Identity of immigrants – between majority perceptions and self-definition

Sibylle Heilbrunn, Anastasia Gorodzeisky, Anya Glikman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Immigration is often accompanied by identity transformation. This article studies the identity of immigrants in the framework of Cooley’s ‘looking-glass’ theory by examining the conceptions of various immigrant groups in Israel of how the veteran majority population perceives them. In addition, it examines the interrelation between immigrant identity as reflected in their self-definition and immigrant beliefs about how the Israeli veteran majority population defines their identity. An empirical analysis was conducted on a representative sample of 437 former Soviet Union (FSU) immigrants and 338 Ethiopian immigrants aged 18‒60 who arrived in Israel under the Law of Return. The findings revealed little congruence among Ethiopian immigrants between their self-definition (mainly Jewish) and their perception of how the majority group defines them (mainly Ethiopian). This lack of congruence implies that in the opinion of a substantive share of Ethiopian immigrants, the majority population in Israel is still not ready to include them within the boundaries of the Israeli-Jewish collective. The findings regarding FSU immigrants show considerable congruence between their self-definition and their belief as to how the veterans define them. Most FSU immigrants, who define themselves as Israelis, think that the majority group sees them as such. The effect of socio-demographic characteristics on immigrants’ identities was also investigated in the study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-247
Number of pages12
JournalIsrael Affairs
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Israel
  • identity
  • immigrants
  • looking-glass theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations


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