Current Projects

I am working on two research projects. I am currently writing a book about how young, secular Jewish Israelis view the role of ethno-religious nationalism in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I am also in the planning stages for a future project on faith-based aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Being reasonable: secular Jews and Israeli-Palestinian peace 

Each of the three “generations” of secular Jews (hilonim) who have lived in Israel-Palestine since 1947 has had an experience with Palestinians which is generationally distinctive. Those who have come of age since the collapse of the Oslo process are no exception.

In a 2014 article in The Atlantic about the “third generation” of young Palestinians and Jewish Israelis to come of age since the nakba and the establishment of the State of Israel respectively, Moscowitz remarked,

“Consider a median-aged, 30-year-old Israeli. He was 10 when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat met at the White House to sign the Oslo Accords; 16 when the Second Intifada erupted; 18 when Israel began constructing a security barrier with the West Bank (the age when Israelis enter mandatory military service); 21 when Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip; 24 when Israel and Hamas went to war in Gaza. His childhood was marked by the promise of peace; his teenage years by intense violence; his early adult life by security policies, separation, and sporadic conflict”.

I would add something more. Also, significant has been the extent to which this generation of hilonim has been shaped by living through and – for some – fighting during a period in which ethno-religious justifications for violence and separation have resonated among vocal constituencies of both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. Even in light of larger trends since the 1967 war, this generation’s experience is unique.

Yet much about how this generation of hilonim sees these phenomena is taken for granted, because what it is widely accepted that we already know all there is to know about being a “secular” person in Israel. Over the past decade and a half, Jewish Israeli society has seen a significant shift of secular Leftists out of the “Peace Camp” into the political centre or indeed even to the right, with what constitutes the “political centre” among Jewish Israelis moving further to the right than during the Oslo period. In recent years the Israeli media, public debate and, with some exceptions, academic commentary on Jewish Israeli attitudes to the conflict has focused on the Right/Left divide in Jewish Israeli society. But what might hilonim have in common across the political spectrum?

This book asks: How, if at all, have ethno-religious resonances during this period of the conflict affected the self-understandings and social and political attitudes of this third generation of young hilonim? How have these dovetailed with other social, economic and political changes which have shaped this generation’s hiloniyut, their ways of being a secular Jew in Israel? And how, in turn, has this process led some young Jewish Israelis towards a sharp critique of state security policy and others towards a conservative stance, backing the status quo of Occupation/Siege?

This book draws upon advances in the social sciences to more richly analyse the hiloniyut as a complex arena of social practice and self-identity. The book argues that there are important, mutually informing echoes between how young hilonim understand themselves as “reasonable people” and their understanding of what counts as “reasonable” and “moderate” political behaviour. It critically analyses the complex intertwining of narratives about the Self and about the State for this social group, looking at the two years following the end of the 2014 Gaza War.

Theoretically, this book engages critically with academic debates over what – if anything –  constitutes “political moderation”. It asks: How is a modern, Western grammar of secularism (Asad 2003) invoked or problematized by those seeking to define what is reasonable and politically moderate? Deploying Bourdieu, this book also proposes a new theoretical framework for taking into account the complex, nuanced and often contradictory ways in which people who describe themselves as “not very religious” understand conflict where ethno-religious nationalism plays a role.

Guests not refugees? Hospitality, moderation and urban cosmopolitanism: the Syrian refugee experience in Lebanon and Jordan (with Dr Craig Larkin, King’s College London)

Christian and Muslim faith-based activity to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan sits at the crossroads of two related but potentially problematic myths. The first is a Levantine myth of the mosaic (Gutkowski 2016). This myth holds that Lebanon and Jordan are paradigmatic examples of religious conviviality, making them ideally suited to host Syrians across sectarian divides and promote religious tolerance (Larkin 2013). The second is a Western myth of religious moderation, long-standing but more prominent since 9/11, that de-politicized, “authentic” religion can be mobilized for peacebuilding and humanitarianism (Hurd 2012). As such, local faith-based actors are well-suited to deliver reconciliation programmes and humanitarian aid across sectarian divides, supported by Western faith-based actors.

This project looks beyond these two myths to analyse faith-based hospitality and humanitarianism in a more nuanced and grounded way, as it is experienced by Syrians themselves. How do local and transnational faith-based actors working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan interpret, utilize, subvert, and problematize these two related myths of religious moderation and mosaic pluralism? How does religious cosmopolitanism actually emerge in practice on the ground within communities and between refugees, their local hosts and their international advocates, through the convivial banality of everyday life?

Theoretically, the project engages with questions of hospitality, transnational solidarity, cosmopolitanism, and ideas of space and place. Space is conceived as an imagined space in which dialogue may emerge through reciprocal encounters with the Other, across local, regional and transnational boundaries. Ramadan terms this the ‘space of hospitable engagement…in which long-held identities, ideas, opinions and prejudices could be challenged and renegotiated” (2008: 670). In such settings when do we see the blurring of the Other or rather when is exclusivity exacerbated? At the city level, ‘cosmopolitan urbanism’ (Paganoni 2012; Young 2006) or Derrida’s (2001) call for ‘cities of refuge’ explicitly locates a renewed language and ethic of hospitality at the urban level, seeking a critical distance through which to interrogate state practice. Cosmopolitan attitudes are formed through host/refugee engagement across religious/national and class divides perhaps encouraging moderation and a deep pluralism which is respectful of difference (Smith 2013).

This however raises a series of questions: How does this dynamic unfold in mixed urban spaces versus homogenous refugee camps? How do Muslim and Christian theological discourses about hospitality and refugees affect everyday responses on the street? How is the emergence of a seemingly cosmopolitan moderation cross-cut by power dynamics across various levels (class, gender and sectarian difference within refugee communities and between refugees, local hosts and international advocates)? What is the impact of international funding on local dynamics? How are these processes impacted by the ongoing war in Syria as well as political uncertainties in Jordan and Lebanon?