In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Israeli Cinema

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Journals

Cinema and Media Studies Israeli Cinema
Raz Yosef, Boaz Hagin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0106


Scholarship on Zionist and Israeli cinema is in agreement as to the major periods and movements in this corpus. During the prestate period, and especially after the 1920s, the Zionist movement used cinema to propagate Zionist ideology and to gather financial and political support. Following the 1948 independence of the State of Israel, and during the 1950s and 1960s, Israeli films continued to comply with the Zionist master-narrative. A heroic-nationalist genre related to the emergence of a generation of native-born Israelis—Sabras—now made the new Israeli warriors, and not the pioneering group, its protagonists. In the 1960s and 1970s, two genres that broke away from representing heroic nationalist mythology can be discerned. One is the popular Bourekas genre—mainly comedies but also melodramas and musicals—that focuses on the interethnic tension between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews in Israeli society, which is resolved through the (ideologically suspect according to many scholars) union of a mixed ethnic couple. A different, small group of films from the mid-1960s and 1970s has been labeled by critics and scholars as personal cinema, Israeli modernist cinema, the Israeli New Wave, or the New Sensibility. These are often extremely low-budget, black-and-white, and ostensibly apolitical films that are characterized by experimental cinematic techniques; fragmentary, minimal, and open-ended narratives; alienated protagonists; and existential themes. While the Bourekas films were extremely successful at the box office but loathed by many critics, the personal cinema was warmly received by critics but suffered from dismal ticket sales. From the late 1970s, with the rise of the right-wing Likud Party, through the early 1990s, Israeli cinema was dominated by explicitly political films that tried to challenge the Zionist ideology of the past and gave increased visibility to outsiders and outcasts. This is also the period in which substantial academic scholarship on Israeli cinema began to appear, with works by Judd Ne’eman, Ella Shohat, and scholars such as Nurith Gertz, Nitzan Ben-Shaul, Yosefa Loshitzky, Yael Munk, Raz Yosef, Régine-Mihal Friedman, Orly Lubin, and Anat Zanger. Since the 1990s, and especially in the new millennium, Israeli films have enjoyed critical and popular success both locally and internationally. Scholarship has noted this cinema’s complex explorations of trauma and personal and collective memories and identities.

General Overviews

The first major studies of Israeli cinema were published in the late 1980s and during the 1990s and were written more or less simultaneously. They deal with the topic from significantly different perspectives and theoretical approaches, however. Gross and Gross 1991 and Kronish 1996 offer historical surveys without clearly committing to a theoretical discipline, and they are accessible to readers at all levels. The other works are more suitable for advanced undergraduates and have remained the starting point for subsequent scholarship on Israeli cinema. Ella Shohat’s groundbreaking work (Shohat 1990, Shohat 2010) offers an ideological critique of Israeli cinema as part of Zionism and has served as an object of critique and as a model for rigorous academic scholarship of Israeli cinema, and particularly political readings within cultural studies, ever since. Bursztyn 1990 looks at images of the human face in the history of Israeli cinema; Gertz 1993 places the films within the wider context of Israeli and world culture and cinema; and Ben-Shaul 1997 studies Israeli cinema in relation to Israeli society, utilizing the notion of siege.

  • Ben-Shaul, Nitzan. Mythical Expressions of Siege in Israeli Films. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1997.

    An analysis of Israeli films that address war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Jewish interethnic tension, focusing on the mythical belief held by Jewish Israelis of being besieged.

  • Bursztyn, Igal. Face as Battlefield. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1990.

    A pioneering work that is a personal study of the image of the human face throughout the history of Israeli cinema as a reflection of changes in Israeli society. In Hebrew (Panim ki-śedeh ḳerav: Ha-hisṭoryah ha-ḳolnoʻit shel ha-panim ha-Yiśreʼeliyim).

  • Gertz, Nurith. Motion Fiction: Israeli Fiction in Film. Tel Aviv: Open University of Israel, 1993.

    Employing Itamar Even-Zohar’s polysystem theory, Gertz offers a history of Israeli cinema as part of Israeli culture and society and in relation to global culture. Focuses on three models: national cinema, personal cinema, and the cinema of the 1980s. Includes five detailed case studies of adaptations from literature to film. In Hebrew (Sipur meha-seraṭim: Siporet Yiśreʼelit ṿe-ʻibudeha la-ḳolnoʻa).

  • Gross, Yaakov, and Nathan Gross. The Hebrew Film: The History of Cinema in Israel. Jerusalem: n.p., 1991.

    An oft-cited, though privately published, survey by periods and topics of prestate and Israeli cinema, partly based on the recollections of the filmmaker Nathan Gross. At times polemical and opinionated, the book reproduces a rich array of historical documents and anecdotes, particularly from the early decades of Hebrew and Israeli cinema, and it is credited with coining the term “Zionist realism” for these early propaganda films. In Hebrew (Ha-sereṭ ha-ʻivri: Peraḳim be-toldot ha-reʼinoʻa ṿeha-ḳolnoʻa be-Yiśraʼel).

  • Kronish, Amy. World Cinema: Israel. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996.

    Survey of Israeli films, filmmakers, and filmmaking in their historical context up to the 1990s. Chapters are concise and straightforward and devoted to periods and major themes (such as kibbutz, the Holocaust, war, Arab–Jewish tensions, women, immigration and emigration, and religion). Includes a filmography of Israeli feature films.

  • Shohat, Ella. “Master Narrative/Counter Readings: The Politics of Israeli Cinema.” In Resisting Images: Essays on Cinema and History. Edited by Robert Sklar and Charles Musser, 251–278. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

    In this succinct essay, Shohat presents Israeli cinema as always political and allegorical. She offers a brief overview of Israeli cinema up to the 1980s and shows, through a reading of its allegorical meanings, structuring absence, and focalization, how it refuses to radically supersede the paradigms supplied by the Zionist master-narrative.

  • Shohat, Ella. Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation. New ed. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2010.

    New edition of the seminal 1989 work, published in Hebrew translation in 1991. Shohat offers a history of Israeli cinema from the late 19th century and theoretically sophisticated postcolonial readings of Israeli films as reproducing Zionism’s Orientalist ideology. Some of the readings and classifications have since been challenged. The 2010 edition’s lengthy postscript addresses changes in Israeli cinema since the first edition.

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