Identity Formation of Minorities in the Multicultural Society of Israel

Essay, 2013

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1 Introduction

2 Israeli society

3 Importance of history

4 Identity
Studies of social identities

5. Arabs in Israeli society
“Israelization” versus “Palestinization”

6 Arab identity repertoire in Israel

7 Conclusion

8 Works Cited

1 Introduction

Since the state’s foundation in 1948 Israel has developed from an agricultural country with poor infrastructure into a high-tech nation among the twenty leading industrialized countries in the world. To date, about three million people from less developed countries have been integrated. Many Holocaust survivors are welcomed to start a new life in Jewish homeland.

These facts usually get out of sight in the daily reporting of attacks and bloody clashes, especially in the most irresponsible picture coverage. Political confusion, outbursts of hatred and fragility of previous peace agreements negatively affect the way European society faces Israel. Especially news broadcasts on television as well as newspapers construct a, sometimes simplified and stereotypical version of the events that then enter cultural memory.

However, not only Israel’s significant growth has to be taken into consideration. Israel’s development is contradictory and by no means only positive. One of the most exceedingly difficult things to deal with is Israel’s fragmentation not only in the external appearance but also concerning internal debates about identity, belonging, religious questions, questions of solidarity and minority. After its sixty-fifth anniversary, Israel is still a state in the making, whose borders remain to be determined amidst growing tensions and crises. The rapid economic development provides new opportunities while feeding old tensions and creating new ones. As in other globalized countries, rapid growth emphasizes the difference between society’s core and those on the peripheries.

Since it is impossible to capture all the different interpretations of the events that have occurred in the past in this paper, it is concentrated on central issues that capture the identity development and formation of Israeli citizens, especially concerning Arabs in various contexts throughout the time.

2 Israeli society

The themes brought together in this paper- minorities and diversity, identity, tension -surely have been central motifs of Israeli society during the last decades. Israel is a society formed by immigrants, and therefore the diversity theme is powerful. National, religious, ideological and ethnic divisions influence each other and are all parts of a single process, the societal change in the course of time.

The contemporary perception and presentation of Israeli society differs from earlier characterizations. Comparing the new depictions with earlier studies may indicate ways in which the society as a whole has been changing. For instance, studies of 1950s highlight the mass immigration to Israel of Jews from European and Middle Eastern countries. The immigrants there are described as “Israelis returning to Zion after a lengthy sojourn overseas” (Krausz6). In early statehood “Zionism has sought to unite all Jews under the umbrella of nation- and state-building projects” (Guy Ben-Porat, Yagil Levy, Shlomo Mizrahi, Arye Naor, Erez Tzfadia 9).Therefore, while cleavages were still significant, they also were secondary to Theodore Herzl’s idea of the “Jewish problem that could be solved for the benefit of Jews and non-Jews through the establishment of a state of the Jews” (Shindler 13). It is important to note that, until 1970s, the changing Israeli society has been able to absorb, to some extent, tensions and problems developing from ideological differences.

Problems overshadowed by state building appeared at different levels throughout the 1970s. Fundamental political changes, territorial questions, new dividing lines have transformed Israel in various ways. Many more contrarieties might appear at the surface. Questions about identity and belonging such as “Who is an Israeli?” and “How canpresent-day Israeli societybe characterized?” and the numerous answers to these questions ponder the dissipation of Israeli society.

The purpose of this paper, however, is not to list all the numerous changes but rather to reflect their outcome for the modern Israeli society.

3 Importance of history

With regard to history it is first and foremost important to keep in mind that “history is a human construction” (Giles 90). To make sense of event in history, cause and effect relations are constructed, certain versions are selected, others neglected and significance is attached to them. What we usually refer to a ‘history’ are certain versions of past events that were transmitted, represented, shaped and selected; mostly by those in power. Not just the selection of certain events but also the way they are represented is important for the estimation of historical ‘facts’. The way something is represented is never the only way possible. It might be said that only those parts of historical events are taken into account which fit best the present needs of a society or a group of people.

According to the choices made, various constructions of reality can be used to build up a desired identity. With regard to this, the production of historical knowledge is always a political matter as well. Power relations determine what parts of history are represented in which kind of way. The stories of past events that are told and kept on are often those wanted in an official version of history.

As history plays an important part in the construction of identities as well as with regard to cultural memory it is crucial to keep in mind that we only deal with versions of history. They can be seen as constructed realities that we encounter in everyday life and that enter memory often subconsciously. Thus, Israel, like many other states, faces dilemmas that derive from a multinational reality and cultural memory where linguistic, religious, and ethnic minorities struggle for and against recognition. What a group of people believes to be their own identity or the identity of another group relies heavily on the circulated knowledge around them.

4 Identity

Before discussing the various repertoires of identities represented in Israeli society, it is helpful to look closer at this term and to think about how “identity” as a construct might be captured satisfactorily.

Identity is controversial as well as omnipresent. We find numerous concepts of “identity” in nearly every major subfield. A whole range of disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, social work, cultural studies, education and many others focus on finding definite accounts.

Identity as a term can be used in social and personal senses. Since this paper questions identity repertoire among Israeli minorities, I concentrate on psychological and social theories concerning social identities.

Studies of social identities

As previously mentioned there are some diverse assumptions about what identity is, and about its relevance for the better understanding of Israeli society, especially dealing with minorities.

From the philosophical and anthropological point of view, identity “figuratively combines the intimate or personal world with the collective space of cultural forms and social relations”(Holland 5). In other words, individuals create culturally scripted worlds and their places within them. Thus, individuals create themselves by including broader sociological categories such as nationality, gender and ethnicity to create the common social world.

The best-known and essential theory among social psychological studies concerning identity questions is the Social Identity Theory, developed by Tajfel and Turner in 1979.Quintessential finding is that groups, individuals belong to, are important source of self-definition and self-esteem. Social identity grows through belonging to specific group. It is the individual’s self-concept derived from perceived membership of social groups. In his experiments, Taifel argues that individuals internalize stable group identity by categorizing themselves and others as members of an in-group or an out-group. The merely fact of categorization produces discrimination and conflicts (Taifel 99). According to the theory, simply being a member of a group provides individuals with a sense of well-being. Social identity theory also addresses the issue of potential problems resulting from participation in two cultures. In his experiments Taifel argues that identification with two different groups can be problematic for identity formation because of the conflicts in attitudes and values between the groups.

And yet other psychologists do not quantify identity as implicitly stable and cohesive phenomenon. In his work, Weinreich explains identity as a repertoire of unstable sub-identities, developing from various contexts. For instance, individuals may derive their sub-identities by unifying memories of their past, especially with respect to minorities in nation-state. Other theories argue that identity may be considered as a set of abstract schemes of human subjectivity or the things they know about themselves and ways in which empathic others view them.

Phinney presents interesting findings in his meta-analysis of more than 70 studies dealing with identity questions. According to his article, there is significant overlap among the frameworks on which the studies were based, but the most of them were based either on social identity theory presented by social psychologist or acculturation, introduced by sociologist and anthropologist. As a concept “acculturation deals broadly with changes in cultural attitudes, values and behaviors that result from contact between two distinct cultures”(Phinney 501). Identity here is presented as an aspect of the process of acculturation under the premise of how individuals relate to their own group as a subgroup of the larger society. In this connection important issues have been the questions about identity maintenance among minority groups as well as the process on psychological conversion.

According to the aforementioned conceptual frameworks there is a constant struggle over various identities taking place in society. Various social groups define themselves new. Some individuals adapt their repertoire of identities in order to be in agreement with their personal values and feelings of belonging and worth. On the one hand, minorities try to assimilate in the new identity, but on the other hand they may also negate the legitimized one. Groups may adopt new collective identity strategies when it comes to defense of their social status in society. Nevertheless particular individuals in minority groups may adopt more individual strategies of identity formation if necessary.

At this point it is helpful to ask what kind of identity strategies do Arabs develop in Israeli society and what effect does it have on modern Israeli society. As we shall see later, the debate is not black and white. The identity repertoire of the Arabs in Israeli society can be considered as highly complex because Jewish-Arab division is probably the deepest cleavage in Israeli society caught in the midst of a national and religious conflict.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Identity Formation of Minorities in the Multicultural Society of Israel
TU Dortmund
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
498 KB
identity, formation, minorities, multicultural, society, israel
Quote paper
Darina Jarowinski (Author), 2013, Identity Formation of Minorities in the Multicultural Society of Israel, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Identity Formation of Minorities in the Multicultural Society of Israel

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free