A Different Kind of Whiteness: Marking and Unmarking of Social Boundaries in the Construction of Hegemonic Ethnicity1

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Abstract

This article proposes a new theoretical approach to the analysis of hegemonic ethnicity through an examination of the construction of white ethnicity among Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin) in Israel. Contrary to the theory of symbolic ethnicity, I argue that “Ashkenaziness” in Israel is not an optional, voluntary identity; rather, it is constituted by employing narratives that continually establish cultural, color-based, and ethnic boundaries between Ashkenazim and Mizrahi Jews. In certain social and ideological circumstances, however, boundary marking is not enough to maintain a privileged status. From the narratives of Ashkenazi Jews—the Israeli version of whites—it emerges that not only do they demarcate social boundaries between themselves and other groups, thereby preserving the ethnic hierarchy, but they are constantly engaged in blurring or erasing these same boundaries, allowing Ashkenazim to remain a transparent, unmarked social category. This dual practice of marking and unmarking is a result of the tension between the Jewish-Zionist and Western-secular images of the state. While Israel's Jewish discourse supposedly negates intra-Jewish ethnic conflicts, the Western ideal identifies Ashkenazim with the state, thus solidifying their power and preserving their privileged status.

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