Liberal Party (Israel)

Liberal Party
Hebrew: מפלגה ליברלית
Leader Peretz Bernstein
Simha Erlich
Chairperson Menachem Begin
Founded 8 May 1961 (1961-05-08)
Dissolved 1988 (1988)
Merger of General Zionists, Progressive Party
Merged into Likud
Headquarters Tel Aviv, Israel
Ideology Liberalism (Israel)[1]
Political position Center (PP), center-right (GZ)[2]
National affiliation Gahal (1965−1973)
Likud (1973−1988)
International affiliation Liberal International
Colours      Gold
Most MKs 18(1981)
Fewest MKs 11 (1965, 1969)
Election symbol

The Israeli Liberal Party (Hebrew: מפלגה ליברלית ישראלית, Miflega Libralit Yisraelit) was a political party in Israel and is one of the ancestors of the modern-day Likud. The party was created by a merger between the centrist Progressive Party and the General Zionists,[2] forming a right-leaning, middle-class-based party.[3][4] The Progressives soon seceded to form the Independent Liberals in 1964.[2]


The Liberal Party had its roots in the General Zionists, centrists who sought to unify all Zionists without regard to socialist, revisionist, or religious leanings, and stressed industrial development and private enterprise. The group split into two wings in 1935; the majority, General Zionists A, led by Chaim Weizman, were on the left; General Zionists B were on the right. Both were made up of industrialists, merchants, landlords, white-collar professionals, and intellectuals. They merged again in 1946 to form the General Zionist party, but split again in 1948 when group A helped form the Progressive Party.[5]

The Liberal Party was formed on 8 May 1961, towards the end of the fourth Knesset when the two parties merged again, together holding 14 Knesset seats. Early elections were called for 1961 after the General Zionists and Herut brought a motion of no-confidence in the government over the Lavon Affair. In the 1961 elections the party won 17 seats, the same number as Herut, making it the joint-second largest after David Ben-Gurion's Mapai.

Early in 1964, spontaneous appeals arose among centrists and rightists of all factions for a joint parliamentary bloc to undermine Labor's dominance.[6] In 1965 the party held discussions with Menachem Begin's Herut party over a possible merger. A majority of the Liberals and Herut quickly approved the scheme, but some MKs, representing almost all the Progressive wing, declined to join the new alliance as they found Herut to be too militant.[6] Seven mostly former Progressive Party MKs led by Pinchas Rosen broke away in protest to form the Independent Liberals on 16 March 1965. On 25 May 1965, the Liberal Party merged with Herut to form Gahal, a Hebrew acronym for Herut–Liberals Bloc (Hebrew: גוש חרות–ליברלים, Gush Herut–Libralim), though the two parties continued to function as independent factions within the alliance.

The formation of Gahal was a major turning point in Israeli politics, as for the first time a party could challenge Mapai's hegemony. By the end of the Knesset session Gahal had 27 seats, only seven less than Mapai's 34 (reduced from 42 after eight MKs, led by Ben-Gurion, had broken away to form Rafi).

Prior to the 1973 elections, Gahal merged with a number of small right-wing parties including the Free Centre (a breakaway from Gahal), the National List and the non-parliamentary Movement for Greater Israel to form the Likud party. The new party made history when it removed the left wing from power by winning the 1977 elections. The Liberal Party finally ceased to exist in 1988 when Likud became a unitary party.

In 1986, prominent Liberal Party leaders (none of whom were in the Knesset) who opposed joining the Likud established a party called the Liberal Center, accusing the present leadership of abandoning the party's traditional policies in order to accommodate Herut. The party was moderate in foreign policy; at the time it supported giving up of parts of the West Bank to Jordan in a peace treaty. It had a right-of-center approach to economic and social policies.[7] In 1988, along with the Independent Liberals, it joined Shinui, forming the Center–Shinui Movement. The new bloc supported land for peace with the Arabs and the protection of individual rights, and opposed religious coercion. It was openly against joining a government led by Likud and the religious parties. It also differed from Labor in its support for a free-market economy.[5]

Today, a remnant of the Liberal Party, the Israeli Liberal Group, remains an active member of Liberal International,[8] which it joined in 1990.[9]

List of chairperson

Electoral results

Election year # of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
+/– Leader
1961 137,255 (#3) 13.6
17 / 120
Peretz Bernstein

External links


  1. Dror Zeigerman (2013). A Liberal Upheaval: From the General Zionists to the Liberal Party (pre-book dissertation) (PDF). Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty.
  2. 1 2 3 Nadav Safran (1981). Israel: The Embattled Ally. Harvard University Press. p. 169.
  3. Sammy Smooha (1978). Israel: Pluralism and Conflict. University of California Press. p. 328.
  4. Appendix B -- Israel: Political Parties and Organizations
  5. 1 2 Reich, Bernard; Goldberg, David H. (2008). Historical Dictionary of Israel. Scarecrow Press. pp. 109–10, 298.
  6. 1 2 Howard M. Sachar (2013). A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time. Random House. p. 934.
  7. "Liberal Leaders in Israel Establish a New Party". The New York Times. January 16, 1986.
  8. Gil Hoffman (2012-01-05). "LI chief tells PM to build ties with Syrian rebels". The Jerusalem Post.
  9. Israeli Liberal Group - Israel
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