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Framing conflict : why American congregations cannot not talk about Israel.

Kelman, Ari Y. and Baron, Ilan Z. (2019) 'Framing conflict : why American congregations cannot not talk about Israel.', Contemporary Jewry., 39 . pp. 497-522.


Israel has unified American Jewish communal life for much of the 20th century. However, early in the 21st century, Israel may no longer serve as a source for Jewish unity but of division, and American Jews are increasingly having a difficult time talking about Israel inside of their institutions. This phenomenon has become something of a truism, yet there has been no in-depth case study that explores why this is the case. This article seeks to fill this gap. Over the course of 46 interviews with 55 members of a non-Orthodox congregation in the San Francisco Bay Area, we explored why this community found it so difficult to talk about Israel. Contrary to popular perception that would have predicted that Israel would play a central role in this community, it played hardly any role at all. Using Erving Goffman’s theory of frame analysis, we identified three frames that explain the relative absence of Israel talk. Congregants have absorbed the “problem frame,” which holds that talking about Israel would be potentially divisive and toxic, despite the fact that none of the congregants experienced conflict. They mobilized two other frames – the “resource frame” and the “local frame” – which are in conflict with one another. The “resource frame” holds that Israel is an important and beloved resource for identity, community, and practice. Yet, the “local frame” prioritizes more immediate issues or concerns above the more abstract commitment to Israel. The resultant tension between Israel as an abstract resource for Jewish identity and the more immediate ways in which people operationalized their commitments, suggests that beneath the problem frame lies a tension that is less communal than personal.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Contemporary Jewry. The final authenticated version is available online at:
Date accepted:12 November 2019
Date deposited:11 November 2019
Date of first online publication:06 December 2019
Date first made open access:06 December 2020

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