ha-dal), that evoke affective images to convey and limit
meaning. The first is a high-register phrase, which literally means ‘in my
[approx.] 4 ft2 [room],’ importantly: using biblical measurements and
language. The phrase denotes ‘in the privacy of my home,’ but the rhetorical
force is figurative (as my translation indicates). The second is also of highregister,
and translates as ‘in my meagre power,’ although it also has a less
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literal sense. Despite the images that these tropes force, the said mission is not
exactly carried out by an individual, in a small or private space, with humility,
or in one’s last powers. Rather it is practiced by speaker who holds senior
roles, and by the powerful bodies that he represents, with pride and
missionary sentiments, in public, as part of a powerful and high status
academic elite. Yet, it seems that the more the speaker fears that his ideology
might not go unquestioned, the more he is laying claim to a place where
authority is clear, which is why the interviewee concluded with the academic
authority claim: ‘an academic research mission, which is what we are
In addition, the humility of a messenger is an empathic image with theological
roots. A common plot of Biblical prophet stories, like of Moses, Jonah and
Jeremiah, is of a messenger so pious and meek that he at first refuses his
prophecy, and is then forced into his appointments by God. However, when
‘humble’ mizraḥanut academics doubt whether people will accept their
mission, they dissociate themselves from the authority they have to make
others listen or accept it. This power is evident in the immediate addition ‘we
don’t need to be caught to this extreme or the other,’ which shows the choice
of audience, as well as implies an association between ‘extremism’ and not
accepting the mission. This affiliation with the mainstream fortifies the
defences and legitimises the mission by distancing (a specific site of) academic
mizraḥanut from ‘radicalism’ of any kind. ‘[Our centre] is situated in the
mainstream’ means that ‘we’ are not doing anything controversial, as per the
‘mainstream.’ What remains presupposed is whose mainstream this discourse
‘brands’ itself as, and addresses. If the mission is non-controversial for that
‘mainstream,’ then mainstream must refer to those who would not challenge
the networks with, and the respect for, the security apparatus and figures, or
whom are allowed in the state leadership, and who benefit from both the
military and the expertise on Arabs/Islam. In other words, these are the
Jewish hegemony in Israel, and more specifically, the Zionists among them.
The ideological outlook in which the speaker is grounded is that of Israeli-
Zionist discourse, made uncontroversial and apolitical, even ‘natural,’ so that
challenging it is rendered ‘extreme.’ As Israeli philosopher Adi Ophir (2014)
has aptly observed, the view that whatever is not Zionist (or Zionist enough) is
extreme, perhaps even dangerous, reveals something about Israeli academia
[In Israel] you are political when you dare not to be a Zionist. Then you are
accused of threatening to shatter the glass of the academic ivory tower. Because
what hides in the ivory tower and is unwilling to be exposed for critical
discussion is not the academic, but the Zionist.
This article analysed various spoken and unspoken strata that foster a key
self-narrative of a mission of a powerful knowledge-power agency, through
one (key) subjectivity mode it allows. Desubjectifying the speaker, speech and
performance, the analysis deconstructed the symbolic density and political
overdetermination of this discourse, as manifested in the oral account. The
analysis makes multimodal arguments about the interests of experts and
C l y n e P a g e | 65
subjectified Zionist ideology, which are narrated with urgency, pride and
First, the narrated mission expresses a cognizance, assumption or hope that
MES students will shape the future of the (Zionist) society and state, and
explicates an ambition for an ambiguous national intervention behind the
scenes through habituation and authority-building. The ‘mission’ is then to
‘know’ and educate about the ‘Arab/Muslim,’ and thus contribute to
‘coexistence;’ yet, while simultaneously being articulated with exclusivist
Zionist assumptions that perform the Zionist ownership of Israeli academia.
Second, the very concept of a ‘mission’ is interested. It holds evident returns in
various forms of capital, and assumes and reinforces the expert’s and the
expertise’s authority and status, which are also fostered by the uniqueness of
local ‘mizraḥanut.’ The narrated ‘mission’ further envelopes a desire for
recognition by making claims for a patriotic (and western?) contribution of
paramount timely import, which is simultaneously a plea for power,
reinforced by various hegemonic and authority-building strategies. And,
whilst using an academic foothold as a clear authority ground, the speech
renders the academic ambiguous by performing boundary work and ‘bordercrossing
work’ with the security apparatus.
Third, the analysis identifies the employment of conceptual metaphors like
cantors and acolytes, that position the experts as the clergy or messengers.
This corresponds with religious idioms and theological morphologies
identified in the narrative, such as ‘good but few versus the many’ and the
‘humble servant’ messenger, where there is a tension between collective
authority and pride and individual humility. However, like coexistence and
the academic foothold, humility, is arguably a device employed to shelter
from, or to preempt criticism.
Fourth, the fusion of proud devotion to a collective with individual humility is
a key feature of nationalist ideology, where individuals ‘voluntary’ bow to the
national, with a sense of duty to serve, respect and make sacrifices to the state
and nation. I suggest that a deep sense of debt to the political entity is
particularly strong in Israeli Zionism, and reproduces Jewish Israeli
hegemonic ownership over it.
1 For more on the nature and history of this ‘mission,’ see: Clyne forthcoming. Cf. the mission
pronounced in Israel Studies in Aked 2018.
2 Unlike its English literal parallel ‘orientalism,’ mizraḥanut saw a semantic differentiation from the
loanword oryenṭalizem, which in the studied field usually denotes an accusation and a curtailed
version of the theory of Edward Said (1978; see Clyne forthcoming).
3 I read ‘natural’ here idiomatically as ‘normal,’ because other interviewees also referred to a similar
life-trajectory as ‘the regular/usual course,’ or, as another interviewee has put it, there were ‘many
familiar faces’ from his past in the Military Intelligence (MI), when he arrived at his MES unit.
4 The nature and complexity of translation and the changes to syntax that it impelled have made the
use and conventions of ‘conversation analysis’ and its symbols of vocal/performative transliteration
somewhat complex, misleading and unhelpful. I opted for some comments in italics in square
5 Literally: virus (slang); similar to ‘craze’ in its positive signification.
6 Originally: merushatim.
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7 Originally: lehakir (from familiarity and consciousness, not knowledge).
8 Literally: order of the hour, or time (idiom).
9 Originally: ligdol ito. Literally: to become bigger with it. To remove doubt, this verb does not
normally infer economic growth.
10 Originally: medini-politi.
11 The non-definitive ‘Middle East’ (mizraḥ-tikhon) is often an objectification used to denote MES
(limudey mizraḥ-tikhon) rather than the area (ha-mizraḥ ha-tikhon), disclosing the fostering of
desire for MES, rather than for the Middle East itself.
12 Being (originally: havaya). Despite its denotation, the word connotes ‘nature’ or ‘character,’ as it is
intuitively fused or confused with, and is phonetically close to, ‘experience’ or ‘way of life,’
(ḥavaya and havay respectively).
13 Depicting a society through an emblem of its economic industry makes it also a form of academic
cultural capitalism. I elaborate on the dimensions of neoliberal academic discourse in Israeli MEIS
in Clyne 2018, Clyne forthcoming.
14 Literally: priesthood flowers. In Judaism, the Temple priests whom are still under bar-mitzvah age,
and serve as aides.
15 Assumptions of Jewish Israeli ownership of mizraḥanut (as students, society, etc.), and of Israeli
university generally, were evident in other interviews as well.
16 This is the discursive extension of the political annihilation Kimmerling (2006) terms ‘politicide.’
However, the common alternatives ‘Palestinian citizens of Israel’ or ‘Palestinians in Israel’
antithetically reduce the Israeli praxis elements of the hybrid group(s) to merely presence, legalism
and formal citizenship, conceding at the same time the impossibility of being simultaneously both
(cf. Ghanim 2009).
17 See n. 12.
18 Originally: yotsrim. Reads: creating, but not normally in the godly sense (borʾim), rather more as
production, or of artwork.
19 Also: fun'ction (noun).
20 Originally: mitsrakh. Product, but not from the root of ‘production,’ but of ‘consumption,’ ‘need,’
and ‘grocery [shop].’
21 Originally: Zroʿa. Literally: arm. The term is normally denotes state authorities or wings of militant
groups, (i.e. not wings of hospitals). This choice is not insignificant.
22 The statement ‘what others say about us’ deserves its own analysis.
23 I marked with ‘/slap/’ the two points where the speaker was gently hitting the tabletop with an open
palm, mostly with his fingers, making a clap-like sound that gave accent to certain speaking points
24 Originally: lekhavod lanu.
25 As in n. Error! Bookmark not defined., this economic trope is part of a larger neoliberal discourse
in academia and in market society.
26 Originally: b’dalet amotay (high register).
27 Originally: b’kokhi ha-dal (high register).
28 Originally: b’havana. Literally: understanding.
29 Originally: k’darki bakodesh. (High register). Literally: As is my way in [issues of] the holy.
Meaning: As I have always piously done.
30 Also: end.
31 Originally: meynstrim.
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