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Israel Studies 10.3 (2005) 54-86

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The Road to the "Upheaval"

A Capsule History of the Herut Movement, 1948–1977


This article describes, analyzes, and characterizes the development of the Herut movement in the initial phase of its history: from its establishment in the summer of 1948 to the founding of Gahal, the parliamentary bloc composed of Herut and the Liberal Party, in the spring of 1965. The article is divided into seven sections:

  1. The formative and "high hopes" phase (1948–1949): from the establishment of the movement to the Constituent Assembly elections.
  2. The slowdown and stoppage phase (1949–1952): from the Constituent Assembly elections to the debate about direct-reparations negotiations with Germany.
  3. The ascendancy phase (1952–1955): from the debate over the reparations negotiations to the Third Knesset elections (June 1955).
  4. The stagnation phase (1955–1961): from the Third Knesset elections through the Fourth Knesset elections (November 1959) to the Fifth Knesset elections, held in the midst of the "Lavon Affair" (August 1961).
  5. Searching for a partner in the struggle for accession (1961–1965): from the Fifth Knesset elections to the formation of the Gahal bloc.
  6. The legitimation phase: from Gahal to Likud (1965–1973).
  7. The last stop on the road to power (1973–1977): from the Yom Kippur War to the "upheaval." [End Page 54]

Phase 1—Formative and "High Hopes" (1948–1949)1

In 1948, the year when the State of Israel came into being, significant developments took place on the country's political map2 as new political entities and combinations came into being. The most important development, as matters were perceived at the time, was the establishment of Mapam in January 19483 due to the merger of two forces on the Zionist left, Ha-shomer ha-Tsa'ir and Ahdut ha-'Avoda–Po'alei Tsiyyon. Although considered a central event, the formation of Mapam amounted to an unrequited promise. In the summer of 1954, after six and a half years of recurrent crises and schisms, the party split in two.

The second notable development was the unification of the religious parties into a parliamentary bloc known as the United Religious Front. The Front embraced Zionist parties (Ha-Po'el Ha-Mizrahi and Mizrahi) and non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox parties (Agudath Israel and Po'alei Agudath Israel). In the Constituent Assembly elections, the Front won sixteen mandates, becoming the third-largest party in the country and a senior partner in the first Government. The Front was short-lived; it fell apart less than two years after it was formed.

The wish to unify parties was manifested in the middle of the political map, too, with the formation of the Progressive Party by the merger of three entities: Aliya Hadasha (The New Aliya) established in 1942 at the initiative of the Association of Immigrants from Central Europe, the Association of General Zionists (General Zionists A—the moderate and liberal wing of the General Zionists) and Ha-'Oved ha-Tsiyyoni (The Zionist Worker). The same aspiration led to the establishment of another centrist political entity: the General Zionists, formed mainly of the Alliance of General Zionists (General Zionists B—the right-wing faction of the General Zionists) and Ha-Ihud ha-Ezrahi.4

Another political phenomenon that year was the establishment of the Herut movement, composed of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL) which had emerged from the underground on the establishment of statehood. Menachem Begin, commander of the IZL, announced its establishment on Saturday night, May 15, 1948, one day after statehood was proclaimed. The announcement was deliberately timed; it was meant as a counterweight to, and a mirror image of, Ben-Gurion's proclamation. Unlike the actions listed thus far, the formation of Herut led to schism, not unity. From its first inception to the eve of the First Knesset elections, many attempts were made to unite the ranks of the Revisionist Movement; all were futile. In the First Knesset elections, too, two Revisionist parties competed: the [End Page 55] new entity, Herut, and the old...


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