Factionalism in Yisrael

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Factionalism in Yisrael refers to the tendency of groups in Yisrael to devolve into factions and engage in exclusivism and the so-called "narcissism of small differences." This has been a historical concern of Yisraeli Jews as well as Jews in the diaspora.


In the Hebrew Bible, G-d speaks during the Shemos to the Jewish leader Moshe about the stubbornness of the Jews: "Hashem said to to Moses, 'I have seen this people, and behold! it is a stiff-necked people.'" (Gen. 32:9).

Chazal - the Jewish sages of the Talmudic era - refer to this statement as proof that Yisraeli Jews have a tendency to factionalize and bicker amongst themselves, and have urged in reaction to this the development of good middos (personality traits). Historically and current-day, this phenomenum continues to be observed, and it has significant effects on Yisraeli public life.

Factionalism in public life


In Yisraeli politics, although a first-past-the-post voting system encourages two-party politics, in Yisrael despite a FPTP system, the Yisraeli electorate continually send 6-8 political parties into the Royal Knesset as well as various District and local offices.

While Yisrael has two "big tent" political parties - the Royalist Conservatives and Constitutional Liberals - neither party can command a majority vote in a number of communities and districts, due to bloc voting, sectarian loyalties, single-issue voting, and highly self-segregated ethno-religious neighborhoods.

Because of this, the Conservatives and Con-Libs need to build coalition governments to build a majority in the Knesset and presidential candidates (and other jurisdiction-wide elected executives, like District governors) must court bloc-voting and single-issue communities to build support for a plurality majority win.

Another feature of this Yisraeli quirk is the high burn rate of political parties' longevity; notwithstanding the largest and oldest parties, many third- and minor parties only last a few election cycles before rival personalities split-off and create new political parties around their own policies or vision. Party mergers and disintegration are common, especially in the national politics. This holds true in spite of a party's position on the political spectrum, parties on the left and right near equally form and break apart, often during the tenure of a single president.

Several third parties have established or entrenched political bastions - neighborhoods and districts that they routinely win in. The largest and most successful of these is the religious Torah Achdus party, which has a near-solid political lock over a number of Chareidi neighborhoods (who tend to cluster together), creating a stable core of 12-18 Knesset districts that the party usually wins handily. Other second-tier third parties include the centrist middle-income Chiloni-interests Action Yisrael, which has carved out a niche in the metropolitan suburbs competing against the majority-party Conservatives and Liberals, as well as the Northern League, which has built a strong bastion in the Yarden River Valley and elsewhere advocating far-right hardline and hawkish views. A left-wing third party, the Alliance of Greens, Seculars, and Workers, has developed a strongold in several Knesset districts in urban, working-income Chiloni areas.


Religious practice and level of observance is perhaps the top motivator for factional creation. Yisraeli society is split into five broad socio-religious sectors - Nominal Religious (Chiloni), Traditional (Masorti), National Religious (Dati Leumi), National Chareidim (Chardal), and Non-Zionist Religious Right (Chareidim). Each sector tends to self-segregate into its own neighborhoods and schools/yeshivas, and often bickers and/or ridicule perceived deficiencies in the others. For example, the Royal Yisraeli Political Academy system is overwhelmingly populated by Dati Leumi, which, while the Political Academies are state institutions, have the highest ideological dedication to public service and dominate the Academy's administration and applicant pool.

This goes for "inter-sector groups," as well as meta-sector groups - Chiloni (secular-oriented) v. Dati (religious-oriented) in general, with the first two in the former and the last three in the latter. While each sector, through its schools, media, and leadership, will argue or draw arbitrary lines with the others to its left and right, on broader societal issues that touch upon religious practice and law, the three Dati sectors will (usually) join together and the two Chiloni sectors will join together to argue the point in the national debate.

Among the sectors, the Masortim-Dati Leumi and Dati Leumi-Chardalim have the best inter-sector relations and are generally more friendly and open to each other.


In the Chiloni sectors, there is a distinct socioeconomic divide between poor/working-income, middle- and upper-middle-, and upper-income residents spatially. Extremely wealthy Chilonim and Masortim, in particular, tend to congregate in private and gated communities. This is seen in high numbers among less-religious cities, such as Dervaylik, Ashkelon, parts of Modiin, Rishon LeZion, Ashdod, and Netanya.

In many - but not all - Dati neighborhoods of whatever stripe, the wealthy and poor cluster together, as the overriding principle for location is living among one's like-minded hashkafic (religious philosophical) orientation, creating stark differences within neighborhoods between richer residents with larger houses (either custom-built or renovated) and more simple or shabbier homes that are smaller or less-maintained. This is observed in heavily religious areas, including Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak, Rehovos, Yishuv HaGadol, and elsewhere.

An exception to this is among the Dati Leumi, where although there are mixed working/middle/upper-middle DL neighborhoods, similar to the rich-poor gap in the Chiloni sectors, the National Religious also tend to diverge spatially by income and wealth, with wealthier DL families living in gated or more exclusive sub-neighborhoods.

This spatial separation contributes, as noted above, to political polarization, as a Knesset district or sub-national District legislator's jurisdiction may have multiple highly-clustered constituencies that vote along single-issues or by bloc voting.

In addition to housing and neighborhoods, in both the Chiloni and Dati worlds, there exist - either de jure or de facto - elite private schools that cater almost exclusively to wealthy and upper-middle-income families. Especially in the Chareidi sector, there are select yeshivas that admit primarily the sons of wealthy or prominent Chareidi baale batim ("householders," e.g. professionals or businessmen) who contribute millions of shekels to Chareidi institutions each year.


Another significant social identity in Yisrael is ethnicity. The main Jewish ethnicities are Ashkenazi (from Belisaria), Mizrachi (from Scipia and Ochran), and Tarsan Jews [despite Tarsas being in Belisaria, they are considered distinct]).

Historically, Mizrachi Jews formed the overwhelmingly majority of Yisraeli Jews, but during the mass aliyah of Ashkenazim to Yisrael during the Era of Great Nationalism (1850-1950) and the more recent 1990s immigration of Chassidish Jews has brought the ethnic divide in Yisrael to near-parity.

Mizrachim tend to make up a good share of the Chiloni sectors, and Ashkenazim the Dati sectors, with Tarsans split down the middle.

In the religious world, Ashkenazim, Mizrachim, and Tarsans have their own day-school and yeshiva systems for education, and usually shuls made up primarily of one ethnicity or the other. This has weakened in the 21st century as like-minded religious Jews of the same or similar hashkafa have more readily attended prayer services together, irregardless of ethnic identity. This has been bolstered in some parts by the baal teshuva movement, which has seen many formerly secular or less-observant Jews from any ethnic background become religious, often through a Chareidi hashkafa, thus abandoning any previous religious rites from their ethnic and family background and adopting the minhagim (customs) of their new religious community.

Overall, the ethnic divide has faded somewhat as religious and political fault-lines have become more reliable predictors of people's social identity. However, ethnic Tarsan Jews in particular have built a strong internal ecosystem of neighborhoods, day-schools, yeshivas, seminaries, restaurants, and businesses to maintain their strong ethnic bond.

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