a different side of Israel

Americobsession – The Final Chapter

Part 5 of 5

My last post – consisting of a kind of “psychoanalytic” reading of the American pop-culture craze in Israel – sent me searching for the opinions of other youngish Israelis, some like myself (American-born immigrant to Israel), others not at all. I corresponded with people from various backgrounds: American-Israelis, Israelis with American-born parents, Israelis with one American and one Israeli parent, the religious, the secular, and some natives whose parents literally planted the first seeds of Modern Israel.

AmericobsessionI asked six highly intelligent individuals three questions related to the induction and subsequent effects of pop-culture Americanization in Israel. If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll find the bases of the questions to be obvious. What I have already done is set up a problem that I think is prevalent to the whole country, and perhaps the whole world. I wrote out a fairly one-sided view of young Israeli culture. That admitted, I decided to ask some other people what they thought, partly with the hopes of finding out that I was right in my claims, and partly with the hopes that those claims would challenged.

Question 1: “Do you believe that there is a thriving Israeli culture amongst teenagers today?” The first response was as follows:

You may call it thriving in the sense of being in transition. Historically, in the first decades of the Israeli state, western influence was perceived as threatening to Jewish-Israeli authenticity. So the influence and acceptance of foreign influence is relatively new, and perhaps taken to an extreme. But still youth organizations/movements in Israel are popular and though they are influenced by foreign elements, they are still inherently “Israeli.” Some try to deal with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, others with the secular / conservative one, and most focus on the army as a significant rite of passage in Israeli identity formation.

Another interviewee made an excellent point regarding the various sub-groups amongst Israelis and how these divides amongst individuals may also cause a shift in opinions about America’s pop-culture influence:
I suppose that really depends on where you live. I would definitely say that the majority of Israeli teenagers are much more taken in by American culture, than the Israeli one. And even the Israeli one seems very American at times. Although, I would add that here in the south (and in other places in Israel as well), there is a different, “Israeli” culture – an “arsi” one, (how would that translate to English?) that is definitely not American, and has more of a middle eastern flavor – the music, clothes, food, all goes with it.

(By the way, and if anyone is willing to translate “arsi” for our readers, we would all love to read it).

The responses to the first question were fairly unanimous. Most people said that there is in fact a culture specific to young Israelis that has its roots outside the American pop-culture that has seeped into the country’s existing art/tv/music culture. However, if we look at the next question, we’ll see that some of those who expressed their opinion regarding the existence of an Israeli-specific pop-culture also expressed concerns regarding the heavy influence of American pop.

Question 2: Do you fear that American popular culture has had or will have too great an influence over young Israelis?

– I definitely see the seeds of American pop culture sprouting here in Israel, and fear it will only become worse. I believe there are too many negative qualities in American culture – competition, an idealization of external qualities, nothing sincere, and of course, that terrible “American dream” – that clash with what we are trying to build here in Israel. These values do not coincide with the Zionist, pluralistic, socialist and multicultural understandings that Israeli society needs to deal with, considering its geography, history, society and religion, and what’s more, American popular culture, in my mind, only obstructs the path to constructing a moral, happy, peaceful society.

– Not really; it’s a hodgepodge of internal and external cultural contradictions and influences, not all American. Israeli music (specifically that mixture of Sephardic and Ashkenazi influences) is as equally influential as American pop culture on Israeli youth; “Eretz Nehederet” is as essential to Israeli youth culture as any American prime time TV show or Latin telenovela. We have McDonald’s, Pepsi and Levis, but also Falafel, Humus, Zara, Adidas and Puma. I think that the foreign influence, which is a global problem, will gradually balance itself off against the Israeli one. American culture is perhaps the most pervasive foreign influence because we share a similar multicultural / multiethnic background — that’s why, I think, American culture is so appealing to us.

Most responses to the above question leaned towards the side of disgruntlement and frustration. Others, however, took into account the complexities of Israeli culture and all of its influences.

And finally, Question 3: Although pop-globalization is said to be happening all over the world, do you feel that it has affected young Israelis any differently than in other places, especially considering U.S.-Israel relations? A couple of answers:

– Is the situation better / different in South Africa? No, I think it’s a global problem.

– I don’t know, I really don’t know how it is all over the world. I know that there are a lot of Israelis working in the US after the army, which does appear to be particularly “Israeli”. I guess that has something to do with an Israeli, youthful vision of America.. So my hunch is that yes, Israel has been affected differently, and I think Israel-US relations do contribute to it (just look at all the American flags on Yom Haazmaut! It drives me wild)…

And so yes, the influence is here, it’s creepy in its excess, but I what I was reminded of is that globalization does not discriminate based on nation: the crap is everywhere. And hence, perhaps we should all take comfort in the fact that youngsters in Iran are drinking CocaCola, in Lebanon they’re chowing down McGrills, and the top requested hit on Middle East Music TV is Spears’ “Womanizer” – and these are all facts.

Who knows? American pop-culture globalization may soon bring peace to the Middle East – one pair of China-made baseball caps at a time.

Written by Alana Sobelman


  1. Ars = Jewish Guido

  2. Here is another definition off of

    Short for the hebrew “arsawat”, the ars is a unique creature found in modern day israel. it is much more difficult to define than it is to describe the ars: violent, gold chain (gormet) wearing gangster-esque Jewish israeli, commonly of “mizrahi” decent. the ars is infamous for his tendency to stab people with minimal provocation.

    Example: By the time i spotted the ars it was too late; i had already been headbutted severely (see “ginga”)

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