Israeli Labor Party
The Israeli Labor Party, generally known in the Zionist State as Avoda is a political party in Israel. It is a social democratic and Zionist party, a member of the Socialist International and an observer member of the Party of European Socialists. From 1999 until 2008, the party was allied to the small left-wing, religious Zionist party Meimad, in an electoral agreement whereby Meimad received the tenth seat on Labor's list.
The foundations for the formation of the Israeli Labor Party were laid shortly before the 1965 Knesset elections when Mapai, the largest left-wing party in the country formed an alliance with Ahdut HaAvoda. The alliance was an attempt by Mapai to shore up the party's share of the vote following a break-away of eight MKs (around a fifth of Mapai's Knesset faction) led by David Ben-Gurion to form a new party, Rafi, in protest against Mapai's failure to approve a change to the country's proportional representation voting system.
The alliance, called the Labor Alignment won 45 seats in the elections, and was able to form the government in coalition with the National Religious Party, Mapam, the Independent Liberals, Agudat Israel Workers, Progress and Development and Cooperation and Brotherhood. After the Six-Day War broke out, Rafi and Gahal joined the coalition.
On January 23, 1968 Mapai, Ahdut HaAvoda and Rafi (with the exception of Ben-Gurion, who formed the National List in protest) merged into one body; the Israeli Labor Party. On January 28, 1969, the party allied itself with Mapam, the alliance becoming known as the Alignment.
As the largest faction within the Alignment, Labor came to dominate it. Mapam left during the eighth Knesset, but rejoined shortly afterwards. They broke away again during the eleventh Knesset, angry at Shimon Peres's decision to form a national unity government with Likud. Although the Independent Liberals merged into the Alignment in the 1980s, they had no Knesset representation at the time.
On October 7, 1991 the Alignment ceased to exist, with all factions formally merged into the Labor Party. Led by Yitzhak Rabin, the party won the 1992 elections and formed the government. Rabin's decision to advance peace talks with the Palestinians to the point of signing the Oslo Accords led to his his assassination by Yigal Amir in 1995. Peres decided to call early elections in 1996 to give him a mandate for advancing the peace process. However, his ploy failed; although Labor won the most seats in the Knesset election, he lost to the election for Prime Minister to Benjamin Netanyahu following a wave of suicide bombings by Hamas. Netanyahu and Likud were thus able to form the government.
With his coalition falling apart, Netanyahu decided to call early elections in 1999. Ehud Barak won the internal primaries, and was nominated as the Labor candidate for Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the party entered an electoral alliance with Meimad and Gesher called One Israel. Barak won the Prime Minister election, whilst One Israel won the Knesset elections, albeit with only 26 seats.
Barak started by forming a 75-member coalition together with Shas, Meretz, Yisrael BaAliyah, the National Religious Party and United Torah Judaism. The coalition with religious parties (NRP, Shas and UTJ) caused tensions with the secularist Meretz, who quit the coalition after a disagreement with Shas over the authority of the Deputy Education Minister. The rest of the parties left before the Camp David 2000 summit. Following the October 2000 riots and the violence of the al-Aqsa Intifada, Barak resigned from office. He then lost a special election for Prime Minister to Likud's Ariel Sharon. However, Labor remained in Sharon's coalition as he formed a national unity government with Likud, Labor, Shas, Yisrael BaAliyah and United Torah Judaism, and were given two of the most important cabinet portfolios; Peres was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Benjanin Ben-Eliezer was made Defense Minister. Labor supported Operation Defensive Shield, which was conducted in April 2002 against Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank. After harsh criticism that Peres and Ben-Elizer were "puppets" of Sharon and not promoting the peace process, Labor quit the government in 2003.
Prior to the 2003 elections, Amram Mitzna won the party primaries, and led the party into the election with a platform that included unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The party was routed in the elections, winning only 19 seats (its lowest ever), whilst Sharon's Likud won 38 (40 after Yisrael BaAliyah merged into the party). Subsequently, due to internal opposition, Mitzna resigned from the party leadership, and soon there after was replaced by Shimon Peres. Despite being omitted from the original right-wing coalition, Sharon invited Labor into the coalition to shore up support for the disengagement plan (effectively Mitzna's policy which he had earlier lambasted) after the National Union and the National Religious Party had left the government.
On November 8, 2005 Shimon Peres was replaced as the leader of the Labor party by the election of left-wing Histadrut union leader Amir Peretz in an internal Labor party ballot. Peretz stated his intention to reassert Labor's traditional socialist policies and took Labor party out of the government, prompting Sharon to resign and call for new elections in March 2006.
In the elections in March 2006 the party placed second with 19 seats, a loss of 3 from the previous elections.
After the March 2006 election Labor joined Ehud Olmert's coalition government as the junior partner with Kadima. Labor was awarded a number of ministries including the defense ministry, which went to Labor leader Amir Peretz. The IDF performed poorly in the Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah in June-July 2006. Both Olmert and Peretz suffered the blame for this performance.
On 28 May 2007, Labor members went to the polls in party primaries. Amir Peretz finished third in the primaries, trailing both former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and political newcomer Ami Ayalon - the former head of Shin Bet, Israel's primary intelligence agency. Neither Ayalon nor Barak achieved the 40% necessary for an outright victory, so a second round of voting took place on 12 June 2007. Both Barak and Ayalon stated that they would withdraw from Ehud Olmert's coalition unless the Prime Minister resigns. On the night of the 12th of June, 2007, Ehud Barak won back the leadership of the party.
Mapai evolved from the socialist Poale Zion movement and adhered to the Socialist Zionist ideology promulgated by Nahum Syrkin and Ber Borochov. During Ben-Gurion's leadership (1930s-1950s) Mapai focused mainly on the Zionist agenda, since it was the most urgent issue then - establishing a national homeland for Jews.
After the founding of the state of Israel, Mapai engaged in nation building - the establishment of the Israel Defense Forces (while dismantling every other armed group), the establishment of many settlements, the settling of more than 1,000,000 Jewish immigrants and the desire to unite all the inhabitants of Israel under a new Zionist Jewish Israeli culture (an ideology known as the "Melting pot" כור היתוך).
Labor in the past was even more hawkish on security and defense issues than it is today. During its years in office, Israel has fought the 1956 Sinai War, the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
In recent years (up until 2005), the ILP became a centrist party. It was no longer considered socialist or social democratic (though it retained membership in the Socialist International) but had a centrist platform, similar to the third-way of British Labour Party under Tony Blair. Economic policies in Israel being seldom hotly debated even within the major parties, actual policies depended much more on initiative by the civil service than on political ideologies. Therefore, Labor's terms in office during this period did not differ significantly in terms of economic policy from those of its rival.
In November 2005, Amir Peretz, leader of the social democratic One Nation which had merged into the ILP, was elected chairman of the party, defeating Shimon Peres. Under Peretz, and especially in the 2006 electoral campaign, the party took a significant ideological turn, putting social and economic issues on top of its agenda, and advocating a moderate social democratic approach (including increases in minimum wage and social security payments), in sharp contrast to the neo-liberal policies led by former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
- Levi Eshkol 1968-1969 (also leader of the Alignment)
- Golda Meir 1969-1974 (also leader of the Alignment)
- Yitzhak Rabin 1974-1977 (also leader of the Alignment)
- Shimon Peres 1977-1992 (also leader of the Alignment)
- Yitzhak Rabin 1992-1995
- Shimon Peres 1995-1997
- Ehud Barak 1997-2001
- Binyamin Ben-Eliezer 2001-2002
- Amram Mitzna 2002-2003
- Shimon Peres 2003-2005
- Amir Peretz 2005-2007
- Ehud Barak 2007-
Other prominent members
Prominent former members include:
- Yigal Allon - Acting Prime-Minister
- Moshe Dayan - Defense Minister
- Abba Eban - Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Chaim Herzog - President of Israel
- Efraim Katzir - President of Israel
- Yitzhak Navon - President of Israel
- Zalman Shazar - President of Israel
- Ezer Weizman - President of Israel