National Identity and Xenophobia in an Ethnically Divided Society

Noah Lewin-Epstein and Asaf Levanon

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Abstract:

Recent studies have suggested that national identity is empirically related to negative sentiments of individuals towards foreigners. This type of analysis has hitherto been based on the notion that xenophobia is shaped by the specific nature of national identity in a given society. Representing a stronger and more exclusive perception of national identity, ethnic national identity (compared with civic national identity) is expected in this line of research to result in less favourable perceptions of immigrants. In this paper we expand this approach by arguing that, in deeply divided societies, national identity itself may have different meanings among different social groups. Specifically, our analysis indicates that members of dominant ethnic groups ascribe higher importance to national identification than members of subordinate ethnic groups, and centre their perception of ethnic national identity on ancestral terms, while marginal ethnic groups tend to also associate this form of identity with affective and cultural elements. In addition, we propose a theoretical framework for the understanding of the relationship between national identity and xenophobia. In particular, we focus on the group threat model and the cultural affinity perspective, as both theories explain out-group hostility by focusing on group identity. Analysis of Israeli data from the ISSP module on national identity provides support primarily for the cultural affinity thesis, revealing that, in contrast to previous studies, ethnic national identity is negatively related to xenophobia among members of the Jewish ethnic group. This finding is discussed in terms of the distinctive features of Israeli society and its immigration context.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Lewin-Epstein, Noah and Levanon, Asaf. National Identity and Xenophobia in an Ethnically Divided Society. IJMS: International Journal on Multicultural Societies. 2005, vol. 7, no.2, pp. 90-118. UNESCO. ISSN 1817-4574. www.unesco.org/shs/ijms/vol7/issue2/art1

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