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Labor Party: History & Overview

The Labor Party (In Hebrew, Mifleget ha-Avodah ha-Yisraelit) was established in 1968 through the joining of Mapai, Ahdut Ha’avodah and Labor Rafi. Labor is the dominant left-of-center party in Israel. Until Menachem Begin’s victory in 1977, every Israeli Prime Minister came from Labor. Since 1977, Labor leaders Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak have served as Prime Ministers. The party is currently led by Isaac Herzog. The Israel Labor Party is a social-democratic political party. It's ideological vision for Israel is based upon the values of the Jewish labor movement, which are in turn, products of the social experience and cultural heritage of the Jewish people.

The Labor Party has a principled commitment to the maintenance of a democratic form of government; to the enhancement of the social and economic well being of all of Israel's citizens; to the strengthening of Israel's economy based on free market principles; and, to the achievement of a comprehensive peace with security in the Middle East.

The Labor Party is pragmatic in its approach. It recognizes the necessity to compromise in both the domestic arena and in foreign affairs in order to promote political stability and the advancement of Israel's fundamental interests.

Leaders of Israel's Labor Party have included some of the countries most recognizable names, including David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak.

Before the October 1973 War, the Labor Party was hampered by internal dissension, persistent allegations of corruption, ambiguities and contradictions in its political platform, and by the disaffection of Oriental Jews. Labor's failure to prepare the country for the war further alienated a large segment of the electorate.

Despite Labor's commitment to exchange occupied territories for peace, successive Labor governments beginning soon after the June 1967 War established settlements in the territories and refrained from dismantling illegal settlements, such as those established in 1968 at Qiryat Arba in Hebron by Rabbi Moshe Levinger and others set up by the extremist settler movement Gush Emunim. By 1976 more than thirty settlements had been established on the West Bank.

Another contradiction in Labor's political platform concerned Jerusalem. All Labor governments have proclaimed that Jerusalem will always remain the undivided capital of Israel. In effect, this stance precludes the peace for territories formula contained in Resolution 242 because neither Jordan nor the Palestinians would be likely to accept any agreement by which Jerusalem remained in Israeli hands.

The post-1973 Labor Party estrangement from the Israeli public intensified throughout 1976 as the party was hit with a barrage of corruption charges that struck at the highest echelons. Rabin's minister of housing, who was under investigation for alleged abuses during his time as director general of the Histadrut Housing Authority, committed suicide in January 1977. At the same time, the governor of the Bank of Israel, who had been nominated by Rabin, was sentenced to jail for taking bribes and evading taxes, and the director general of the Ministry of Housing was apprehended in various extortion schemes. Finally, and most egregious, Rabin himself was caught lying about money illegally kept in a bank account in the United States.

Tzipi Livni and her Ha'Tnuah party joined forces with Issac Herzog and the Labor party to run on a joint ticket titled the "Zionist Camp" in the March 2015 elections.  The two leaders originally agreed on a rotation system, should they be victorious, in which Herzog would serve as Prime Minister for the first two years of the term, followed by Livni.  The day before the election, on March 16, 2015, Livni announced that the rotation schedule that she and Herzog had designed was going to be scrapped, in an apparent last minute attempt to gain swing votes. Political rivals lambasted the decision, saying that Livni and Herzog were “panicking”.

Benjamin Netanyahu's lawyer, attorney David Shimron, and Likud's Youth chairman, David Shain, accused the "Zionist Camp" ticket of systematically violating multiple Israeli election laws on February 5.  They accused the Labor and Ha'Tnuah parties of "raising money, engaging in organizational coordination and engaging in propaganda," and stated that the Zionist Camp ticket "is encouraging people to vote against Likud – in other words, it is engaging in forbidden propaganda."  The complaint alleges that the party has been illegally using millions of Shekels that have been coming from NGO's, and has been submitted to the Central Elections Committee, who will decide if the claims have any validity.  Included in the complaint are accusations that the Labor and Ha'Tnuah parties "attempted to buy power with money... millions of dollars that come from leftists abroad are being funneled to finance the campaign to topple Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud."  The Zionist Camp has denied these accusations. 

Polls in the week leading up to the election put the Labor/Ha'Tnuah Zionist Camp ticket slightly ahead of Netanyahu's Likud party, winning a predicted 25 or 26 seats to Likud's predicted 21 or 22.

On March 18, 2015, the final election results came in and it was revealed that Netanyahu and his Likud party had beaten the Zionist Union ticket of Livni and Herzog. The Zionist Union ticket received enough votes for 24 out of 120 seats in the 20th Knesset, coming in second place.

Sources: Labor Party; Library of Congress; Haaretz (February 5, 2015); Politico (March 15, 2015)