INDEX TO PRIMER
Israel's Political History
Workers' parties were dominant in the pre-state Zionist movement and in the political leadership of the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) as of the mid 1930s. This situation continued after the establishment of the state in 1948 until 1977. Among these parties, which may all be defined as social-democratic, Mapai, the party of David Ben-Gurion and the largest among them, was the most pragmatic and moderate. Mapam was the most Marxist in its outlook and remained pro-Soviet until after the death of Stalin. Ahdut Ha'avoda was most nationalist and activist in terms of Israel's territorial demands and the Arab-Israeli conflict (after the Six Day War some of its leaders joined the Right). The mixed Jewish-Arab Communist Party was non-Zionist, at times anti-Zionist, and never played a central role.
In no election did the workers' parties win a majority of the seats; until 1977, Mapai and later the Labor Alignment formed all the governments. During this period the economy was centrally run, though private entrepreneurship was encouraged and thrived. The Histradrut workers federation, which owned as much of 20% of the country's industrial enterprises, and the kibbutzim (collective farms) and moshavim (cooperative farms) that produced most of the agricultural produce, were Labor dominated. The Labor Party was founded in 1968, when Mapai, Ahdut Ha'avoda, and Rafi (a party formed by Ben-Gurion in 1965) united.
As of the mid-1960s various smaller, more radical left-wing parties -- some of which were more human-rights than socialist-oriented -- emerged and disappeared. Mapam, which from 1969 to 1984 was part of the Labor Alignment, eventually united with the liberal-socialist Ratz and the liberal Shinui, to form Meretz in 1992.
Following the Yom Kippur War, the Labor Alignment started losing its popularity and dominance, especially after losing the support of people from Moslem-country origin. From 1977 to 1984 it was in opposition, and from 1984 to 1990 the Alignment, without Mapam, participated in national unity governments with the Likud. Labor, together with Meretz and for a short period Shas, ran the government from 1992 to 1996, with the Arab parties supporting the government from the outside. Very little socialism remained in the Left, including the kibbutzim, with growing emphasis being placed on "capitalism with a soul" -- human and civil rights and greater flexibility in the pursuit of peace with the Palestinians and the Arab states. All the parties of the Left remained in opposition during the Netanyahu government from 1996 to 1999.
From its foundation in 1920 and until recently, the Histadrut has been dominated by Mapai and later the Labor Party, at the same time constituting one of their power bases. It has disassociated itself from the existing parties, and chairman Amir Peretz, a Labor MK from 1988 to 1998, plans to run in the elections to the 15th Knesset at the head of a new Workers' Party, which is to assert workers' status and rights. It is not clear whether this party will pass the qualifying threshold.
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