The Trauma of the Displaced Founding Elites in Israel and Turkey (with Gülay Türkmen-Dervişoğlu)

I am working with Gülay Türkmen-Dervişoğlu (University of Göttingen) on a study of how political downward mobility affects group self-perception. This study extends my previous work on cultural trauma and politics, which focused on the Holocaust memory in Middle East politics and on the 2005 Withdrawal from Gaza. One paper based on our project is under review, and is available upon request.

Abstract: Although all political groups in democracies face the option of being ousted from power, elites that dominate new democracies are often particularly affected when they first lose their hold on their state. In this paper, we ask how nation-founding political elites interpret their eventual loss of political power, and what effect this has on their political culture and on the political culture of their country. To answer this question, we attune cultural trauma theory – which deals with the ways a group becomes convinced that its collective identity has been compromised by a horrendous event – to the study of elite downward mobility. To demonstrate, we compare how the Turkish CHP and the Israeli MAPAI/Labor parties, as ‘founders’ of their nations, responded to election losses after decades of political dominance. In our historical analysis we show that both founding political elites, despite continually associating themselves with democracy, have attempted to delegitimize the electoral decision by which they were ousted. We highlight the cultural strategies these elites employed to describe political change as a cultural trauma for the entire nation in order to maintain a sense of superiority in the face of political loss. The approach we offer is applicable to other states in which a political elite ruled for long periods of time, as well as to other types of abrupt elite downward mobility.


 Environmentalism, nationalism, and the struggle over the establishment of new communities in Israel (with Liron Shani)

I am working with Liron Shani (MIT) on a paper on how different notions of nationalism intertwine with understandings of nature protection. We focus on a clash between evicted Jewish-Israeli settlers and Israeli green activists over building new Israeli townships. This paper is available upon request.

Abstract: Although there is burgeoning research on environmental activism, few studies have examined the interrelationship between nationalism and environmentalism in detail. This paper examines how groups manage the tension between national commitment and caring for the environment. It focuses on two opposing Israeli activist groups: a settler movement that aims to establish new communities in the fast-dwindling Israeli open expanses, and a “green” environmentalist movement intent on preserving open spaces by preventing the establishment of new townships. The paper draws on observations, interviews, and textual analysis of a struggle over the establishment of a new communities in East-Central Israel. The findings show that both groups believe themselves to be committed to the protection of nature, and that both groups see environmental responsibility as an integral aspect of their Zionist identity. However, the Israeli green movement sees abstaining from interventions in nature and adhering to sustainable development as Zionist because it preserves Israel for future generations. By contrast, the settler movement sees active intervention in nature—in the form of building new communities, planting trees, and hiking—as the proper way to protect Israeli natural expanses and to maintain the livelihood of Israeli society. We suggest that national commitment can serve as a motivating cultural framework for environmental activism, but can also generate multiple (and even contradictory) interpretations of the correct way to care for nature.