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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Journals and Special Issues

Jewish Studies Israeli Film
Raya Morag, Rachel S. Harris
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0126


The canon of Israeli/Jewish/Hebrew cinema studies proposes a unitary conception in regard to the major periods, genres, and trends that have characterized this corpus since its inception (1910 for nonfiction and 1932 for fiction films). The ongoing endeavor of both Israeli fiction and nonfiction cinemas is to constitute national identity cinematically and document Israel as a community of memory and as a national/regional cinema of conflict. The Israeli corpus is defined in research according to how it addresses issues of identity (trans)formation and negotiation of the I- (ethnic) other in a condition of incessant conflictual (and traumatic) relations: Zionist Realism films (1930s–1960s) were dedicated to the establishment of three myths—Aliya (immigration to Israel), Mizoug Galuyot (integration), and the Sabra (New Jew)—all of which oppose the Jewish Diaspora and embrace Zionism. The heroic-nationalist genre (1930s–1950s) represents the Sabra as an ideal warrior figure. During the mid-1960s, two new types of films emerged—modernist and popular. The former (also known as personal cinema, the Israeli New Wave, or the New Sensibility) was low budget and focused on urban Tel Aviv. Using experimental techniques, it staged an aesthetic opposition to the scarifying ideal elevated by the heroic-nationalist ethos. Criticism of Zionism and the Sabra and a desire to disconnect filmmaking from hegemonic politics stand at its core. At the same time, popular cinema formulated as ethnic comedy (the Bourekas genre) depicted the inter-ethnic conflict between Ashkenazi Jews (of European origin) and Mizrahi/Sephardi Jews (of Middle Eastern or North African origin) ambiguously solved through mixed marriage, ostensibly reaffirming the integration myth. Dealing, albeit through escapism, with the repression of the Mizrahi/Sephardi Jew, the Bourekas films subverted the Zionist-national heroic films. The golden years of the genre ended with the 1977 rise to power of the right-wing Likud, a Mizrahi/Sephardi-oriented party. Cinema made during the 1970s, after the Yom Kippur War (1973), including the beginnings of women’s cinema, further subverted previous masculine and feminine hegemonic concepts. Critical cinema of the 1980s paved the way to representation of the Palestinian as a positive protagonist (the Palestinian Wave), simultaneous with the total breaking of all previous Israeli masculine myths. Thus, it is not by chance that the major scholarly works on Israeli cinema began to appear during these years. The First Intifada (Palestinian uprising) (1987), and especially the Second Intifada (2002), marked both a continuing debate over the issues of victimhood and perpetration and the enthusiastic international and local reception of the New Israeli cinema.

General Overviews

The first major studies of Israeli cinema were published in the late 1980s (after the First Lebanon War, which marked a major crisis in national ideals) and during the 1990s. Both Gross and Gross 1991 and Kronish 1996 offer un-theorized historical surveys and are accessible to readers at all levels. The other studies referenced are more suitable for advanced undergraduates and offer the same paradigmatic overview of the corpus, despite their differing ideological stances. The postcolonial critique of Israeli cinema as complicit with the Zionist enterprise by Shohat 1990 and Shohat 2010 raised heated debate that still continues into the early 21st century, but was also material in setting the boundaries of future scholarship. Bursztyn 1990, Gertz 1993, and Ben-Shaul 1997 discuss different aspects of this debate: the face, literature adaptations, and the siege, respectively.

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

    A cognitive and psychological-based comprehensive analysis of Israeli films and society, this study looks particularly at expressions of siege mentality in Israeli films from 1948 to 1997. It focuses on how the cinema addresses the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, inter-ethnic tensions, Zionist-socialism, Zionist-statism, post–Six Day War euphoria, dramatic turnover of political power to the Right in the 1977 election, and the Israeli Left.

  • Bursztyn, Igal. פנים כשדה קרב. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1990.

    A pioneering study reflecting on the image of the human face throughout the history of Israeli cinema as a mirror image of changes in Israeli society and culture. In Hebrew. Translated as “Face as battlefield.”

  • Gertz, Nurith. סיפור מהסרטים. Tel Aviv: Open University of Israel, 1993.

    Proposes three models through which Gertz delineates the history of Israeli cinema and its cultural context: national cinema, personal cinema, and the cinema of the Other during the 1980s. Presents five case studies of paradigmatic adaptations from literature to film that embody these models. In Hebrew. Translated as “Motion fiction: Israeli fiction in film.”

  • Gross, Yaakov, and Nathan Gross. הסרט העברי, פרקים בתולדות הראינוע והקולנוע בישראל. Jerusalem: Gross & Gross, 1991.

    A pioneering survey of periods and topics of pre-State and Israeli cinema, based partially on the recollections of filmmaker Nathan Gross. Rich historical documents are intertwined with personal comments, particularly in regard to the early decades of Hebrew/Israeli propagandist films, termed “Zionist realism” for the first time. In Hebrew. Translated as “The Hebrew Film: The History of Cinema in Israel.”

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

    Survey of filmmaking in Israel that covers films and filmmakers from the early pioneering newsreels and documentaries through the establishment of the State of Israel. Includes topics such as the heroic period, the post–Six Day War period, women, and the New Wave. It includes a filmography up to the 1990s.

  • 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.

    Provides a brief overview of Israeli cinema up to the 1980s. In line with her paradigmatic early work on Israeli cinema, Shohat contends that reading this corpus allegorically is an inevitable act. She reflects on its importance to the understanding of the subversive stance in this corpus toward the Zionist master narrative.

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

    This revised edition of Shohat’s work (published only in Hebrew in 1991), includes a new postscript that reflects on the book’s polemical reception and points to new trends in the cinematic representation of Israel and Palestine. Shohat offers a postcolonial deconstructionist reading of cinematic Zionism, space, and prominent figures.

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