The ambivalence over the Levantinization of Israel: David Levi jokes

Hagar Salamon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The present article focuses on David Levi jokesan Israeli joke cycleas a catalyzing agent in the evolution of Israeli identity. Although the manifest referent in the jokes is a concrete political and ethnic figure, the article argues that the actual referent is the whole of Israeli society. The cumulative effect of composing, hearing, recalling and especially repeating these elements, all in a spirit of self-mockery, enables mediation of national ambivalences and vulnerabilities. Through these jokes, an Israeli Levantine identity is internalized as teller and listener try on aspects of the Levantine national self through imagery, language, and gesticulation. Characteristic of these jokes are riddles conveyed through a meta-linguistic device. The joke-telling event is thus in effect a mimetic model of the interaction between the linguistic and the social, which enacts certain relationships pertaining to belonging and identity; as such, it is a unique prism for exploring the cultural matrix within which the construction of identity is carried out.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)415-442
Number of pages28
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Correspondence address: [email protected] * The present study originated in 1995 when I was a guest of the Department of Anthro-pology at the University of California, Berkeley. Discussions with Ibrahim Muhawi, who studied meta-linguistic jokes in Arab society, led me to consider the unique role of such jokes in my own society. My stay at the University of California, sponsored by the Fulbright Foundation, a¤orded me the distance required to open my eyes to the obvious. Continuation of this research in Israel was made possible thanks to grants from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Mann Foundation. I thank Galit Hasan-Rokem and Steve Kaplan for their insightful reading of the paper, as well as the two anonymous readers whose careful reading and sensitive comments helped me to sharpen key points in the article.


  • David Levi jokes
  • Ethnic humor
  • Ethnicity
  • Israel
  • Israeli folklore
  • Meta-linguistic jokes
  • National identity


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