Dissertation Abstracts

On the fault line: Israelis of mixed ethnicity

Author: Sagiv, Talia , talia.sagiv@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: Hebrew University, Israel
Supervisor: Prof. Gad Yair
Year of completion: 2012
Language of dissertation: Hebrew

Keywords: mixed ethnicity , race and ethnicity in Israel , mixed identity , family
Areas of Research: Family Research , Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Education


Ever since the 1960s, sociological research in Israel has dealt with the issue of inter-communal tension, from the questions raised by the absorption of waves of immigrants to the matter of ethnic inequality. This study examines the “product” of the integration of the exiles and the melting pot, those people who are meant to put an end to the matter – Israelis of mixed ethnicity. On the face of it, these Israelis, who were born to one Ashkenazi parent and one Mizrahi parent, lack an ethnic identity and are living proof that the “ethnic issue” has run its course. Studying a population defined as lying on the fault line – and as signifying the “lack of boundary” between social groups – is intriguing, and offers new answers to old questions about inter-communal tension in Israel. Zionism created a kind of social experiment; ideology created a policy aimed at integrating waves of immigrants from different countries and erasing ethnic differences. However, the offspring of inter-ethnic marriages do not meet the desired definition, but rather are trapped in a dichotomous conception of social reality. They label themselves and their environment from an ethnic perspective, and even when they resist ethnic stereotypes, their resistance illustrates their internalization of an essentialist and hierarchical set of codes concerning “Mizrahiness” and “Ashkenaziness”.
The analysis points to four locales of ambivalence that are referred to in interviews and that connect micro-level experiences with macro-level conclusions. In the first part of the Findings section, this ambivalence shifts between the interviewees’ desire to declare an Israeli identity for which ethnicity is irrelevant and an experience of the everyday in which ethnic identity is frequently felt, or of a reality that many of them described as comprised of “two planets” – the Mizrahi and the Ashkenazi. These “two planets” would appear to be characterized by entirely different codes – how to take a vacation, how to kiss, how to eulogize, and how to relate to your neighbors. The ambivalence here derives from the taboo of asserting that there are “two cultures”, and that Israeli Jewish society is in fact split down the middle.