Shomron Center for Economic Policy Research

In Search for an efficient Institutions

The Evolving Priorities of the Israeli Left: From Social Justice to Security and Back


New paper has been uploaded at SSRN site.

The present article traces the dynamics of the priorities chosen by leading leftist parties in Israel vis-à-vis the functions of the state. During the period of the British Mandate they, like all leftist parties, maintained anti-militaristic views. Leaders of the Left more than once accused their rightist opponents of militarism and even fascism. Beginning in 1948, Israel’s Labor Party members become vividly pronounced “pro-defenders.” But during 1977-1982, their views begin to drift toward the original position typical of all leftists: the precedence of social spending and goals rather than defending the country and maintaining the security of its citizens.
A study of the motives for change in the leftist stance supports the hypothesis that the period of leftist “patriotic-defensive” priorities depended on perceiving the state as a party-“corporate” asset of the Left; the state needed to be defended in all ways, including defense from enemies from the without. The loss of leftist leadership in the elections was the undoing of this perception of the state, returning the Israeli Left to the classic leftist stance of “Guns or Butter” in favor of social spending. As historical data bear out, mixed public goods and unlimited opportunity for discretional rule are a priori more attractive for the Left and the majority of bureaucrats than is historically limited spending on the production of “pure public goods.”

Here is few stories and citations, illustrating the path of Israeli Leftist parties priorities’ changes.

Ever since the British Mandate period in Palestine, leftist Zionist Labor leaders have “perceived militaristic militant nationalism of the revisionists as fascist.” (Aronoff 1989, p. 20)    Ben Gurion called revisionists fascist, referred to his rival  Jabotinsky “Il Duce” (Mussolini’s title) and compared him to Hitler…” ibid., p. 20

 In economic terms, they “perceived,” or, more precisely, interpreted as “fascist” the idea that providing pure public goods (defense and security for the people) is a political leader’s highest priority and responsibility.

On December 23, 1954, Jordanian Arabs killed Shoshana Har-Zion and her friend Oded Wagmeister (both aged 18). Their bodies were discovered hidden under some rocks six weeks later. The brother of the murdered young woman, the well-known special ops unit fighter Meir Har-Zion (Unit 101) together with three friends infiltrated the area east of the 1949 truce line without authorization. There they attacked the men of the clan to which, as was supposed, the murderers belonged. They killed four men, returning safely. They were arrested, but thanks to Ben Gurion’s personal interference, they were not even tried in court. Ben Gurion invited Meir Har-Zion to join his party list during the 1965 elections as a candidate for the symbolic 101st slot.
The Sinai War broke out on October 29, 1956. Many of the residents of the village of Kfar Kassem (Qfar Kasim) did not manage to return home in time for the curfew, which had been made especially stringent just a short while previously. 48 violators were shot at a number of different checkpoints. The servicemen held responsible for the bloodshed were tried in court and sentenced (with prison terms ranging from 7 to 17 years). Within a year after beginning to serve their terms, all those sentenced were amnestied by President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. The authorities had good reason to fear creating an undesirable impression on the army. First and foremost, measures of this kind (similar to the amnesty granted by President Nixon to Lieutenant William Calley) prevented the proliferation of fear among military officers and officers’ refusal to take charge in complex situations.

“You can’t go waving two banners at once, both of defense and of social reform,“ Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was fond of saying in 1971.

On July 6, 1976, in a speech made at the funeral of Yonatan Netanyahu, an outstanding fighter, military commander, and hero of Operation Entebbe, then Defense Minister Shimon Peres said, “This operation necessitated the taking of an enormous risk, but a risk that seemed to be more justifiable than the other one that was involved — the risk of surrender to terrorists and blackmailers, the risk that is inherent in submission and capitulation.”

in July 1982, Peres wrote in support of putting an end to the existence of the PLO: “Our argument with the PLO is not about the past, but rather about the future. I do not foresee any substantive Israeli mandate being given to anyone in its name, to [accept the PLO’s demands of returning to] pre-1967 borders, to divide Jerusalem and to establish a Palestinian state that will attempt to overthrow Israel at one moment, and to take over Jordan the next.” (Lord, 1998).


During the last few decades, Israel’s government has been giving up one after the other all the elements of the strategy which had formerly yielded military achievement and established the high reputation enjoyed by the military and the special services of the state. The government avoids tried and proven effective decision making, from large-scale military action to private individual self-defense. This is due partly to that the security agenda has lost its priority status for the special interest and political coalitions (Labor-led leftists) traditionally preserving their control over the executive authority’s bureaucracy, activist court system, police, public media, and education (i.e., a collection of state non-elected means of control).
To clarify the machinery of security agenda deactualization we tested two hypotheses:
1. Labor’s long-term control over parliament and government, state bureaucracy, courts and police, public media and education created an encompassing interest and some incentives for providing pure public goods. The mixed public goods share in government spending surged since Labor Party (the leftist coalition’s) lost its control over parliament and government (while preserving its control over the unelected governmental positions) because the encompassing interest had been broken.
2. The national consensus concerning security collapsed at the time of the First Lebanon War. Labors clearly manifested their resolution to subordinate pure public goods provision to mixed public goods provision. Since that time the Left shifted to the most radical form of opposition to prioritizing pure public goods and even harms their quality. Leftists initiated and pushed the new military justice, causing the threat of punishment for “excessive use of force” etc. instead of victory’s reward. New institutions promoted by leftists, effectively prevent Army from decisive victory targeting

Once tested, both hypotheses should be considered more closely based on the availability of significant data and background facts.

The full text of the paper is acceptable ar SSRN web-site

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