Social Divisions & Politics In Israel Recap

On Sunday, January 28, the Achshav Yisrael committee of Beth Sholom presented Social Divisions & Politics In Israel with Professor Michael Shalev, a visiting professor and political scientist at UC Berkeley’s Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies.

Professor Shalev explained that society in Israel is characterized by diversity, often superimposed on identity issues. How do these social divisions affect ideologies, parties, and voters in the Israeli political system? Shalev first described the various social groups he was talking about, including Haredim and members of the National Religious groups, North African or Arab Mizrachi Jews, African asylum seekers, people seeking work (i.e. foreign workers), Americans, Palestinian Arabs, Jewish settlers, Modern Orthodox Jews, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union (i.e. Russian speakers). He then detailed how these different social groups tend to divide themselves into specific parties and how important coalitions are in lining up political votes.

Shalev pointed out that Israelis vote for the party, not for a particular candidate. No party has ever won over 50% of the national vote. Coalitions are therefore critical, and sometimes small parties can be important players as they are needed to form a majority in a coalition. The President of Israel helps designate a party and encourages the formation of a coalition. As an interesting aside, Shalev noted that, unlike the United States, Israel does not allow Israeli citizens living abroad to vote unless they are diplomats.

Historically, the Mapai or Labor Party has been dominant in Israel. Labor primarily consists of Ashkenazi middle and upper class Jews. In recent years, Shalev explained, Labor has lost ground, and deepening ideological divisions among voters have led to the rise of some new parties as well as a general political shift to the Right.

Below, we've included some snapshots of attendees chatting with one another and Professor Shalev.

ABOUT ACHSHAV YISRAEL: Achshav Yisrael’s mission is to provide quality programming about Israel to Congregation Beth Sholom and the broader community. Achshav Yisrael programs are open to all age groups and will occur on a regular basis. We intend to create a safe space at CBS for community exploration of Israel.

Achshav Yisrael Steering Committee Members: David Agam, Eileen Auerbach, Becky Buckwald, Sandra Cohen, Betsy Eckstein, Ira Levy, Ephraim Margolin, and Maureen Samson