In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Israeli Politics and Political Leaders

  • Introduction
  • Zionism and Leadership
  • David Ben-Gurion and the Hegemony of the Labor Party
  • Leadership in Early Statehood
  • Leaders of the Labor Party After Ben-Gurion
  • Challenging Labor Hegemony
  • Likud in Power
  • Religion and Religious Leadership
  • The Military, Politics, and Leadership
  • Leaders and the Military Background
  • The Economy and Economic Leadership
  • Marginalized Groups
  • Elections and Bargaining
  • Leadership and Governance
  • Schisms, Political Extremism, and Political Violence
  • Leadership Since the 1990S
  • Leadership Crises

Jewish Studies Israeli Politics and Political Leaders
Guy Ben-Porat
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 August 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0040


Israeli politics has been characterized since the 1990s as both overloaded with social schisms that undermine existing political arrangements and suffering with a governance and leadership crisis reflected in the difficulty for elected politicians to make decisions and implement them. In the late 19th and early 20th century the visionaries of Zionism led European Jews to immigrate to Palestine and establish what would later be the State of Israel. The Labor Party that came to dominate the Zionist movement continued to dominate the young state from its inception in 1948 until the 1970s. In the wake of the Yom Kippur War, the party rapidly lost its hegemony and political power. Its successor, the right-wing Likud Party, was unable to replicate its hegemony and dominance. Growing schisms in Israel were manifested in the decline of the large parties and the emergence of small parties that have made coalition building difficult and rendered the decision-making process and policy implementation all but impossible. Since the early 1980s many governments have not been able to complete their terms and, more importantly, to contend with the major challenges the country faces.

Zionism and Leadership

The Zionist movement emerged in the late 19th century in Eastern Europe, drawing on different resources and intellectual traditions. Avineri 1981, Vital 1975, Shimoni and Wistrich 1999, Halpern and Reinharz 1998, and Friedman 1987 provide a detailed account of the sources of Zionism. Zionism’s dominant leader, Theodor Herzl, was an Austro-Hungarian Jew who gave the movement its initial coherence and international appeal. As the leader of the Zionist movement Herzl adopted a course that came to be known as “political Zionism,” which sought a charter from a European power for a Jewish state. Accordingly, as described in Herzl 1956, biographies (Elon 1975) and comparative studies of different Zionist perceptions (Fraenkel 1963), Herzl attempted to convince European powers to allow the settlement of Jews in Palestine. The political Zionism advocated by Herzl and his followers was challenged by Zionist leaders adhering to what was known as “cultural Zionism” (Fraenkel 1963) and “practical Zionism” (Friedman 1987). Cultural Zionism, associated with the leadership of Ahad Ha’am, advocated that the Zionist movement should concentrate its efforts on nation building. Practical Zionism (or “pragmatic Zionism”), conversely, argued the Zionist movement should concentrate efforts on immigration and the settlement of Palestine in order to create “facts on the ground” they believed would eventually lead to the creation of Jewish sovereignty. Arthur Ruppin, sent in 1907 by the World Zionist Organization to Palestine, directed the oganization’s Eretz Yisrael Office, responsible for acquiring land and establishing Jewish settlements all over the country.

  • Avineri, Shlomo. The Making of Modern Zionism: Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State. New York: Basic Books, 1981.

    Avineri traces the evolution of the Zionist idea as expressed through the writings of selected central 19th- and 20th-century individuals. This selective list of readings provides a history of the political philosophy behind the Zionist movement and delineates a number of aspects of Zionist thought.

  • Elon, Amos. Herzl. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1975.

    A detailed biography of Herzl’s life. The author follows the life of Herzl, an assimilated East European Jew who after the Dreyfus Affair became devoted to the idea of a Jewish state and a leader of the Zionist movement.

  • Fraenkel, Josef. Dubnow, Herzl, and Ahad Ha-am: Political and Cultural Zionism. London: Ararat, 1963.

    A comparative study of different strands of Zionism.

  • Friedman, Isaiah, ed. The Rise of Israel: From Precursors of Zionism to Herzl. New York: Garland, 1987.

    This book traces different writings on Jewish national identity that preceded Herzl’s work.

  • Halpern, Ben, and Jehuda Reinharz. Zionism and the Creation of a New Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    This book uses sociological and historical approaches to study the various ideological principles of Zionism that preceded the State of Israel. The book examines prestate ideals and conflicts that emerged during the attempt to create a new society in Palestine. The study is set against a broad background of political and social development throughout Europe and the Middle East.

  • Herzl, Theodor. The Diaries of Theodor Herzl. Edited and translated by Marvin Lowenthal. New York: Dial, 1956.

    Herzl’s diaries include his travels, meetings, negotiations, and thoughts.

  • Shimoni, Gideon, and Robert S. Wistrich, eds. Theodor Herzl: Visionary of the Jewish State. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1999.

    This book of collected essays attempts to shed light on Herzl’s “discovery” of Zionism, the connection between his former life and life as a leader of the Zionist movement, and other aspects of his life and career.

  • Vital, David. The Origins of Zionism. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

    A detailed historical account of the Zionist movement. The book describes the condition of Jews in the late 19th century and the different strands of Jewish thought on the “Jewish Problem” and the roots of modern political Zionism.

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