Post-Zionist orientalism? Orientalist discourse and islamophobia among the Russian-speaking intelligentsia in Israel

Dimitry Shumsky*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


This article attempts to shed light on a special kind of Orientalist discourse that circulates in Russian-Israeli literature and press. This discourse feeds on the cultural sources buried in the Russian-Soviet imperialist discourse about 'Russia's Orient', which has been articulated by modern Russian literature, including prominent Russian-Jewish authors, and corresponds to the racially grounded discursive practices currently widespread in post-Soviet Russia with regard to natives of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The article investigates the ways of transferring Orientalist concepts from the (post-)Soviet cultural experience to the Israeli one, identifying the Orientalist discourse's dual role in shaping the immigrants' self-awareness on two levels, the local and the global. On the local level, the Russian-Israeli intelligentsia deploys 'Soviet-made' Orientalist interpretative tools to read and decipher the reality of a new country, by presenting it as a familiar reality. Identifying and labeling the local Orientals - the Palestinians on the one hand and the Mizrahi Jews on the other - by means of negative concepts borrowed from the Russian-Soviet Orientalist repertoire, a Russian-Israeli intellectual locates her/himself within the Eurocentric Ashkenazi component of Israeli society. On the global level, the extreme Islamophobic rhetoric of the Russian-Israeli Orientalist discourse, according to which today Israel and Russia, as well as the West, all share a common Islamic 'enemy', enables a Russian-Israeli intellectual on the one hand to reassert her/his cultural ties with her/his country of origin, and on the other to heighten the validity of her/his self-image as part of Western culture.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)83-99
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Identities
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes


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