Skip to main content

Israel: Political Parties in


Major or significant political parties in Israel, including pre-state forerunners.

Agudat Israel ("Society of Israel")

Agudat Israel is political party founded in Poland in 1912, created by the ultraorthodox Agudat Israel Jewish organization, and established in Palestine in the early 1920s. Agudat Israel moderated its antisecular worldview by indicating its willingness to participate in the 1948 government-in-formation and the initial 1949 to 1951 government coalition by the terms of an agreement known as the "status quo letter," which avoided making key decisions about the relationship of the new state and organized religion. In 1949 the party formed part of the United Religious Front; in the elections of 1955 and 1959 it formed part of the Torah Religious Front with Poʿalei Agudat Israel. The party left the governing coalition in 1951 and remained in opposition until 1977, when it supported Menahem Begin's Likud-led coalition. In 1984 Agudat Israel joined the Begin-Peres national unity government and has since remained part of it, although it has refused a ministry.

Agudat Israel was originally anti-Zionist and messianic, although it has been willing to cooperate with Zionists in areas of immigration, settlement, and defense. In the 1980s this non-Zionist party, directed by a Council of Torah Sages (a panel of rabbis to whom both religious and secular decisions are referred), continued to advocate a theocracy and increased state financial support for its religious institutions. It is generally considered to be pragmatic on foreign-policy issues, including the future of the territories occupied since 1967. It is also concerned with all matters of domestic policy, matters it perceives to affect religion in general, and especially its own educational institutions.

In preparation for the 1984 Knesset elections many of the party's Sephardic members left Agudat Israel and started a new party, SHAS, resulting in a decline in Agudat Israel's Knesset representation from four to two seats.

Ahdut ha-Avodah ("Unity of Labor")

This socialist party was founded in 1919 by veterans of the Jewish Legion and other Palestine pioneers. With strong support in the Kibbutz ha-Meʾuhad movement, Ahdut ha-Avodah (or Achdut ha-Avodah) worked for the unification of Jewish labor movements and the development of new forms of settlement and labor units. It rejected Marxist doctrines of class warfare in favor of social democracy. In 1930 it joined with others in founding the MAPAI Party. After becoming independent from that party in 1944, Ahdut ha-Avodah joined with ha-Shomer ha-Tzaʾir, a Zionist socialist youth movement, to found the more radical left-wing MAPAM in 1948. It split with MAPAM in 1954, formed an alignment with MAPAI in 1965, and in 1968 merged again with MAPAI and the RAFI parties to form the Israel Labor Party.

Alignment (Maʾarakh)

From 1969 to 1984 the Alignment existed as a combination of the Israel Labor Party, MAPAI, and the United Worker's Party, MAPAM. Although the two parties retained their organizational independence, they shared a common slate in elections to the Knesset, the Histadrut, and local-government offices.

Am Ehad ("One Nation") (Received 2.8% of the vote, 3 seats, in 2003 election)

The Am Ehad Party is a labor-oriented organization with leadership that overlaps with the leadership of the Histadrut, the national labor union. Its focus is on social welfare issues, workers' rights, and collective agreements. The party's goals in the 2003 election were to keep in front of the public the debates over employment, unionization, the right to strike, and the ability to live with dignity; to reduce social gaps in income; and to have the government take an active role against unemployment. It focused its political platform on workers' rights. It also pursued "citizenship issues," ensuring a pension for every citizen and working for salary equality for women, and pressed several social issues, including free education from nursery school to university, equal rights in the health system, and adequate housing for each citizen.

Arab Democratic Party

The Arab Democratic Party was founded in early 1988 by Abdul Wahab Darawshe, a former Labor Party Knesset member. In 1988 it received about 12 percent of the total Arab vote and one seat in the Knesset elections. In a March 1988 interview, Darawshe acknowledged that his resignation from the Labor Party resulted from the Palestinian intifada

election results 19492003
  left/socialist non-socialist religious other
table by ggs information services, the gale group.
first knesset (1949) 65 (mapai 46) (mapam 19) 21 (herut 14) (liberals 7) 16 (single-list) 18 (communist 4) (arab 2) (other 12)
second knesset (1951) 60 (mapai 45) (mapam 15) 28 (herut 8) (liberals 20) 15 (nrp 10) (aguda 5) 17 (communist 5) (arab 1) (other 11)
third knesset (1955) 59 (mapai 40) (mapam 9) (ahdut ha'avodah 10) 28 (herut 15) (liberals 13) 17 (nrp 11) (aguda 6) 16 (communist 6) (arab 4) (other 6)
fourth knesset (1959) 63 (mapai 47) (mapam 9) (ahdut ha'avodah 10) 25 (herut 17) (liberals 8) 18 (nrp 12) (aguda 6) 14 (communist 3) (arab 5) (other 6)
fifth knesset (1961) 59 (mapai 42) (mapam 9) (ahdut ha'avodah 8) 34 (herut 17) (liberals 17) 18 (nrp 12) (aguda 6) 9 (communist 5) (arab 4)
sixth knesset (1965) 63 (mapai 45) (mapam 8) (rafi 10) 26 likud (single-list) 17 (nrp 11) (aguda 6) 14 (communist 4) (arab 4) (other 6)
seventh knesset (1969) 56 israel labor party (single-list) 26 likud (single-list) 18 (nrp 12) (aguda 6) 20 (communist 4) (arab 4) (other 12)
eighth knesset (1973) 51 israel labor party (single-list) 39 likud (single-list) 15 (nrp 10) (aguda 5) 15 (communist 5) (arab 3) (other 7)
ninth knesset (1977) 32 israel labor party (single-list) 43 likud (single-list) 17 (nrp 12) (aguda 5) 28 (communist 5) (arab 1) (dmc 15) (other 7)
tenth knesset (1981) 47 israel labor party (single-list) 48 likud (single-list) 10 (nrp 6) (aguda 4) 15 (communist 4) (tehiya 3) (tami 3) (other 5)
eleventh knesset (1984) 44 israel labor party (single-list) 41 likud (single-list) 12 (nrp 4) (shas 4) (aguda 2) (morasha 2) 23 (communist 4) (arab 2) (tehiya 2) (shinui 2) (civil rights movement 3) (other 6)
twelfth knesset (1988 39 israel labor party (single-list) 40 likud (single-list) 18 (shas 6) (nrp 5) (aguda 5) (other 2) 23 (communist 5) (arab 3) (civil rights movement 5) (tehiya 3) (shinui 2) (other 5)
thirteenth knesset (1992) 56 (israel labor party 44) 32 likud (single-list) (meretz 12) 16 (shas 6) (nrp 6) (united torah judaism 4) 16 (communist 3) (arab 2) (tzomet 8) (other 3)
election results 19492003
  left/socialist non-socialist religious other
fourteenth knesset (1996) 43 (labor 34) (meretz 9) 45 (likud 32) (yisrael b'aliyah 7) (third way 4) (moledet 2) 23 (shas 10) (national religious party 9) (yahdut hatorah 4) 9 (united arab list 4) (hadash 5)
fifteenth knesset (1999) 44 (one israel 26) (meretz 10) (shinui 6) (one nation 2) 39 (likud 19) (yisrael b'aliyah 6) (national unity 4) (center 6) (israel our home 4) 27 (shas 17) (national religious party 5) (united torah judaism 5) 10 (united arab list 5) (democratic front for peace and equality 3) (balad 2)
sixteenth knesset (2003) 44 (labor 19) (shinui 15) (meretz 6) (am ehad 4) 46 (likud 37) (national union 7) (yisrael b'aliyah 2) 21 (shas 11) (united torah judaism 5) (national religious party 5) 9 (arab parties 9)

in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the "diminishing choices" open to Israeli Arab politicians affiliated with the government and yet tied to the Arab community by a sense of shared ethnic identity. Echoing the sentiments of other Israeli Arabs, Darawshe has stated that "the PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians" living outside Israel's pre-1967 borders. The party won seats in the twelfth (1988), thirteenth (1992), and fourteenth (1996) Knesset elections, after which its membership merged with other Arab parties.

Balad (See National Democratic Assembly)
Citizens' Rights Movement (CRM, "Ratz")

The Citizens' Rights Movement (CRM) was founded in 1973 by Shulamit Aloni, a former Labor Party Knesset member. The CRM was founded as an expression of dissatisfaction with the conduct of the 1973 ArabIsrael War, and its primary issues involved strengthening civil rights in Israel and greater compromise on Israeli-Palestinian issues; the idea of the separation of religion and government has been particularly important to the party's platform. Its most prominent leader was the leftist, social-liberal activist Aloni. The party won three seats in the Knesset election of 1973 and briefly joined the Labor Party government in 1974, but left when Yitzhak Rabin accepted the National Religious Party as a coalition member. The CRM was reduced to one seat in 1977 by the popularity of the Democratic Movement for Change. At various times it negotiated with other left-wing groups (such as Shinui) about multiparty mergers, but no mergers resulted. In 1984 the CRM rebounded to win three Knesset seats and grew to five seats in 1988. It refused to join the 1984 National Unity government on matters of principle regarding cooperation with Likud. The CRM's platform centered on freedom of religion and culture; complete equality of all Israelis without regard to religion, nationality, race, or gender; full opposition to religious coercion; and negotiation with representatives of Palestinians and recognition of their right to self-determination. In 1992 many of its members joined the combined left-wing Meretz Party, which became a coalition partner of Labor.

Degel ha-Torah ("Torah Flag") (See United Torah Judaism)

Formed in 1988, the clericalist party is a SHAS-led Ashkenazi spinoff among the ultraorthodox community.

Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (HADASH) (Received 3.0% of the vote, 3 seats in 2003 election)

The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (DFPE) is considered to be on the "far left" of the political spectrum, and is made up of both Arabs and Jews. It is strongly in favor of the peace process, putting a just, comprehensive, and stable Israeli-Arab peace as a high priority, and it wants to see a Palestinian state established as soon as possible. It supports the State of Israel as a state of all of its citizens rather than simply as a "Jewish state." It also strongly advocates the civil and national rights of Arabs in Israel, including the right of Palestinian refugees of 1948 to either return to their land or to be compensated for property that was abandoned at the time. Related to the issue of Arab rights, it seeks to act on behalf of the Arab working class to raise the standard of living of Israeli Arabs.

Democratic Movement for Change

The Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) was founded in 1976 by several groups, including the Shinui Party, to consolidate movements of dissatisfaction in the aftermath of the ArabIsrael War of 1973. The best-known figures of the DMC were Yigael Yadin, former IDF chief of staff and archaeology professor, and Amnon Rubinstein, Tel Aviv University law professor. Dissidents in the Labor Party helped the DMC to win fifteen seats in the Knesset of 1977. The DMC's program included electoral reform, decentralization of government, reorganization of the educational system, increased emphasis on social integration, and simplification of the bureaucracy. In foreign policy, the DMC stressed the preservation of the Jewish character of the state and territorial compromise on the West Bank, but opposed establishment of an independent Palestinian state there. Divided over the issue of cooperation with the Likud, DMC members decided to join the Likud-led government in 1977 without winning any of the major concessions they had insisted upon. It broke up in 1979 when the Shinui Party left over the issue of the DMC's cooperating with the Likud. The party did not put forward any candidates in the 1981 election.

Free Center

The Free Center was a faction that splintered from the Herut Party in 1967. From 1967 to 1973, through the Seventh Knesset, the Free Center was a party in its own right. It became a faction within Likud from 1973 to 1977, and joined the Democratic Movement for Change in 1977.

GAHAL (Acronym for Gush HerutLiberalim, "the Freedom-Liberal Bloc," also known as the Herut-Liberal Bloc)

GAHAL is a political coalition list created in 1965 by an electoral combination of the Liberal Party and the Herut Party to compete against the 1965 and 1969 MAPAI-led electoral alignments. In 1967, on the eve of the outbreak of the ArabIsraeli War, GAHAL joined a National Unity Government with Labor; in 1973 GAHAL became part of the Likud Bloc.

General Zionist

A centrist Zionist party during the prestate period, in the 1940s General Zionist split into two factions, A and B, over the issues of attitudes towards the mandatory government and its policies on one hand, and the socialist-dominated Histadrut on the other. In the elections for the First Knesset, group A constituted the Progressive Party; group B, the General Zionists. United for a number of years after 1961 under the name of Liberal Party, they split again when one part (basically former group B) joined Herut in 1965 to form a joint list (GAHAL). The former Progressives continued as Independent Liberals.

Gesher ("Bridge")

Gesher was a splinter party founded in 1996 by a number of former Members of Knesset from the Likud, led by Likud MK David Levy (a former foreign minister known for his support for the Moroccan community in Israel). It was seen by many as a centrist-right party focusing on the social and economic problems of the population in Israel's periphery and development towns, populated initially by immigrants from North Africa.

HADASH (See Democratic Front for Peace and Equality)
Herut Party ("Freedom")

The Herut (Freedom) Party was founded in 1948, and until 1983 was led by Menachem Begin, a protégé of the Revisionist Zionist Vladimir Zeʾev Jabotinsky. Herut was a right-wing party founded by people who had been active in the Irgun in the prestate years, and had an ideology based on Revisionist Zionism. One of the key characteristics of the Revisionist movement was an emphasis on Jewish control of the territory of Eretz Yisrael. In 1973 Herut became the senior member of the Likud bloc, which included the Free Center Party, and which Begin led to victory in 1977. Prior to 1977, Herut was identified as a party of opposition, one that would never control a plurality of the national vote (despite a brief appearance in a government of national unity from 1967 to 1970). Since 1977 the Herut, as the major partner of Likud, has been a successful alternative to the Labor Party coalition, and the Herut/Likud bloc has formed the basis of most Israeli governments.

Herut was traditionally associated with the idea of a Greater Israel, which includes the West Bank and Gaza, and many of its leaders favor annexation of those areas. It is committed to a diminution of government regulation in the economy, fewer concessions to the Palestinians, and strong security. It relies heavily on the Sephardic community to stay in power as part of the Likud coalition, which it joined in 1973.

Ihud Leʾumi (See National Union)
Israel be-Aliyah ("Israel on the Increase") (Received 2.2% of the vote, 2 seats, in 2003 election)

One of the key issues of this party refers to the importance of aliyah (immigration) to the state. The party was founded in 1996 by Natan Sharansky, a well-known "refusnik" from the former Soviet Union. It is the only single-issue party that has been successful in recent years. It seeks to advance the rights of all immigrants, not just immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet Union, but Sharansky's background related to the former Soviet Union has made his appeal to that group especially strong.

The party seeks to make progress on the peace process by supporting a democratized Palestinian Authority. It also seeks to support the ingathering of most of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), and to expand the conditions necessary for the absorption of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.

Israel Beiteinu ("Israel Our Home")

Israel Beiteinu is an immigrants' rights party formed in 1999 by former prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu's Russian-born former chief of staff, Avigdor Lieberman. It seeks to curb what Lieberman says are the excessive powers of the police force, justice ministry, and court system. Its platform includes a commitment to work for tolerance, mutual respect, and respect for the rights of the individual; to work in the social and economic fields to assist weak population groups and young couples in the field of subsidized housing; and to work to advance rehabilitation projects for development towns on the basis of land reform.

The party supports the creation of a presidential system of government in Israel, and the entrenching of a fully written constitution and an active constitutional court. It supports a more vigorous separation of government and religion and the adoption of the recommendations of the Neeman Commission on orthodoxy of Judaism in Israel, and wants an expansion of the openness of the civil service. The party also seeks to transfer the authority for dealing with new immigrants from the Ministry of Immigration Absorption to local government.

Israel Communist Party ("Miflagah Komunistit Yisraelit," creating the acronym MAKI)

Under the general name Miflagah Komunistit Yisraelit (MAKI), communist parties in Palestine and Israel date back to at least 1919 and have undergone many metamorphoses. MAKI's membership recognized the new state of Israel and its flag and anthem, but denied linkages between the state and Jews overseas. One of its primary issues involved insisting upon the right of Arabs to establish a state in the territory recommended by the 1947 United Nations Partition Resolution. Ideology of class warfare and affiliation with international communist movements resulted in the party being seen by some Jews as anti-Zionist, and therefore it was excluded from participation in Yishuv affairs. After the establishment of the State of Israel, there were attempts by MAKI, the mainly Jewish communist party, to unify Jewish and Arab communists.

In 1964 an irreconcilable split over policy toward Arab nationalism and pan-Arabism resulted in a split and the formation of an Israeli Arab communist party, which took the name RAKAH (an acronym for Reshima Komunistit Hadashah, "New Communist List") as an alternative to the overwhelmingly Jewish MAKI. In the 1973 election the two communist parties, RAKAH and MAKI, ran together as Moked ("Focus"), but since 1973, only RAKAH has borne the name communist. Jewish communists have carried on their activity in other structures, such as the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality or SHELI (an acronym for Shalom l'Israel, or "Peace for Israel"). One or more communist parties have had seats in every Israeli Knesset, but they have never been included in the coalition governments by which Israel has always been governed.

Israel Labor Party (With Meimad, received 14.5% of the vote, 19 seats, in 2003 election)

The Israel Labor Party (ILP, Mifleget ha-Avodah) has been the major social-democratic party of Israel since its formation in 1968 through a merger of MAPAI, RAFI, and Ahdut ha-Avodah Poʿalei Zion. It has never stood for election on its own, but rather has been the major partner in the Alignment, which was formed in 1969 with MAPAM. Labor, in various manifestations, was in power from the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 until its defeat by the Likud under Menachem Begin in 1977, with the exception of two periods (19671969 and 19841988), when it shared power with the Likud in a National Unity government. It returned to full power in the election of 1992. As the senior member of the Labor Alignment in each Knesset since the ILP's formation, it received 80 to 85 percent of the Alignment's seats. Its leaders, Israel's most prominent Labor-Zionist figures, were also prime ministers when the Alignment was in power: Levi Eshkol (19681969), Golda Meir (19691973), Yitzhak Rabin (19741977 and 19921995), Shimon Peres (199596), and Ehud Barak (19992001).

The ILP's programs are broadly pragmatic in foreign policy and moderately socialist in domestic policy. In regard to the Palestinians, it has been willing to negotiate with only minimal preconditions, generally preferring a settlement through a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation. It has sought to restart negotiations with the Palestinians based upon a "land for peace" formula, and is willing to consider unilateral withdrawal from certain parts of the West Bank and Gaza Stripwithin the framework of the Oslo Accordsif that will bring secure borders. Its public goal has been to "pursue peace as if there were no terror and fight terror as if there were no peace process." But Labor has also joined other Israeli parties in insisting that Israeli security be the first priority. It rejects the idea of annexation of the West Bank and Gaza but insists that the status of Jerusalem is not negotiable: Jerusalem is the indivisible capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, including eastern neighborhoods, with special status accorded to places holy to Islam and Christianity. The party supports continuing all peace talks with nations of the region. Specifically, it wants to continue talks with Syria, and has indicated that it would be willing to make compromises on the issue of the Golan Heights if sufficient security concerns are met.

Party platforms have also stressed equality for Arab citizens of Israel. On domestic affairs, the ILP stands for a mixed economy, central economic planning, an extensive network of government-run social services, and close cooperation with the Histadrut, but also a large role for the private sector. On the role of religion, it accepts the "status quo agreement," under which religious affairs will be under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox rabbinate and rules about such matters as public transportation on the Sabbath will remain as they were at the time of the founding of the state. However, the party would also like to see Jewish religious pluralism and more rights for the Reform and Conservative movements.

The history of the ILP has often been stormy, providing an arena for conflicts among its strong leading personalities. Among these conflicts was the rivalry between Rabin and Peres, often over questions of who was responsible for ILP election setbacks and for the failures of some government policies. In 1977 Rabin's difficulties over an allegedly illegal bank account belonging to his wife were considered by some to be one of the causes of the Alignment's defeat by the Likud under Begin. In turn, many attribute subsequent electoral defeats to the "colorless" Peres, citing his replacement by Rabin as an important factor in the Alignment's decisive electoral victory in 1992. In an important reform of internal Israeli political party organization in 1968, the ILP broadened the selection process for Knesset candidates through primary elections, a practice that has since then been adopted by some other Israeli parties as well. Following the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin in November 1995, Shimon Peres was elected Labor Party leader.

Kach ("Thus")

Kach, an ultranationalist party, came into being around Rabbi Meir Kahane, a U.S.-born right-wing Orthodox extremist. Kach advocated the forcible expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the Occupied Territories, followed by Israeli sovereignty there. A number of other party leaders have been implicated in Kach-supported terrorist activities. In 1988 the Likud and the Citizens' Rights Movement succeeded in having the Knesset pass a Basic Law empowering the Central Elections Board to prohibit any party advocating racism from contesting parliamentary elections in Israel; Kach, which had gained one seat in the 1984 elections after several earlier unsuccessful attempts to enter the Knesset, was outlawed from participating in the 1988 elections.

Liberal Party

The Liberal Party is a centrist party formed in 1961 by members of the General Zionist and Progressive parties. It is primarily interested in furthering the cause of a strong private sector in the economy with minimal government interference. In 1965 it joined the Herut Party in forming an electoral list called GAHAL, causing one of its wings to split off to become the Independent Liberals. The Liberal Party continues to exist as an independent entity within the Likud. In the Begin cabinet of 1977 one of Liberal's leaders, Simha Ehrlich, served as finance minister; two other Liberals, Yitzhak Modaʾi and Moshe Nissim, held the same post in the National Unity government of 1984. Another Liberal leader, Arie Dulzin, served for some time as chairman of the World Zionist Organization (WZO).

Likud ("Union") (Received 29.4% of the vote, 38 seats, in 2003 election)

An Israeli electoral bloc established in 1973, the Likud consisted originally of several independent parties: the Herut Party, the Liberal Party, the Free Center, State List, and part of the Land of Israel Movement. Much of the emphasis of its program has been on extension of Israeli sovereignty to the territories conquered in the ArabIsrael War of 1967. In large part, Likud was the direct ideological descendant of the Revisionist Party, established by Vladimir Jabotinsky in 1925. The Revisionist Party, so named to underscore the urgency of revision in the policies of the WZO's Executive, advocated militancy and ultranationalism as the primary political imperatives of the Zionist struggle for Jewish statehood. The Revisionist Party demanded that the entire mandated territory of historical Palestine on both sides of the Jordan River, including Trans-jordan, immediately become a Jewish state with a Jewish majority.

Taking advantage of public disenchantment with the Labor Party in 1977, Likud won forty-three Knesset seats and formed a coalition government led by Menachem Begin, which continued until 1984. In that year, neither Likud nor the Labor Alignment bloc won enough to form a coalition without the other. The two joined in a National Unity government in which Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir held the office of prime minister for half of the electoral period, and the blocs divided other government offices. In 1988 Likud and other right-wing and religious parties improved their showing, and Shamir again led the government until the Labor victory of 1992. During its years in power, Likud strongly resisted surrendering sovereignty over the Palestinian territories and made little progress in reducing the role of the government in the economy. One of Likud's problems has been the presence in it of several strong individuals and their factions, including Shamir, former chief of staff Ariel Sharon, and Moroccan leader David Levy, all of whom have tried vigorously to become dominant. In 1993 the Likud chairmanship was won by Benjamin Netanyahu, former ambassador to the United Nations and brother to the hero of the Israeli raid on Entebbe. He defeated his former rivals, Moroccan-born David Levy and Ariel Sharon, as well as younger figures such as Zeʾev Begin, with a spirited campaign based on American-style politics and effective use of the media, even though it was an election confined to party members.

The Likud has indicated that it is willing to negotiate peace with a Palestinian leadership "not compromised by terror," but it has also stated that it is opposed to the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. It advocates increasing the population of the settlements in the West Bank, to which it believes Israel has a right, and calls for improvement of the social and economic conditions of Israel's disadvantaged communities, which consisted largely of Jews originating from Middle Eastern and Arabic lands, and the maintaining of the current status quo in government-religious relations. The Likud campaigned heavily against the Oslo Accords. Allthough it claims that it will not "go back" on what has been done, the Likud has been extremely cautious.

MAPAI (Acronym for Mifleget Poʿalei Eretz Yisrael,or "Israel Workers' Party")

MAPAI is the principal Zionist and Israeli socialist party (19301968). Founded upon the merger of Ahdut Ha-Avodah and Ha-Poʿel Ha-Tzaʾir in 1930, it constituted the central and dominant political force in the labor movement, in the Yishuv (Jewish community of Palestine under the British Mandate), in the Zionist movement, and later in the State of Israel. Under the spiritual inspiration of Berl Katznelson, the party became the main ideological and political vehicle for the Jewish labor movement during the Yishuv period. Its central program focus was uniting socialist and national goals. To do that, however, it was necessary to work with nonsocialist parties and to accede to some of their premises.

MAPAI's chief political leader from the mid-1930s to 1963 was David Ben-Gurion. A leading pragmatist, he was frequently criticized by party elements who were more ideological. In 1963 BenGurion resigned from MAPAI over the Lavon Affair. In 1965 MAPAI became a partner in the formation of the Labor Alignment, and in 1968 that organization in turn joined with the RAFI Party to form the Israel Labor Party. The 1965 election was the last one in which MAPAI ran candidates under its own name. During its existence, MAPAI's membership supplied all but one of Israel's prime ministers, all but one of the state's presidents and Knesset speakers, and all secretaries-general of the Histadrut.

MAPAM (Acronym of Mifleget Poʿalim Meʾuhedet, or "United Workers Party")

Founded in 1948, MAPAM was a Marxist-Zionist party that followed a Moscow-led policy until the death of Josef Stalin, when it disavowed that orientation. MAPAM split in 1954; former members of Ha-Shomer Ha-Tzaʾir remained with MAPAM, while former members of Ahdut Ha-Avodah-Poʿalei-Tziyon left MAPAM to form Ahdut HaAvodah. Thereafter, MAPAM concentrated much more on local matters. Combining the goals of Labor Zionism with a refusal to dispossess Israeli-Arabs, it received considerable criticism when it accepted Arab members. It advocated greater neutrality in foreign policy and a greater restraint in defense. Immediately after 1967, MAPAM opposed the establishment of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and strongly urged negotiations with the Palestinians. It was also among the quickest and most vigorous objectors to the ArabIsraeli War of 1982.

After 1969 MAPAM became a member of the Labor Alignment with MAPAI and other parties. There were forceful arguments within MAPAM over whether the Alignment's ideology was so mild that MAPAM's very principles were being violated, but those favoring continued membership prevailed until 1984, when the Alignment took part in the formation of the National Unity government in which Likud was a partner. MAPAM broke away from the Alignment and resumed its independent existence in the fall of 1984, when the Labor Party decided to join Likud in forming the National Unity government. In 1992 MAPAM joined with Shinui and the Citizen's Rights Movement to form Meretz, which became Labor's main coalition partner.

MAPAM's socioeconomic program was the most socialist of any Israeli party. It was also one of the strongest proponents of equality for Israeli Arabs. It did not, however, advocate class struggle in orthodox Marxist terms. MAPAM has advocated a strong national security and defense posture, with many of its members playing leading roles in the IDF. At the same time, it has urged continuing peace initiatives and territorial compromise, and has opposed the permanent annexation of the territories occupied in the ArabIsrael War of 1967 beyond minimal border changes designed to provide Israel with secure and defensible boundaries. MAPAM has long believed in Jewish-Arab coexistence and friendship as a means of hastening peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab states.

Meimad ("DimensionsMovements of the Religious Center") (With Labor Party, received 14.5% of the vote, 19 seats, in 2003 election)

Meimad was established in 1988 as a religious Zionist alternative to the National Religious Party. Meimad's goal was to represent, to cultivate, to strengthen, and to disseminate the values of religious Zionism in Israel and abroad, and to incorporate Orthodox religious practice in Israeli public life, but it did not want to do so by restrictive legislation. Its platform called for working for the development of the State of Israel and influencing its social, economic, political, and spiritual life on the basis of the Torah. Meimad maintained that peace between Israelis and Arabs was possible and that Israel could negotiate land for peace. In 1999 Meimad joined Ehud Barak's One Israel Party.

Meretz ("Energy") (Received 5.2% of the vote, 6 seats, in 2003 election)

Meretz is seen as a left-wing, social-democratic secular party. Comprising MAPAM, Shinui, and the Citizens' Rights Movement, Meretz won twelve seats in the 1992 Knesset elections and became the most important coalition partner in Israel's Labor Party. Its most widely publicized program includes advocating for more conciliatory policies on negotiations with the Palestinians, supporting an accelerated peace process and a just and comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors, and dismantling settlements and withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many young Israelis are also attracted to its reformist views on education, economic, human rights, and environmental issues. Meretz is a democratic, peace-seeking party in which Jews and Arabs work in complete equality. Meretz is committed to human rights, to equality of citizens of the country, to social justice, to Israel's security, and to the values of humanistic Zionism. Its concern with social justice has led it to take some activist positions in relation to economic policy. It has promoted more state funding for education because since education is the cornerstone of a democratic society. It has also advocated freedom of religion and greater separation between religion and the state, arguing for equal status for all branches of Judaism.


Mizrahi consists of offshoots of the Orthodox Jewish world Mizrahi movement, established in 1902 with the aim of securing "Eretz Yisrael for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel." The Mizrahi and Ha-Poʿel Ha-Mizrahi ran as separate political parties in the elections to the first Israeli Knesset (1949), joining together to form the National Religious Party (NRP) in 1956. From 1951 to 1977, Mizrahi candidates occupied ten to twelve seats in the Knesset. Although the Mizrahi-Ha-Poʿel Ha-Mizrahi movement played a major role in establishing the public religious character of Israel in its initial decades of nationhood, the party's power and prestige had declined by the 1980s. The party continued to struggle to establish mandatory recognition of the Sabbath as the national day of rest and of the practice of kashrut (strict observance of dietary laws) in all national institutions, settlements, and organizations, so that the state's constitution would be based on halakhah (Jewish religious law). Mizrahi envisages, in the ultimate stage, a Jewish state governed according to halakhah, and it considers the present-day secular state to be a precursor of that state.

Since 1981 the number of NRP Knesset seats declined by more than 50 percent. This has been attributed to a number of causes, including the perceived stance of the majority party, Likud, to religious tradition; to ideological confusion, stagnation, and an absence of NRP leadership development; to an empowerment of Sephardic Jews and the creation of parties dominated by Sephardic Jews; and to a move by NRP to the religious right, which led many former Mizrahi loyalists into the more sectarian religious parties, such as Agudat Israel and SHAS.

Moledet ("Homeland")

The Moledet Party ran in 1988 on an extremist platform advocating the forcible "transfer" of Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank to Arab states. It argued that population transfer should be a precondition for peace negotiations with any Arab country. It also advocated the annexation of the West Bank and Gaza into Israel and the continuation of settlements in the areas. The party actively opposed the idea of a binational State of Israel. Led by retired IDF General Rehavam ("Gandhi") Zeʾevi, the party won two seats in the 1988 Knesset elections.

Morashah ("Heritage")

Morashah is a nationalist-religious party led by Rabbi Chaim Druckman that broke away from the National Religious Party in 1984. In 1986 it was reincorporated into the National Religious Party.

National Democratic Assembly (Balad) (Received 2.3% of the vote, 3 seats, in 2003 election)

The National Democratic Assembly is an Israeli Arab party that argues that Israel should be a democratic state for all of its citizens. It advocates the right of return for all Arab refugees from the 1948 ArabIsrael War, full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, and sthe creation of a Palestinian state in the territories conquered in 1967, the capital of which should be eastern Jerusalem. It promotes economic and social advancement of a national Arab minority, and advocates cooperation with Jewish elements that are willing to support its major goals.

National Religious Party (NRP, Mafdal) (Received 4.2% of the vote, 6 seats, in 2003 election)

The National Religious Party, founded in 1956, was the largest and most influential component of the religious bloc, and a member of every Israeli government up to 1992. It had the reputation of being less militant and more pragmatic than some of the others in the religious bloc. At times this image led to its being overshadowed by parties such as TAMI and SHAS, both of which charged that the NRP failed to give adequate representation to Oriental Jews. It advocates a religious Jewish lifestyle as well as full participation in Israeli society for Orthodox Jews, and legislation based on the legal system of the Torah and Jewish tradition. Its central goals are to preserve the religious character of the country, and to ensure the provision of all religious services to the public and to individuals by means of state, local, and other public institutions. It supports the retention of the Occupied Territories based on national security considerations as well as Biblical and Zionistic beliefs, and promotes the expansion of settlements in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, as well as in other territories that it sees as the Land of Israel. During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, the NRP always had ten to twelve seats in the Knesset, and usually controlled the Ministry of Religious Affairs as well as the Ministry of the Interior. After 1981 it fell to a consistent level of four to six seats. The losses led it to move further to the right on domestic issues and to a somewhat more moderate position in regard to the territories occupied by Israel.

National Union (Ihud Leʾumi, received 5.5% of the vote, 7 seats, in 2003 election)

The National Union is a coalition of three right-wing secular partiesMoledet, Tekumah, and Israel Beiteinuthat came into existence in February 2000. The three parties advocate the voluntary transfer of Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza to other Arab countries, and are against concessions to the Palestinian Authority and the creation of a Palestinian state.

One Nation (See Am Ehad)
Poʿalei Agudat Israel ("Agudat Workers' Organization")

Poʿalei Agudat Israel was an organization originally established in Poland in 1922 that initiated activities in Palestine in 1925. The PAI identified with Agudat Israel on religious matters, and advocated cooperation with secular workers' organizations and service in the Israel Defense Forces. In most elections the PAI ran on a joint electoral list with Agudat candidates. In 1960 PAI joined the government coalition against the advice of the Agudat Council of Sages.

Poʿalei Mizrahi ("Spiritual Center Workers")

An Orthodox religious workers' movement founded in Palestine in 1922 by a left-wing faction of Mizrahi, in 1956 it joined Mizrahi to form the National Religious Party.

Progressive List for Peace

Also known as the Progressive National Movement, this non-Zionist party was one of the strongest challengers to the Israeli Arab community's RAKAH Party. The movement came into being in 1984, advocating recognition of the PLO and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip alongside Israel. It won two seats in 1984 elections, for Muhammad Miʾari and Mattityahu Peled, who along with Uri Avnery and Yaacov Arnon met with Yasir Arafat in 1984 and 1984, challenging the Israeli law banning contacts with the PLO.

RAFI (Acronym for Reshimat Poʿalei Israel, or "Israel Labor List")

In 1965 MAPAI members who were dissatisfied with the formation of the Labor Alignment split off to form the RAFI Party. Their grievances included resentment over the alleged inflexibility of MAPAI and its failure to give opportunities to young leaders, and their displeasure with the handling of the Lavon Affair (a bitter dispute over government handling of a 1954 espionage and sabotage operation gone awry). The leading dissident was David BenGurion, who was joined by others, including Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, and Yizhak Navon. Among the programs that RAFI advocated were regional elections, personal election of mayors, government financing of elections, overhaul of much of the systems of health and unemployment insurance, and free compulsory education between the ages of 1 and 16. RAFI won ten seats in the Knesset in 1965. In 1968 Dayan and most other RAFI leaders, with the exception of Ben-Gurion, rejoined MAPAI and were among those who (along with Ahdut HaAvodah) founded the Israel Labor Party.

RAKAH (Acronym for Reshima Komunistit Hadash, or "New Communist List.")

In 1965 a group of former supporters of the Communist Party of IsraelMAKIbroke away from the main group to form RAKAH. RAKAH consisted primarily of Arab communists, and it participated in the 1988 elections. In the 1973 elections RAKAH and MAKI created a joint electoral list called Moked ("Focus").

SHAS (Acronym for Sephardi Torah Guardians) (Received 8.2% of the vote, 11 seats, in 2003 election)

SHAS is an ultraorthodox Sephardic religious movement led by spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Due to long-simmering anger over the absence of Sephardic leadership in the party, and specifically over inadequate representation of ultra-orthodox Sephardim in the Council of Torah Sages, the Jerusalem Sephardic members of Agudat Israel broke away and established the Sephardi Torah Guardians Party (SHAS) in the early1970s. It was so successful in the October 1983 municipal elections in Jerusalem that it ran a national slate of candidates in 1984 and became an impressive force. SHAS has continued to win seats since 1984, becoming increasingly successful and powerful.

The key issues with which SHAS has been associated all relate to the relationship between government and religion. Most fundamentally, SHAS seeks to develop the traditional values of religion and orthodox Judaism in Israelspecifically, Sephardic Jewry. SHAS says that it supports the Talmudic precept of the supreme value of preserving life, and is therefore amenable to territorial compromise if it would bring true peace. It says that it supports autonomy for Palestinians, but it has opposed a Palestinian state. On explicitly religious issues it says that it supports the religious status quo, but would like to see a "Jewish state in every way." The core belief of the party is that governmental policies should be based on strict Jewish law. In the past, the party has been prepared to relinquish land in return for peace, but in recent years has been increasingly uncomfortable with this policy given increased terror.

SHELI (Acronym for Shalom l'Israel, or "Peace for Israel")

SHELI was created in 1977 by MAKI and several other groups. It disbanded before the 1984 elections.

Shinui ("Change") (Received 12.3% of the vote, 15 seats, in the 2003 election)

Shinui was established as a liberal, secular Zionist party in 1973 after splitting from the Democratic Movement for Change in protest against the ArabIsrael War of 1973. It became an ally of the Labor Party and a strong voice for electoral and constitutional reform and for a more flexible policy in the ArabIsrael dispute. It stood for a secular state, and advocated separating religion and the state; it announced that it would not sit in a government coalition with ultraorthodox religious parties. In relation to the Palestinian issue Shinui indicated that it was in favor of a territorial compromise for peace, but that it would be tough on security issues. In economic issues it supported a free-market economy and privatization of government-owned businesses.

In 1992 Shinui, MAPAM, and the Citizens' Rights Movement joined to form Meretz, which won twelve seats and became the main coalition partner of the Labor Party.

State List

In June 1963 Ben-Gurion resigned as Israel's prime minister, citing "personal reasons," and Levi Eshkol took over the posts of prime minister and defense minister. But Ben-Gurion remained active politically, and a rivalry developed between him and Eshkol. In June 1965 the MAPAI Party split, and Ben-Gurion established RAFI ("Israel Labor List"), which won ten Knesset seats in the following election. In 1968 RAFI rejoined MAPAI and Ahdut Ha-Avodah to form the Israel Labor Party, and Ben-Gurion formed a new party, the State List (HaReshima Ha-Mamlachtit), which won four Knesset seats in the 1969 elections.

TAMI (Acronym for Tnuʾat Masoret Israel, or "Tradition of Israel Movement")

TAMI was formed from a faction within the National Religious Party in 1981, primarily to increase attention to the problems of Sephardi (Oriental) Jews, especially those from North Africa. It won three seats in the tenth Knesset of 1982 and was part of the second Begin coalition government, but fell to only one seat in 1984. Its program was Zionist and traditional, with emphasis on equality of opportunity for members of all ethnic groups. It was one of only a few essentially ethnic parties in Israeli history. In 1988 it became a faction of the Likud.

Tehiyah ("Renaissance")

Tehiyah, or Ha-Tehiyah, was founded in 1979 by former supporters of the National Religious Party to oppose the return of Sinai land to Egypt as provided by the Camp David Accords. A radical right-wing party, it won three seats in the Knesset of 1981 and five in 1984. It did not join the 1984 National Unity government, in protest against the latter's policy limiting new settlements. In the 1988 election Tehiyah fell back to three seats, and it failed to win any in 1992. Tehiyah advocated the eventual imposition of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and supported the transfer of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank to other Arab countries. It included among its main successes the 1980 Jerusalem Law and the extension of Israeli law to the Golan Heights.

Third Way (Ha-Derekh Ha-Shlishit)

The Third Way was founded in 1995 as a political movement, and it became a party in 1996. The Third Way was founded by Members of Knesset who broke away from the Labor Party, claiming that Labor was making compromises that were dangerous to Israel's security, particularly with regard to withdrawals on or from the Golan Heights. The Third Way saw itself as a centrist party, and claimed to be the only reasonable alternative to Labor and Likud (hence the "third way," if Labor was one choice and Likud the other). It was, essentially, a one-issue party, dealing with concessions to the Arabs over policies governing the Occupied Territories.

Torah Religious Front

The Torah Religious Front was formed by the Agudat Israel and Poʿalei Agudat Israel parties to campaign in the 1955 and 1959 elections. The front excluded the two Mizrahi religious parties, claiming that they were insufficiently committed to the concept of a Torah state. The Torah Religious Front was dissolved prior to the 1961 elections.

Tzomet ("Crossroads")

Tzomet, a right-wing party, was formed in 1983 to 1984 as a splinter within the Tehiyah Party, and it won two seats as an independent party in the 1988 Knesset election. In the 1992 election it won eight seats. It joined the Likud in 1996.

Tzomet was designed as a secular party. The basis of its platform was a hard line on the Palestinian issue, but it also advocated populist positions on many quality-of-life issues. It opposed the Oslo Accords, and supported Israel's retention of the West Bank. Although its members called for an active pursuit of peace with the Palestinians and Israel's neighbors, it was opposed to territorial compromise and suggested that Arab refugees in and from the Occupied Territories should be resettled in Arab countries. It promoted Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.

United Arab List (Received 2.1% of the vote, 2 seats in the 2003 election)

The United Arab List is a union of three Israeli-Arab partiesthe United Arab Party, the Arab National Party, and the Islamic Movement. Under the leadership of, it calls for Israel to have a not overtly Jewish character, saying that Israel should be a state for all of its inhabitants. The party advocates a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, and seeks the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital It also calls for the right of return for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 ArabIsrael War.

The party seeks full equality in Israeli society for both Jews and non-Jews, and a just and durable peace between Israel and its neighbors based on the principle of two states for two peoples, the Israeli and the Palestinian.

United Religious Front

The United Religious Front was an electoral alliance created in 1949 composed of the four religious parties: Mizrahi, ha-Poʿel ha-Mizrahi, Poʿalei Agudat Israel, and Agudat Israel. In 1951 the four parties campaigned separately.

United Torah Judaism (Received 4.3% of the vote, 5 seats, in the 2003 election)

United Torah Judaism is a coalition of two ultra-orthodox partiesAgudat Israel and Degel HaTorahrepresenting religious factions in Israel, Europe, and the United States. It is predominantly Ashkenazi. Its basic premise is that governmental policies should be based on Jewish law, and it believes that the Land of Israel was given by God to the Jewish People.

It calls for all domestic and foreign policies to be based in Torah law. Different members of the party support either the religious status quo or the passing of more religious legislation, primarily in the areas of the Law of Return and personal status (the "Who is a Jew?" question). While not active in the political debate over peace, United Torah Judaism is seen as slightly further to the right than SHAS.

The Agudat Israel membership calls for an for and increased role for the Torah in the spiritual, economic, and political life of the Land of Israel. Degel Ha-Torah's concerns focus upon representing the Torah-observant public in Israel in the institutions of governmentin the government, the Knesset, and the local authoritiesin order to protect and fulfill the special needs of this public in all areas of life, and to prevent discrimination against the Orthodox religious (haredi) public. It also seeks to influence Israeli society to observe a Jewish way of life in accordance with the Torah.


Akzin, Benjamin. "The Role of Parties in Israeli Democracy." Journal of Politics 17 (1955): 507545.

Arian, Asher. The Second Republic: Politics in Israel. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1998.

Don-Yehiya, Eliezer. "Origin and Development of the Aguda and Mafdal Parties." Jerusalem Quarterly 20 (1981): 4964.

Dowty, Alan. The Jewish State: A Century Later. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001.

Friedman, Menachem. "The NRP in TransitionBehind the Party's Electoral Decline." In Politics and Society in Israel: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives, edited by Ernest Krausz. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1985.

Greilsammer, Ilan. "The Religious Parties." In Israel's Odd Couple: The 1984 Knesset Elections and the National Unity Government, edited by Daniel J. Elazar and Shmuel Sandler. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1990.

Liebman, Charles S., and Eliezer, Don-Yehiya. Civil Religion in Israel: Traditional Judaism and Political Culture in the Jewish State. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983.

Mahler, Gregory S. Politics and Government in Israel: The Maturation of a Modern State. Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.

Sachar, Howard. A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. New York: Knopf, 1981.

Sager, Samuel. The Parliamentary System of Israel. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1985.

Schiff, Gary. Tradition and Politics: The Religious Parties of Israel. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1977.

Sharkansky, Ira. The Politics of Religion and the Religion of Politics: Looking at Israel. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2000.

Sternhell, Zeʾev. The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

gregory s. mahler

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Israel: Political Parties in." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . 22 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Israel: Political Parties in." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . (February 22, 2019).

"Israel: Political Parties in." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved February 22, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.