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  • Right as Opposed to Wrong as Opposed to LeftThe Spatial Location of “Right Parties” on the Israeli Political Map
  • Gideon Doron (bio)


Politics is a dynamic process: constantly changing directions and emphases; adjusting and readjusting to altering circumstances. People directly involved in this process relentlessly engage in a never-ending process of defining and redefining objectives and interests, of justifying and rationalizing changing modes of behavior and decision processes as opportunities arise. William Riker labeled the outcomes of this fluctuating process as the "disequilibrium of preferences."1 Seen from this perspective, the definition of a "Right" political orientation (or party, bloc, ideology) as opposed to a "Left" political orientation (or party, bloc, ideology) may merely constitute a tentative, not to say random, positioning of individuals and parties within an ever-changing, contracting or expanding, multi-dimensional, and time-dependent ideological space.

Israeli politics notwithstanding: the political blocs consisting of loose groupings of ideologically similar Right-wing or Left-wing parties follow this definitional rule (or rather one should say—non-rule). Subsequently, an attempt to clarify the question of which parties belong to which political bloc often adds analytical confusion regarding actual or perceived ideological differences between the competing political parties. The research enterprise, as well, by grouping together distinct political groups along an ideological spectrum, often fails to grasp the full garment of the political messages carried out by these groups. Moreover, concepts and labels used to describe the different orientations of competing parties in Western democratic polities, such as "nationalist," "socialist," "market oriented," "security-minded," "doves," "hawks," "liberal," and "conservative," carry substantively different meanings in Israel. Over time, Israeli political [End Page 29] parties have changed their spatial positions, assumed different interpretations of their identities, added new dimensions to their platforms that are not always consistent with their previous positions, and for purposes of self-preservation and/or the desire to increase their power, have appeared with new packages of 'self-defining' elements.

The purpose of this article is to introduce some order, albeit temporary and time-dependent, into the evaluation of the spatial locations of the Israeli political parties on a hypothetical right-to-left distribution that has, over the years, defined the positions of so-called right-wing voters and right-wing parties in Israel. Within this context the Herut Party (later Gahal and the Likud) the largest and leading right-wing party, is given particular attention The first part of this article explains the reasons for the analytical confusion that often prevails when political agents are defined as holding "rightist" or "leftist" positions on the political map. The key to understanding this confusion, it is argued, lies in the multidimensionality of Israeli politics. Two examples illustrate this problem. The first involves the failure to conduct a one dimension Minimum Connecting Coalition (MCC) type of analysis.2 The second relates to voters' dilemmas during the 1988 and 1992 elections.3

The second part of this article is historical in essence. It explains why Herut is placed on the right side of the political map and why this party's principal rival—Mapai (later Ma'arach and Labor)—has been placed to the left of it. Starting the review at the pre-state period, a comparison of the spatial positions of the Labor and the Likud, the only parties that separately and jointly have dominated Israeli modern politics, is presented. The article concludes with a proposal for an empirically more relevant classification of these two competing parties. The classification offered relies on three elements. The first element stresses the institutional differences between governing and opposition parties. Whereas governing parties are perceived as preservers of the prevailing political status quo, opposition parties by definition seek to promote changes in it. The second element focuses on voters' behavior as an outcome of their preference distributions across a diversity of issues, and the third on the ideological rationalization of the above differences. [End Page 30]

A. The Multidimensional Space of the Israeli Polity

A political space usually consists of several dimensions. Each dimension, in turn, contains substantively related elements.4 For example, the security of communities and individuals constitutes a dimension which depicts people's preferences concerning the...


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