This article examines the formation of ethnic group and identities in Jewish Israeli society, drawing the case of Yemenite Jews in Rehovoth. Since the establishment of State of Israel in 1948, there have been mass immigrations from all over the world, particularly from Muslim countries. Faced with the task of integrating different groups into a new Israeli Jew, the Israeli government attempted to legitimize the Zionist ideal of Judaization and De-Arabization. In the course of nation-building project, early Jewish European settlers attempted to distinguish themselves from Jews from Muslim countries, labelling them as Mizrahim. Those immigrants from MENA confronted with social discrimination, especially in housing, education, and employment.
While such ethnic discrimination initiated the consciousness of ethno-class among MENA Jews, Yemenite Jews have formed an ethnic identity as a counter-collective against the Israeli mainstream society. The immigration of Yemenite Jews began in the beginning of 20th century when they were recruited as manual labor for Zionist settlers. In Rehovoth Yemenites built their own society based on their residential neighborhoods. Although different Yemenites groups there have formed separated communities based on their place of origin in Yemen and their residential place over several decades, Yemenite identity as a homogenous group has formed in response to resist against the oppressive control of bureaucratic administration and racial discrimination.
While political ethnicity has been used to negotiate rights and equality among the Yemenites, the Yemenite identity also has been shaped and reproduced through their everyday experiences in relation with wider society. Notably, the ethnic category is being reinforced in a new form of cultural ethnicity. Although the ‘Levant’ culture that Yemenite Jews brought with them was officially subject to be deleted from the Euro-centric and Zionist norms, Yemenite Jews utilize their cultural elements to reinforce their ethnic identity as ‘Yemenites’. Significantly, the identities of Israeli and Jewish nation are intersected with Yemenite ethnic identity.
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