chapter  5
24 Pages

Corporatism and multiculturalism as responses to ethnic claims and socio- economic inequality

The case of Shas
ByDavid Lehmann, Batia Siebzehner

In April 2009, Shas, a party and movement identified ethnically with Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin but religiously with observance in accordance with Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodoxy, took its place in the newly formed Netanyahu government with four cabinet seats – more than it had ever had before. Shas has managed to combine strong religion, ethnic identity and features of modernity, in a political system which, until the early 1990s, appeared unreceptive to ethnic or identity-based claims arising from the many Jewish diasporas which ‘landed’ back in the Middle East. It has become an established player possessing a fairly secure tenancy on a quota of cabinet seats. This paper provides an interpretation of the movement and party’s rise by starting from two aspects of Israeli citizenship: the corporatist character of the country’s political system and the web of ethnic, religious and institutional enclaves which, grid-like, but also in something of a crazy quilt, demarcate its social structure. It is through these affiliations and mechanisms of access that Israelis claim to belong to one or another, or a combination, of their country’s innumerable sub-cultures. These are classified inter alia by national or ethnic (including Arab) origin, by religious observance, by political allegiance, and by place of residence. But this is only the framework: the paper illustrates the dynamics of political inclusion by showing how a strategy of social self-exclusion, surrounding its membership and their institutions with material and symbolic frontiers in a manner characteristic of contemporary fundamentalist and evangelical movements, can enable a movement to stake a claim to a place inside the state. In the course of the argument some approximations are made with multiculturalism, for the Israeli response to ethnic and religious pressure is a good example of the ways in which corporatism offers a framework for multicultural accommodations.