Blackness in Israel: Political and Cultural Dimensions

Blackness in Israel: Political and Cultural Dimensions

A symposium with presentations and a roundtable discussion on different meanings of Blackness in Israel.

Monday, February 24, 2020
3:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Charles E. Young Research Library
Main Conference Room, First Floor
280 Charles E Young Dr. North
Los Angeles, CA 90095
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Sponsored by the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies and co-sponsored by the UCLA Department of Anthropology, Department of Ethnomusicology, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, Center for Near Eastern Studies, and the African Studies Center.  


Beyond physical appearance or social standing, Blackness is an image – or a set of images – circulated through popular culture. A connection to Blackness holds sway over the imagination of populations in Israel who have embraced aspects of its rhetoric and cultural symbolism to give voice to their perceived identities and everyday life experiences.

Situated in the heartland of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the Israeli nation-state is home to just over 9 million people and a place of long-running controversy and conflict. Every single group in Israel – from the most dominant Jewish strata to marginalized citizens and non-citizens – embraces a sense of victimhood, whether it be in their everyday lives, struggles for social inclusion, or from memories of their past in hostile lands epitomized by the Holocaust. From this unique situation, steeped in on-going, long-term conflict and violence, key players in the mix of populations that make up Israel have called upon the discourse of Blackness to express discontent, raise awareness, and in some cases, to resist. Of all the possible ways Israelis reimagine their identities, how is Blackness mobilized as a discursive reference for inclusion and exclusion?

 About the Symposium

A panel of Israel scholars will explore the different manifestations of Blackness in everyday life and popular culture in Israel, as well as the social and political aspects of Blackness for marginalized communities. These include Mizrachi Jews, Palestinians, Ethiopian Jews and non-Jewish asylum seekers and migrants from Sudan, Eritrea, and other African countries.

In part two of the symposium, the panelists will be joined by a UCLA scholar who will offer a comparative perspective of the discussed phenomena. 


3:00 PM - 3:05 PM | Welcome Remarks

3:05 PM - 3:20 PM | Introduction by Uri Dorchin, visiting assistant professor of the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies

3:20 PM - 4:20 PM | Panel - Cultural and political dimensions of Blackness in Israel

  • Uri Dorchin, UCLA

  • Sarah Hankins, UC San Diego

  • Fran Markowitz, Ben-Gurion University, Israel

  • Don Seeman, Emory University

4:20 PM - 4:25 PM | Coffee Break

4:25 PM - 5:25 PM | Roundtable discussion with panelists and UCLA Professor Cheryl Keyes

5:25 PM - 5:30 PM | Closing Remarks

About the Speakers


Uri Dorchin, Ph.D., (symposium organizer) is assistant professor at the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies for the 2019-20 academic year. An anthropologist and sociologist, his research explores Israeli popular culture across national, ethnic, and racial categories of belonging, and has focused most recently on Israeli rap and hip hop music. He is the author of the books Blackness in Israel: Questioned Racial Boundaries (forthcoming, Routledge) and Real Time: Hip-Hop in Israel/ Israeli Hip Hop (Tel Aviv: Resling, in Hebrew), as well as articles on ethno-politics and music. 

Sarah Hankins, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the Department of Music at UC San Diego. Dr. Hankins is trained as an ethnomusicologist, with research interests in sound studies of conflict in the globalizing metropolis, Afro-diasporic popular musics, history of technology, music and gender, and sonic dimensions of clinical psychoanalysis. Hankins is currently writing a book on musical nightlife and political aesthetics among African refugees and migrants in urban Israel, which is an outgrowth of her 2015 Harvard University doctoral dissertation.

Cheryl Keyes, Ph.D., (Discussant) is a professor in the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology. Her areas of specialty include African American music, gender, and popular music studies. Keyes, recognized as a pioneer of hip hop studies, ranks as the first scholar to conduct ethnographic research on rap music. Currently, she is a member of the executive committee for the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap (forthcoming) and appeared as a commentator in the television mini-series documentary, Death Row Chronicles.

Fran Markowitz, Ph.D., is professor of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University, Beershev, Israel, and visiting scholar, 2019-2020, Department of Anthropology, Emory University. She is a cultural anthropologist whose field research has taken her to the Russian Jewish immigrant communities in the US, and to Jerusalem and Mitzpe Ramon in Israel, and then to post-Soviet Russia. Intrigued by the overlapping issues of diaspora, racialization and millenarianism, she has also conducted fieldwork among the African Hebrew Israelite Community in Israel and in the US.

Don Seeman, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Religion and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. He is the author of One People, One Blood: Ethiopian-Israelis and the Return to Judaism (Rutgers University Press, 2009), and has published broadly in religion, anthropology, and Jewish studies. His research interests include the anthropology of experience and phenomenology of religion, modern Jewish thought and mysticism, medical anthropology, and the ethnography of contemporary Israel.

Sponsor(s): Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, Center for Near Eastern Studies, African Studies Center, Anthropology, Ethnomusicology, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, World Arts & Cultures/Dance