With 90% of the votes counted, no clear victory in the Israeli elections has been declared. But behind the sound and fury of the elections is another story marking a watershed in Israeli history; Blue and White, touted as a centrist party, had eight seats, center-left, left-wing Labor had seven seats, and far left-wing Meretz had five. This is astounding when taken in the context that until 1977, all Israeli Prime Ministers were affiliated with the Labor movement which was part of the global socialist movement.
Just six seats
The party has been in decline since Golda Meir led the party to two terms of dominance beginning in 1969. But the party suffered a decline under her successor as the Labor Party leader, Shimon Peres. The party had a brief resurgence under the leadership of Ehud Barak in 2007. But after his troubled term in office, the Labor Party declined sharply and barely garnered the minimum required amount of votes in the last election giving them two seats in the Knesset. Current estimates give them just six seats in the next Knesset.
But the basis for the Labor Party predates modern Israeli politics. The roots of the party go back to Labor Zionism, a socialist andanti-religious movement that believed that a Jewish state could only be created through the efforts of the Jewish working class settling in the Land of Israel. Labor Zionists including the first Prime Minister, David ben Gurion, were predominant among the leadership of the Israeli government and military for decades, before and after the formation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Nearly synonymous with the Israeli peace camp
In the past, the Labor was more hawkish on security and defense issues than it is now, leading Israel to fight in three wars. In the current Israeli political forum, Labor Zionism has become nearly synonymous with the Israeli peace camp. Usually, Labor Zionist political and educational institutions activists are also advocates of a two-state solution, who do not necessarily adhere to socialist economic views. This is reflected in the policies of the Labor Party. The party is associated with supporting the grievously misnamed Israeli–Palestinian peace process and social-democratic economic policies.
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel was one of the pioneers of the religious Zionist movement. He was the chief rabbi of the evacuated Israeli settlement of Yamit in the Sinai Peninsula during the years when the Sinai was controlled by Israel and the founder of the Temple Institute. He served in the Paratroopers Brigade unit that captured the Temple Mount in the Six-Day War and has been a pillar in the Temple Mount movement.
Dwindling but still existing
“The secular Zionist movement is dwindling but it still exists. When I was young, ninety percent of the Zionists were secular, actually anti-religious, and maybe ten percent of the Zionists were religious. This situation is steadily reversing in the society and it is, of course, reflected in the political environment. In the elections 70 years ago, there were maybe a dozen religious Members of Knesset. In this election, we saw an unprecedented victory for the religious, and especially among the religious Zionists.”
“This is a sign of what is happening in the society at large. The educational institutions are also getting stronger, the youth movements as well. This is a general trend. Statistically, in ten or twenty years, Israel will be a majority religious. What we saw in the elections is the inevitable result, that the religious Zionists parties are playing a larger role in politics and will continue to grow stronger.”
A nation of Torah and Mitzvoth
“This is what Israel should be; the Jewish nation, a nation of Torah and Mitzvoth (Torah commandments). It was for this reason Hashem brought us into the land and brought us back to the land. Maybe at one time there was a motive to be a secular Zionist but in the long run, a non-religious person will not want to be here because he doesn’t have strong reasons to be in the Holy Land.”
“Part of the return from the exile is a return to Torah, as a nation. We are still far from the ideal but this is clearly the direction we are moving in. The media and the politicians like to talk about it in terms of right-wing or left-wing but it is more accurately described as a religious movement.”