Why are Israeli Arabs so defiant?

In a recent article in the Middle East Quarterly, editor Efraim Karsh argues that Israel's Arabs are the biggest threat to Israel.  At first glance, the reader may be taken aback by such a notion.  Have not Israel's Arabs become more and more integrated into Israeli society?  What in the world is Karsh talking about?

Consider some of the disturbing questions Karsh asks:

  1. Why did Arab dissidence increase dramatically with the vast improvement in Arab standard of living in the 1970s and 1980s?
  2. Why did it escalate into an open uprising in October 2000 after a decade that saw government allocations to Arab municipalities grow by 550 percent and the number of Arab civil servants nearly treble?
  3. Why did it spiral into a far more violent insurrection in May 2021 — after yet another decade of massive government investment in the Arab sector, including a NIS515 billion (US$3.84 billion) socioeconomic aid program in 2015 in all fields of Arab society?        

Karsh's questions are indeed disturbing.  Are there any data on social groups that might explain this phenomenon?  The answer is yes, and it emerges in the fascinating work on social groups conducted by the social psychologist Edwin Hollander, which led to his postulation of the process of idiosyncrasy credit in groups.  This work was first published in 1958 and followed up by him (and others) in a major article in 1992 and more recently in 2006.  Let us examine it now.

Hollander describes the phenomenon as follows.

Status (in a group) is considered to be an outcome of interaction referred to as "idiosyncrasy credit." This represents an accumulation of positively disposed impressions residing in the perceptions of relevant other[s]; it is defined operationally in terms of the degree to which an individual may deviate from the common expectancies of the group.

In other words, Hollander is positing that a person earns credit by being a productive member of the group, disregarding size or function.  The more productive that person is, the more credit he will earn to allow him to deviate from the group norm before group sanctions will be applied.

Think about this statement for a moment.  Hollander is stating that the more a person is integrated into a group on some basic group dimensions, the freer he is to deviate on other issues until he exceeds accepted limits of deviation.  Only when he exceeds this limit is his membership questioned or even revoked.  Presumably, this refers to deviation from the norms defining the very nature of the group — i.e., the group's self-definition.

In other words, only when a group member's credit runs out will sanctions be applied, expelling him from the group when he deviates too far from the group norms.  In Hollander's terms, "affiliation with the group — as perceived by the group — ceases when the individual's credit balance reaches zero."  Until then, deviations are permitted.

Applying this model to the case of Arabs in Israel is consistent with Karsh's argument that it is the Arabs who are most integrated into Israel on psychosocial dimensions who may pose the greatest threat to Israel, specifically because their deviations are permitted because their social integration into Israeli society earns them idiosyncrasy credit, which has allowed them increasingly to reject, at times physically, the basic definition of the Jewish state of Israel.

Karsh's concluding paragraph is consistent with Hollander's conception of idiosyncrasy credit and must be taken seriously.

Unless Israel sets clear red lines and rules of the game to its Arab minority, which encourage its full-fledged integration while asserting state sovereignty and clarifying in no uncertain terms the permanence of Israel's Jewish nature, Arabs and Jews will inexorably be headed for their most devastating confrontation since 1948.

In social psychological language, the increasing social status of Arabs in Israel and their integration into Israeli society has undoubtedly increased their idiosyncrasy credit.  However, there are limits to what can be accepted, and the refusal by some otherwise highly integrated Arabs to accept the basic definition of Israel as a Jewish state can no longer be ignored, and must be confronted, or the group itself, the Jewish state of Israel, will break into pieces.  Karsh is speaking in the tradition of American social psychology, and he is providing us with a serious analysis and warning.

Kalman J. Kaplan, Ph.D. is a member of the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.

Image Montecruz Foto.

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