The political bases of activism in the israeli labour and herut parties

Alan S. Zuckerman, Michal Shamir, Hanna Herzog

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


It is easy to suppose that the contrasts that separate parties in the visible world of electoral competition distinguish their activists as well. In Israel, Labour and Herut have long presented themselves and have been perceived as being dram ati cally different. For most of this century, these two political movements have battled over the nature of Zionism, the proper boundaries of the country, the place of Judaism in the state, and the structure of the economy. In these debates, the Labour party has donned the mantle of socialism; Herut and its forebears in the Revisionist Movement have worn the garb of the rightwing. Labour is uniformly perceived as hierarchical, well-organized, and involved in patronage politics, while Herut is still viewed as a party of ideological firebrands. From the 1930s, Labour controlled the political organization of the Jewish yishuv (settlement) in M andate Palestine and then dominated the Israeli state until 1977. For decades, most Labour activists have been political professionals, joining work in the party with a job in agencies of local and national governments and positions in the construction conglomerates, banks, and health offices affiliated with the economic networks of the labour federation, the H istadrut. 1 In direct contrast, during the long years of Labour dominance, the Revisionists and Herutniks were political amateurs tied by ideological commitment to their nationalist principles, loyalty to their leaders - first Zev Jabotinsky and then Menahem Begin -and to opposition to the Labour Movement. In the last decade, Herut has become an uneasy alliance of veteran members of Begin’s “fighting family” and political professionals who have fueled and have been attracted by the party’s electoral successes as the leader of the Likud bloc .12 Highlighting the rift between Labour and Herut, the form er’s willingness to trade parts of the occupied territories for peace and Likud’s demand that Israel retain control over these areas have made up the central issue of recent national elections. Furthermore, Labour and Herut have distinctive electorates. Reflecting the ethnic and social class divisions that separate Israeli Jews, a plurality of those whose origins lay in Asia or Africa vote for Herut, and Europe-American ethnicity is associated with electoral support for L abour .3 Nevertheless, we will show that these historical, ideological, and social cleavages help to channel the flow of the activists into the two parties, but they do not affect the activists’ social and political lives.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIsrael
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781351768481
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


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