Political rabble-rousing

No list of Israel's historic achievements could be complete without contributions from its true national sport: political rabble-rousing.

The formation of the government and Knesset It cannot be taken for granted that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The socialist background of many of its founders could have resulted in a less democratic country. The great divisions between the different pre-state parties and groups could have prevented the government from being formed. But the quasi-governmental World Zionist Organization and National Council had already established a framework that transitioned into a government that could function. The first election was held on January 25, 1949. Then, as now, the Founding Assembly (which later changed its name to the Knesset) had 12 parties. But back then, the list included the Yemenite Association and the Democratic Party of Nazareth. Out of some 500,000 potential voters, 427,000 cast ballots. The assembly met for the first time on February 15 and David Ben-Gurion formed his first coalition and presented his first cabinet one month later. The formation of the first national-unity government After nearly two decades in which Ben-Gurion's Mapai Party refused to even consider coalition negotiations with his bitter rival Menachem Begin's Herut, the tension and unity of the people ahead of the Six Day War in 1967 created the kind of atmosphere that could bring together such great political foes against a common enemy. The first national-unity government was formed on June 1, 1967, four days before the war, when Gahal (the Herut/Liberal bloc) and Rafi (Ben-Gurion's breakaway party) joined the coalition. Moshe Dayan became defense minister and the modest Begin accepted the role of minister-without-portfolio. That government lasted almost two years and it gave Begin the experience and the legitimacy in the eyes of many voters that helped him get elected prime minister for the first time 10 years later. The election of a female prime minister Following the death of Levi Eshkol, Labor was expected to choose Yigal Allon, Pinhas Sapir or Dayan as the next prime minister. Golda Meir, who came out of retirement, emerged as a compromise candidate and she became the country's fourth prime minister on March 4, 1969. Ben-Gurion infamously called the tough Meir "the only man in the cabinet." She became the world's third female prime minister (after Ceylon's Sirimavo Bandaranaike and India's Indira Gandhi) but the first to receive the job without a family member serving in the position before her. This earned Israel acclaim around the world even though Meir never saw herself as a feminist or a champion of women's rights. "Women's liberation is just a lot of foolishness," she said. "It's the men who are discriminated against. They can't bear children. And no one's likely to do anything about that." The revolution of 1977 The 29 years of domination of the Labor Party and its forerunners ended on May 17, 1977, when Begin's Likud won the elections for the ninth Knesset and he became the country's sixth prime minister. What Channel 1 anchor Haim Yavin called a "revolution" showed Israelis that the Right could govern and proved to the world that Israel could have a smooth transfer of power. Begin's election also empowered the poorer Sephardi underclass that he championed. Veteran Labor leader Yitzhak Ben-Aharon said at the time that "the people have made a mistake." But Begin persuaded many of his doubters, first when he made Labor's Dayan his foreign minister and then when he made peace with Egypt. Recent polls in Yediot Aharonot and Ma'ariv have found that Israelis consider Begin the best prime minister the country has ever had. Overcoming the Rabin assassination Political assassinations in other countries have caused political and military upheavals. But when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, there was a smooth transfer of power to his successor, Shimon Peres. Six months later, the country held a democratic election and rejected Rabin's path when Binyamin Netanyahu took power. This proved that Israeli society could endure a terrible tragedy without endangering its democracy and without sanctifying leaders to the point that it would follow their path blindly. The healing process that followed the Rabin assassination was intended to initiate national reconciliation, as happened in the United States following their first assassination of a president, Abraham Lincoln. It hasn't exactly turned out that way. But the state has endured 60 years of divisive politics and has only gotten stronger.