The Likud Bloc

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In the ninth Knesset elections in May 1977, the center-right Likud alliance emerged victorious and replaced the previously dominant Labor alignment for the first time in the history of independent Israel. The Likud Bloc, founded in 1973, consisted of the Free Center, Herut (Tnuat HaHerut or Freedom Movement--see Appendix B), Laam (For the Nation--see Appendix B), and Gahal (Freedom-Liberal Bloc--see Appendix B). 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 Transjordan, immediately become a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. Revisionist objectives clashed with the policies of the British authorities, Labor Zionists, and Palestinian Arabs. The Revisionist Party, in which Menachem Begin played a major role, contended that the British must permit unlimited Jewish immigration into Palestine and demanded that the Jewish Legion be reestablished and that Jewish youths be trained for defense.

The Revisionist Party also attacked the Histadrut, whose Labor Zionist leadership under Ben-Gurion was synonymous with the leadership of the politically dominant Mapai. Ben-Gurion accused the revisionists of being "fascists"; the latter countercharged that the policies being pursued by Ben-Gurion and his Labor Zionist allies, including Chaim Weizmann, were so conciliatory toward the British authorities and Palestinian Arabs and so gradual in terms of state-building as to be self-defeating.

In 1933 the Revisionist Party seceded from the WZO and formed the rival New Zionist Organization. After 1936 the revisionists rejected British and official Zionist policies of restraint in the face of Arab attacks, and they formed two anti-British and anti-Arab guerrilla groups. One, the Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization, Irgun for short) was formed in 1937; an offshoot of the Irgun, the Stern Gang also known as Lehi (from Lohamei Herut Israel, Fighters for Israel's Freedom), was formed in 1940. These revisionist paramilitary groups operated independently of, and at times in conflict with, the official Zionist defense organization, the Haganah; they engaged in systematic terror and sabotage against the British authorities and the Arabs.

After independence Prime Minister Ben-Gurion dissolved the Irgun and other paramilitary organizations such as Lehi and the Palmach. In 1948 remnants of the dissolved Irgun created Herut.

In the mid-1960s, Herut took steps to broaden its political base and attain greater legitimacy. In 1963 it established the Blue-White (Tkhelet-Lavan) faction to contest the previously boycotted Histadrut elections. In 1965 Herut and the Liberal Party formed Gahal (Gush Herut-Liberalim), a parliamentary and electoral bloc, to contest both Knesset and Histadrut elections. The final step in gaining greater political legitimacy occurred just before the outbreak of the June 1967 War, when Begin and his Gahal associates agreed to join the government to demonstrate internal Israeli unity in response to an external threat.

Gahal continued as part of the Meir cabinet formed after the 1969 elections. Gahal ministers withdrew from the cabinet in 1970 to protest what they believed to be Prime Minister Meir's conciliatory policy on territorial issues. In the summer of 1973, Gahal organized the Likud alignment in which Herut continued to be preeminent.

In the November 1988 elections, Likud lost one Knesset seat. Nevertheless, observers believed that demographic indicators favored continued support for Likud and its right-wing allies among young people and Orientals.

The most prominent leaders of Likud in 1988, as in previous years, were members of its Herut faction. They included Prime Minister Shamir; Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Arens, a likely successor to Shamir as leader of Herut; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Housing David Levi, the chief Sephardic political figure; Minister of Commerce and Industry Ariel Sharon; and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress