When the vote of the Israeli electorate on May 17, 1977 was clear, and Israel was about to experience a change of government for the first time, Menachem Begin mounted the pulpit at the center of the main hall at the Likud headquarters in Bet Jabotinsky, and declared that a turning-point had occurred in the history of Israel. The progress of history since that celebration proves that Begin's observation was correct. A different Israel emerged from the election results for the Ninth Knesset and, from several points of view, the 1977 political upheaval has been a watershed in Israeli history. From that day, with two intervals, the right has been the major partner of coalition governments and public agenda setting. Gradually the right in Israel became an object of research; prior to 1977, very few academics paid any attention to this part of the political spectrum.
This volume opens with an analysis by Justice Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court, of Menachem Begin and the rule of law. Quoting from Begin's speeches and ideological writings, Barak concludes that Begin's idea of "supremacy of the law" was finally accepted by the Knesset: "In Israel, the law is supreme in the sense that the constitutional principles that determine the basic laws (Israel's constitution) enjoy normative, constitutional-extra-legal power, and the Knesset itself must respect them." The supremacy of the law, according to Begin, needs another element to safeguard its objectives: independence of the judiciary. He saw the judiciary as a practical guarantor of the freedom of the individual and as a link between man's liberty and the rectification of society.
Gideon Doron, President of the Israel Political Science Association, gives a political scientist's perspective by re-examining the meaning of "right" and "lest" in the Israeli context. His conclusion, that both labels are "largely inaccurate if not obsolete altogether" is based on the observation that both Likud and Labor are establishment parties and tend to behave as such. "When they are in the opposition they tend to emphasize differences and enhance criticism; when they assume power these differences are conveniently blurred." [End Page v]
Yechiam Weitz gives a detailed historical background and analyzes the development of the Herut Party from its establishment in 1948, to 1977. In a combined descriptive-analytical approach, he gives an account of the internal political and ideological struggles that occupied Herut during opposition years, such as "the integrity of the homeland" and the mass demonstrations against German reparation, and the political trade-off between them. He sheds light on internal opposition groups who failed to raise alternative leadership to Begin and his loyalists, and shows that by placing himself at the center of his own party he succeeded in dominating it, even in bad times. Begin gave the Liberal Party disproportional representation in order to have a parliamentary block with them—Gahal—and he thus gained the legitimacy that he desperately needed. With the establishment of the Likud in 1973, he was ready for the political upheaval.
Following defeat in the 1951 Second Knesset elections, Begin had a mostly difficult struggle with an internal opposition group led by Hillel Kook, who had headed the Irgun's mission to the US (1940–1948) and developed an ideology that was different from Begin's. Eran Kaplan studied Kook's ideology and politics, and gives a detailed account of them, shedding light on a chapter in the history of the right unknown to many.
A new comprehension of the right's main dilemma of ideology and reality is given by Ilan Peleg in his research of ideological persistence and tactical readjustment in the right's politics. This is "constructivist realism": Since 1922, the Zionist Right, in all its varieties, has followed the idea of Greater Israel as the exclusive patrimony of the Jewish people. Despite some ideologically meaningful changes with regard to important matters, amounting sometimes to rather significant deviations from Jabotinsky's original belief system, territoriality has remained a quintessential characteristic of Right wing politics for over 80 years. Within the territorial policy paradigm, my own article deals with the same dilemma of policy and reality...