The Founding of Israeli Democracy, 1948-1967

The Founding of Israeli Democracy, 1948-1967

The Founding of Israeli Democracy, 1948-1967

The Founding of Israeli Democracy, 1948-1967


Israel is the only new state among the twenty-one countries in the world today that have maintained democracy without interruption since the end of the Second World War. Israel's case is all the more notable because its democracy was established under extremely adverse conditions: massive immigration; severe social dislocation; the introduction of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious, and national differences; rapid economic growth; a permanent security threat that led to five major wars in thirty-five years; and a population that, in the main, had little or no experience of a democratic order. In this insightful study of Israel's founding period from 1948 to 1967, Peter Medding addresses this puzzle, providing a lucid account of the political and historical conditions that gave rise to this distinctive period, as well as the changes which brought it to an end. The result is an eminently readable account of the state-building process and of the role played by David Ben-Gurion and other politicians in moving from consensus politics to a majoritarian-like democracy. Medding's analysis is further enriched by his comparisons of the development of Israeli democracy with that of other countries.


The political history of the modern State of Israel can be divided into two distinct periods: 1948 to 1967 and post-1967. These periods are distinguished both by the nature and interplay of the problems that the state faced, and by the characteristic functioning of the latter's democratic political structures in coping with those problems.

This book deals with the first period, which I have termed the founding period. At one level, it seeks to provide an interpretative political history of that period as a whole: by focusing on the establishment and operation of new political structures; problems of statehood and social integration; relations among political parties; the aspirations and actions of political leaders; and the role of the electorate. These topics, portrayed in their contemporary context, are set against the background of the social, economic, and political structures inherited from the pre-state era.

At another level, the book has a clear analytic and comparative perspective, focusing upon Israel's newly established democratic political structures. It seeks to explain how these structures functioned both individually and as a system, in the light of the experience of other democracies. the two perspectives come together in the book's central theme: how the political structures and leaders coped with the major issues and problems of the founding period.

The book reaches the conclusion that during the founding period Israel's democracy generally managed to overcome the problems that it faced immediately after its establishment and those that developed in the ensuing years. Israel's relative success during the founding period stands in sharp contrast to its experience in the post-1967 period. Although this period began with a sweeping military victory in the Six-Day War, new and seemingly intractable problems arose in its wake.

The post-1967 period is characterized by three major developments. First, the political leadership was found wanting by an increasingly critical public as a result of its seeming inability to cope with, much less resolve, the interlocking problems that overloaded Israel's political agenda. Second, the previous balance between political and social forces was disturbed; as the former became weak and the latter gained in strength, the political system lost much of its capacity to control, direct, and set goals for society. Third, the same political structures that had existed previously now operated very differently; consequently, the overall pattern of democratic government in Israel changed significantly.

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