Hankins, Sarah Elizabeth. Black Musics, African Lives, and the National Imagination in Modern Israel. PhD Dissertation, Harvard University, 2015.
“Black Musics, African Lives, and the National Imagination in Modern Israel,” explores the forms and functions of African and Afro-diasporic musics amidst heated public debate around ethnic identity and national membership. Focusing on musical-political activity among Ethiopian Israeli citizens, Sudanese and Eritrean refugees, and West African labor migrants in Tel Aviv, I examine how diverse types of musicking, from nightclub DJing and live performance to church services and protest concerts, voice African and Afro-descendent claims to civic status in a fractured urban environment. Grounded in ethnographic participant observation, the dissertation analyzes musical and political activity through the lens of “interpretive modes” that shape contemporary Israel’s national consciousness, and which influence African and Afro-descendant experiences within Israeli society. These include “Israeliyut,” or the valorization of so-called native Israeli cultural forms and histories; “Africani,” an emerging set of aesthetic and social values that integrates African and Afro-descendent subjectivities into existing frameworks of Israeli identity; and “glocali,” or the effort to reconcile local Israeli experience with aspects of globalization.
Tracing “blackness” as an ideological and aesthetic category through five decades of public discourse and popular culture, I examine the disruptions to this category precipitated by Israel’s 21st century encounter with African populations. I find that the dynamics of debate over African presence influence an array of mass-cultural processes, including post-Zionism, conceptions of ethnic “otherness,” and the splintering of Israel’s left into increasingly narrow interest groups. Contributing to the literature on continuity and change within urban-dwelling African diasporas, this dissertation is the first monograph exploring dramatic transformations of Israel’s highly consolidated national culture through in-depth ethnography with migrant groups.