Does Israel Have a Jewish Problem? On the Struggles to Be Jewish in the Modern Nation State


Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism & International Affairs


Global Studies


For residence at Northwestern University


This project furthers contemporary conversations about secularism and citizenship by investigating the promise of liberation through self-determination. Focusing on Israeli Jews, it examines the processes through which sovereign ethnonational majorities are produced. Using stories from many different communities, this research reveals how different ways of being Jewish challenge the policies and practices of the Jewish state, and how, conversely, the existence of the Jewish state constrains the range of possible ways of being Jewish. The case of Israel demonstrates that the classic “Jewish Question” in Europe has been transformed but not answered by political sovereignty. When being Jewish is not a minority position, self-determination and cultural elimination turn out to be closely linked.

Conflicts in Israel/Palestine are among the most publicized and polarizing in the world. This project demonstrates how scholarship in the humanities helps provide insight into such contentious struggles and allows us to develop alternative conceptualizations of their histories, their lived experiences, and their futures. An important goal of this fellowship is to bring this work to wider audiences, engaging with journalists, and publishing in venues accessible to the broader public.