By the mid-1970s, economic grievances, corruption, and the perceived
haughtiness of the Labor elite led to a major shift in the voting
patterns of Oriental Jews (those of African or Asian origin).
During the first twenty years of Israel's existence, Oriental
Jews voted for the Labor Party mainly because the Histadrut, the
Jewish Agency, and other state institutions on which they as new
immigrants depended were dominated by Labor. But even during the
early years of the state, Labor's ideological blend of secular-socialist
Zionism conflicted sharply with the Oriental Jews' cultural heritage,
which tended to be more religious and oriented toward a free market
economy. As Oriental Jews became more integrated into Israeli
society, especially after the June 1967 War, resentment of Labor's
cultural, political, and economic hegemony increased. Most unacceptable
to the Oriental Jews was the hypocrisy of Labor slogans that continued
to espouse egalitarianism while Ashkenazim monopolized the political
and economic reins of power.
Despite Labor's frequent references to closing the AshkenaziOriental
socioeconomic gap, the disparity of incomes between the two groups
actually widened. Between 1968 and 1971, Minister of Finance Pinchas
Sapir's program of encouraging foreign investment and subsidizing
private investment led to an economic boom; GNP grew at 7 percent
per year. Given the persistent dominance of Labor institutions
in the economy, however, this economic growth was not evenly distributed.
The kibbutzim, moshavim, and Histadrut enterprises, along with
private defense and housing contractors, enriched themselves,
while the majority of Oriental Jews, lacking connections with
the ruling Labor elite, saw their position deteriorate. Furthermore,
while Oriental Jews remained for the most part in the urban slums,
the government provided new European immigrants with generous
loans and new housing. This dissatisfaction led to the growth
of the first Oriental protest movement--the Black Panthers--based
in the Jerusalem slums in early 1971.
Oriental Jews, many of whom were forced to leave their homes
in the Arab states, also supported tougher measures against Israeli
Arabs and neighboring Arab states than the policies pursued by
Labor. Their ill feelings were buttressed by the widely held perception
that the establishment of an independent Palestinian entity would
oblige Oriental Jews to accept the menial jobs performed by Arab
laborers, as they had in the early years of the state.
Data as of December 1988