For the first 29 years of Israel’s existence (with the exception of June 1967 when a National Unity Government was put in place leading up to the June 1967 Six-Day War), one political coalition, comprised of left-wing, Labor-oriented politicians dominate the young Jewish State’s government. As a result, a relatively narrow range of political ideologies, secular leanings and Ashkenazi cultural orientations is represented in Israel’s ruling coalitions. The 1977 election, known as the “Mahapach (upset),” changes this reality, forever altering politics in Israel.
Previous to the 1977 election, the dominant Alignment coalition, comprised of the Mapai, Ahdut Avodah, and Mapam parties, faces no real electoral competition. With its roots in David Ben-Gurion’s socialist-Zionist political and ideological frameworks, the coalition eventually forms the Israeli Labor party in 1968.
The Likud coalition, with its roots in Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionism, is led by Menachem Begin, an outspoken opposition politician active in Israeli andyishuv politics beginning when he moves to the Land of Israel in 1942. An adversary and critic of Ben-Gurion and the Labor Zionist establishment, Begin forms the Herut party in 1948 with members of the Irgun defense organization as an opposition political party in the Knesset. Herut, makes its ideological positions clear early on, opposing the 1949 cease-fire agreements with Arab states in the aftermath of the 1948 War.
The 1977 elections are called after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin resigns and dissolves the government in December 1976. The move is partly made to oust the National Religious Party from the government after they refuse to oppose a no confidence vote in the Knesset in a dispute over new fighter planes being delivered to Israel on Shabbat. Alignment is further hurt when in April, Rabin is forced to withdraw as party leader and “retire” from the caretaker government he creates in December 1976 when it is discovered that his wife Leah maintains an American bank account, at the time a violation of Israeli law.
Likud, created in 1973, by the initiative of Ariel Sharon, proves to be a more formidable political force against the Alignment coalition than previous right-wing parties. With the country in the midst of a severe economic crisis, Likud is bolstered by the support of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews who feel marginalized and underrepresented by the Labor establishment. Likud gains 33.4% of the vote to the Alignment’s 24.6%. The results lead to Likud winning 43 seats of the 120 seat Knesset. A government is formed with the National Religious Party (12 seats), the Democratic Movement for Change (15 seats) and Shlomzion (2 seats). The Likud victory results in Begin becoming the country’s sixth Prime Minister.
The orderly, peaceful transfer of power between political parties is a major milestone for Israeli democracy. Begin is credited with bringing the historic 1979 Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt to fruition with the help of the United States. Today, the Likud party is headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and still maintains its political and ideological connections with the Revisionist Zionism of Jabotinsky and the Herut party, officially dissolved in 1988.
The photo shows Menachem Begin casting his ballot in the 1977 election. Photo: Public Domain.