Religion and class in the Israeli party system, from consociationalism to consensualism to maj oritarianism 1
Consociational theory has had a significant impact on the comparative study of West European democracies. There are, however, a few countries outside Western Europe which have received attention from scholars of consociational democracy and have been identified as consociational at some point in their history, among them Lebanon, Colombia, Malaysia and Uruguay. Regrettably, consociational practices in most of these countries were unable to fulfill their basic role of maintaining political stability amid a deeply fragmented political culture.
One of the countries which at one time was almost archetypal of consociationalism, and has managed to maintain political stability, is Israel. In the somewhat meager amount of literature devoted to consociationalism in Israel, the relationship between the main social segments has been termed quasi- or semi-consociational. This chapter seeks to assess the extent to which the consociational model can be applied to the Israeli party system. In doing so, it will elaborate the political sociology of the country and the political behavior of its elites in order to show that two encapsulated and hostile political subcultures existed, and that the gap was bridged by the accommodating practices of the elites. Moreover, this chapter will also trace the development and decline of consociationalism in Israel, and its replacement by another model during Israel’s first post-independence phase, and by yet another model during the more recent period. The focus of this chapter is the most central aspect of consociationalism in Israel, namely, the role of the parties and the party system. The parties in Israel were the mechanism that linked the two sub-cultures and their elites, and the party system enabled accommodation to take place.
The parties in Israel continued, or inherited, a tradition of political activity from the pre-state period. The parties that functioned in the voluntary organizations of what was then a state-in-the-making penetrated practically every aspect of society in a manner much more intensive than was acceptable in most democracies. Soon after its establishment, Israel was described as a ‘party state’ by Akzin (1955), who