"Passing" as (non)ethnic: The israeli version of acting white

Orna Sasson-Levy, Avi Shoshana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


This article offers a cultural analysis of the practice of "acting white" in a society where the distinction between black and white is vague and primarily symbolic and where the hegemonic discourse denies the existence of ethnic inequality and encourages ethnic integration. In the Israeli context, acting white or passing (in Hebrew, hishtaknezut or "Ashkenazification") refers to mimicking the habitus of the dominant (European) ethnic group. Based on qualitative research, we argue that hishtaknezut is the cultural script offered by Israeli society in response to both the national discourse of the "ingathering of the exiles" and the neoliberal demand for identities devoid of ethnic markers as a precondition for economic mobility. However, the concept of hishtaknezut functions as a shaming interpellation highlighting both the act of mimicry and its inherent failure. Passing as "white" in Israel entails a twofold sense of shame, over both one's ethnic origin and the concealment of that origin by mimicking another group. This practice carries with it an individual, apolitical stigma that reaffirms the neoliberal, non-ethnic perception of Israeli society. The prevalence of Ashkenazification, along with its signification of imperfection, attests to the perpetuation of the ethnic order in Israel, which relies on an Orientalist discourse that distinguishes between "worthy" social positions and "unworthy" ones from which one must escape to achieve social privileges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)448-472
Number of pages25
JournalSociological Inquiry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2013


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