For many years Israel was considered to have a quasiconsociational form of
government. The consociational form of government involves guaranteed group
representation irrespective of the numerical size of each group, in societies
that are extremely heterogeneous, and deeply divided. The goals of
consociationalism are governmental stability, the perseverance of power-sharing
arrangements, the survival of democracy and the avoidance of internal
In consociational societies the system of elections is usually
proportional, as it is in Israel, which gives relatively small groups an
opportunity to be elected to parliament.
In Israel the system was never
more than quasi-consociational, however, since not all the population groups in
the country have been considered part of the system, even if they have elected
representatives to the Knesset.
For example, when David Ben-Gurion
reached the famous “status quo” agreement with the haredim back in 1947, this
was a clear consociational act. However, while after the establishment of the
state Ben-Gurion was willing to accept most parties into his coalitions, even if
they were ideologically far removed from the Labor movement, he excluded Begin’s
Herut Movement (the predecessor of the Likud) and Maki (the Israel Communist
Party) as a matter of principle.
In later years it was only the Arabs who
remained irrevocably outside, without any hope of joining a governing coalition.
The closest the Arabs ever got to forming part of a coalition in Israel was
during the second Rabin government (1992-95), after Shas left the government
against the background of the Oslo Accords. The government needed Arab support
in the Knesset to avoid being overthrown.
According to political science
professor Reuven Hazan, since the 1990s Israel has gradually moved away from
consociationalism toward a majoritarian form of government, in which it is the
majority that determines the policies of any given government, with very little
consideration for the interests and wishes of groups that are not part of this
In this sense, the current government is probably one of the
most non-consociational and most majoritarian governments Israel has ever had,
despite the fact that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s basic inclination – in
a situation where the Likud is weak, and Israeli society more divided than ever
– is towards consociationalism. In his eyes, the exclusion of the haredim from
Israel’s 33rd government will weaken the government’s and the country’s
stability, in addition to creating future problems for the Likud. But at least
at this juncture, he had no choice, and the haredim remain in opposition – for
the time being.
It should be noted that there are certain situations in
which consociationalism might create more problems than it resolves. In
situations where various groups are pulling the national wagon in different
directions it is sometimes preferable to choose a certain direction that is
supported by the majority, rather than be stuck in a consociational
There are, of course, situations in which compromise is
possible and even desirable – for example between those who advocate an extreme
form of capitalism and those who advocate the welfare state. The compromise
calls for capitalism with a soul, or a welfare state which encourages private
initiative in purely commercial activities.
However, there are situations
in which compromise is not possible, simply because one of the sides is not open
to compromise. At the current juncture this seems to be the situation regarding
the haredim. The non-haredi majority believes that the state simply can no
longer afford to carry on its back around 10 percent of the population, whose
ideology encourages able-bodied men to refrain from joining the workforce and
sharing the military burden, and which refuses to accept some of the basic
cornerstones of the democratic system, including women’s equality, and the right
to personal freedom at all levels. The problem is aggravated by the fact that
this population, which chooses to be poor, depends on the state for welfare and
economic benefits at the expense of the rest of the population.
situation was allowed to develop over the years is a separate issue, but the
fact is that today the majority considers it unbearable, and there is apparently
no other way to get out of the entanglement than changing some of the basic
rules of the game – a process in which the haredi spiritual leadership is
unwilling to take part.
In the case of the Israeli Arabs – who have never
been part of the game – the problem is even more complicated.
There is no
doubt that almost all Israeli Arabs, who constitute at least 20 percent of the
population, would rather Israel ceased to be exclusively the state of the Jewish
People, where non-Jews enjoy minority rights, but for various historical and
current reasons are, to all effects and purposes, second-class
This does not mean that the majority of Israeli Arabs are
inclined to embark on an active campaign to turn Israel into a state of all its
citizens, or that when they look around them at what is going on in neighboring
countries, they do not count their blessings. However, it does mean that there
are constraints regarding the extent to which even the most liberal Israelis are
willing or feel able to accept the Arab population as full partners in a
Nevertheless, this does not mean Israel should
not start considering bringing the Arabs into the game, in an attempt to make
the moderate Arab population feel a greater affinity with the State of Israel,
and try to avoid future radicalization of this population, which could lead to
unrest and even violence.
The interesting development is that some of the
haredi spokesmen (including MK Aryeh Deri) have actually pointed out that in the
current government there are no haredim and no Arabs. Whether this position
represents a new state of mind, which will lead to more than merely tactical
cooperation between the haredi and Arab parties in the 19th Knesset, is yet to
My personal feeling is that consociationalism is not yet dead in
Israel, and might eventually enjoy a comeback.The writer is a former