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Two Political Parties with Uncertain Futures

June 16, 1981
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Although most political observers give the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) and the Poale Agudat Israel (PAI) small chance of garnering enough votes for even one seat in the tenth Knesset, both are determined to see the elections through. They represent opposite ends of the political and social spectrum.

The ILP is social-democratic and vigorously secular. The PAI is Orthodox, traditional, with roots in pre-World War II Germany and Poland.

The ILP comes to the electorate with a sound tradition of service in many past Labor-led governments. Its philosophy is that of the central Europeans who formed the liberal wing of the General Zionists at World Zionist Congresses. It is in fact an offshoot of that centrist faction through many reincarnations. Successive splits gave rise to Progressives and Liberals. Some of the latter joined with Herut to form Gahal, the Herut-Liberal Party bloc that now constitutes the main element of Likud.


The Progressives became the Independent Liberal Party, going their own way, gaining a handful of seats in past Knessets and joining the Mapailed coalitions which they sought to influence on legal and social matters. The ILP boasts several prominent names on Israel’s political scene. Its chairman, Moshe Kol, one time head of the Jewish Agency’s Youth Aliya Department, served for many years as Minister of Tourism and is credited with laying the foundations of the country’s thriving tourist industry. He was also outspoken on virtually every subject and issue that came before the Cabinet.

The ILP gave Israel its first Minister of Justice, Pinhas Rosen, who helped build the country’s legal system; and Gideon Hausner, former Attorney General, who prosecuted Adolf Eichmann and now heads the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

ILP Secretary General Nissim Eliav describes the party as “independent thinking, without prejudice or recourse to mysticism, seeking rational solutions to current problems.” He defines the party’s aims as equality for all trends in Judaism; arbitration of labor disputes to prevent strikes; encouragement of continued education and the elimination of school drop-outs; the integration of all sectors of society, including the various ethnic groups.

In its campaign, the ILP has stressed its role as a “progressive liberal center” with a humanistic social approach. Although much emphasis is on past achievements, it is presenting a “new team” to the electorate — new to the Knesset scene but veterans of Jewish Agency departments and local councils. “We are a new team with great experience,” ILP spokesmen say.

Its list in the upcoming elections is headed by Yitzhak Artzi, Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv. Much ILP electioneering is directed by Tel Aviv residents who point to Artzi’s achievements in cultural, educational, youth and urban matters. But the ILP’s parliamentary representation has been shrinking steadily in successive Knessets. Recent public opinion polls indicate doubt that it will make the next Knesset.

The Poale Agudat Israel is also fighting a do-or-die battle to remain in the Knesset as an independent entity. Should it fail, the party probably will cease to exist as such. Some of its supporters would switch to the larger ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel and others probably to the National Religious Party.

The PAI, in its eastern European incarnation, was the relatively modern and enlightened wing of the Aguda movement. Its members tended to have secular as well as religious education and to be sympathetic to Zionism and to Socialism — which the parent body most certainly was not.

In pre-State Palestine, the PAI set up several kibbutzim. Today its kibbutz Hafetz Haim boasts the highest milk production per cow in the country. In the early years of the Israeli State, the PAI was integrated into the Aguda framework but eventually ideological differences caused it to split from the main Aguda body.

For some time it maintained a two-member Knesset faction. This recently shrank to one — Rabbi Kalman Kahane — and the party is threatened with extinction. Kahane, a member of Hafetz Haim and a respected halachic scholar, has become increasingly hawkish on political issues. He voted against the Camp David agreements and against the peace treaty with Egypt, which distressed some of the PAI rank-and-file.

After a long, distinguished Knesset career, Kahane has stepped aside for Avraham Verdiger, a PAI leader who served in some early Knessets. Verdiger, a member of the Gur Hasidim, is more moderate politically than Kahane and might, conceivably, join a Labor-led coalition if other religious parties did so. The No. 2 man on the list is Shachna Rotem, a retired senior civil servant and well known Jerusalem civic leader.

The party’s hopes rest on attracting religious voters who find the Aguda Israel too right-wing doctrinaire on religious matters and who are disenchanted by the National Religious Party’s bitter internal fights.

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