The Most Hardline Government in Israeli History

We wield words like weapons. We accuse writers of bias, reporters of journalistic malpractice, and citizens – of certain countries – of criminal behavior on a national scale. But we rarely stop the rushing train of accusations long enough to judge the behavior of actors over time.

Consider the 2013 Israeli Knesset elections. Internally, the parties have made exaggerated accusations against their opponents to manipulate public opinion – as to be expected in a democratic process. Externally, however, reporting of the election has ranged from the comically absurd to the creatively disingenuous.

Take this Reuters report from the day before the election as an example:

“After a lackluster campaign, the election could be on course to give Israel the most hardline government in its history, deepening its international isolation and potentially putting strains on its relations with Washington.”

There is not a single fact in that introductory paragraph. It begins with one opinion of the campaign’s nature, continues with a prediction based on poll projections, and ends on a pundit’s note that an honest journalist would have placed in context.

The paragraph also shows a glaring lack of background in Israeli history. To claim that Netanyahu’s new, splintered government will be the most “hardline government in [Israeli] history” is to ignore the most prominent example in the nation’s short history.

The 1977 Israeli Knesset election literally ended almost three continuous decades of left-wing rule. The socialist and left-leaning parties which had carried Israel from its inception to this pivotal election lost forty percent of their seats in the legislature. The balance of power had so dramatically changed that while announcing election results live on television, TV anchor Haim Yavin famously proclaimed, “Ladies and gentlemen – a revolution!”

On June 20, 1977, Menachem Begin formed the Eighteenth Knesset with a coalition comprising Likud, the National Religous Party, and Agudat Yisrael. For the first time in Israeli history, a right-wing hardliner slept in the Prime Minister’s Residence. The second party of that ruling coalition was the predecessor of Nafatli’s Jewish Home, while the third was the original political party of the Haredi population (dating back to 1912, when it was founded as the observant Jews’ official opposition to Zionism).

Under the staunch Likudnik’s leadership, Israel expanded settlements in the West Bank and launched the 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon. Under his command, the Israeli Air Force unilaterally bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor, after which Begin famously declared: “On no account shall we permit an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel.”

Does Reuters still want to stand by the claim that Netanyahu’s would be the most hardline government in Israeli history?

Menachem Begin had been relegated to political wilderness for the majority of his career because of his right-wing views. Derided as authoritarian and denounced for his actions at the head of the Irgun, Begin was the longest serving leader of the opposition in Israeli history. And yet in 1977, in the face of multiple domestic scandals and a disorganized Labor party, Israeli voters chose to give Begin a chance to test the man behind the rhetoric.

And in the following year Israeli voters were rewarded for taking the risk as Menachem Begin sat down with Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat at Camp David to work out the first peace treaty between Israel and one of its neighbors.

Despite all the ink spilt on newspapers worldwide warning of the belligerent Begin and his potential for sowing discord, it was the man who ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel who was also responsible for the first “land for peace” treaty.

May this new, “most hardline government in Israeli history” enjoy such resounding success.

About the Author
Roei Eisenberg studied Political Science at Washington University in St Louis and continued his education at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya's Diplomacy and Conflict Studies program