Yael Zerubavel (Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History, Rutgers University) gives a talk for the Middle East Centre, chaired by Professor Yaacov Yadgar (Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies, St Anne's).
At once an ecological phenomenon and a cultural construction, the desert has varied associations in Zionist and Israeli culture. Yael Zerubavel tells the story of the desert from the early twentieth century to the present, shedding light on romantic-mythical associations, settlement and security concerns, environmental sympathies, and the commodifying tourist gaze. Drawing on literary narratives, educational texts, newspaper articles, tourist materials, films, popular songs, posters, photographs, and cartoons, Zerubavel reveals the complexities and contradictions that mark Israeli society’s semiotics of space in relation to the Middle East, and the central role of the “besieged island” trope in Israeli culture and politics. The talk draws on the new book published by Stanford University Press (2019).