Election Chronicles > Elections > 1955 Elections

1955 Elections

 

Elections for the third Knesset were called for July 26, 1955. A focal issue was the return of David Ben Gurion, who had retired to Kibbutz Sde Boker in 1953. Ben Gurion had been appointed minister of defense in February 1955 and his return had rekindled tensions between him and Prime Minister Moshe Sharett. The government had two de facto leaders, with Ben Gurion initiating and approving military actions over the border without the knowledge of the prime minister, his superior. Ben Gurion's return was facilitated by the forced retirement of Lavon after the "ugly business". Ben Gurion was now reinstated at the hub of the political arena and there was no doubt he would reassume leadership of his party, Mapai, in the approaching elections.

However, relations between Sharett and Ben Gurion were not the only issue affecting public feeling in anticipation of the elections. Several weeks before election day, a verdict was issued in the libel suit Yisrael Kastner had filed against Malchiel Greenwald. Mapai found itself on the defendant's seat in this trial, being accused of not doing enough to save the Jews of Europe from the Nazis. Following a no-confidence vote initiated by Herut, Sharett submitted his resignation and the election campaign commenced.
דוד בן גוריון מצביע בביתו בנגב – שדה בקר – ביום הבחירות
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​1949 •​ 1951​ •​ ​1955 •​ 1959 •​ ​1961 •​​ 1965 •​​ ​1969 •​​ 1973 •​​ 1977 •​​ 1981

 

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Corruption in Mapai

The 1955 elections took place when the state was 7 years old. The ruling party Mapai had, however, been in power for about 25 years. As life in Israel began to take shape, especially after the stressful early years with their scarcity and waves of immigration, complaints of corruption in the Mapai government began to be heard.

Mapai centralist government did not give other population groups a chance to take part in managing the affairs of the state. Officials, who were connected with party activists, were often motivated by partisan loyalty, with the good of party and state becoming indistinguishable from one another. Opportunities for work, housing, promotion and status were often contingent on connections with the party's middle levels, who also controlled the Histadrut unchallenged. This enormous body which represented the workers and also employed so many people that it constituted an economy of its own.  Accusations of protectionism combined with harsh criticism of Mapai's conduct in office. The "ugly business" and the murky relationships in exposed, coalition agreements, the reparations agreement with Germany and a condescending attitude towards immigrants constituted the breeding grounds for claims of corruption that became a major issue in the 1955 elections.
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חרות- זה אופיו של משטר מפא"י
Retribution Operations
Beginning in the 1950s, Israel was the victim of attacks carried out by terrorists who had infiltrated the country's borders. Outlying settlements were targeted, as were Israeli vehicles traveling on remote roads. David Ben Gurion initiated a policy of strong responses to acts of terror. The principle of "retribution operations" was intended to serve as a deterrent by rapid and severe punishment over the border. IDF forces were sent on operations against Arab forces and even Palestinian villages from whence terrorists originated. The operations were not necessarily restricted to strikes against armed opponents. The IDF also carried out operations on civilian targets, including blowing up of houses. The retributive strikes began in 1951, when Ben Gurion was prime minister and minister of defense, and continued through Moshe Sharet's term from 1953-1955. At this time Ben Gurion was not actively involved, but retired to Kibbutz Sde Boker. The chief of staff Moshe Dayan played a central role in determining the nature of the fighting and cooperated with Ben Gurion, informally as well, behind Prime Minister Moshe Sharet's back. The retribution operations continued until the 1960s and played an important role in the shaping of Israeli commando units and the formation of IDF military doctrines.
מפא"י- להנהגה נאמנה, בן גוריון

 

 

All Elections
​1949 •​ 1951​ •​ ​1955 •​ 1959 •​ ​1961 •​​ 1965 •​​ ​1969 •​​ 1973 •​​ 1977 •​​ 1981

 

1984​ •​​ 1988​​​ •​​ 1992​ •​​ 1996​​ •​​ 1999​​ •​​ 2001​​ •​​​​ 2003​​ •​​​ 2006 •​​​​ 2009​​

  

 

 

The Kastner Trial

The Kastner affair shook the Israeli public before the 1955 elections.  Yisrael Kastner was a member of the Aid and Rescue Committee (Va'adat Ezrah Vehatzalah) in Budapest during the Nazi occupation and maintained contacts with the Nazis in order to save Jews. In this manner he organized the escape of 1,684 Jews from Hungary to Switzerland.
 
After the war, Kastner testified on behalf of Nazis on trial. In 1947, he moved to Palestine and with the establishment of the State of Israel, received an appointment to the ministry of trade and industry. He also ran for the Knesset on the Mapai list. In late 1952 a journalist named Malchiel Gruenwald accused him of collaboration with the Nazis. Kastner insisted on filing a libel suit against Gruenwald. Gruenwald's attorney Shmuel Tamir managed to bring up the issues of the rescue efforts, Mapai's role, and Kastner's character. The verdict was delivered just prior to the elections in June 1955. Justice Benjamin Halevi ruled that Kastner had "sold his soul to Satan" and found him guilty of collaboration with the Nazis.

Kastner appealed the verdict. On March 4, 1957 he was attacked by thee members of a right-wing underground organization. One of them shot Kastner, who died in hospital some ten days later.
ישראל קסטנר (1957-1906)
 

 

 

All Elections
​1949 •​ 1951​ •​ ​1955 •​ 1959 •​ ​1961 •​​ 1965 •​​ ​1969 •​​ 1973 •​​ 1977 •​​ 1981

 

1984​ •​​ 1988​​​ •​​ 1992​ •​​ 1996​​ •​​ 1999​​ •​​ 2001​​ •​​​​ 2003​​ •​​​ 2006 •​​​​ 2009​​

  

 

 

Moshe Sharett 

Moshe Sharett (1894-1965) was the first foreign minister of the State of Israel and its second prime minister. Moshe Shertok was born in Russia and settled in Palestine in 1906. He grew up in Tel Aviv and was among the first group of graduates from the Herzliya Gymnasium. He studied law in Istanbul, became an Ottoman citizen and served as an officer in the Ottoman army during World War I. Upon his return, he became active in Mapai. He was sent to London as an emissary where he studied further. He became secretary to Arlozorov and after the latter was murdered, he took over as head of the Jewish Agency's political division. Sharet worked to establish the "Notrim" guards and a volunteer organization for the British Army. He was known for his moderate opinions, even with regard to the struggle against the British.

On the eve of the establishment of the state, Moshe Sharett was a member of the "national administration" and, with some hesitation, he tipped the scales in favor of declaring a state. Sharett was appointed foreign minister in the first government: he opposed the "payback policy" and clashed with Ben Gurion. As prime minister, after Ben Gurion's resignation, his position was challenged by Ben Gurion and his followers. After the 1955 elections Sharett retired served as director of the Am Oved publishing house, and the chair of the Jewish Agency's executive, for the rest of his life.  Moshe Sharett died on July 7, 1965.
ראש הממשלה משה שרת מצביע בבחירות לכנסת ולרשויות המקומיות
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All Elections
​1949 •​ 1951​ •​ ​1955 •​ 1959 •​ ​1961 •​​ 1965 •​​ ​1969 •​​ 1973 •​​ 1977 •​​ 1981

 

1984​ •​​ 1988​​​ •​​ 1992​ •​​ 1996​​ •​​ 1999​​ •​​ 2001​​ •​​​​ 2003​​ •​​​ 2006 •​​​​ 2009​​

  

 

 

HaOlam Hazeh 

The weekly HaOlam Hazeh was a prominent feature of the 1950s, particularly before the elections. Founded in 1937, HaOlam Hazeh was purchased by Uri Avneri and Shalom Cohen in the early 1950s, after which it became an important force in the country. It declared war on the "establishment", that is, the ruling Mapai party and its leader Ben Gurion.
 
HaOlam Hazeh advocated feistily and loudly for resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. It denounced the Mapai government and spoke out emphatically against the security services, which it felt acted in a manner unworthy of a democratic state. It also decried censorship and the law against slander. HaOlam Hazeh was an extraordinary and significant voice on behalf of freedom of the press in Israel. Its exposes managed to disturb the establishment and it did not hesitate to sidestep censorship and hint at knowledge of the "unfortunate affair".

At the height of the election campaign, in May 1955, a bomb was placed in the Tel Aviv printing house where the weekly was produced. Accusations were leveled at the security services for placing the bomb and others that were placed at meetings of the General Zionists, who had caused a coalition crisis following the Kastner trial.
שער חוברת "העולם הזה" מרץ 1956.
 

 

 

All Elections
​1949 •​ 1951​ •​ ​1955 •​ 1959 •​ ​1961 •​​ 1965 •​​ ​1969 •​​ 1973 •​​ 1977 •​​ 1981

 

1984​ •​​ 1988​​​ •​​ 1992​ •​​ 1996​​ •​​ 1999​​ •​​ 2001​​ •​​​​ 2003​​ •​​​ 2006 •​​​​ 2009​​