A Politics of the Unspeakable: The Differend of Israel

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van Vliet, Netta


Khanna, Ranjana
Nelson, Diane

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Israel's establishment in 1948 in former British-Mandate Palestine as a Jewish country and as a liberal democracy is commonly understood as a form of response to the Holocaust of WWII. Zionist narratives frame Israel's establishment not only as a response to the Holocaust, but also as a return to the Jewish people's original homeland after centuries of wandering in exile. Debates over Israel's policies, particularly with regard to Palestinians and to the country's non-Jewish population, often center on whether Israel's claims to Jewish singularity are at the expense of principles of liberal democracy, international law and universal human rights. In this dissertation, I argue that Israel's emphasis on Jewish singularity can be understood not as a violation of humanism's universalist frameworks, but as a symptom of the violence inherent to these frameworks and to the modern liberal rights-bearing subject on which they are based. Through an analysis of my fieldwork in Israel (2005-2008), I trace the relation between the figures of "Jew" and "Israeli" in terms of their historical genealogies and in contemporary Israeli contexts. Doing so makes legible how European modernity and its concepts of sovereignty, liberalism, the human, and subjectivity are based on a metaphysics of presence that defines the human through a displacement of difference. This displaced difference is manifest in affective expression. This dissertation shows how the figure of the Jew in relation to Israel reveals sexual difference as under erasure by the suppression of alterity in humanism's configuration of man, woman, and animal, and suggests a political subject unable to be sovereign or fully represented in language.





van Vliet, Netta (2012). A Politics of the Unspeakable: The Differend of Israel. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/5838.


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