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Wadi Salib Riots in Haifa, Israel in 1959 Research Paper

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Updated: May 21st, 2019


Riots in the Arab world are a phenomenon rooted in history, dating back to the 1920s. At that time, the British occupation of the Balfour territory created tension among the Arab inhabitants. Jews and Palestinians did not co-exist peacefully in Israel at the time. When the British put forth the Balfour Declaration, the Arabs expressed their dissatisfaction through violence to show the British that variability in Israel was an important feature. The Arab riots in 1929 went a step further after the fourth Aliyah.

The first factor leading to the longstanding bitterness in the region was the British brutality. As Jews immigrated into the area, acquiring a significant piece of land, Arabs were ultimately displaced, which contributed to their loss of jobs (Kimmerling, 2005, p. 37). Their influence on major decisions in the country was also reduced.

The riots gained power in light of rumors that Jews were planning to establish a synagogue near the western wall. These riots ignited the removal of Hebron’s indigenous Jewish community (present-day Israel), ultimately leading Arabs in the Arab world to adopt radicalism (Kimmerling, 2005, p. 27).

This paper analyzes the Wadi Salib riots, which occurred in Haifa in 1959 (Elazar, 1989, p. 190), using two major models: consociational democracy and dominant party theory. The Wadi Salib riots were a sort of street demonstration characterized by vandalism in Wadi Salib, Haifa, in present-day Israel (Peretz & Gideon, 1997, p. 148).

The riots targeted ethnic profiling centered on the Mizrahi Jews. Through a comprehensive literature review, the current paper will determine to what extent the Wadi Salib riots linked the two theories of political models examined. This paper is divided into four major parts, examining the theoretical background, the historical background, and an analysis of the selected models before drawing conclusions.

Theoretical Background

Consociational Democracy Model

Lijphart (1969, p.207) illustrated the topology of various political systems. He asserted that three types of Western democracies systems exists i.e. the Anglo-American political systems practiced by United States and Britain, the continental European systems practiced by Italy, Germany and France and finally the political systems practiced by the Scandinavian and small nations.

Lijphart (1969, p.207) claims that the third type of political system are not labeled as distinct, and its elaboration is inadequate. He explains that these categories simply illustrate the amalgamation of Anglo-American and the continental Europe political structures (Lijphart, 1969, p.207). The three types of political topologies presented by Lijphart have formed an important influence in relative analysis of democratic edifices in many countries across the world. However, some critics have faulted Lijpharts topologies.

The Consociational democracy descends its importance due to a link it forms between social system and the political culture, and political solidity (Lijphart, 1969, p.207). For instance, the Anglo- American is made up of a strong identical, profane, political philosophy and a myriad role system. This suggests that, political parties, government agencies, communication Medias and interests groups hold special duties and are independent, although they are symbiotic (Lijphart, 1969, p.207).

However, in the Continental European democracies, the political structure is branded by class of political culture with a distinct “political sub-culture”. Their distinct responsibilities are anchored in the sub-cultures thus constituting distinct sub-structures of duties (Lijphart, 1969, p.207). Lijihart used the terms “Continental European” and the “Anglo-American” for convenience and thus do not necessary imply the geographical positioning is a factor for distinguishing the two systems (1969, p.208).

(Lijphart, 1969, p.208) point out that, the social system and the political structure are the cornerstone of realizing the political stability. This is evident in the Anglo- American democracies which show a relatively high degree of reliability and efficiency (Lijphart, 1969, p.208).

However, Lijphart notes that in the Continental European systems, they are unstable, branded by political rigidity thus contributing to fragmentation of the political culture. Besides, the Continental European present a threat referred to as “Caesaristic breakthrough”, risk of failure into authoritarianism as a consequence of rigidity (Lijphart, 1969, p.208).

According to Lipset, a stable democracy can be sustained if both individuals and groups commit themselves to creating supportive political connections. Almond looks at the French democracy as falling in three main categories. The French democracy according to Almonds had little exposure to the force that could regulate inelastic political approaches (Lijphart, 1969, p.210). This is unlike the US or Britain which had interconnected membership arrays.

Almond draws a further distinction between “stable democracies and rigid democracies,” by arguing that rigid democracies are often presented with fragments in their structure and culture (Lijphart, 1969, p.210). They also lack a majority support in terms of governance and process. Stable democracies on the other hand, fall into two major categories; the Anglo-American scheme that includes; “Great Britain, US and Commonwealth states.”

The second category which is the, “stable multi-party democracies of European states includes; the Scandinavian and Switzerland” (Lijphart, 1969, p.211). The Anglo-American democracies are also characterized with internal autonomy as compared to the Continental European democracies which have limited internal autonomy with aggravated political philosophy.

The role structure and political culture are often used as the basis of classifying states either as continental or Anglo-American democracies. On this basis, Almond classifies western democracies into three categories as follows “Anglo-American, Scandinavian, and the Old Commonwealth in one category, and the European democracies which comprise of Italy, France German and Australia.”

According to Lijphart (1969, p.211), divisions exist in the society as a result of strident cleavages consisting of rare or no intersecting membership and allegiances. Thus, the political solidity is strongly built on fairness and intersecting of membership.

Dominant Party Model

A dominant party theory is a system whereby a party is adept within the political framework of a country, to a magnitude that, elections just become a formality. The dominant parties become complacent and view its position in asserting authority is guaranteed. However, the dominance of a dominant party begins to weaken when it merges its party ideologies and that of the state.

Duverger (1963, p. 308) asserted that the dominance of a party, if tested by its influence on policies for the society rather than its strength, lies with the public opinion as they are the ones who determine its legitimacy. He further explained that the dominance of a party is influenced by public perceptions, which play an important role in determining those who rule or govern.

The domination of a party is not anchored to its structures of self-contained developments, but encompasses an “open” interaction to grow its influence. According to Duverger (1963, p. 309), the domination of a party may involve alternations that create stability or socialism aspects that modify the party’s original structures.

In a country where more than one party exists, changes occur in that, in each successive election, a change is witnessed so that stability is realized (Duverger, 1963, p. 309). Duverger (1963, p. 312) explained that the strength of a party sometimes diminishes when its ideologies fail to be re-invented; in such a case, merging or forming coalitions is an important factor to ensure that it survives extinction.

Historical Background

Demonstrations and mass action have existed since the 19th century. People favoring a political or alternate cause have repeatedly held demonstrations in society. Meanwhile, mass action has been an important element in the push for democracy. Riots have been used as a tool for activism to show either positive or negative support for a major social issue engulfing the majority. Riots have primarily been used to address issues of a social, political, and/or economic nature (Kimmerling, 2005, p. 106).

The Mapai Party was founded in 1930 in Israel after A. D. Gordon established a merger with Hapoel Hatzair. In the 1920s, the Labor Zionist movement led to the formation of the Histadrut Union, which conquered the Hebrew settlement’s economy and infrastructure, thereby making Mapai a dominant political party in Zionist politics (Kimmerling, 2005, p. 191).

This influential strength was behind the founding of Hashomer and Haganah, an important Jewish group formed to protect people’s property. In the early 1930s, David Ben-Gurion seized the leadership of the party, becoming a de-facto trailblazer of the Jewish community in Yishuv, present-day Palestine (p. 63).

Because of its role in the victories and independence during the Arab-Israel War of 1948, the Mapai Party received huge support, as evident in the first elections in 1949, in which the party garnered 35.7% of the total votes compared to 14.7% for the second placed Mapam Party (Peretz & Gideon, 1997, p. 4).

The 1951 elections increased Mapai’s support to 37.3% of the total votes, which translated to 47 seats, despite the nation’s economic challenges. Ben-Gurion formed the government with backing from Mizrachi, Agudat of Israel, and three coalitions linked to Mapai’s party. However, Ben-Gurion resigned in 1953, and Moshe Sharett took over Mapai’s Leadership (Kimmerling, 2005, p. 73).

In the meantime, the Mapai Party’s deteriorating support was felt in the election of 1956, garnering 32.2% of the votes, thus maintaining 40 seats, compared to 12.6% to the Heruti party (Mapai, n.d). Ben-Gurion, after coming back from resignation, emerged as prime minister, forming an alliance with the National Religious Front, which later changed its name to the National Religious Party (Elazar, 1989, p. 218).

The advent of Ben-Gurion and his coalition spirit contributed to Mapai’s strength. In the 1959 elections, the Mapai Party garnered 38.2% of the votes, keeping 47 seats. Other two parties i.e. Progress and Development and Cooperation, and the Brotherhood, were invited into the coalition by Ben-Gurion (Mapai, n.d).

The Lavon Incident, which Israeli military intelligence referred to as an abortive Israeli secret operation attempting to enlist Egyptian Jews, helped bring down the Israeli government in 1961 by underwriting the Mapai ‘s dismal performance in elections that same year (Krausz & Glanz, 1985, p. 221).

Although Ben-Gurion formed a coalition government with other parties, two events occurred during the fifth Knesset that contributed to Mapai’s declining influence. The first was Ben-Gurion’s resignation as the head of the party, citing personal reasons, and his formation of another party, Rafi. Second, leading right-wing opposition parties—Liberal and Herut—merged to form Gahal. These actions ultimately signified the end of the Knesset era as the Mapai Party had only 34 seats compared to Gahal’s 27 (Aronoff, 1993, p. 160).

The Mapai Party’s response to the strength of the opposition was to seek support from other parties with similar ideologies, resulting in an alliance with Ahdut HaAvoda to establish the Labor Alignment prior to the 1965 elections. The new party received much support, gaining 36.7% of the votes and 45 seats. Later, HaAvoda and Rafi merged to form the Israel Labor Party (Yiftachel & Meir, 1998, p. 230).

According to Peretz & Gideon (1997, p. 148) the political choices embraced by the Mapai party established a sense of deficiency and frustration. Hence, these choices sparked the Wadi Saib riots of 1959. The revolt was instigated by discrimination and poor policies of the Mapai leadership structure. The riot erupted in the Wadi Salib area of Haifa in 1959.

Many immigrants who had migrated to Israel in the several preceding years had suppressed resentment of the ruling party; they wanted political sovereignty (Sharfman, 1993, p. 64). This was later granted when North African representatives were chosen for the boards of various political parties.

Another cause of the Wadi Salib riot was the lack of adequate background knowledge of Zionism and democratic procedures. Consequently, the growth of political elites in economic echelons created inequality with the poor, particularly the immigrants. The riot stemmed from the buildup due to inequality in terms of social divide (Sharfman, 1993, p. 64). The riot focused on social issues based on ethnic discrimination. The rebellion was against the Labor Party, which governed Israel at the time.

The Wadi Salib riot was characterized by a series of street protests and hooliganism in Wadi neighborhoods. A Wadi resident, Yaakov Elkarif, was confronted by police in 1959 (Elazar, 1989, p. 190).

The man was believed to be drunk and was behaving wildly hence destabilizing peace and stability of Wadi residents. The residents were disappointed with the incident; hence, they gathered en masse and argued for violence (Shafi & Yoavi, 2000, p. 64). The local police commander came to calm the crowds and restore peace, but this proved unsuccessful.

When Elkarif died in police custody, demonstrations erupted in small gatherings, eventually growing into full riots that spread to the neighboring Carmel and Hadar, incorporating violent actions such as throwing stones, barricading streets, looting, and igniting cars. The riots also targeted nightclubs in Mapai and the Histadrut, the congress of trade unions. Taking the brunt of the violence, many police were wounded and a significant number of demonstrators arrested (Smooha, 1978, p. 209).

The riots spread quickly to larger communities of North Africa, including Migdal HaEmek, Tiberias, and Beersheba (Pedahzu, 2002, p. 16). The police claimed that the riot was not pre-planned, but rather was spontaneous.

The Wadi unrest was exposed globally, stimulating the King of Morocco to vocalize his distress regarding the dilemma of immigrants of Northern African origin in Israel (Kimmerling, 2005, p. 106). The Wadi Salib riots still echo throughout Israel’s society, reminding people of the social injustice in the initial years that prompted clashes between the Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews.


The dominant party theory model better fits Israel’s context. The Mapai Party was dominant during this time; hence, its political decisions influenced the wider society. According to the model, the dominion of a political party has a stabilizing influence and can slow or turn its influence in the directions deemed favorable.

In the Wadi Salib riots, the political inclination cannot be overlooked. Sharfman (1993) pointed out that political ideologies, culture, and stability require building mutual and social co-existence in any given state (p. 64). This factor plays a key role in limiting the void between the governor and the governed.

In Israel, these factors contributed to widening the gap between the two mentioned groups in terms of ideologies and practices and increased divisions in society, with an intention to contain votes. Ideological profiling was substituted for profiling individuals’ symbols. For instance, Ben-Gurion was identified by achievement (Sharfman, 1993, p. 64).

The influence of profiling was not restricted to this period; indeed, it continued beyond the 1960s. The political adaptations of younger immigrants were encouraged to overlook the democratic culture and embrace the “strong man.” Consequently, they avoided the reality of embracing human rights issues and had no safety in political democracy (p. 64).

The consociational democracy model claims that failing to have proper democratic stability can create divisions in the country because it leads to the grouping of political parties, thereby encouraging social polarization. This leads to social inequality and creates tension, as witnessed in Israel in the contributing causes of the outbreak of the Wadi Salib riots.

The Wadi Salib rebellion grew from social injustice that was common in Israel at the time. The power regime (i.e., the upper-class elites) suppressed the voice of the lower-class citizens in society. The lack of effective instruments to address this social injustice with the relevant authority resulted in futile attempts to stop such injustice (Reich & Gerishon, 1993, p. 92).

Social inequality and the huge divide that existed in Israel between the rulers and the ruled left no room to address equality and commonness across the society stratum. The Mapai Party, in power at the time, used all available means to suppress the openness and failed to address the fundamentals of the society (Kimmerling, 2005, p. 73).

The shooting and ultimate killing of the innocent man combined with propagating the blame to the immigrants from other North African countries, and discrimination policies demonstrate the nature of suppressed regimes with democratic space for their citizens (Yiftachel & Meir, 1998, p. 141).

The Mapai Party undermined the political organization that ensued after the riots, which demonstrates how political regimes lack democratic space for their citizens to express their free will of expression on issues important to nation building (Kimmerling, 2005, p. 197). The party blamed the immigrants, which highlights the propaganda politicians in the dominant parties used to stay in power.

According to Sharfman (1993), political parties tend to bring about peace and stability where they govern (p. 8). The Labor Party, which was in power, had lost its grip over the society. It had failed to address the social injustices affecting the people, such as discrimination, police brutality, and law and order (Sharfman, 1993, p. 4).

The strength or the dominance of a party encompasses all facets that address issues affecting the governed. In this way, over time, it outshines other parties by gaining significant appreciation of the society. The dominance of a party is further anchored in its principles based on its political development. According to Peretz and Gideon (1997), the material and sociological factors of a party are the facets in which a political party is identified within the society (p. 74).

Sharfman (1993, p. 60) discussed in detail the social inequality that existed in Israel during this time. He stated that 11% of Israel households were extremely poor. Sharfman’s words were in contrast to how his colleagues viewed Israel as a nation. His colleagues regarded Israel as a country embracing democracy and equity (p. 58).

During the writing of the Sinai report, the poverty gap was slightly lower than in the present situation. Inequality persisted in society. Huge gaps existed in relation to salaries and other basic utilities advanced (Shafi & Yoavi, 2000, p. 124). The salaries of government employees were slightly higher than other paid employees at the time. When newspapers reported that Mapai owned a three-and-a-half room apartment, the party echelon almost killed him (Sinai, 2008).

To a larger extent, the discrimination and misery of transit camps tailored to North African immigrants contributed to the Wadi Salib rebellion. However, the formation of the Black Panthers in the 1970s provided an opportunity for equality (Sinai, 2008). The state showed signs of austerity and rationing, which were fashioned to ensure equality.

Every member of society received an equal share of margarine and oil, shoes, and furniture, and the same quantity of foreign currency (Sinai, 2008). According to Sharfman (1993), the process to create employment in the 1960s was boosted by building infrastructures such as the national water carrier, thereby improving the lives of Israel’s middle class (p. 57).

Immigrants to Israel (mostly from Northern Africa and Europe) arriving with nothing more than 20 years earlier now overwhelmingly had become homeowners—75% in the mid-1980s had cleared off their mortgages and bank debts thanks to the outcomes of the Wadi Salib rebellion (Peretz & Gideon, 1997, p. 148).

The widening gap in opportunities and lack of upward mobility led to a feeling of alienation among immigrants. The recession in 1966 contributed to the weakening of Ashkenazim and provided opportunities for immigrants from the Middle East (Kimmerling, 2005, p. 6).

According to Pedahzu (2002), after the riots, Israel society made a tremendous commitment to nation building and the recognition of immigrants (2002,p. 112). The formation of state welfare organizations was initially established in 1954; safety initiatives were also formed, creating a scheme to fold the economic gap and propel the country until the present day.

Moreover, the war of 1967, which lasted for more than four years, led to a decrease in poverty, narrowing the social voids (Pedahzu, 2002, p. 32). This is attributed to social reforms such as unemployment insurance, child allowances, disability allowances, and old-age allowances, which played an important role in lifting the living standards above the poverty line.

The consociation democracy and dominant party theory models are relevant in analyzing this case. The consociation theory outlines the formation of cleavages and groupings in which each group champions its recognition and rights in an open, democratic state. Cleavages provide a challenge for governance, as in the case of Israel.

We see the consociation theory in practice during the time of the riots. Meanwhile, the dominant party theory model encourages fuller participation of the party with greater influence in making important decisions. Thus, because of the comprehensive structure and system of organizations, the dominant party theory model represents the wider needs of the society, gaining the support it needs as evident in the Mapai Party.

However, because Israel was an emerging or young democracy, in which established structures were not strong, the theories mentioned failed to appropriately meet the required threshold of society. This may have occurred because of the weak party and ideology structures, leadership rivalry, and limited support from the wider society.

Both theories fell short of encompassing wider societal participation in the political process, thereby restricting space for special interest groups to be represented in Israel. These fixed powerful party structures failed to meet the threshold of the society in terms of security, rights, and freedom of minorities against the will of majority. A system that could address these issues would be beneficial in this case.


Lijphart (1969, p.207) presents three types of democracies, which are the cornerstone of modern democracies in the world. They are; Anglo-American political, continental European and the political systems practiced by the Scandinavian and small nations. Besides, Duverger (1963) affirmed that the dominance of a party is greatly influenced by its policies and ideologies rather than its own strength. These issues are measured by public opinions, which determine its legitimacy to govern or rule

Reference List

Duverger, M. (1963). Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State. London: Taylor & Francis.

Elazar, D. J. (1989). The Other Jews: The Sephardim Today. New York: Basic Books.

Kimmerling, B. (2005). The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military. California: University of California Press

Krausz, E., & Glanz, D. (1985). Politics and Society in Israel. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Lijphart, A. (1969).Consociational Democracy, World politics, 21 (2), pp. 207-225

Mapai, (n.d). Mapai. Web.

Pedahzu, A. (2002). The Israeli Response to Jewish Extremism and Violence: Defending Democracy. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Peretz, D., & Gideon, D. (1997). The Government and Politics of Israel. Colorado: Westview Press.

Reich, B., & Gershon, R. K. (1993). Israel, Land of Tradition and Conflict. Colorado: Westview Press.

Shafi, G., & Yoav, P. (2000). The New Israel: Peacemaking and Liberalization. Colorado: Westview Press.

Sharfman, D. (1993). Living Without a Constitution: Civil Rights In Israel. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

Sinai, R. (2008). When Equality Was A Goal. Web.

Smooha, S., (1978). Israel, Pluralism and Conflict. London: Taylor & Francis.

Yiftachel, O., & Meir, A. (1998). Ethnic Frontiers and Peripheries: Landscapes of Development and Inequality In Israel. Colorado: Westview Press.

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