1981 Israeli Legislative Election
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1981 Israeli Legislative Election
Elections for the 10th Knesset
← 1977 30 June 1981 1984 →

Knesset elections were held in Israel on 30 June 1981. The ruling Likud won one more seat than the opposition Alignment, a surprise result as opinion polls and political momentum initially suggested that the Alignment would win roughly half of the votes while the Likud would only get twenty percent.[1] Voter turnout was 78.5%,[2] with Likud receiving around ten thousand more than the Alignment.[2] This elections highlighted the polarization in the country.[3]


Prior to the elections, Menachem Begin's government faced instability due to internal conflict amongst coalition partners and international pressures, as well as issues with corruption, and failure to pass legislation.[4] Discontent with the government was growing, and 40% of people agreed that "the major problems facing the state and the entire political system must be changed and a strong government of leaders and independent of parties should take control".[5] Due to the dissatisfaction with the government, it was expected that Likud would lose the elections.

Electoral system

The 120 seats in the Knesset were elected by closed list proportional representation, with seats allocated using the D'Hondt method. This led to numerous parties winning seats and multi-party government coalitions.


Since 1965 parties had begun abandoning attempts to frame moral issues in favor of spreading wider nets to catch a bigger range of voters. Rather than focusing on controversial issues that divided them, parties took to forming clusters that resorted to "emotive catchwords" and the lowest common denominator.[4] The party clusters had set aside fundamental ideals in order to work together, which meant that infighting amongst the coalitions was inevitable.[4]

Menachem Begin, Likud's most popular candidate, served as a strong factor for the party's resurgence. 40.7% of the adult Jews responded in favor of seeing Begin as prime minister, with 49% saying Begin would better be able to deal with the country's problems.[6] The Alignment, whose announcement of potential major ministerial appointments failed to include Yitzhak Rabin, left the impression of a power-hungry group of politicians, with animosity between party leaders Shimon Peres and Rabin.[7]

Public perception of the parties became instrumental in the elections; throughout the campaign the Alignment was seen and painted as the establishment party, considered by 48% of Israeli citizens surveyed to be more old-fashioned, despite its opposition to the government for the four years prior. The Alignment was also seen as self-interested by rather than interested in the good of the people, as well as corrupt. Likud, meanwhile, was seen as slightly stronger (50% as compared with the Alignment's 44%), more honest (57%), and more concerned with the fate of the citizens than that of the party (45%). Likud was able to benefit from having only been created 8 years prior, giving it an image of newness and innocence.[7]

Public perception of the parties[8]
Characteristic Ideal Alignment Likud
Strong/weak 93/92 44/33 50/33
Right/left 55/13 28/40 77/7
Old-fashioned/progressive 15/61 48/26 42/31
Middle class/working class 28/32 27/42 55/14
Young/old 52/10 17/51 28/35
Sephardi/Ashkenazi 11/11 6/47 18/25
Worries about itself/the citizens 3/89 43/37 31/45
Inexperienced/experienced 4/86 4/79 45/38
Honest/corrupt 35/39 57/18
Cannot/can be believed 36/42 32/48

The 1981 elections also saw a rise in the use of ethnic ideas within the political discourse.[9] While Likud and the Alignment were both led by Ashkenazi politicians, the Alignment was considered the party of the Ashkenazi Jews, with the Sephardic vote lost to Likud. The likelihood of Sephardim voting for Likud and Ashkenazim voting for the Alignment was more pronounced than ever before.[10] However, Likud enjoyed the advantage of still being able to appeal to a significant amount of Ashkenazi voters, while also maintaining their Sephardi popularity; in contrast, the Alignment was seen as even less Sephardi than in previous years.[10]


Police noted before election day that "there hasn't been an election campaign in Israel as violent as the present one".[11] A reason for the violence may have been that this was the first elections in which the public believed both sides had a chance of winning, causing unrest and agitation.[12]


Scholars attribute the Likud's comeback, from its lowest point six months prior to the 1981 legislative election, to five main factors: incumbency, candidates, images, campaigns, violence, and ethnicity.[7] Likud's role as the ruling party enabled the party to use its incumbency advantage to increase popularity with policy implementation. The party implemented tax programs that lowered prices for consumers, subsidized oil products at a higher rate than ever before, and used foreign policy that made the Alignment seem unpatriotic if they argued against the moves.[7]

1981 Knesset.svg
Party Votes % Seats +/-
Likud 718,941 37.1 48 +3
Alignment 708,536 36.6 47 +15
National Religious Party 95,232 4.9 6 -6
Agudat Yisrael 72,312 3.7 4 0
Hadash 64,918 3.4 4 -1
Tehiya 44,700 2.3 3 New
Tami 44,466 2.3 3 New
Telem 30,600 1.6 2 New
Shinui 29,837 1.5 2 New
Ratz 27,921 1.4 1 0
Poalei Agudat Yisrael 17,090 0.9 0 -1
Independent Liberals 11,764 0.6 0 -1
United Arab List 11,590 0.6 0 -1
Development and Peace 10,823 0.6 0 -1
Left Camp of Israel 8,691 0.4 0 -2
Arab Brotherhood List 8,304 0.4 0 New
List for Aliyah 6,992 0.4 0 New
Kach 5,128 0.3 0 0
Independence 4,710 0.2 0 New
One Israel 3,726 0.2 0 New
Arab Citizens' List 2,596 0.1 0 New
Pensioners' List 2,404 0.1 0 New
Unity Party 1,293 0.1 0 New
Ya'ad 1,228 0.1 0 New
Otzma 839 0.0 0 New
Tent Movement 545 0.0 0 New
Abolish Income Tax 503 0.0 0 New
Amkha 460 0.0 0 New
Youth Movement 412 0.0 0 New
Council to Rescue the Homeland 405 0.0 0 New
Initiative - Independents Movement 400 0.0 0 New
Invalid/blank votes 17,243 - - -
Total 1,937,366 100 120 0
Source: Nohlen et al.


Menachim Begin (of the Likud) became Prime Minister and in August 1981 included the National Religious Party, Agudat Yisrael, the Movement for the Heritage of Israel (Tami) and Tehiya in his coalition to form the nineteenth government.[2] After Begin resigned due to health reasons, Yitzhak Shamir formed the twentieth government in October 1983, with the same coalition parties.[2]

During the Knesset term, two MKs defected from Likud to the Alignment. Haim Drukman left the National Religious Party and sat as an independent MK, whilst two other MKs left the National Religious Party and formed Gesher - Zionist Religious Centre before returning two weeks later. Telem split into Ometz and the Movement for the Renewal of Social Zionism, whilst Ratz joined the Alignment but then broke away again.


  1. ^ Silver, Eric (1981-06-30). "Labour leads on eve of Israeli poll". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved .
  2. ^ a b c d "Factional and Government Make-Up of the Tenth Knesset".
  3. ^ Arian, Asher (1983). The Elections in Israel, 1981. Israel: Ramot Publishing Co.
  4. ^ a b c Mendilow, Jonathan (1983). "Party Clustering in Multi-Party Systems: The Example of Israel (1965-1981)". American Journal of Political Science XXVII: 64-85.
  5. ^ Hasin, E. (1981). Survey conducted by M. Zemach. January 1981, quoted in "The Israeli Democracy: The Beginning of the End?" Monition 30:73-75.
  6. ^ Survey by Dahaf Research Institute, June 1981, N=1237
  7. ^ a b c d Arian, Asher (1983). The Elections in Israel, 1981. Ramot Publishing Co. pp. 1-5.
  8. ^ Arian, Asher (April 1981). "Israeli Election Study, 1981". Israel Institute of Applied Social Research.
  9. ^ Hanna Herzog, 'The Ethnic Lists to the Delegates' Assembly and the Knesset (1920 1977) Ethnic Political Identity?' Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Tel-Aviv University, 1981.
  10. ^ a b Shamir, Michal; Arian, Asher (1982). "The ethnic vote in Israel's 1981 elections". Electoral Studies. 1 (3): 315-331. doi:10.1016/0261-3794(82)90221-9.
  11. ^ Salpeter, Eliahu. " A Scary Face in the Mirror." Haaretz, 19 June 1981, p.14.
  12. ^ Lehman-Wilzig, Sam (1983). "Thunder Before The Storm: Pre-Election Agitation And Post-Election Turmoil". The Elections in Israel, 1983: 207.

External links

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