Magazine article World Affairs

A Proposed Model for Explaining Political Violence in Israel

Magazine article World Affairs

A Proposed Model for Explaining Political Violence in Israel

Article excerpt

In November 1995, at the end of a demonstration whose theme was "Yes to Peace, No to Violence," the prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, was murdered while making his way down the steps behind the speakers' rostrum at the Malachei Yisrael Square in the very heart of Tel Aviv. This was not the first political assassination in Israel but rather another in a long, tragic line of political assassinations (Ben Yehuda 1993; Sprinzak 1995a). The chronicles of the State of Israel provide ample evidence that violent action is both a customary way of voicing political interests as well as a means to obtain resources. In association with each of the dominant divisions of Israeli society--national, religious, ethnic, and conservative/liberal--various incidents of violence have sprung forth, ranging on the Porta scale from nonspecialized violence, meaning sporadic and unorganized occurrences, to a more severe and premeditated violence practiced by underground groups (Della Porta 1995, 4).

It would be considerably naive of us to assume that the decrease in the number of violent incidents following the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin indicated a possible conclusion to this violent epoch in the history of Israel. The quieting of severe differences of opinion that were prevalent during Benjamin Netanyahu's term as prime minister was primarily in consequence to a notable deceleration in the peace process. At the same time, however, political violence was diverted to other areas: national (e.g., Bedouin demonstrations in the Negev, and protests against land expropriation in Uhm El-Fahm and illegal building construction at Shfar'am), economic (e.g., the struggles of taxi drivers throughout Israel or ,of the sanitation workers of Tel Aviv in late 1997), and religious (e.g., ultra-Orthodox Jews rallying against both infrastructure and archaeological excavation work, as well as antagonism toward the judicial system among the Orthodox community at large and Shas, the largest ultra-Orthodox political party, in particular, including threats both verbal and physical).

In view of these events, several key questions must be raised: What are the reasons for the prevalence of political violence in that country? Is it a matter of a number of disenfranchised groups that feel they have been subject to deprivation and driven to violence? Has the slackening of trust in state institutions led citizens to act in such a flagrant manner to further their goals? Or are these events fueled by more than one source?

A profusion of academic literature has been devoted to the theme of political violence in Israel in an attempt to fathom its origins, manifestations, and ramifications (e.g., Sprinzak 1989, 1991a, 1999; Lehman-Wilzig 1990; Weisburd 1989). Most of this research approaches the theme of political violence through a conceptual and historical perspective, whereas in this article we focus, similar to a number of other authors (e.g., Softer and Korenstein 1998; Yuchtman-Yaar and Hermann 1998), on the quantitative analysis of attitudes toward political violence.


Among the theoretical explanations for political violence, the "relative deprivation" approach (Gurr 1970) is of particular distinction. Its central point asks the question, What brings a group to a stage where it chooses to exercise political violence in anti-institutional action? The approach does not focus on the group's objective deprivation but rather on its subjective feelings of deprivation. The basic assumption of this theory is that political violence constitutes an inseparable part of the human experience and is not simply a passing social event (Gurr 1970, 7-9).

A group's route to violence begins with dissatisfaction and frustration with present conditions and the group's belief that it is entitled to more rights or resources than it presently possesses. …

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