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Discrimination Based on “Sameness,” Not “Difference”: Re-Defining the Limits of Equality through an Israeli Case for Discrimination


Yifat Bitton

College of Management School of Law (COMAS), IL
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This article points to a general weakness in liberal rights discourse, and specifically in the antidiscrimination stratagem. It argues that this stratagem is of limited effectiveness due to its perception of “difference” as constituting the heart of the notion of discrimination. Reliance on “difference” in formatting discrimination fails to acknowledge discrimination held against a group within settings characterized by “sameness,” thereby rendering the antidiscrimination principle too narrow to protect some discriminated-against groups. This point is exemplified by analyzing the case of the de facto discrimination against Mizrahi Jews in Israel, or Jews of Arab/Muslim descent, who are conceptualized under a notion of “sameness” rather than “difference” within Israeli hegemony vis-a-vis the Palestinians, who figure as the ultimate “others.” Employing an interdisciplinary methodology, the argument relies on the theory of Orientalism, developed in the fields of postmodern cultural studies, and on its implementation to address Israel’s social stratifications. Fortified with this richer, contextual concept of Orientalism, the article turns to the legal sphere to attain better understanding of the constituents of discrimination as a whole and of that practiced against Mizrahim, in particular. Specifically, the analysis targets the antidiscrimination stratagem and stresses its limited effectiveness when applied from within its traditionally ahistorical, de-politicized framework. In a radical move, the article argues that to cross into the antidiscrimination discourse in an effective way, Mizrahi Jews should also embrace the “Arab” component of their own identity. This move entails two reconstructive undertakings: one in which Mizrahis’ legal identity may be re-identified as “Arab,” and a second in which discrimination against Palestinians may be reconsidered as rooted in anti-ethnic rather than in anti-national sentiments. Consequently, a new discursive “third space” will be opened for both Palestinians and Mizrahis, in which they may collaborate in articulating and contesting both shared and uniquely encountered forms of discrimination. This two-pronged critical approach to challenging discrimination in Israeli systems can benefit both groups and enrich the antidiscrimination discourse in a manner crucial to achieving a better, more just society inside Israel.

How to Cite: Bitton, Y., 2014. Discrimination Based on “Sameness,” Not “Difference”: Re-Defining the Limits of Equality through an Israeli Case for Discrimination. Journal of Hate Studies, 12(1), pp.177–235. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2014.
Peer Reviewed


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