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Traumatic Memory Discourses in Israel: Holocaust History, Territory and Self-Critique

A lecture by Joseph Rosen, Department of History and Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence, Concordia University, Montreal

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Duration: 54:17

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while often seen as a battle over territory, is simultaneously a struggle over history and contested memories. In this context I investigate the political functions of traumatic memory discourses in Israel. I begin by analyzing a series of events in 2004-2005 when Israeli settlers wore Holocaust-era armbands in order to create a media spectacle and protest the government-ordered withdrawal of certain settlements from the Occupied Territories. I situate these events in the larger context of the historical development of Holocaust awareness in Israel in order to argue that the territorialization of Holocaust memory is not simply a cynical political rhetoric, but must be viewed as a traumatic form of memory discourse that reproduces historical violence. In the second half of my talk I analyze oppositional mobilizations of traumatic memory: in the testimonial practices of Israeli army veterans and ‘refuseniks’ who publicize their own memories of violence—as soldiers and perpetrators—in order to contest the actions and presence of the state of Israel in the Occupied Territories. Here I show how traumatic memory discourses are constructed in order to enable an ethical form of self-critique. The goal of my analysis is to highlight both the political dilemmas and ethical possibilities of traumatic memory discourses and to argue that any attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian territorial conflict requires addressing the traumatic dimensions of memory discourses.

Joseph Rosen is a postdoctoral fellow in Montreal at Concordia University’s Department of History & Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the Aftermath of Violence. His work investigates the cultural production of memories of violence in relation to contemporary sites of suffering and oppression. Rosen’s dissertation developed an ethical theory of working-through traumatic memory discourses and addressed mobilizations of Holocaust memory in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has published articles addressing: the ethics of memory in Emmanuel Levinas; the ethics of suffering in Jean Améry; counter-monuments and non-memorials in Berlin; and Holocaust comedy. He has also performed and published Jewish-Palestinian dialogues (with Hanadi Loubani) that address questions of memory and Diaspora in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ongoing research investigates the relation between cultural memory, identity and resistance in the Israel, and develops curatorial strategies for creating public dialogues about the relations between historical trauma and present injustice.

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Center for Near Eastern Studies