Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Israel's Ethnic Politics

Noam Sheizaf sees an ethnic dimension to Israel's election results:
A Netanyahu-Bennett-Lapid coalition will be the most “white” Israel has ever had, for lack of a better word. The almost total absence of Sephardi Jews in those parties is quite shocking, and deserves deeper examination.
In fact, these were the most “ethnic” elections I remember, and it seems that each ethnic group or sub-group had its own party, with the clearest division being between Arabs and Jews, of course, but also within those groups. With the risk of tremendous generalization, I would say that poor Sephardi Jews voted Shas and those with higher income Likud; Ashkenzi national-religious went with Bennett; Secular Ashkenazi voted for Meretz, Livni and Lapid and so on.
Except maybe for Labor and Likud – the old forces which still have some coalitions between them – it seems that the entire system is determined by the interaction of two variables: ethnicity and economic status. The party lists reflect that fact, despite the occasional variations, which could be explained by the need to project a more inclusive image. Lapid’s novelty and the deeper reasons for his success is the understanding that the Ashkenazi upper-middle class now views itself as another sector that needs to compete for more benefits, rather than as the elite in charge of the entire society.
I wish I had more data about this.  One thing I've heard quite forcefully over the past decade is that the division between European (Ashkenazi) and Middle Eastern (Mizrahi/Sephardic) Jews was losing its meaning in Israel thanks to steadily increasing intermarriage.  I'm interested in whether that phenomenon has been exaggerated, or if it's just that there are enough older, non-intermingled voters for these terms to still have the degree of meaning Sheizaf gives them.



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