Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder and Tamar Hager Present Racism in Israeli Academia


Editorial Note

Last week, Prof. Sarab Abu-Rabia Queder, the BGU Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, and Prof. Tamar Hager of Tel-Hai College published a call for papers on “Various shapes of whiteness: A new look at racism and its institutional operation in Israeli academia.”  The field of research is the critical whiteness theory and the settler-colonial paradigm. 

This call charges the Israeli academia of being “a white Jewish and Ashkenazi patriarchal hegemony which is dominated by European culture.” Also arguing that “non-Jewish groups (principally Palestinians) and non-Ashkenazi Jewish groups (such as Mizrahim Jews, of North African and Middle Eastern origin) remain transparent minorities.”

It also states that the “exclusion of minority groups in higher education institutions in Israel manifests in terms of discrimination, gaps, and lack of representation,” the “racial injustice and discrimination in Israeli academic space.” All this, based on “Critical race theory, which developed in the United States, posits that race and color are significant—albeit constructed—concepts.” 

This call for paper states that “processes of racialization and racism occur across a variety of sociological and cultural fields.” Furthermore, “Class, ethnicity, sex, and gender groupings are tagged ‘black’ or ‘white’ by the hegemony,” where “the ‘black’ groups are considered as inferior in the organizational setting.”  Therefore, the Israeli academia is a “blindness of white privilege”, “devaluing the natives” and a “sovereignty of male whiteness.” 

This sounds odd when these two ladies have both received professorships in Israeli universities and one of them is a Bedouin Arab in charge of diversity and inclusion. 

They also add political perspective, that “In Israel, white privilege remains grounded in a settler colonial reality that has been eradicated in most other parts of the world.”  In Israel, “racist practices are not eradicated—safeguarding the power and privilege of those defined as colonial whites.”  

According to the authors, it was expected that universities “would challenge the exclusion of minorities on the basis of class, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.” However, in practice, “Higher education institutions in Israel constitute a unique instance and space, where the “coloniality of knowledge” is controlled by a colonial-racial matrix of power”. The journal will “shed light on the ways in which political structures and policies perpetuate new structures of racial domination, blindness, and superiority in the academic arena.” 

As IAM repeatedly argued, in critical theory research, there is no need for empirical proof, it is enough to cite scholars from the same field. 

The authors invite papers with “historical and contemporary perspectives on policies and practices of racialization, whiteness, racism, and colonialism—such as segregation, tagging, exclusion, normalized power relations (concealed and open)—in Israeli academia” to analyze the “privileges of white and colonial groups holding power.”  

This is not the first time Abu-Rabia-Queder explores the Israeli “racist” academia.  

A 2019 paper, “The paradox of diversity in the Israeli academia: reproducing white Jewishness and national supremacy,” claims that Israeli policies which are designed to promote diversity and provide Ethiopian Jews with opportunities in Israeli institutions of higher learning create a paradox where, rather than diversifying student bodies and faculties in universities, they “bolster the reproduction of national and religious supremacy of white Jews… the racialized cultural indexes on which Israeli society structures its racialized attitudes towards Ethiopian immigrants have not been purged from university campuses.” Instead, Israeli universities, “reinventing Jewish privilege and national exclusivity.”  

Abu-Rabia-Queder reached this conclusion by interviewing 50 Ethiopian female students on their everyday experiences with other students, professors and administration policies on campus. Abu-Rabia-Queder’s article shows how the academic authorities’ measures to diversify the student body and extend unique aid produces notions of the Ethiopian immigrant as “passive victims in need of rescue and compassion.”  The “aid offered by the establishment… still revolve around a white hegemonic core.”  

Abu-Rabia-Queder describes how, “In an attempt to alleviate racism against Ethiopian immigrants in the Israeli society, academic authorities have devised numerous ‘affirmative action’ policies aimed at incorporating youth of Ethiopian origins in larger numbers into institutes of higher learning. A number of programs and various measures whose objective was to promote ‘diversity’ by extending broad-ranging scholarships to anyone of Ethiopian origins, alongside numerous pre-schools and foundations tackling particular issues in their path to higher education actively herd students of Ethiopian origins into separate programs of ‘affirmative action’.” 

For Abu-Rabia-Queder, the universities have failed. 

She cites Sara Ahmed from Goldsmiths University of London, who “claims that universities failed because they did not take… seriously enough to truly promote social justice and change,” when it “secures rather than threatens the ethos of the university.”  

Abu-Rabia-Queder explains, “By institutional racism, I draw on Ahmed’s (2004, 1) definition of ‘the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origins. It can be seen [. . .] in processes, attitudes and behaviors which amount or discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people’. Seeing as institutional racism and white supremacy are unmarked, ‘taking for granted [the] routine privileging of white interests’.”  

Abu-Rabia-Queder’s paper aims to unveil the mechanisms “through which white Jewish privilege and Jewish national exclusivity are reproduced and reinvented in Israeli universities through black women’s bodies.”  

Based on Ahmed’s theory, Abu-Rabia-Queder describes Israeli universities as racists towards Israeli women of Ethiopian descent.  Abu-Rabia-Queder is interested in the Ethiopian women because these are black people, and through them, she would prove Israel is racist. 

In a similar vein, Abu-Rabia-Queder wrote a 2017 paper, arguing that “From an Israeli colonial perception, the Palestinian woman’s body is perceived as a threat that must be destroyed but also controlled. By colonizing Palestinian women’s bodies, Israel thus colonizes the entire Palestinian population.”  

Such “perceptions leave their imprint on the colonized body… by presenting narratives of Palestinian women from the first generation of the Nakba. Palestinian women consider invasion into their land as a metonym for penetrating the female body.” Abu-Rabia-Queder even argues that “To the settler, the figure of the native female functions as a metonym for unending increase and production of land/bodies that impedes settler expansion and is consequently perceived as a surplus body that should be eliminated.”  

By presenting Jews as wanting to destroy and eliminate Palestinians, Abu-Rabia-Queder slides into anti-Semitism.  

Based on interviews of Bedouin women, Abu-Rabia-Queder was, again, eager to present Israelis as racists.  “A psychologist discusses her experiences trying to hide her Arab identity when meeting with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish patient, fearing a racist reaction: ‘There was a case last week of an ultra-Orthodox family. I wasn’t on duty and the father came in to ask a question. As soon as I saw him, I hung up the phone. What if they find out I’m an Arab?'”  

Beyond the Israeli reality, Abu-Rabia-Queder co-authored a 2019 paper titled “Muslim women in the Canadian labor market: Between ethnic exclusion and religious discrimination,” comparing the labor market position of women from Muslim origin in Canada, with that of the majority group of Christian White Canadian women.  The paper considers cultural explanations and the role of discrimination and a human capital deficit.  Language proficiency, length of stay in Canada and qualifications have significantly affected the labor market. However, “by and large, structural inequality, fostered by cultural racism and that based on color, remains the most plausible explanation.” It is likely that “Islamophobia is increasing in Canadian society, and thus, as in other Western societies, these penalties are more likely to be transmitted (to the second generation) from one generation to the next.” The paper “reveals that Muslims are likely to be facing an additional penalty due to their Muslim background, at least in the case of unemployment, which is likely to be associated with the increase of Islamophobia.”  

Arabs charging Western society with unproved Islamophobia absolves a serious discussion on what causes some Muslim women to fail in achieving their goals. Patriarchal society structure comes to mind. 

Examining Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder’s scholarship, it is easy to see the pattern. She does not find cases of proven racism, but rather, the interviewees’ fear of racism is what counts.  

Based on this method, Abu-Rabia-Queder is trying to prove that the Israeli society in general and the Israeli academia, in particular, are racists. She does not provide solid evidence, and instead, with the help of Hager, they publish the call for papers in the hope that evidence will come.  

For years now, IAM has brought to attention the writings of critical, neo-Marxist scholars.   Racial critical theory, an American import, is the latest rage in this circle.  Unburdened from providing evidence of any kind, this new wave of “research” resembles the previous one; an effort to prove that Israel is a congenitally racist society, laden with hard-to-understand jargon and unsupported contentions.  Arguably, in some cases, the authors themselves could be construed as racists. Nevertheless, the political activist scholars, masquerading as academics, leave the taxpayers to pay the bill.


קול קורא // למאמרים (כתב עת): צורות שונות של לובן: מבט מחודש על גזענות והפעלתו המוסדית באקדמיה הישראלית ב (סראב אבו-רביעה-קווידר ותמר הגר) [אנגלית] דדליין לתקצירים=30.9.21

פרטים כלליים

סוג הודעה: קולות קוראים

תאריך פרסום: 28-08-2021

מקוון / לא מקוון:

מיקום: .ישראל

דדליין: 30-09-2021

מעניק מלגה/שכר: לא

כרוך בעלות: לא

אקדמיה/קהילה: אקדמיה

קהל יעד: חוקרים/ותתלמידי/ות מחקר

שפות: אנגלית

פקולטות: חינוךמדעי החברהמדעי הרוח

דיסציפלינות: חינוך והוראהסוציולוגיההיסטוריה

מחקר אינטרדיסציפלינרי: ישראל: השכלה גבוההאנטישמיות וגזענותישראל: חברהישראל: עדות, קבוצות, מגזרים

פרטי קשר — סראב אבו-רביעה-קווידר ותמר הגר

כתובת ההודעה:

Various shapes of whiteness A new look at racism and its institutional operation in Israeli academia

Israeli academia is primarily characterized by a white Jewish and Ashkenazi (Jews of European descent) patriarchal hegemony and is dominated by European culture. While the gender composition of Israeli academia has improved in recent years, non-Jewish groups (principally Palestinians) and non-Ashkenazi Jewish groups (such as Mizrahim Jews, of North African and Middle Eastern origin) remain transparent minorities. Israeli academia has begun to open up to hitherto excluded ethnic and religious minority groups, but exclusionary practices and systems of separation and segregation continue to operate towards these groups in hidden oppressive ways.

With respect to the broader academic discourse, the exclusion of minority groups in higher education institutions in Israel manifests in terms of discrimination, gaps, and lack of representation. Although this discourse does identify institutional practices that generate inequality, it ignores what is described elsewhere in terms of racialization and/or racism; this discourse is thus unable to expose the power structures (both hidden and obvious) and justification regimes that support these organizational conducts.

This issue seeks to take a new look at the practices that reproduce racial injustice and discrimination in Israeli academic space by juxtaposing critical race theory, critical whiteness theory, and the settler colonial paradigm.

Critical race theory, which developed in the United States, posits that race and color are significant—albeit constructed—concepts, and that processes of racialization and racism occur across a variety of sociological and cultural fields. Class, ethnicity, sex, and gender groupings are tagged “black” or “white” by the hegemony; however, the “black” groups are considered as inferior in the organizational setting. Critical whiteness theory complements race theory by providing the theoretical concepts that make it possible to observe and examine the social and institutional challenges created by the blindness of white privilege (Delgado & Stefacic, 2013).

In Israel, white privilege remains grounded in a settler colonial reality that has been eradicated in most other parts of the world. Settler colonialism is a project producing a racialized and gendered national identity, normalizing the sovereignty of male whiteness through mechanisms directed toward devaluing the natives (Veracini, 2010). This objective is achieved through practices of biopolitics aimed at the regulation and administration of the population, as individuals and as collectives. These include practices of correction, exclusion, normalization, disciplining, selection, and elimination (Lemke, 2011).

The most prevalent social perception views liberal perspective and policy as a guarantee of cultural progress and the ultimate fulfillment of values such as equality and freedom. In contrast to this, critical race theory, critical whiteness theory, and the settler colonial paradigm emphasize the ways in which liberal governments maintain and perpetuate the privileges accorded to certain groups, and how they disseminate direct types of camouflaged violence, power relations and exclusionary mechanisms towards other groups. According to their approach, policies of blindness to native identity or color, which ostensibly promote neutral and universal equality, should in theory abolish both obvious and symbolic exclusion and racism. But, even when overt racial practices are eliminated, hidden (and more widespread) racist practices are not eradicated—safeguarding the power and privilege of those defined as colonial whites (Crenshaw, 1988; Delgado & Stefancic, 1997; Siegel, 2001)

In recent years, institutions of higher learning have promoted diversity programs, part of the adoption of a neoliberal mindset and policies. Thus, it might be expected that these institutions would challenge the exclusion of minorities on the basis of class, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. However, in practice, the neoliberal diversity discourse makes it possible to disregard complex types of racist and colonial power relations, and obscures exclusionary practices that continue to exist (Abu-Rabia-Queder, 2019). The current issue seeks to thrust these issues to the surface.

Higher education institutions in Israel constitute a unique instance and space, where the “coloniality of knowledge” is controlled by a colonial-racial matrix of power (Quijano, 2007). Analysis of the complex power relations within its confines will shed light on the ways in which political structures and policies perpetuate new structures of racial domination, blindness, and superiority in the academic arena.

For this issue, we invite submissions presenting historical and contemporary perspectives on policies and practices of racialization, whiteness, racism, and colonialism—such as segregation, tagging, exclusion, normalized power relations (concealed and open)—in Israeli academia, and analysis of the mechanisms that perpetuate the privileges of white and colonial groups holding power. We invite the submission of articles that investigate these issues through the categories of race, whiteness, colonialism, gender, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity, disability, and the intersections between them.

Issues to be examined and questions posed:

  • How can racialization and whiteness discourse describe power relations in academia?
  • How are racist discourse and white privilege manifested in the organizational space: for example, in academic departments, in curricula, on bulletin boards, in campus activities, in the choice of library books, on campus, and in general?
  • What types of intersectionality can be identified on academic campuses in Israel, and how are these mechanisms of oppression expressed?
  • How does racism feed into a culture of silencing in courses’ syllabi and teaching, and other campus activities?
  • How does accessibility discourse maintain racialization and white privilege?
  • How do whiteness and racism intersect with colonialism and occupation in knowledge production, diversity policy, and selection processes?
  • How does critical race theory assist us in identifying and locating groups who experience intersecting forms of oppression but remain transparent in the academic space?
  • How do whiteness and racialization intersect with decolonialization in Israeli academia?
  • How practices of settler colonialism such as “elimination,” sovereignty, discipline and dehumanization are manifested in higher education institutions in Israel?

Submission Guidelines:

Abstracts/Proposal (300-400 words) examining Israeli academia through the theoretical prism that we have presented and responding to one of the above issues or to other relevant issues with a 50-word biography due: September 30th 2021

Acceptances of abstracts made by: October 15th 2021

Accepted and completed papers (70000-8000 words); March 15th, 2022.

Please send inquiries and abstracts to editors at:


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Race Ethnicity and Education
ISSN: 1361-3324 (Print) 1470-109X (Online) Journal homepage:
The paradox of diversity in the Israeli academia: reproducing white Jewishness and national supremacy
Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder
To cite this article: Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder (2019): The paradox of diversity in the Israeli
academia: reproducing white Jewishness and national supremacy, Race Ethnicity and Education,
DOI: 10.1080/13613324.2019.1694502
To link to this article:
Published online: 02 Dec 2019.
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The paradox of diversity in the Israeli academia: reproducing
white Jewishness and national supremacy
Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder
Department of Education, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel
This paper claims that policies designed to promote diversity and
provide Ethiopian Jews with opportunities in Israeli institutions of
higher learning create a paradox where, rather than diversifying student
bodies and faculties in universities, they bolster the reproduction
of national and religious supremacy of white Jews in the Israeli academia.
Interviews with 50 Ethiopian students reveal that the racialized
cultural indexes on which Israeli society structures its racialized attitudes
towards Ethiopian immigrants have not been purged from
university campuses. Instead, I argue, they continue to suffuse and
shape those very programs designed to combat them by reinventing
Jewish privilege and national exclusivity in Israeli universities.
Received 8 May 2019
Accepted 14 November 2019
Racism; black women;
diversity; higher education;
This paper claims that policies designed to promote diversity and provide Ethiopian Jews
with opportunities in Israeli institutions of higher learning create a paradox where, rather
than diversifying student bodies and faculties in universities, they bolster the reproduction
of national and religious supremacy of white Jews in the Israeli academia.
In an attempt to alleviate racism against Ethiopian immigrants in the Israeli society,
academic authorities have devised numerous ‘affirmative action’ policies aimed at incorporating
youth of Ethiopian origins in larger numbers into institutes of higher learning.
A number of programs and various measures whose objective was to promote ‘diversity’
by extending broad-ranging scholarships to anyone of Ethiopian origins, alongside
numerous pre-schools and foundations tackling particular issues in their path to higher
education actively herd students of Ethiopian origins into separate programs of ‘affirmative
action’. However, as this study’s findings will attempt to demonstrate, the racialized
cultural indexes on which Israeli society structured such attitudes towards Ethiopian
immigrants have not been purged from university campuses. Instead, I argue, they
continue to suffuse and shape those very programs designed to combat them. Through
interviews with 50 Ethiopian female students on their everyday experiences with other
students, professors and administration policies on campus, the article shows how
authorities’ measures to diversify the student body and extend unique aid sustain
essentializing notions of identity, and reproduce notions of the Ethiopian immigrant as
passive victims in need of rescue and compassion. Despite the initiatives of incorporation
CONTACT Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
and aid offered by the establishment, liberal campus cultures still revolve around a white
hegemonic core which revalidates its ascendency through a ‘politics of commiseration’
with an essentialized, colored other.
In other words, the paper will discuss how institutional racism replicates itself in the
various arenas of Israeli academy. By institutional racism, I draw on Ahmed’s (2004, 1)
definition of ‘the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and
professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origins. It can be
seen [. . .] in processes, attitudes and behaviors which amount or discrimination through
unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage
minority ethnic people’. Seeing as institutional racism and white supremacy are
unmarked, ‘taking for granted [the] routine privileging of white interests’ (Gillborn 2005,
485), the paper aims to help unveil the rhetorical, political, cultural and social mechanisms
(ibid, 489) through which white Jewish privilege and Jewish national exclusivity are
reproduced and reinvented in Israeli universities through black women’s bodies.
Black Ethiopian women’s positionality locates them at the intersection between forms
of oppression based on race, gender and nationality. Since women’s bodies are central in
the ethnic reproduction of transmitting its cultural artifacts and serve as markers of the
collective boundaries (Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1983, 66), the black woman’s body is
transformed into a racialized signifier in the creation of racial hierarchies as part of the
‘liberal’ mechanisms of justification deployed by the modern establishment. This study,
therefore, focuses particularly on this group of women.
Throughout history, the bodies of black women were seen as deeply pathological, representing
a danger to the politics of the body as defined by white men. The role of this image,
Wekker (2016) argues, was to facilitate racialized hierarchies which justify benign intervention
which reaffirms the liberal character of the establishment. Thus, the self-image of
a liberal, enlightened establishment which ‘rescues’ black women is reproduced, spreading
the white masculine establishment’s fantasy of ‘rescuing’ black women from depredation.
The Politics of Diversity in Institutes of Higher Education: A Critical Review
A majority of the literature on diversity points to the paradoxes inherent to the ethnic
diversification policies. A common argument with regard to diversity in the academia is
intervention in the form of affirmative action strengthens, rather than weakens, racism
and inequality on campus by turning attention away from the continued monopolization
of the expounders and adherents of hegemonic whiteness of the levers of power in the
academy. On the one hand, policies devised by liberal academic institutions portend
larger equality and diversity, but, on the other, they do not challenge misrepresentations
in course syllabi, biases in academic curricula and the limited diversity amongst faculty
and students alike. As a result, the goal of increasing ‘diversity and the promotion of
equality for minorities’ amounts to little more than lip service, whose most indelible
result is the superficial absolution of the institution in question from complicity in
structural inequality and racism and its branding as progressively liberal and morally
upright (Mirza, 2006; Ahmed, 2004).
The turn to ‘diversity’ in western higher educational institutions is, in part, due to
failure in a broader struggle for equality. Ahmed (2007) claims that universities failed
because they did not take the term and its implementation seriously enough to truly
promote social justice and change and bare its attendant loss of privileges. The adopted
term of ‘diversity’ fits such a gestural commitment to social change, Ahmed writes,
exactly because it ‘secures rather than threatens the ethos of the university’ (ibid, 238).
The discourse of diversity and the premise of affirmative action therefore serve the
white establishment by superficially alleviating racial tensions on campus, allowing the
persistence of the unequal status quo while permitting the spokespersons of the academia
to congratulate it for ‘celebrating diversity’. These implicitly patronizing policies have
far-reaching repercussions on the sense of legitimacy and belonging of students from
underprivileged groups, making them believe that they are accepted only because race/
color ‘quotas’ rather than thanks to their own merit (Crawley, 2006).
Aguirre Jr. Adalberto (2010) argues that the white academic system promotes diversity
and extends more staying opportunities to underprivileged sections of the population
only when, and if, the interests of the academia align with the stated goals of the
diversification agenda. Thus, for instance, prior to extending support to affirmative
action policies, leading institutions put it through a number of preemptive questions:
Is increased diversity a positive thing for the university, given its unique circumstances
and interests? Will increased diversity aggravate or alleviate broader racial and cultural
dissonances between whites and non-whites? Such questions reveal how the agenda of
diversity is cut to size so that it will never contradict the immediate interests of the
dominant group and the institution itself. Such agendas structurally marginalize minority
students and those from underprivileged backgrounds.
As long as the dominant group continues to be the leading factor in setting the
immediate objectives and the constitutive criteria of eligibility in pro-diversity policies,
they will continue to be sources of unstated relationships of dependence and breed an
economy of gratitude. So long as a white-majority commission determines the ostensibly
‘appropriate’ white:nonwhite ratio in an institution’s faculty or student body, the minority
and underprivileged beneficiaries of such programs will be unable to adopt an active
and critical stance regarding current policies. The white majority thus attains a privileged
stance in the instrument through which the diversification of higher education is
managed and discussed.
Another symptom for the entrenchment of hegemonic groups in the academia is the
ruling out of separate programs and curricula for students of ethnicized and racialized
minorities by the claim that they fail to attend to white sensibilities, narratives or
otherwise marginalizes white students wishing to enroll. Multiculturalism, or the commitment
to pluralism, would thus offset such a hypothetical monocultural program,
further entrenching whiteness as the lingua-franca of school curricula and the indispensable
component of appropriately diversified environments. Offering courses for
foreign languages to all students, by contrast, would promote an institution’s broader
interests since such programs are more likely to attract governmental funding for
teaching assistants and external teaching positions than would effecting real change in
the sought capacities in the institute’s permanent faculty.
The paradox is evident, too, in the process of knowledge production. White
Academics are construed in ways that reinforce their intellectual property rights and
set the tone for what knowledge consists of and its trappings. Their biases are legitimated;
those of their ethnicized colleges are ‘ethnic partisanship’, undue and unwelcome in the
academic community. On certain occasions, Mason (2013) argues, promoting diversity is
taken simply to mean that they must offer more courses on ethnic minorities and ‘speak
correctly’ to avoid offense, rather than restructuring the admissions and faculty recruitment
processes so they are more representative of the heterogeneity of the societies in
which they operate. This is a self-reinforcing circle, Mason (2013) adds, when courses on
minorities are offered by white lecturers, white students feel they are more ‘objective’
than when they are offered by minority faculty members. The institutional practices
preserving White supremacy drowning out minorities’ discourses are thus camouflaged.
Mirza (2006) demonstrates how diversification policies are experienced as not real to
black students, since they are not accompanied by initiatives instilling a sense of belonging
or community but rather communicate that their ‘just being there’ is the point, as if
their sole function was to be pawns in the head counting game of superficial diversity.
Sara Ahmed likewise argues that diversity became ‘technologies of concealment in the
unfinished work of racism’ (Ahmed, 2004: 8). To her, ‘diversity work’ is an unfinished
project in higher education, because it currently is ‘cut off from histories of struggle
which expose inequalities’ (Ahmed, 2004: 19) and reinserted into a context of white
benevolence, however implicit. She also addresses what she calls ‘a gap’ between the
language of diversity and the performance of diversity (Ahmed, 2007). Most academic
institutions brand themselves ‘diversity led’ organizations, she writes, but how does one
‘do’ diversity?
Glyn Hughes (2013: 126), too, determined that ‘diversity and social justice efforts often
reproduce rather than challenge systemic inequities.’ He poses that the term ‘diversity’
itself is part of the problem, used variably as it is to refer to racial differences, people of
color, the totality of human differences, the array of niche demographic markets, or the
way those differences shape patterns of social inequity.
The present study joins, then, these former contributions in examining the diversity
paradox in Israel, based on the experiences of female Ethiopian students in higher
education institutions across the country. Through broadening the repertoire of diversity
paradoxes, arguing it is not necessarily a phenotype-based index of descending privilege
but a hierarchization rooted in a moral economy of compassion and benevolence
mediated through signifiers of nationality and religion, I seek to expand our understanding
of other modes of racialization.
Ethiopian Jews in Israel: data and history
As of 2017, some 149 thousand Jewish citizens of Ethiopian origins reside in the State of
Israel, 41% of whom were born in Ethiopia (Israel Central Bureau of Statistics 2018).
While a majority of existing literature on African émigrés speaks of European destination
countries forced to accept refugees fleeing war, persecution and insurmountable economic
hardship in their home countries, the Jewish Ethiopian case is unique in the
literature due to the destination country’s involvement in the migratory process and the
émigrés’ premeditated and longstanding desire to immigrate there, thereby making their
‘Aliyah1’ based on the Zionist narrative of the ‘ingathering of the exiles’2 in the Holy Land
(Lamont et al. 2016, 269).
From the Zionist-Israeli perspective, however, Ethiopian Jews were not always considered
a Jewish diaspora due to the orthodox Jewish establishment’s skepticism towards
their Judaism. The state of Israel has therefore reneged on its responsibility to facilitate
their Aliyah. Only after the passing of the 3379 UN resolution in 1975 which equated
Zionism with racism, did the Israeli government hasten the Aliyah of Ethiopia’s Jews,
culminating on 1984’s ‘Operation Moses’ (Tenenbaum 2013). Conceptualizing Israel as
a settler colonial state, most critical scholars point to the paradoxical ideology at work in
the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel: on the one hand, they are often treated as
‘settlers of color3’, passive pawns brought to Israel as part of Judaizing Palestine in order
to restrain the demographic balance and the increasing of the Arab body. On the other,
dissociation and contempt dominated the representation of the black body as ‘other’,
suffusing exclusionary practices of echoing the grammar of white supremacy to the
exclusion of the Ethiopians from the Israeli national collective through questioning
their Judaism and interpolating them through images of inferiority and dependence
through processes of racialization and criminalization (Yacobi 2015, 20).
Racism directed against Ethiopian Jews in Israel is expressed in two main forms
(differentiated here only in the interest of an analytical dissection): institutional and
everyday racism. Institutional racism begins with the patronizing working assumption of
the Israeli bureaucracy that those who immigrate from ostensibly ‘third world countries’
are inherently unable to master their fates in their new countries and is expressed in
myriad ways: requisite changing of first names of immigrant children to ‘Israeli’ names;
separation of children from their parents and sending them to designated boarding
schools, primarily religious, where little regard was paid to their individual needs and
wishes and were instead trained for blue-collar jobs (Ben-Eliezer 2008; Walsh & Tuval-
Mashiach, 2012).
The absorption of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel was derived, to a large extent, on
a modernizing mindset that underscored enormous cultural gaps between the two countries,
arguing that, in moving from a primitive agrarian setting in Ethiopia to a white, modern and
urban environment in Israel, the immigrants would have to adapt dramatically. To help them
make up for so much, the argument went, the state must pitch in with a structured integration
mechanism which would ‘de-socialize’ and ‘re-socialize’ the immigrants (see, for instance,
Kedar 2012). This approach dictated an integration policy based on far-reaching, often
explicitly patronizing interferences in their lives, one of whose harshest expressions was the
mass relocation of immigrants to designated ‘absorption centers’. Although these centers
were originally supposed to provide a temporary housing solution to the influx of Ethiopian
immigrants, to many they became permanent homes in a process of ‘ghettoization’ of the
immigrants which perpetuated their dependence on government power-brokers and rapidly
transformed the centers into crime-ridden and poverty-stricken quarters segregated from
adjacent residential areas (Herzog 1993; Kaplan and Rosen 1994; Chehata 2012).
Some focal moments have burned themselves into the collective memory of Ethiopian
Jews as signifying the history of institutional racism against them. As soon as they began
arriving in Israel, governmental and rabbinical factors expressed doubts regarding the validity
of their Judaism, leading to lengthy deliberative processes that paused all Aliyah and forced
thousands to wait indefinitely in transit camps for immigration permits. The persistent
discreditation of their religious convictions and affiliations by their coreligionists in Israel
led to initiatives during the late 1970s and 1980s to forcibly proselytize them in ceremonies
including ceremonial baptisms by immersing in Mikvehs, public attestations of their accepting
the yoke of Orthodox rabbinical law and, for men of all ages, circumcision (Kaplan and
Rosen 1994). Although these initiatives were finally curtailed, following the wide
condemnation and resistance they engendered, they were a watershed moment in the
relationship between the Israeli establishment and Ethiopian Jews. This was made worse by
the fact that Russian-speaking immigrants from the former USSR, who flooded Israel during
the early 1990s, were not subjected to any commensurable ‘initiation’ ceremony into the
Israeli-Jewish collective, despite the fact that their personal documents proved some 30% of
them were not Jewish by Halakhic law (Jewish religious law) (Ben-Eliezer 2008).
Another watershed moment in the history of institutionalized racism against Ethiopians
in Israel is popularly known as the ‘blood donations affair’. In 1996, journalists revealed
that, for years, public hospitals in Israel unofficially threw out blood donations from
Ethiopian donors out of unfounded fears that it might be HIV positive. The revelations
set new lows in the relationship between the Ethiopian immigrants to the Israeli establishment,
prompting spontaneous rage and protest demonstrations across the country. Despite
the public outcry, similar revelations were made 10 years later, in 2006, once again uniting
an otherwise diffuse immigrant community in outrage (Chehata 2012). The blood donations
affair of 1996marked a pivotal moment in discourses on race and racismin Israel. The
fact that the issue revolved around differentiation in a physical unchangeable and, indeed,
hideously loaded factor such as blood strengthened the notion that ‘colorblind’ discrimination
has been little more than a cultural-veneer for scientific racism. In academic circles, the
terms ‘race’ and ‘racism’, by and large considered taboo in the intra-Israeli context, had
reemerged in the discussion of Ethiopian Jews in Israel (Salamon 2003).
Over the last years, second-generation Ethiopian immigrants lead new waves of public
protests against institutionalized racism against the community following a proliferation of
incidents of extreme police brutality and fatal shootings against youngsters (Kobovich 2014).
These younger generation activists also attest more loudly and clearly to experiencing everyday
racism, as well. More than their parents ever were, they are more interconnected into
society, many have spent years in boarding schools or other ‘integrationist’ institutions and
have reported having to cope with a grinding array of routine racism in representations,
discourses by their teachers and guides, microaggressions in everyday exchanges with peers
and strangers, all contributing to an overwhelming sense of marginalization, disaffection and
powerlessness. Such microaggressions are reported in almost all aspects of everyday life in
Israel: white Israelis not wanting to sit next to them in the bus, shake their hand, or hire them
to jobs; ‘white flights’ from residential areas, schools, synagogues; categorical denial of
admission to night clubs and dance bars; in unwontedly aggressive behavior by service
providers and police officers (Ben-Eliezer 2008). The number of indictments of Ethiopian
Jews in 2015 was highly disproportionate, twice that of the nationwide rates (3.5%), with
indictments against minors four times as high (8.5%) (Ministry of Justice 2016).
Of the omnipresent difficulties and failures of the absorption policies, Ethiopian
immigrants have been subjected to in Israel one may learn from their long-term socioeconomic
results. Thirty-five percent of Ethiopian Jewish households are under the
official Israeli poverty line compared to 22% nationwide (according to 2013 data).
Although the number of children enlisted in public schools is high and the number of
high-school drop-outs remains low (2% in 2015) compared to nationwide high-school
drop-outs in Israel (2.2%) (Rabinovits 2017, 15, table 8), but those who matriculate with
high-school diplomas sufficient to facilitate higher-education learning amounts to only
a third of all Ethiopian high-school students compared to 52% nationwide (12).
According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, in the 2016–2017 academic year
some 3194 Ethiopian Jews were enlisted in institutions of higher learning, amounting to
some 1.2% of all students. Only 8% of males acquired higher degrees compared to
a higher 22% of females, which is still considerably lower than the nationwide rate of
Jewish females acquiring higher education (43%) (Fox and Friedman 2017, 5, Table 2).
As of 2017, Ethiopian Jews without college degrees are overrepresented in low-paying
job sectors such as human resources agencies, maintenance, retailing, food production,
and textiles. In the retailing sector, non-college educated Ethiopian Jews earn 79% of the
overall median income in that sector, compared to college-educated Ethiopian Jews whose
average income amounts to only 47% of the median income rates in their respective
sectors (Fox & Wilson, 2017). Salaries of non-college educated Ethiopian women are by
and large the lowest of white-collar jobs: production, communications, computer programming,
architecture, scientific research and development, advertising, vehicle sales,
and publishing. For instance, in the communications sector, Ethiopian women average
66% of the median income, and 41% of male median income (Israel Central Bureau of
Statistics 2017)
The study relies on critical race methodology that is crucial in understanding various
ways of racism. Critical race methodology challenges the hegemonic ideology towards
minorities or people of color by exploring the hidden mechanisms of racism experienced
by them. In this paper (Lynn & Parker, 2009), exploring Ethiopian female student’s
experience in Israeli academy challenges the human liberal approach of higher education
as meritocratic, liberal, and color-neutral institute. Relying on narrative as a method
exposes the everyday racism and turn it into overt (Yosso and Solorzano 2009).
As such, this study adopts a qualitative approach, focusing on narrative research that
addresses meaning as part of the participant’s life story. The narrative research characterizes
each person as someone who creates stories concerning his or her identity,
focusing on the participant’s interpretation of his or her life (Bertux and Kohli 1984).
In-depth narrative interviews were held with 50 Ethiopian women students from the
various academic institutes in Israel. Interviews were held in two sessions, seeking to
obtain a rich narrative concerning different aspects of the participants’ academic experience
(Denzin and Lincoln 1994). The interviews employed two methods found to be
mutually complementary: Rosenthal’s (1994) open-ended question producing a narrative
life story, followed by semi-structured questions.
All 50 participants recruited by a research assistant from the various academic institutions
in Israel. Aged between 24 and 36, most respondents are single, a slim minority
married. Twenty respondents were born abroad, 30 born in Israel. Thirty-five study in
Israeli public universities and 15 in collages.
Analysis of the interviews
The analysis of the data followed the grounded theory procedure of Strauss and Corbin
(1998) of open, axial and selective coding. The researcher initially read through the data
several times and took notes to determine patterns and regularities. The data then coded
into derived categories and subcategories.
Narratives of the participants point to the paradox of diversity and affirmative action
employed in Israeli academia toward Ethiopian Jewish students. Thus, the academia is
‘over’ helping and ‘saving’ on one hand; on the other, this policy is ‘emptied’ by the
constant racism experienced by these students in the various arenas of the academia, as
this part shows.
The paradox of ‘the politics of rescue’: celebrating academic morality
The interviewees speak of a situation in which the academic establishment is interested in
aiding the Ethiopian population and facilitate its access to the academia through extensive
full-funding scholarships to Ethiopian candidates, but also describes how this
‘generosity’ stigmatizes its recipients, and the Ethiopian population as a whole, as
dependent. As Herzog claimed (1993, 264), the inherent problem of affirmative action
is that it strengthens the group’s boundaries rather than dissolves them and fuels stigmas
about them, essentially that ‘Ethiopians’ cannot compete on the basis of merit. This is
echoed on Shoshana:
I won’t say no to funding. But to me it’s kind of another nail in our coffin. Makes us more
and more dependent. And you’re always getting stuff: in the army you’ll get a special course
to help you out, in the university they’d give you extra courses. It’s as if they never let you go,
never let you actually compete for anything. It’s also important to make the distinction
between Ethiopians who immigrated during the 90’s and the 2000’s. Because it really is two
entirely different stories. But the issue is, as far as the government is concerned, I’m basically
still a newly-arrived immigrant [Ola Khadasha]. There’s one definition to every immigrant
in Israel, and then there’s one for an Ethiopian immigrant. An Ethiopian immigrant is
anyone whose parents were born in Ethiopia. That’s to say that my child, when and whether
they’ll be born [in Israel], would still be labelled as ‘newly arrived’. And to me it’s very
disturbing to think that I’ll have a child who’ll be eligible from birth to benefits of a newlyarrived
immigrant, when he really isn’t one, never immigrated anywhere.
This extension of such lavish aid to black women effectively robs them of credit for their
achievements, their success is always seen as derived from the aid they have been given, as
Rachel tells:
If I pass something it’s because they’re doing me a favor and I’m Ethiopian. And that’s
kind of disappointing. It’s like it’s not an empowering experience. There’s no question
of forgetting . . . that the academy counts it to its own benefit, the place I am at right
Mirza (2006) found that black women feel that they must be accountable to the establishment
which sponsored them. This feeling of accountability, of being beholden to
generous benefactors, is especially rampant when full funding is extended, as is usually
the case with Ethiopian students, as Miriam recounts:
I do think it preserves [a relationship of dependence, S.A.Q], but I really don’t know if it’s
possible otherwise. I don’t know how . . . I don’t see how these studies could be funded
without this help. But it’s obvious to me that it does preserve, and that there are so many
wrong things that need to be corrected.
At the same time, however, some students are willing to bear the price in order to get the
funding, as Hanna narrates:
There are those who make sure to present us as . . . the image of the African child with a fly
on his face. I know it’s cynical exploitation, but I play along because I don’t have much of
a choice, I want to go places and I can use it. Like its something very demeaning but there’s
little choice. To work while I study is impossible.
The politics of rescue, structured on the otherness and inferiority of the Ethiopian
(Yacobi 2015, 20) allows the Israeli academic establishment to take a moral high ground.
Its role in ‘saving’ Ethiopian students thus make it a socially redemptive space and
provides the moral justification for the policies designed to ‘integrate’ the Ethiopians.
All the while, as the interviewees attest, the academic establishment traffics in stereotypical
images of abject third-world poverty in the interest of raising donations for the
institution. This allows the institution to ‘celebrate its morality’, as Mirza (2006, 103)
aptly noted:
It would appear that black women are highly ‘visible’ when their bodies help higher
education institutions achieve their wider moral and ethical goals and help them appeal to
a wider global market. But this is not a true representation of equality. It is a notion of
diversity that is skin-deep . . . Black women often find themselves appropriated, their bodies
objectified and commodified for ‘the “desiring machine” of capital’.
One of the expressions of the commodification of the black body in service of the
‘desiring machine’ of capital is the appropriation of the personal story of the ‘needy’
Ethiopian for an aggregated collective. Ofra recalls:
I did that trip to Ethiopia. And then the organizer calls me and asks me if I want to share my
experience . . . if I had, what did he call it, if I had an ‘anecdote’ from my Alyiah. And I’m
like, ‘It’s hard to believe you feel you can just call me. You don’t know me . . . ask me to come
share my private story with 30 people. I mean why ever call it my story? It’s so commercialized
now anyway . . . I just think I shouldn’t be going around, selling my story to everyone
. . . I’ll decide whether to tell my story or not. I’ll choose whether to connect it to the
group or not. But his decision to see an Ethiopian name on the list and say ‘Hmm! . . . that’s
interesting! She could tell us her story!’ made me really angry.
The paradox of ethnic non-diversity
Being the first generation of women to study in the academy, their representations in
universities are still low compared to the general population, sometimes amounting to
a single woman in an entire division. How does the lack of ethnic diversity and of ethnic
representation affect the experiences of the racialization of students from Ethiopian
origins? And how does it play into the establishment-led status quo?
The acute scarcity of Ethiopian women in the university faculty is cause for endemic
introspection whether they owe their admissions to their merit or due to the establishment’s
unofficial ‘quotas’ necessary to tick the diversity box, or, in the words of Sara, to
‘color’ the department:
I’m always a bit suspicious of people who really like me only because I’m Ethiopian. I mean,
obviously I believe in my abilities but sometimes I wonder if it’s because I’m Ethiopian,
I mean, so they’ll have a few, so they’ll have a little ‘color’ in the department.
The threshold of representation and ethnic diversity of the Ethiopian population in the
academic establishment is what would complement the liberal façade of the institution
and its departments, rather than ensuring that the student body is proportional to the
various sectors of the population, as explains Ruti:
Even in an honors program, if you have twenty Ethiopian guys who’re excellent, they won’t
admit twenty . . . it is very plausible that some institutions would accept Ethiopians and
who’re not racist, but clearly, like, theoretically, that if you have 40 people who could be
admitted to the same institution – they won’t give them to that institution despite the fact
that there are institutions where there aren’t any Ethiopians whatsoever. Get the drift?
Edna adds:
This is what happens a lot of the time. We’re not seen as individuals, but as an aggregated whole.
One is enough, or two are. Maybe ten. It doesn’tmatter. The idea should be that if you’re good,
you get accepted, regardless of what you are. And that is what’s wrong a lot of the times.
Crawley (2006) shows in this regard that the policy of ethnic diversity in higher education
institutions contents itself with minimal representation, therefore making representation
a façade masking the persistent interest of retaining white privilege in the academy. Mirza
(2006) argues that diversity is often construed as just ‘being present’, as a token presence
of minorities, regardless of any broader agendas of justice or ensuring an equal representation
of the population. Numerical lack of diversity creates a feeling of invisibility, as
Rona describes:
There’s a feeling of being invisible. I felt in my first year, I remember, how it felt everyone
were talking, even that they don’t know each other, and I felt I was sort of like a pink
elephant in the room.
Infrequent presence creates an experience of the ‘burden of representation’, i.e. a collective
gaze unto the student that equates her with her ethnic affiliations, as Telma explains:
You’re the only student in your department. Raise such a subject when you don’t have
support a lot of times. No one really understands you, no matter what you say. Sure, they’ll
empathize with you, but no one will really understand you, so you don’t want to carry that
burden alone. And it’s bearing a whole issue, a whole community, because you’re the
representative. Every trifle you say, people around you take it as if it is the authentic voice
of your people.
Between ‘out of place’ and ‘in place’: denial of academic merit
Wekker (2016, 47) notes: ‘securing white superiority . . . requires automatically assigning
blacks to lower-class status’. Being black in the colonial archive means to be inferior in
the racial ladder. This inferiority has been created and recreated by whites as part of
generating a natural order (ibid, 74) and an essential inferior category. Thus, any
deviation from this inferior category is perceived by whites as being ‘out of place’.
Preserving the inferior status of Ethiopian students also goes through not recognizing
their academic abilities by their automatic herding into separate programs intended for
underprivileged students. In practice, a labeling process is created whereby anyone of
Ethiopian origins is marked regardless of their respective capabilities in the interest of
keeping them ‘in their place’, namely their inferiority in the power matrix of academia.
Thus, attests Mira:
One of the first significant times I realized that my background matters. In the academia you
expect there will be equality and that one’s background won’t matter. You have good grades,
then why should there be any question, you either meet the requirements or you don’t . . .
I remember one meeting with this advisor to Ethiopian students, she tells me ‘Listen, there’s this
program for Ethiopian students in Bar Ilan university, why don’t you try it out.’ I triedasking her
why. Why should I go to an ‘Ethiopian students’ program’ in Bar Ilan if I have the grades to try to
gain admissions to Tel-Aviv. She doesn’t think I’ll get in. I said no. I’m not enrolling in another
university. I have no money, I paid 600 Shekels here, I’mgoing to study. I didn’t understandwhy
they were referring me to the Ethiopians’ program. Couldn’tmake any sense of it. Second degree
again, another advisor for Ethiopian Affairs tells me ‘I don’t think you’re ready, I don’t think
you’re ripe’. Couldn’t see why they kept holding me back. Made me angry. On the other hand,
that’s how I break down doors. So, like, the first time around I understood there’s an issue here.
All that B-S they sold me allmy life, work hard, get a degree, get a good job – it isn’t that simple. It
doesn’t erase the color of your skin. You will not categorize me.
To the white gaze, the presence of Ethiopian students’ black body in the university is
almost automatically associated with staff performing menial tasks, as Keso recalls:
I remember two of my friends asked me, told me ‘Listen, there was a group here who
thought we’re cleaning ladies.’ I was shocked.
Another aspect of racist commends is revealed when Ethiopian students receive astonished
responses for their being bright, meaning their exit from the inferior class, or, to
commentators, being out of place, as Tami illustrates:
I always hate it when people tell me I speak in a high register. “Wow, how impressive! You
speak really well.” I get that a lot. “You’re so articulate!”. All the time. And it’s just
Their labelling as occupying an inferior place is done through numerous everyday micro
gestures of marking by professors and students, and, most forcibly, by the class curricula,
as Dorit explains:
They always throw Ethiopians and Arabs into the same category. When you see studies
about, like, where Ethiopians are in terms of education, schooling, crime rates. And they
show data.
Amit similarly says,
She [a White lecturer] says, “that’s Blacks. They’re more violent.” And I’m the only
Ethiopian in class. So I kind of look at her . . . tell her, “Let’s not talk about it so detachedly.
Let’s talk about me, here. When you say ‘Blacks’, I think you’re generalizing about me, too.”
The labelling of the Ethiopian group as a perpetual failure, or an underclass in the
literature extends to the subjecting of Ethiopian students to demeaning categories, ones
of whom expectations are never high, as Nurit explains:
We’re labelled for her [the professor] as the weakest group, forget about it! That’s what’s
been going on throughout the semester, no matter how hard you try, you’re already
labelled. And it pissed me off, because we really worked our asses off, even more than
other groups.
Studies (e.g. Wekker 2016) show that ignoring status, class or professional capital is
defined as a racist practice, as it reflects an a priori assumption that Ethiopian women are
out of place. This assumption manifests the lack of recognition imprinted in the colonial
archive, perceiving Ethiopian women through the essential category of inferiority according
to the ‘natural order’.
The struggle against their label as out of place is expressed in their attempt to overcompensate,
to work harder and be recognized as brighter than everyone else in hopes of
breaking the racial stereotype. To Yafa, it means:
Being always at the top, being the most witty, sharpest, most on-point, like with answers up
your sleeve, to know as much as possible because you’ll always be asked the questions . . .
I really don’t want to be in the representation trap but you fall into it in a second.
Rina adds:
I don’t want my successes to be ‘the first Ethiopian’ . . . and I don’t want my shortcomings to
be ascribed to that, either. Because I’m Ethiopian, I came from a bad place.
In her study, Wildhagen (2015) argued that the designation of ‘first-generation’ collage
students by the academic institution classifies them as separate from the ‘typical’ college
student and thus grounds views by their peers and professors that they are deficient both
academically and culturally.
‘Apartheid of knowledge’: securing white Jewishness
“Apartheid of knowledge’’ is defined according to Bernal and Villalpando (2002) as the
separation of knowledges that occurs in the American higher education context. For
many years, the knowledge of blacks as inferior created by white hegemony.
The production of hegemonic knowledge in the Academia is inseparable from white
privilege and hegemony. That is to say that hegemony of white privilege is crucial to
legitimating knowledge as ‘correct’ and its current producers as the natural candidates for
the creation and dissemination of knowledge. White privilege is implicit, manifest and
legitimate. Therefore, the knowledge, values, and standards enshrined and promoted by
whites are essential ‘objective’ in the academic field whereas non-whites are ever tainted by
suspicions of bias, whether succumbed to or eventually overcome. The wells of white
experience are everlasting sources for the knowledge industry; those of blacks are apprehensively
brought as counterpoints, inversions or colorful additions to the mainstay (Ibid, 107).
In the Israeli case, as well, women experience the apartheid of knowledge. Thus, for
instance, a white lecturer ventures her explanation as to what black feminism is, without
bringing into account the experiences of her Black student of Ethiopian origins. So tells
us Gili:
It is clear to me that my feminism is different from hers [the white professor, S.A.Q.] But she
thinks she knows more than me. She’s already learned these things, and offers . . . offers to
use it in my benefit, supposedly. It doesn’t help me. She comes and tells me what black
feminism is all about. And I’m like, “Ok, I get that you’ve learned about it, and read articles
about it but let me express myself the way I am right now. Or in general, how I cope with
things.” I mean the issue is how I respond to her on level she’ll understand that she doesn’t
understand me just because she’s read bell hooks.
In the Israeli case, we see that the struggle over controlling dominant knowledge is not only
relevant to creating categories of cultural white superiority and of black inferiority, but
there is also a specific context here of the Jewish category, where Judaismis appropriated by
whites through the production of knowledge in the academia. Thus, explains Klara:
What is astounding to see is how the white, western culture, for at least a thousand years, but
let’s focus on the last six hundred years, really like ties itself to antiquity, to Greece and Rome,
how it celebrates it and tries to insert itself into it. Because there’s some kind of ascendancy
because, like, they were at the top. But then you look and see that they, like you see the bias
(strikes table with her hand) itself in the research. How. Don’t. They. Talk. About. Ethiopia!?
Again, Ethiopia. Not even Africa. Ethiopia. Which, in the Iliad, which is Homer’s earliest text,
he, too uses the word ‘Ethiopos’. Ethiopians. The word, it comes from there. It turns out
Ethiopia was a nation highly valued by the Greek. (dolefully) No one even talks about it.
Because I found who I want to study. I want to study Tamra Temanuel. He’s a Jewish figure.
He was in contact with theHaskalah movement, the Jewish Enlightenmentmovement. He was
part of it and its exactly that. This exactly is that place that allows us to deal with things that
people don’t want to deal with, or don’t interest anybody, or are silenced in an attempt to form
our cognition this way or that. They like saying (angrily) that the Ethiopian Jewry was isolated!
But here, it wasn’t cut off! It’s not true! The Ethiopian Jewry had ties to the Jewish diaspora.
For this student, as Giroux (2000, 494) claims, curriculums, which represents only
dominant culture in society, are also ‘pedagogical resources to rewrite the possibilities
for new narratives, identities, and cultural spaces’.
‘Blind love’: securing national-liberal superiority
The day-to-day encounters of Ethiopian students with white students in Institutions for
higher learning in Israel are often marked by the latter’s professed adoration or blind love to
anything Ethiopian. This over-familiarity is explained by Yacobi (2015) as a white passion to
discover and decipher the fantasy of Ethiopian culture rather than an earnest interest in them.
In the Academia, however, the Ashkenazi white student’s adoration is also a testament of his
liberalism, his class, and his occupation as an academic person. Sima relates:
Because academics so often wave their banners of liberalism, so you know they really love Arabs,
you know? Love Arabs and hate Mizrahim. Love refugees, eager to help. I think it does them
good, because, it underscores their superiority over the other. A sort of paternalism, like. “I’m
lord here, but I accept everyone equally, love . . . ” it’s worst with Ashkenazim. But I think most
pronounced is a feeling of superiority. So they don’t know that, but I thinksub-consciously, I also
have this professor; say, when she addresses an Arabic student in her class, she starts talking a bit
more slowly, starts gesturing a lot, like “Do you understand? Sure?”. Things like that. So it’s
particularly visible in the academia, as sort of, yeah, liberal racism.
Olzi recounts:
I particularly felt this with a friend of mine. He always seemed to have a need to talk to me
about Ethiopia, about Ethiopians and about food. Its like our relationship was based on my
ethnicity. There’s lots of fascination, you know? Lots of fascination. because Ethiopians are
usually nice, so that seems to me the issue, like, they’re really, really nice people, and they
have an amazing culture. Doesn’t know anything about the culture, but it is undoubtedly
“Amazing” to him. To me that’s also racism. Its like being overly nice, unjustifiably so. Its
also something I found to be a symptom of liberal racism.
Yacobi (2015) explained that this encounter reaffirms the gazer’s western position without
meeting his moral infrastructure ‘it carries him away from bearing responsibility for
the colonial oppression and provides the narcissistic indulgence of expressing a critical
stance without remorse’ (ibid, 84). A complementary aspect to this may be white
colonials’ desire to discover the other’s primitivity. The objectification of this primitivity
and its commercialization provide the basis for an ostensibly ‘extraordinary’ encounter
which invariably lends a sense of empowerment and control. This feeling of control is
essential to the setting of national and territorial boundaries to the public in Israel.
Adulation to Ethiopians can conversely be construed as a self-absolution of the charge of
racism, with this anti-racism providing ‘a new discourse of white pride’ (Ahmed 2004, 4).
Narratives of Jewish Ethiopian students in the Israeli academy reveal the paradoxical nature
of the diversity agenda led by a number of higher education institutions. The cultural archive
of the Israeli society and the institutional racism on the basis of color, religion, and nationality
continue to seep into the academia on two additional levels, the meso and micro, producing
an ‘expanded multilevel framework’ of institutional racism (see Coretta 2011).
This framework explains institutional racism as a racialization that takes place at the
micro, meso and macro levels. The macro racialization level includes the structural forces
that determine material conditions which ‘provide a frame through which institutional
processes and practices at the meso level are enacted’ (ibid, 177). Those are implemented
by individuals (micro) that are constrained or enabled by structural forces as well. The
meso level includes the socio-economic disadvantage, political, media and popular
discourses dressing race\ethnicity, all which ‘contribute to the common sense understanding
of social life, which inform processes of the micro-level racialization’ (ibid, 177).
Drawing from this model, the paper shows that despite diversity policy suggested at
the macro institutional level, it is not sufficient enough by its own to reduce racism at the
meso (i.g, curriculum, financial support) and micro levels (daily interactions with
professors, colleagues, and white students). Even when universities at the meso level
try to enhance the socio-economic situation of Ethiopian students by scholarship for all,
it does not minimize racialized interactions at the micro-level, which is still influenced by
the inferior representation of Ethiopian women.
Findings here reveal that the practice of diversification is, in fact, a form of lip-service
which fell short of fully instituting diversity. As a result, in other words, the diversification
policy did not change the daily forms of racism experienced by Ethiopian students
from their teachers and their peers (micro) and did not alter their exclusion from the
curricula (meso). The paradox of diversity raises the ‘racial grammar’ of inequality in the
Israeli academia, revealing a deep structure of inequality in thought and affect based on
race at the heart of the Israeli archive and is sustained by actors of all academic levels.
This racial order is imprinted onto the history and institutional structure of the state
(Martinez, LaBennet, and Pulido 2012).
The intersection of the experience of racialization on the macro, micro, and meso levels
label Judaism and Israeli nationalism as the patrimony of white Jews only. Its white
supremacy also furnishes moral ascendancy and liberal supremacy over the abject
Ethiopian woman. This preservation draws the limits and creeds of the national collective –
the Jew as white, hegemonic and morally superior to marginal groups and minorities. The
sense of moral superiority which bred by the homogenic diversity policy is important and
significant in sustaining the nation through a strategic instillation of shame and pride, as
Ahmed writes, ‘the ideal image of the nation, which is based on some bodies and not on
others, is sustained through this very conversion of shame and pride’ (2004, 3).
In the Israeli context, the diversity policy creates a sense of high moralism amongst the
white protagonists of the Israeli academy, forming the national identity as essentially moral,
or as Ahmed put it: ‘to assert our identity as a nation’, since ‘shame makes the nation in the
witnessing of past injustice. It allows the nation to feel better or even to feel good’ (Ibid, 3).
In celebrating the Establishment’s moral constitution and its white Jewishness, the category
of racialization develops, molding into different forms according to the political and
social objectives the establishment designates and the forces operating within it (Martinez,
LaBennet, and Pulido 2012) on all levels. For instance, in order to keep with its moral
ascendancy, racialization takes the form of ‘rescue’ (macro), ‘blind love’ (micro) and ‘apartheid
of knowledge’ (in preserving the ascendancy of white Jewishness in the meso level).
The different expressions of this category form the various definitions of Ethiopian
students in the academia, and this depends on the manner in which their shifting definitions
serve the interests of the academic establishment. In order to celebrate its morality, the
establishment depends not only on forming ever new categories of ‘need’ (otherness, invisibility,
and inferiority) associated with being Ethiopian but also on the categories of ‘representativeness’
(visibility/prominence). These categories are interchangeable in the macro,
micro, and meso levels according to the establishments’ needs. Thus, for instance, the separate
programs for Ethiopians (macro), the extensive scholarships (meso) and the exclusionary
curricula (meso) place them in the category of persons ‘in need’ or as ‘others’, assisting the
preservation of moral ascendancy of the establishment and its self-image as a force for good.
This labelling, according to Crawley (2006, 107) is ‘threatening and as necessary. Their
strangeness is threatening in relation to how social order is perceived, and it is necessary
in order to provide boundaries to what is considered to be normal’. This category
switches in their transformation into ‘representatives’, for instance, through the practice
of commercializing their bodies in pursuit of a diverse façade alongside their minimal
representation in departments’ faculties (‘color in the department’). However, the criteria
of visibility and representation are themselves put in service of the establishment. For,
according to Ahmed, ‘standing out can invoke deep feelings of need, rejection and
anxiety within the “white other”’ (Ahmed 2004). All these help the academic institution
celebrate its morality, which is an important part of the reaffirmation of the exclusion of
Ethiopians from the national collective and white Jewishness.
In the Israeli context, national and religious ascendancy plays an important role in
preserving the normative order through a juggling of visibility and invisibility, presenting
the Ethiopian students once as abject women in need of donations and once as exemplary
entrepreneurs to be celebrated.
1. Zionist movement placed Aliyah (Emigration of Jews from Europe to Palestine) as one of its
primary goals, a priority that stands at the heart of the Law of Return, amongst the first laws
to be legislated in the State of Israel, that determines that the Aliyah of Jews to the state does
not constitute immigration but rather a realization of a Jewish birthright to return to their
homeland (Fikar 1999, 338).
2. The melting pot was an integration policy led by early Israeli governments aimed at
achieving the ‘ingathering of the Exiles’, one of the primary goals of early Israeli statehood
that stipulated the social, economic and cultural absorption of immigrants and their full
integration with the veteran Jewish population from the mandatory era.
3. Settlers of color is a term aims to ‘highlight how non-indigenous people of color are set up (by
settler colonial states) to take part in the politics of genocide regardless of their intentions or
historical circumstances, because their displacement into indigenous lands simultaneously
erases indigenous people who previously occupied these lands’ (Smith 2012, 80–81).
I thank the ministry of science, technology & space for funding this research between 2014-2017.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
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Current Sociology 2019, Vol. 67(1) 141–158
© The Author(s) 2017
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0011392117742432
The biopolitics of declassing
Palestinian professional
women in a settler-colonial
Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder
Bluastein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University, Israel
This article argues that the biopolitics of declassing Palestinian professional women
in Israel, which constitutes part of the logic of eliminating the native, is mediated by
colonial violence that secures labor market class sovereignty for settlers. In this context,
the term declassing refers to rendering this class invisible by disregarding the women’s
presence and/or value in the labor market. The study unpacks the logic of elimination
through the racialized, everyday lived experience of middle-class professional women in
Bedouin society who succeeded in entering the Jewish workplace. These women face
sophisticated erasure tactics, paralleling various manifestations of the direct politics of
fear that discipline the body, will and mind, as well as indirect opposition reflected in the
settler-colonial reinforcement of patriarchal power against women. This article reveals
concealed violent forms of power practiced by the colonialists to declass Palestinian
women and preserve colonialist class superiority in the labor market.
Biopolitics, declassing, middle-class women, settler colonialism
The colonial logic of elimination (Veracini, 2010) and exclusion of indigenous Palestinians
through settler colonialism have been studied from various points of view in several
Corresponding author:
Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder, Bluastein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev,
Israel, 8499000.
742432CSI0010.1177/0011392117742432Current SociologyAbu-Rabia-Queder
142 Current Sociology 67(1)
disciplines, including citizenship (Abdo, 2011), space (Yiftachel, 2009), history (Jamal,
2011) and others. In this article, I argue that the biopolitics of declassing Palestinian professional
women, as part of the logic of eliminating the native, is mediated by colonial
violence intended to secure settler class sovereignty in the labor market. The term declassing
refers to Palestinian women’s class subordination, i.e., disregarding their presence
and/or value in the labor market.
The research population consists of a group of middle-class women from the southern
Naqab, who account for no more than 4.1% (Ghara, 2015: 73) of Bedouin1 society yet
represent its greatest financial, educational and cultural capital.
Colonization of the Palestinian economy has been examined extensively with regard
to strategies that impede work access and deny economic rights through land exploitation,
geographical separation, ghettoization of economic enclaves and displacement (see
Turner and Shweiki, 2014). By contrast, my study aims at unpacking the logic of elimination
through the racialized, everyday lived experience of middle-class women in
Bedouin society who succeeded in entering the hegemonic Jewish workplace. I argue
that the settlers’ elimination mechanisms target not only weakened segments of the population,
but also its economically strong sections.
By decolonizing the corpus of knowledge on women and employment, this study
offers an innovative approach that has not been addressed previously in the relevant
literature. First, most research on racialization of the political economy of Palestinians
in Israel examined the topic from a macro standpoint, analyzing power relations between
the state and the Palestinian minority and their effect on the Palestinian political economy
(Abu-Bader and Gottlieb, 2009; Abu-Rabia-Queder, 2017; Lewin-Epstein and
Semyonov, 1994). Second, studies assessing the marginality of Palestinian women in
the labor market mostly adopted a statistical approach (stipulating percentages of
employed and unemployed women) and a perspective that links the political-colonial
structure with cultural factors that deny women equal access (Herzog, 2004; Khattab,
2002; Yonai and Kraus, 2010).
This article argues that despite the obstacles addressed in the literature (such as a
shortage of employment opportunities, the lack of public transportation to and from
Palestinian villages and ongoing racism in the Jewish labor market that largely close
the gates to Palestinian women and thereby lead to high unemployment rates − 80%
among Bedouin women; see Abu-Bader and Gottlieb, 2009), a minority group of professional
middle-class women succeeded in entering the hegemonic labor market. It
is there, however, that they face sophisticated erasure tactics, paralleling various
manifestations of the direct politics of fear that discipline the body, will and mind, as
well as indirect opposition reflected in the reinforcement of patriarchal power against
This article contributes to the field of bodily class stratification/subordination, that is
not carried out primarily by economic (Scott, 2002) or symbolic (Anthias, 2001) means,
but rather through everyday embodied practices involving violent mechanisms. I begin
by unpacking the mechanisms of the ‘logic of elimination’ of women in settler contexts
along two principal theoretical axes: Settler colonialism and its mechanisms of violence,
control and biopolitics, on the one hand, and understanding the politics of declassing in
settler-colonial contexts, on the other.
Abu-Rabia-Queder 143
Settler colonialism, violence, control and biopolitics
Settler colonialism has been defined as a structure (Veracini, 2010) serving as a basis for
analyzing race and gender subordination (Glenn, 2015). In this article, I add class subordination
to the formula. The settler’s primary goal is to establish sovereignty and property
rights over lands and territory through the logic of ‘eliminating’ the natives, an
objective achieved through biopolitics aimed at administration and regulation of the
population – as individuals and collectives – including practices of correction, exclusion,
normalization, disciplining, selection and elimination (Lemke, 2011: 5). In his work,
Foucault (1980) refers to three meanings of biopower: Rearticulation of sovereign power,
which has a central role in the rise of modern racism and the production of liberal forms
of social regulation and individual self-governance. Settlers use various direct and indirect
forms of violence, such as forced displacement of indigenous people from their
lands, masked by ideologies such as modernization, militarized genocide, cultural erasure
through biological or cultural assimilation, containment through segregation and
separation in the public space (Glenn, 2015) and body politics.
Glenn (2015) refers to settler colonialism as a project producing a racialized and gendered
national identity that normalized male whiteness; in the Palestinian case, it normalizes
Jewish sovereignty. This supremacy is achieved by various violent forms of ‘denial
and disavowal of the history of violent dispossession of the indigenous’ (Veracini, 2010:
14), as well as by structuring a naturalized image of the indigenous person as an uncivilized
‘other’ who does not belong to the national boundaries of the nation, unlike the
white full citizen.
In this regard, women’s bodies are used to discipline the native either directly or indirectly,
by manipulating patriarchal control (Stoler, 1997). Patriarchal order may be
exploited, for example, through legitimizing sexual violence and not interfering in cases
of violence against native women. The colonial perception is that women’s bodies are
polluted and thus sexually violable and ‘rapable’ (Smith, 2003: 73). ‘Dirty’ bodies are
perceived as a security, economic and social threat, as ‘ “biologized” internal enemies
(Stoler, 1997: 59). Moreover, women’s bodies are used as a tool for colonial intervention:
particularly through the rhetoric of saving native women from native men, legitimizing
colonial control in land and space (Abu-Lughod, 2013). In addition, colonial
imperialism strengthens patriarchy among the natives and thus perceives itself as more
egalitarian – and consequently more normative – than native society. Patriarchal white
men’s need to control white women is legitimized by the patriarchal control of native
women (Smith, 2003).
In the economic realm, settler colonialism is characterized by its capacity to control
the ‘population economy as a marker of a substantive type of sovereignty’ (Veracini,
2010: 12). This sovereignty is driven by body politics that regulate political life, organize
the community and maintain local control. Sovereignty is practiced not only at the formal
levels of state institutions, but also has alternative forms effected through informal
mechanisms, such as controlling the indigenous economy, subordinating its metropole
and disavowing the indigenous subject (Veracini, 2010: 72).
One such concealed violent form of power is manifested in symbolic violence.
Bourdieu (1989) claims that non-recognition is central to the maintenance of symbolic
144 Current Sociology 67(1)
violence. Long-term domination will succeed if it is esteemed as non-recognition of a
kind of fundamental arbitrariness. Such non-recognition allows for legitimation of domination
and its internalization by the dominated, thereby rendering it ‘natural’. Its effectiveness
is inherent in its embodiment in bodies and habitus, as revealed in physical signs
such as the dominated’s discomfort, contrasting sharply with the dominator’s sense of
confidence and wellbeing. Domination is thus based on obedience to the existing order
and its assimilation in the bodies of the dominated, leading to a feeling of low selfesteem
and even to self-denial reflected in emotions such as anxiety, guilt or even desire.
Symbolic violence is not experienced palpably, but is achieved in a soft, less overt
manner, through contact, awareness and emotion. Accordingly, research on the lived
experiences of Bedouin women would contribute significantly to exposure of the relevant
means of control applied to them and the methods used to legitimize these means.
The politics of declassing in a settler-colonial context
The literature detailed below points to various class systems that the colonizer institutes
within the colonized society, based on level of education, family or clan affiliations or
socioeconomic aspects. Another class system level imposed and practiced by the colonizer
is to dehumanize and demote the colonized, deeming them unworthy of freedom,
rights and so on.
Class stratification is mediated by racialized ideologies and practices, along with an
institutionalized policy that usually structures an inferior economic position for disadvantaged
minority groups. Dominant groups generally succeed in legitimizing their own
culture and mores as superior to those of lower classes by exercising ‘symbolic violence’;
they ‘impose a specific meaning as legitimate while concealing the power relations
that are the basis of its force. They use their legitimate culture to mark cultural
distance and proximity, to monopolize privileges, and to exclude and recruit new occupants
to high status positions – translating symbolic distinction into closure’ (Lamont
and Molnár, 2002: 172–173).
Initial contact between economics and colonial conquest is mediated by the mechanisms
of settler colonialism (McEwan, 2009) that wants not only to control the other
but also to eliminate it in concealed ways. History shows that class formation is a
product of settler colonialism (Good, 1976). The colonizer’s need to advance industrial
and economic superiority through control of land and labor was satisfied by the cheap
labor provided by largely unskilled indigenous workers in urban localities. As economic
colonial capitalism proceeded, a change in social structure took place under
settler colonialism.
One way that colonialists define class boundaries is the manipulation of middle-class
positioning during the colonial period. An educated and nationally conscious middle
class played an important role during the colonial period. Its political mobility threatened
the colonial ruling authorities, that in turn instituted a variety of measures to suppress it.
In South Africa, for example (West, 2002), even though the colonial state kept the indigenous
as hewers of wood and drawers of water, the middle class flourished thanks to the
missionary education that colonialism provided as part of its acculturation policies.
African nationals took advantage of this opportunity to escape working life. At the same
Abu-Rabia-Queder 145
time, their skills and knowledge were essential within the colonial capitalist system that
ran the mission schools, in which they worked as clerks, merchants and bookkeepers. As
this group of educated persons represented a threat to the colonial state, particularly on
its expansion after the First World War, the state responded in developing industrial education
to check expansion of an intellectual elite and to mold an underdeveloped indigenous
society. The middle class, however, refused to be subordinated by colonial realities.
As intellectuals with national awareness, they continued to struggle for African rights
and thus continued to pose a threat to the white conqueror.
Consequently, the colonialist was always interested in neutralizing the revolutionaries
from among the ‘skilled and experienced leaders in modern organization, and to narrow
the composition of the movement to poor peasants, unskilled workers and unemployed’
(Good, 1976: 613). Accordingly, the rulers realized that alliances should be forged with
the traditional leaders, intensifying their traditional tribal leadership to preserve control
of the indigenous middle class, thereby practicing ‘containerization of a subject people’
(Mamdani, 1996: 51).
In the colonial history of Mandatory Palestine, repression of the middle class entailed
various strategies to neutralize the common class interest of residents. One of the bestknown
such strategies applies the divide and rule principle by creating a client state and
politics of notables. The ruler forges a kind of alliance with the upper class in exchange
for extra goods, employment privileges and political rights, forming a colonial glass ceiling
(Watenpaugh, 2006: 2013). In response to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the Arab
intelligentsia and the ruling groups in Mandatory Palestine – who then comprised an elite
of landowners, merchants, senior officials, professional groups and religious aristocrats
– began to organize national protest committees. The political mobility of the Palestinian
middle class threatened the colonial authorities, who responded by adopting various
repressive means, as Rosenfeld explains:
By declassing Arabs, by ‘officially’ making them different, ‘superficial and Levantine,’ … the
state attempt[s] to justify ends, mainly land expropriation, that are specially directed against
Arabs. (Rosenfeld, 1978: 401)
Additionally, colonial rule in Mandatory Palestine broadened class disparities among
different groups and religious sectors, especially when the urban minority controlled the
rural provinces, by reaching out to local leaders and according them additional rights so
that they could control the rural population and exact funds from them (in 1920, most
Palestinians, about 75%, were rural soil tillers; Rosenfeld, 1978). These disparities gave
rise to friction and competition for jobs and employment among religious groups, families
and clans, as well as within the dominant group (educated Muslims and Christians), leading
to the disintegration of class solidarity aiming to decline the national Palestinian interest.
Economic dependence on settlers thus increased, intensifying rural migration to urban
regions. By the 1940s, the emerging proletarian wage-earners’ class had developed into a
flourishing middle class employed in commerce and administration. The thriving urban
intelligentsia played an important role in the Palestinian national movement and in its
political and cultural institutions until it was uprooted by the 1948 war and Nakba (Arabic:
catastrophe) (Mana’a, 1999). The weakened rural group that remained within the
146 Current Sociology 67(1)
boundaries of Israel lacked political and economic power. The Palestinian bourgeois and
the burgeoning Arab cities were cast to the margins and doomed to destruction (Mana’a,
1999). This strategy was intensified by the Zionist Movement, that achieved Jewish control
of state economic resources by conquering land, labor and the market (Mana’a, 1999:
301) through a series of discriminatory laws and political programs and national organizations
such as the Jewish National Fund – a Zionist body established in 1901 to control
land – and the General Federation of Hebrew Labor (Histadrut), established in 1920 as a
trade union to promote Jewish labor. At the Twelfth World Zionist Congress in 1921, the
Zionist Movement coined the expression ‘Zionist ownership’ of land, achieved by replacing
the existing Palestinian population with a Jewish one. Agricultural settlement was a
very important objective for Zionist policy because it was perceived as the most efficient
tool in establishing a territorial base for Jewish society and reinforcing the Jews’ emotional
and cultural ties with the land (Nadan, 2006: 87). This policy endangered the
Palestinian labor market, as 70% of Palestinians were farmers for whom the land was a
source of livelihood, identity and status. As a result of massive land acquisitions, the disparity
between the Jewish and Palestinian economies increased, the rift between the two
populations widened and when the World Zionist Organization (WZO) launched a campaign
to impose Jewish labor in Jewish cities, Palestinian work migration to major urban
centers declined, unemployment among Arabs increased and Palestinian agriculture was
affected adversely, leading to an increase in capitalistic production (commercial agriculture
and industry) in the Jewish labor market, while its Palestinian counterpart remained
non-capitalistic and primarily agrarian (Asad, 1976).
As the Palestinian middle class stagnated, the Jewish one flourished thanks to Israeli and
American government assistance, becoming the dominant factor in all branches of government.
The resulting ruling group thus derived its economic power and resources from land
and property belonging to Palestinians uprooted from their homeland, transforming them
into means of promoting the Jewish middle class and private sector (Rosenfeld, 1978).
This policy is still in effect today: The lack of investment in development of Palestinian
localities and the dearth of economic opportunities for Palestinians preclude emergence
of the human capital required for class mobility, thus perpetuating economic dependence
on the Jewish sector (Khatttab, 2002).
Another means of preserving the rights of the hegemonic collective is the delineation
of physical and symbolic boundaries in the relevant space (Jamal, 2011). One such manifestation
is the isolation of Palestinian localities from Jewish ones through institution of a
racist separation mechanism along spatial and temporal axes, constituting part of a spatial
Judaization policy that gave rise to ghetto citizenship within a creeping apartheid system
(Yiftachel, 2009: 56), in which economic ghettos of poverty are characterized by a backward,
undeveloped and unprofitable economy that cannot compete in the hegemonic labor
market (Khattab, 2002). Most Palestinian localities in Israel are distant from industrial
centers; consequently, anyone who does succeed in finding employment in the Jewish
sector usually works at blue-collar occupations and earns discriminatory wages, even if
his or her training is equivalent to that of their Jewish colleague. Abdo (2011: 40) calls
such conditions racialized inclusion. While the Jewish national economy is based on manufacturing,
industry and development, a third of Palestinian families are dependent on the
Jewish labor market and work therein, another third rely on the local Palestinian market
Abu-Rabia-Queder 147
that is undeveloped and unprofitable and the remaining third on stipends from the Israel
National Insurance Institute because of unemployment, disability, retirement or old age
(Khalidi, 2008: 4). Among the Palestinian-Bedouin, these rates are even higher, with 66%
overrepresentation in unskilled industry and service occupations and very high rates of
women’s unemployment (80%) and poverty (80%) (Abu-Bader and Gottlieb, 2009).
The intersectional location of Palestinian middle-class women in Israel, as women
and as professionals who enter the Jewish labor market with cultural and professional
capital equal to that of their Jewish colleagues, as well as class identity (see Abu-Rabia-
Queder, 2017) that embraces critical awareness, indeed threatens colonial power relations.
As professional Palestinian women are ‘legal persons and living beings’ (Foucault,
2008: 82), one ought to inquire how such subjects are to be governed.
Analytical approach
The study applies intra-categorical analysis, as proposed by McCall (2005), that requires
a focused cross-analysis of a given social group and attempts to reveal new aspects of the
everyday lived experience of racism among the transparent group – Bedouin professional
women in this case. The practical research methods derived from this approach are
qualitative, based primarily on analysis of narratives that help reveal sophisticated ways
in which women experience racism and elimination.
Research population
The study involves 50 college-educated Bedouin women in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties,
employed in the public sector in Bedouin localities and nearby Jewish towns, 80% of
whom are married with children and 20% single. The population includes teachers (20%),
school guidance counselors (8%), principals (10%), social workers (14%), physicians (4%),
nurses (14%), researchers (2%), lawyers (14%), psychologists (2%), pharmacists (10%) and
a librarian (2%). This group is part of a developing population of middle-class professional
women among the mostly poor and unemployed Bedouin society (Abu-Bader and Gottlieb,
2009). Although their salaries are higher than the minimum wage (~US$1000/month) in
Bedouin society and the number of children they have (2–3) is lower than the Bedouin average
(7.1; Negev Bedouin Statistical Data Book, 2010), they remain a reduced minority group
within their society: Educated professional women accounted for only 4.1% of the Bedouin
sector (in 2010–2011), as compared with 18% among their counterparts in the Palestinian
population of Israel as a whole (Ghara, 2015: 73).
Research procedure
As a member of the studied society who is personally acquainted with many of the participants,
I did not find it difficult to locate candidates and persuade them to participate.
Most of the women I interviewed, however, were those with whom I had no previous
acquaintance, as I sought to maintain some distance from the participants, enabling
148 Current Sociology 67(1)
analysis of their narratives without personal bias (interviews with the other women were
conducted by research assistants). They all opened up to me, telling their stories
Data were collected through two-part narrative interviews, of which the first part
focused on personal background questions such as age, number of years of schooling,
number of years at work, marital status, number of children, workplace and place of
residence (Arab or Jewish), while the second solicited occupational narratives, asking
open questions about choice of occupation, workplace selection, hiring processes,
relations with colleagues and clients, barriers in choice of occupation, role and perceptions
of husband, extended family and community and family–work conflicts. The
questions are based on studies of minority women and employment designating these
factors as the principal determiners of women’s participation in the labor market (see
Modood, 2005).
Analysis of the data followed Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) grounded theory procedure
of open, axial and selective coding. Initially, I read the data several times and took notes
to determine patterns and regularities. The data were then coded into derived categories
and subcategories in two primary layers: Discrimination and agency. Discrimination
includes two time axes – professional choice and the various penalties experienced in the
workplace (see Abu-Rabia-Queder, 2017) – while agency consists of the strategies
women employ to negotiate between their public and private lives (a topic beyond the
scope of this study).
The findings presented below reveal the direct and indirect disciplinary means by which
the hegemonic players within the Israeli labor market racialize middle-class women as
part of the colonial logic of elimination.
Hostile ‘otherness’ in language and space: The politics of fear
Non-authorization of the native language constitutes another means of applying discipline
and replicating the conqueror’s sovereignty, as it effectively amounts to non-recognition
of the existence/identity of the indigenous people through their language. Language-based
discipline creates what Bourdieu (1992: 5) calls a unified labor market, that serves as a
means of consolidating the social colonial body.
Colonialists exclude indigenous people from hegemonic space by framing their language
as threatening, using the economy of fear as a mechanism to secure the colonizer’s
authority over space, time and life (Shalhoub-Kevorkian, 2015: 4). In Jewish public
space in Israel, Arabic is labeled as the language of the enemy and is consequently perceived
as yet another sign of hostile ‘otherness’ that dehumanizes the Arab (Amara et al.,
2016): Anyone who speaks Arabic is marked immediately as an enemy or as a person
speaking the enemy language who must be eliminated from the social body ipso facto.
Language becomes a significant component in the identity of Palestinian women professionals
and speaking Arabic designates the speakers not only as part of the Palestinian/
Muslim enemy, but also as non-authorized others (Bourdieu, 1992: 9).
Abu-Rabia-Queder 149
Arab-Bedouin women employed in the hegemonic labor market report their fear that
colleagues or patients may discover that they are Arabs. Hence they attempt to conceal
their native Arabic language. A psychologist discusses her experiences trying to hide her
Arab identity when meeting with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish patient, fearing a racist reaction:
‘There was a case last week of an ultra-Orthodox family. I wasn’t on duty and the
father came in to ask a question. As soon as I saw him, I hung up the phone. What if they
find out I’m an Arab?’
Their national identity turns these women into hostile, feared ‘others’, who lose their
sense of belonging to their workplace. They report apprehension about expressing political
views, speaking about Arab national identity and fear of racist responses. One health
system employee said:
I’m at this place … but I don’t exactly belong. I have a gut feeling that keeps me from being
confident that this is my place … I cannot say everything I want to say without fear … it’s very
Fear of staff reactions becomes more sensitive during wartime:
I would close myself up inside my room, I preferred coming out only to get my mail or take
something from the printer.
This fear is intensified by employers who insist on using the hegemonic language
even when treating Arabic-speaking patients. One participant attests: ‘The director told
me: “You know what? You’re right, they’re Arabs. But that doesn’t mean you have to
speak to them in Arabic. Speak Hebrew.” ’
The fear of speaking Arabic, perceived as a non-legitimate language that immediately
designates the Arab as a threat, attests to racialization of public space through
language as a signifier of a threatening national identity. In this racialized space,
language is a means of underscoring Jewish sovereignty of public space and the normative
status of Hebrew as the superior language. Internalization of such apprehension
by Palestinian women professionals attests to replication of the settler’s power
and dominance through what Steele (2009) terms a stereotype threat. The fear of
being labeled a threat as a result of speaking your own language is indeed capable of
intensifying the adverse effects of labeling. Fear of being labeled ‘dangerous others’
causes these professional middle-class women to feel unsafe, depriving them of their
sense of belonging.
Biopower in the service of Jewish sovereignty
Supremacist settler colonization produces specific modes of biopolitics that persist not
only in settler states but also in global governance regimes that inherit, extend and naturalize
their power (Morgensen, 2011: 52). The dominant group legitimizes its position
using an ideology that justifies social and racial arrangements. As Lorde (1984) noted:
‘Racism [is] the belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby
the right to dominance’ (see also Yosso and Solorzano, 2009: 131). Lorde claims that one
150 Current Sociology 67(1)
should assess white dominance and hegemony not only according to white privilege but
also white sovereignty, as the latter is a condition for the former. Privilege is granted
even without the subjects’ recognition that life has been made a little easier for them,
having been achieved through such markers as skin color, culture, language, etc.
(Leonardo, 2009: 261).
Colonial domination and guaranteed sovereignty in public institutions is expressed
primarily by blocking the progress of Palestinian professional women and placing only
Jewish women in managerial positions. One Family Health Center nurse reported:
I have a kind of feeling that the supervisors will say something like: ‘You know, we represent
the … Jews or the government.’ In this entire affair, I feel that we Bedouin nurses are not having
our voices heard the way they ought to be. It’s as if they’re not allowing us to do so. We know
our own culture more than other people do. We can run the clinic better because we’re more
familiar with Bedouin patients.
A nurse describes the placement of Jewish Russian-speaking nurses instead of Arabicspeaking
nurses in a place where the latter were sorely needed:
When you see someone that they brought in from Russia, who barely speaks Hebrew, people
don’t understand her. It’s a catastrophe! … I asked why all the instructors are Jewish. Why do
they hire so many Jewish employees and then have to rely on translation?
Placing Jewish workers and managers where Arabic-speaking professionals are
needed is an example of the biopower process (Foucault, 1980), that aims at replacing
the ‘surplus’ Palestinian body impeding the colonizer’s expansion and accumulation of
capital and landscape.
‘Out of place’: Settler denial of indigenous professionalism
Bedouin women sense that they have to bear the burden of proof that they are professional.
Most of the women interviewed repeated the statement: ‘I always felt that I had
to prove myself.’ An attorney says: ‘You always have to make sure to prove that you are
professional even though you are an Arab woman.’
The presence of professional Bedouin women in public space as employees with cultural
capital equal to that of their Jewish colleagues arouses astonishment among their
colleagues and employers alike. Such reactions are brought on by a racist system that
ignores the skills and capital of the employee and focuses on her origin. Arab women in
Israel are assigned to an essential category that draws on the colonial archive of public
discourse in Israel, relying on racism like a habitus transmitted and imprinted in institutions,
everyday life, organizations, thinking patterns, behavior and attitudes towards the
other (Wekker, 2016).
Studies show that ignoring status, class or professional capital is defined as a racist
practice, as it reflects an a priori assumption that Arab professional women are out of
place. This assumption manifests the lack of recognition imprinted in the colonial
archive, perceiving Bedouin women through the essential category of inferiority according
to the ‘natural order’ that has also become the colonial order. The amazement that
Abu-Rabia-Queder 151
Jewish employees express demonstrates that the colonialist link between Arabs and low
status is automatic, enabling preservation of Jewish supremacy at the Israeli workplace,
as Wekker (2016: 47) notes: ‘securing white superiority … requires automatically assigning
blacks to lower-class status’. Coping with this situation by demonstrating professionalism
constitutes an attempt to detach the inherent connection between Arabs and inferior
status or professional incompetence.
The class-racial labeling that Bedouin women experience does not differentiate
between their professionalism and their ethnic origin. One way of coping with this situation
is an attempt to shatter ethnic stereotypes by separating one’s professional image
from the ‘Arab woman’ tag. A physician who began her career in the Jewish sector and
suffered racist remarks by patients talks about the separation she institutes to serve as a
role model for the image of a Bedouin woman:
I make this distinction because I see myself as a physician. I ask myself whether I can or cannot
treat someone. If I cannot, then he’ll certainly say: ‘Sure, it’s because she’s a Bedouin. She
doesn’t know how to treat me.’ I have to be a role model and the manner in which I behave …
I have to be respectful and polite, but lately I began to understand that along with my being a
physician, in the background I am also a Bedouin Arab woman and I have to give of myself so
that they will see how a Bedouin woman behaves and I can serve as an example for Bedouin
women, who can look at me and say: ‘Oh, I know a Bedouin woman who conducts herself in
such a manner.’
Indirect disciplining
Indirect disciplining of the professional Bedouin’s presence in public space is mediated
by reinforcement of patriarchal pressure. As Morgensen (2012: 10) points out: ‘[G]
endered and sexual power relations appear to be so intrinsic to procedures of indigenous
elimination and settler indigenization.’ Strengthening of patriarchal power aims at creating
a patriarchal or traditional wall so that women will be unable to penetrate and destabilize
colonial space. In this manner, they would be disciplined by patriarchal control,
preventing any show of resistance to the colonialists. Such pressure is manifested through
the intersection of patriarchal and labor market exploitation.
When women are discriminated against at their workplace and receive no job promotions,
the patriarchy adopts a more inimical stance towards them. One example is the
story of an unmarried librarian whose father supported her financially during her studies
and confronted the extended family to allow her to leave home, but when she was not
promoted and only worked part-time, he began to press her to change her profession to
teaching, so that she would earn a respectable living:
It was only because I worked for four hours that my father began to dislike the job: ‘You’re not
earning enough!’ It was just at this time that my second sister finished studying education and
began working at our local school as a teacher, where she was earning a very good salary and
finished work every day at 2:00. I worked until eight at night, spending many long hours there
but not earning very much, so there was always this comparison between my sister and me,
especially because I had no work benefits. He really began to wonder whether I made a good
choice or not. I kept saying that everything was all right and that it was only a matter of time.
152 Current Sociology 67(1)
He made a decision: ‘It’s really not good for you, so leave it and come back here to be a teacher’
… I think I will leave the job. I’ll get out of it. Out of desperation, I said I would stay at home
for the time being. You cannot believe how hard it was for me out there: Working only four
hours when you’re capable of working more, because you’re able to do so physically.
Another example demonstrates the intersection of place of residence, mobility and
gender, revealing the lack of consideration that Bedouin women employees encounter.
Bedouin villages have no regular public transportation, but Jewish drivers are unwilling
to enter these villages, thus imposing yet another burden on these women:
It was difficult because the hospital’s pick-up van [whose drivers were Jewish] would not come
into the village. The driver and his passengers [nurses] were afraid to do so. At first, they would
pick me up at Shoqet Junction. Standing there alone was really dangerous. I remember the first
day that I got on the van, what the nurses were saying: ‘We won’t let it happen. We won’t go in.
They’d better not think that we’ll go in there.’ They started tossing out all kinds of comments
and I really felt … Each of them was privileged to be picked up at her home, while I had to wait
at the roadside because the nurses were afraid to enter [my village]. ‘If you want to pick her up,
then pick her up first and then get us later …’ I made things very difficult for my parents. I had
them come and pick me up early in the morning after I finished a night shift.
This intersection of vulnerability and colonial manipulation reinforces patriarchal
exploitation. The women become vulnerable in several respects, as the harm they incur
in colonial space increases their vulnerability in patriarchal space, rendering them
dependent on parents or spouses. This is what Crenshaw (1993: 1249) calls an ‘intersectional
subordination that is frequently the consequence of the imposition of one burden
that interacts with pre-existing vulnerabilities to create yet another dimension of
The biopolitics of declassing Palestinian women as part of the logic of eliminating the
native is mediated by colonial violence to secure settler’s class sovereignty and
Palestinian women’s transparency. Such violence is embodied in the settlers’ governing
apparatus, that seeks to construct and preserve inequality by ruling others, thereby
demanding, in Fanon’s words, ‘that they serve your interests to the exclusion of their
own, [which] can only be achieved through application of violence’ (Fanon, 1963: 29–
30). In the case at hand, we find two strategies through which the settlers discipline the
native: Directly (through the body, senses and desires) and indirectly (by imposing and
strengthening patriarchal control).
Direct disciplinary mechanisms aim at displacing and replacing the native, thus indigenizing
settlers and settler space (Wolfe, 2012). According to the narratives, this strategy
imposes tangible exclusion and elimination through the sensations and emotions of
apprehension and fear that silence women’s wishes and desires. Disciplining emotions,
thoughts and the body is a means of excluding the symbolic and social body of ‘internal
danger’ (Lemke, 2011: 249) from colonial space. Silencing wishes and disciplining
thoughts by engendering a sense of not belonging are inherent in the structuring of
Abu-Rabia-Queder 153
feelings of elimination and exclusion, as embodied and normalized among natives,
establishing their exclusive inferiority in a space ostensibly not their own. Such structuring
is substantive in securing the settler’s sovereignty in that space.
Among women participating in this study, inferiority is embodied through senses and
emotions signifying fear of the settler. These become indicators of inferiority through the
sensory layer of the body, that helps the settler portray the native person as trapped and
confined, whereas the settler, by contrast, is free and maintains control. Such disciplining
intensifies the settler’s power through fear that courses through the body. The Palestinian’s
body thus becomes anxious, with an uncertain and unstable presence in the designated
space, whereas the presence of the settler’s body is secure and legitimate, arousing existential
apprehension among the natives. This phenomenon, that I call sensory disciplining,
eliminates the sense of belonging and suppresses existential human wishes and
desires, thus perpetuating the colonial order and hierarchy between settler and native.
Shalhoub-Kevorkian (2016: 1) refers to it as the ‘occupation of senses’ and includes it
among the more violent forms of colonial dispossession that address the ‘sensory technologies
that manage bodies, language, sight, time and space’.
Colonial violence is perpetrated by conquest of the senses in colonial space that disciplines
the language/body/senses of professional women and determines what may be
said and what may not, the legitimate and prevailing language of colonial space, the
opinions deemed legitimate therein and who may express them. Such disciplining maintains
the settler’s privilege and superiority. Using embodied means of disciplining, colonial
institutions produce an ‘injured racialized subject’ (Jafri, 2013), who wants to belong
to the colonial space but knows it will never be possible. This structuring of an unfulfillable
desire leads the native to feel that Israeli public space will never be theirs and that
they will never be part of it. Non-recognition of the ‘other’ and the sense of not belonging
are thus embodied in the feeling of undesirability in colonial space.
Jafri (2013) maintains that racialized subjects persist in desiring to belong even after
becoming aware that the realization of their wishes is necessarily constrained by processes
of perpetual social, political and cultural misrecognition, wherein desire and recognition
mark the tenuous relationship that racialized peoples maintain with settler
colonialism: ‘It is perhaps due to this lack of embodied recognition that settler desire is
so significant to sustaining colonial power’ (Jafri, 2013: 77). The feeling that one will
never belong renders the loss of self legitimate.
Fanon (1963) reminds us that the settler’s existence is affirmed once the colonized
conclude that they are of lesser value than the colonizers. In this respect, the settlers keep
the colonized obedient, exacerbating their sense of inferiority.
The feelings and thoughts that participants express – a sense of shock, not belonging,
apprehension about speaking one’s own language, concern about staff responses, others
ignoring their position as professionals, taking offense, fear of what Jewish colleagues
expect, the amazement expressed by Jewish colleagues and clients regarding the image of
Bedouin professional women – all attest to the importance of the body in racializing and
disciplining the native. By positioning the native body as an illegitimate outsider, King
(2013: 23) makes links between the slave’s black body and settler colonialism by stating
that ‘Black women’s bodies are materially and symbolically essential to the space-making
practices of settler colonialism.’ To the settler, the figure of the native female functions as
154 Current Sociology 67(1)
a metonym for unending increase and production of land/bodies that impedes settler
expansion and is consequently perceived as a surplus body that should be eliminated.
From an Israeli colonial perception, the Palestinian woman’s body is perceived as a
threat that must be destroyed but also controlled. By colonizing Palestinian women’s bodies,
Israel thus colonizes the entire Palestinian population (Wadi, 2012). These perceptions
leave their imprint on the colonized body, as Kassem (2011) demonstrates by presenting
narratives of Palestinian women from the first generation of the Nakba. Palestinian women
consider invasion into their land as a metonym for penetrating the female body. When land
is occupied, female bodies are in danger, as they become a target for violent colonial intrusion.
This act strengthens the role of the male as a patriarchal protector: Women lose their
agency and are perceived only as victims who need the protection of men.
Although colonial discourse on Palestinian women’s bodies refers mostly to destroying
them before they enter its space, the case at hand involves legitimate and legal subjects
in the form of a bourgeois body that did enter hegemonic space and consequently
must be removed in sophisticated ways. Following Bourdieu’s ‘class body’ hierarchy
(for analysis, see Mason, 2013), in which bodies of women and non-white persons are
dehumanized and uncontrolled – unlike controlled and cultured white bourgeois bodies
– I claim that the controlled and civilized bodies of Palestinian women who enter the
hegemonic workplace are threatening the hierarchies of these latter class bodies. The
presence of classed, bourgeois bodies of Palestinian professional women is not wanted
in shared public space because it threatens the growth and sovereignty of the bourgeois
body that rules hegemonic space.
Mason claims that there was less emphasis on individual efforts and more on the evolutionary
advancement of the group/race as a whole (2013: 694). In other words, confirming
the presence of a classed bourgeois group of indigenous Palestinians reflects the
class group’s development potential and not only that of the individual, thereby posing
the risk that the hostile body will proliferate. Biopower is thus manipulated by settler
colonialism in sophisticated and concealed ways, producing the specific modes of violence
that naturalize its power (Morgensen, 2011: 54).
I would like to thank the Rothschild-Cæsarea Foundation for financing this research from 2012 to
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Author biography
Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder is a senior lecturer at Blaustien Institutes for Desert Research, Ben-
Gurion University, Israel. Her studies focus on sociology of gender, higher education and work
among the Palestinian women in Israel. Her particular focus is the racialization of minority women
(Palestinians and Ethiopian immigrants) in Israeli academy, as well as on agency and indigenous
feminisms. She has published papers in various journals such as Sociology, Anthropology and
Education Quarterly, Feminist Studies, Compare, Higher Education, Ethnography and more. Her
recently published book is titled The Emergence of a Class Identity: Professional Palestinian
Women (Magness Press, 2017).

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