Michael Feige, 1957-2016

A sociologist and anthropologist who investigated some of the most challenging aspects of Israeli society has died

June 23, 2016
Obituary: Michael Feige, 1957-2016

Michael Feige was born in Jerusalem on 5 July 1957 and studied for his BA in sociology and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1983).

He remained there for an MA (1990) and a PhD in sociology and anthropology (1996). He then moved in 1997 to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) as a lecturer on the Israel Studies Program and was promoted to tenured senior lecturer in 2006. He also served in recent years as head of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

In 1982, while still a student, Dr Feige went to the settlement of Yamit in the Sinai Peninsula to witness its evacuation, as agreed in Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. His main memory, he told the newspaper Haaretz in 2005, was watching “the sand that started to cover the city from the moment the city council ceased operating. The sand crept over the roads and there was a feeling that the city had started to disappear under the desert.”

A member of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism, Dr Feige devoted much of his subsequent research to “collective memory in Israel” and thereby touched on some of the critical fault lines in society.

He explored the politics of archaeology; the Mini Israel theme park; how the first prime minister David Ben-Gurion and the 1967 Six-Day War are remembered; and how the assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin is commemorated.

His only book in English, Settling in the Hearts: Jewish Fundamentalism in the Occupied Territories (2009), analyses how the religious nationalist movement known as Gush Emunim (or the Bloc of the Faithful) set out to redefine Zionism and develop an ideology of Greater Israel. It is widely regarded as one of the most important studies of the West Bank settlers.

Another book called One Space, Two Places (2002), published only in Hebrew, compared Gush Emunim with Peace Now, the activist group at the other end of the political spectrum, which has been a prominent advocate for a two-state solution to the conflict in Israel/Palestine since 1978. 

Dr Feige was one of four Israelis killed in the terrorist attack on the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv on 8 June. He is survived by his wife, Nurit, and three daughters. Colleagues, friends and students at his research institute paid tribute to him as “the incarnation of a man of reason, tolerance and peace”.


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