Sonic masquerading in Israeli popular music: self-Imitation, accent, and mockery

Nadeem Karkabi, Yonatan Mendel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Mistaʿarvim are Jewish undercover agents who masquerade as Arabs in order to infiltrate Palestinian and other Arab societies in the service of the Israeli military. The first Mistaʿarvim unit, which served in the pre-1948 Palmach Zionist militia, was based on Jews of Arab origin. Arabs in appearance and in speech, these undercover Jewish agents masqueraded as Arabs to blend into Arab communities without raising suspicion. They successfully executed their operations only by transforming their Arab selves into a performative imitation of ‘Arabs’ as Others. Complying with the Zionist binary separation between ‘Arabs’ and ‘Jews’ as two different identities, they broke their originally hyphenated Jewish-Arab identity, and in return they gained heroic acceptance into the exclusively Jewish nation in Israel. In this article, we examine how the military-oriented tactic of histaʿarvut (the infinitive form of acting as Mistaʿarvim) sheds light on performative acts in the field of popular music, whereby a Jewish Israeli identity is asserted through a ‘masked’ performance of Arabs. As an act of self-imitation, ‘cultural histaʿarvut’ includes symbolic borrowing of visual, linguistic, or musical elements from Arab and Palestinian cultures in order to stage a masked performance that ‘crosses’ the cultural lines to ridicule or demean Arabs and their culture, as a means of Jewish Israeli entertainment. Drawing on this, we introduce the term ‘sonic masquerading’ to elaborate on the specific performative uses of the Arabic accent and musical features as an example of cultural histaʿarvut in the work of the Israeli musicians Shefita, Daniel Saʿadon, and Tuna.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-484
Number of pages24
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Arab-Jews
  • Cultural histaʿarvut
  • Mock Arabic
  • colonial mimicry
  • indirect indexicality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences


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