As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was elected to serve his fifth term in office last week, the JT took a look through the archives to see coverage of the 1977 Israel election, when the nation elected its first prime minister from the Likud party, Menachem Begin.
In a staff report called “A New Begin?,” the JT wrote, “Once sworn in as Israel’s sixth Prime Minister, Begin was non-controversial in his remarks, adopting a conciliatory, almost mild tone. He said that his main concern was the prevention of another Middle East war, and called for peace talks with Jordan, Syria and Egypt. He also expressed the hope that ties between Israel and the United States would be strengthened.”
The plurality of votes for the “hawkish, right-wing party,” came as a surprise to the JT writers. They reported that Likud won 45 seats and created a coalition of 63 with members from two religious parties called the National Religious Party and Agudat Israel.
“As a condition for joining the coalition, the religious parties got Likud to agree to a 46-clause agreement allowing them virtual carte blanche in enforcement of their religious and social principles.”
The story suggested that a resolution to the “Who is a Jew?” question was part of the agreement, and that “It is expected that Begin will seek a parliamentary majority for a law permitting Orthodox rabbinical courts to have sole authority over approving certificates of conversion.”
The story noted, “There has been speculation that the narrow base of Begin’s government could be a short lived one.”
Begin’s government lasted through the term and he was even reelected in 1981, although he resigned before his second term ended. When Yitzhak Shamir was elected to succeed Begin in 1983, the JT ran a story with the headline “Shamir Voted In; Vows To Follow Begin’s ‘Guidelines.’”