In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Minority Literatures in Israel

  • Introduction
  • General Overview

Jewish Studies Minority Literatures in Israel
Adia Mendelson-Maoz
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0181


The term “minority” usually refers to individuals or groups that are disadvantaged in comparison to those who belong to the dominant group. This type of exclusion is commonly based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, social and cultural background, and sexual orientation. While in reality boundaries between cultural groups are unclear, defining and relating to minorities always hinges on a definition of the majority or hegemony, thus creating an often misleading concept of binarism. The heterogeneous social and cultural fabric of the Israeli context, and its evolution over the years, problematizes any clear dichotomy between hegemonial and marginal groups. Nevertheless, general distinctions can be made based on what is perceived as the common narrative of Israeli culture. From its inception, the Zionist leadership, while integrating people from different places, cultures, and languages, pursued a melting-pot policy by promoting a monocultural community for the “ingathering of the exiles,” supported by national “standards” such as the “National Poet,” the “National Theater,” the “National Museum” and the “National Library,” where Hebrew was the cultural kernel. These cultural pillars adhered to the Ashkenazi Western secular culture, with certain concepts of masculinity and militarism, to the detriment of other national ethnic and religious groups. Changes in the political arena, and the growing waves of immigration from the 1950s to the 1980s, led to fissures in efforts to structure a homogeneous Jewish-Israeli culture. Alternative narratives and cultures began shaping a multicultural sphere with differing national, ethnic, religious and cultural groups. In the last few decades, this evolution has been mirrored in Hebrew literature and in the field of Hebrew literary criticism. Numerous volumes of prose and poetry have been published and studies have dealt with the Israeli minority literature of specific literary groups or significant authors. This entry clearly cannot cover all these minority groups, but rather focuses on the national minority in Israel in the writing of Palestinian-Israelis, the literatures of ethnic minorities such as Mizrahim who immigrated from North Africa and the Middle East, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) and Ethiopia, the literature of religious and ultra-orthodox Israelis, and the literature of the LGBT community in Israel. It does not discuss women’s writing, a broad category that deserves separate attention; the literature of the disabled community, which has still not emerged as a literary group; or authors who write and publish in Israel in different languages such as English, Yiddish, or German. Some of these groups are discussed in Shai Ginsburg’s comprehensive article on Israeli literature in this bibliographic collection.

General Overview

Only a few publications have dealt with the larger picture of minority literatures in Israel. Multiculturalism is dealt with in Mendelson-Maoz 2014, and the Hebrew canon in Hever 2001, Calderon 2000, and Mintz 1997; Abramovich 2010 analyzes the relationship between center and periphery in Israeli literature, and Grumberg 2011 addresses major and minor authors to discuss the associations between literature and ideology. Levy 2014, Bernard 2013, and Hochberg 2008 compare authors dealing with Palestine/Israel and the relationships between Hebrew and Arabic.

  • Abramovich, Dvir. Back to the Future: Israeli Literature of the 1980s and the 1990s. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2010.

    This book deals with the weakening of the national consensus during the 1970s and 1980s, which led to the rise of marginal writing during the 1980s and 1990s. It covers second generation Holocaust literature, Mizrahi writers, and the emergence of detective fiction.

  • Bernard, Anna. Rhetorics of Belonging: Nation, Narration, and Israel/Palestine. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt5vjk1v

    An examination of the concept of the nation and the ways in which the literary imagination can reveal the ties between Israel and Palestine. The authors include Edward Said, Amos Oz, Mourid Barghouti, Orly Castel-Bloom, Sahar Khalifeh, and Anton Shammas.

  • Calderon, Nissim. Pluralistim be’al korham. Tel Aviv: Zmora-bitan, 2000.

    English translation: “Unwilling pluralists.” Calderon presents pluralism as a key concept in understanding the multicultural profile of Israeli culture and radical post-Zionist trends in Israeli academia. The book primarily deals with Mizrahi and Russian authors.

  • Grumberg, Karen. Place and Ideology in Contemporary Hebrew Literature. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011.

    Grumberg shows how places and spaces in Israeli literature can reveal ideology by supporting hegemonial stances or by subverting them. She discusses marginality in terms of diasporic identities, gender issues, and Palestinian–Israeli relations in texts by Sayed Kashua, Yoel Hoffman, and Ronit Matalon.

  • Hever, Hannan. Producing the Modern Hebrew Canon: Nation Building and Minority Discourse. New York: NYU Press, 2001.

    The role of modern Hebrew literature in the process of nation building, at crucial periods of consolidation and rupture. Hever analyzes modern Hebrew literature from the 19th century to the contemporary period, in terms of the evolution of the canon and the subversion caused when minority and otherness are expressed through literary devices to challenge the power of the hegemonic Zionist narrative.

  • Hochberg, Gil Z. In Spite of Partition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

    An analysis of Palestinian and Mizrahi literature. Issues such as levantinism, national identity and memory, borders and deterritorialization are explored in the works of Anton Shammas, Ronit Matalon, Albert Swissa, Mahmud Darwish, and Albert Memmi.

  • Levy, Lital. Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

    Levy deals with the mutual relationships between Arabic and Hebrew in Israel/Palestine from the turn of the 20th century to the present day. Works by Emile Habibi, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Anton Shammas, Saul Tchernichowsky, Samir Naqqash, Ronit Matalon, Salman Masalha, A. B. Yehoshua, and Almog Behar illustrate the author’s claim that the literary imagination can challenge ideological stances and blur the boundaries between language and belonging.

  • Mendelson-Maoz, Adia. Multiculturalism in Israel: Literary Perspectives. West Lafayette, IN: Perdue University Press, 2014.

    This book explores marginal Israeli literatures in four literary communities: the literatures of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Mizrahim, immigrants from the FSU, and Ethiopian-Israelis. Through comparisons and text analysis Mendelson-Maoz depicts the struggle for recognition and reception of different national and ethnic cultural groups and highlights the unexpected diversity of the Israeli literary scene.

  • Mintz, Alan, ed. The Boom in Contemporary Israeli Fiction. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 1997.

    This volume examines Israeli literature from 1973 to 1993 and argues that Israeli literature no longer recounts a single story but rather gives voice to suppressed groups and reveals the relationships between minority groups and major cultural forces. The contributors, Robert Alter, Anne Golomb Hoffman, Yael S. Feldman, Nancy E. Berg and Gilead Morahg, discuss women’s writing, Holocaust fantastic fiction, Sephardi writing, and diasporic writing.

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