An objective look at Israeli society on the state’s 71st birthday reveals two major divides, a sociological one, which is of tribal-sectoral nature, and an ideological one that breaks along liberal-conservative lines. Both divides are deeply misunderstood. We must first define the significant difference between a group and a sectoral tribe, and how the ideological division in Israel has changed from the worn-out definitions of left and right.
I propose five criteria for examining whether a group is a sectoral-tribe. First and most important is the existence of a separate educational system in which a majority of the group studies; Second is that most of the members of the group marry within it; The third is whether the group has at least one media outlet intended primarily for its members; Fourth, the group has separate settlements or neighborhoods; And finally, the cognitive criterion: whether people outside the group and within it identify members of the group as belonging to it.
A group that meets all five criteria constitutes a tribal sector whose members have many common characteristics and which usually has a deep disconnect with other sectors. When there is a separate educational system and an overwhelming majority of the sector’s marriages are among graduates of the same, a profound detachment is created. When they are also fed by their own internal media outlets and when they sometimes even live separated from other groups, the detachment grows. Being tagged as a member of the group completes the process.
President Rivlin is right in saying that in Israeli society there are only four tribal sectors: a secular tribe that includes a traditional non-religious community, an Arab tribe, a religious tribe and an ultra-Orthodox tribe. There are citizens that are non-sectoral or belong to groups that do not find themselves in this division, there are many sub-groups, but there are only four sectoral-tribes and sadly they are more or less disconnected from each other, with very little knowledge of the ways of life of the neighboring tribes and often have feelings of hostility towards each other.
The ideological-political divide is the one that distinguishes between liberal views, that place one’s freedom at the center, and conservative republican views, that place traditional values and national concepts at the center. The Palestinian question or the Israeli-Arab conflict are no longer the basis of the divide, and it is not centered on economic issues. This is a deeper rift that touches on the foundations of the democratic conception.
The ideological divide has implications for a series of disputes concerning the roots of our lives here. The complications based on Israel’s Democratic-Jewish identity, the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel, Israel’s partial control over Judea and Samaria, gender and the question of equality, treatment of others with an emphasis on migrant workers and refugees, immigration policies on those whose Judaism is not fully accepted, issues of religion and state, of the High Court of Justice, the attitude towards Diaspora Jewry and more.
The sociological and ideological rifts are not disconnected from each other. Within Israeli Jewish society, a majority of the secular tribe is liberal and most of the ultra-Orthodox and religious tribes are conservative. The overlap between tribal separation and ideological separateness reinforces the rift and increases the dangers of this division. Needless to say, the rift between Jews and Arabs is wide and deep. Therefore, dealing with the situation described here is one of the most important strategic issues on our agenda.
Unfortunately, instead of understanding this and building a meaningful national plan for the connection of the tribes and their ideologies and for building a culture of fruitful disagreement and growth, some of our leaders use this reality to maximize their power, pit us against each other and deepen the problem. At the beginning of our seventy-second year in this country, let’s hope will know how to look at this strategic challenge and confront it with courage and love.
Translated from Hebrew by Amalya L. Grodzinsky