Life, Pocketbook, or Culture: The Role of Perceived Security Threats in Promoting Exclusionist Political Attitudes toward Minorities in Israel

By Canetti-Nisim, Daphna; Ariely, Gal et al. | Political Research Quarterly, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Life, Pocketbook, or Culture: The Role of Perceived Security Threats in Promoting Exclusionist Political Attitudes toward Minorities in Israel


Canetti-Nisim, Daphna, Ariely, Gal, Halperin, Eran, Political Research Quarterly


This article tests the role played by different sources of threat perception in shaping exclusionist political attitudes of the majority toward two distinct minority groups in Israel: non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Palestinian citizens of Israel. The authors distinguish between the impact of security, economic, and symbolic threats on exclusionist political attitudes. A structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis indicated that regardless of the different levels of each threat posed by a minority group, a perceived security threat is a key predictor of exclusionist political attitudes toward different minority groups.

Keywords: exclusionist political attitudes; threat perceptions; minorities; Israel; ethnic relations

Bigotry toward minority groups has been a pervasive societal phenomenon in most human societies, including democratic ones (Allport 1954). The recent wave of international immigration, mainly into Western societies, has reinforced negative feelings and xenophobic attitudes and has given rise to widespread support for social and political exclusionism of various ethnic minorities and immigrants (Raijman, Semyonov, and Schmidt 2003). In addition, the continuing terror attacks on various democratic countries have reemphasized the interrelation between perceived threats and the nondemocratic attitudes and practices of individuals and groups. However, some argue that two pertinent bodies of literature-social-psychological studies on prejudice and political works on ethnic conflicts-exist largely in isolation from one another (Green and Seher 2003). We take a political-psychological analytical perspective to understand exclusionist political attitudes toward minority groups in the shadow of war and terrorism.

Exclusionist political attitudes are among the most common and destructive examples of the non-democratic practices that can be so insidious. While a subset of exclusionist political attitudes, ethnic exclusionism in its broader interpretation reflects a variety of social phenomena, all indicating that the majority in a certain society wishes to exclude minorities (Coenders and Scheepers 2003). Coenders (2001, 67) distinguished between different types of ethnic exclusionism, "referring to different target outgroups, such as exclusionism of resident ethnic outgroup members, exclusionism of immigrants, and exclusionism of political refugees." In the current study, we focus on the political aspects of ethnic exclusionism and mainly on the opposition to the granting of civil and political rights to resident and immigrant minority groups (Scheepers, Gijsberts, and Coenders 2002; Raijman, Semyonov, and Schmidt 2003; Raijman and Semyonov 2004; Sniderman, Hagendoorn, and Prior 2004).

Increasing levels of negative and exclusionist political attitudes toward minority groups have drawn the attention of social scientists seeking to develop a deeper understanding of the main determinants of this problematic political phenomenon and its implications for political behavior. Threat perception is considered by most scholars as the single best predictor of hostile intergroup attitudes such as prejudice, intolerance, xenophobia (Sullivan et al. 1985; Quillian 1995; Stephan and Stephan 2001), and ethnic exclusionism (Scheepers, Gijsberts, and Coenders 2002; Raijman, Semyonov, and Schmidt 2003). The subjective perception of threat contributes to the cognitive evaluation of the individual regarding the ways in which out-group members might harm in-group members or interfere with in-group members' desire to achieve their goals (Fiske and Ruscher 1993).

The evolution of the study of perceived threat has resulted in a consensus among most scholars regarding the complexity and the multidimensionality of this concept. Contemporary social-psychological theories such as integrated threat theory (Stephan and Stephan 1996, 2001) have combined a variety of threat sources that promote negative attitudes toward groups (Corenblum and Stephan 2001). …

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