Election Chronicles > Elections > 1981 Elections

1981 Elections

  

Elections for the tenth Knesset were held on June 30, 1981, several months earlier than their original scheduled date. The prevailing atmosphere was one of severe hostility between the Likud and the Ma'arach, with unprecedented expressions of ethnic and political enmity occurring. The Ma'arach, under Shimon Peres' leadership anticipated regaining control of government, which it had lost to the Likud in 1977. The Likud, led by Menachem Begin, began the campaign at a disadvantage, but the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iraq in early June 1981 bolstered its standing with voters. In addition, the Ma'arach's outspoken fractiousness diverted public discourse from current events and issues of state to mutual accusations and vocal processing of historical grudges regarding Mapai's treatment of immigrants from eastern countries and ongoing questions regarding ethnic discrimination in the years since the establishment of the state. At the same time, the Likud was forced into a defensive stance by a series of incidences of corruption that had been exposed during its years in government. Moreover, given the difficult economic situation in Israel at the time, the Likud government adopted an "election economy" that fostered public support. The race between the two parties was hence both close and ruthless.. 1981 Elections
 

 

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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​​

  

 

  

Inflation Crisis
In the period preceding the elections for the tenth Knesset, the Israeli economic situation deteriorated in a manner that aroused concern. IN 1980, the inflation rate reached 133%.In February 1980 the Lira was replaced by the Shekel, at an exchange rate of 1 shekel to 10 Lira. Minister of Finance Yigal Horowitz tried to implement conservative policies and reduce individual consumption, but his efforts came to naught, mainly for political reasons. In January 1981, Horowitz resigned from his position and was replaced by Yoram Aridor, an economist from the Likud.
Parallel to the deterioration of the economic situation, a series of cases of corruption at senior levels of the Likud and Mafdal came to light. With the resignation of the minister of finance after he failed to obtain support for his policies of restraint, it seemed inevitable that the government would fall. Menachem Begin decided to bring forward the elections from November 1981 to June that same year. The new minister of finance Aridor decided to "give the people a break". He lowered taxes on consumer products and eased restrictions of purchase of new automobiles and foreign travel, without reducing government spending. The result was a serious dwindling of the state's foreign currency reserves and a need to print Shekels. All this exacerbated inflation after the elections.
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Inflation Crisis
Ethnic Conflict

The 1981 elections revolved, to a great extent, around inequities between various communities within Israeli society. The Likud's rise to power, under Menachem Begin's leadership, brought to the fore a great deal of anger and resentment that eastern Jews (Mizrahim) felt towards Ashkenazi Jews, the Mapai establishment and the old elites. The Likud spoke to Mizrahi Jews, both in terms of the messages it conveyed to its supporters and in terms of promoting young Mizrahi leadership, mainly from among local government in the development towns. Begin himself was adept at addressing their feelings of disempowerment and eliciting their ethnic pride.

The elections for the tenth Knesset were fraught with hostility and even violence related to the ethnic issue. Likud supporters focused their ire on Shimon Peres as the representative of the historical Mapai, even circulating malicious rumors about him. Peres encountered violence at election rallies. Begin was fortified by the riled up atmosphere and managed to exploit a condescending and racist comment made by entertainer Dudu Topaz – which would become known as the "tzachtzach speech" – in order to mobilize his supporters and encourage Mizrahi Jews to vote against years of neglect and humiliation.
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Ethnic Conflict
National Security, Egypt and Autonomy
It was under the first Likud government, which had been elected in 1977, that both the Camp David Accords and the peace treaty with Egypt were signed. The latter was the first agreement of its kind between Israel and an Arab country. Withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula and evacuation of Israeli settlements that had been established there after 1967   was scheduled for 1982. In July 1980 the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law, which stated that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and the location of the main state institutions. The president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat felt that the law determined a fait accompli when, according to the Camp David Accords, the future of the West Bank and Jerusalem were to be determined by negotiations – the autonomy talks that were being held between Israel and Egypt. In response to the Jerusalem Law, Egypt froze the autonomy talks and relations between Begin and Sadat deteriorated to the point of non-existence.
Just prior to the elections for the ninth Knesset, Begin attempted to improve relations with Sadat and at least appear to be reviving the peace process that had distinguished his term as prime minister of Israel. Begin and Sadat met in early June 1981, but made no progress.
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National Security, Egypt and Autonomy​

 

 

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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​​

  

 

  

Attack on the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor
Just prior to the elections, which were set for June 30, 1981, the Israeli air force attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad. The operation destroyed the reactor and put paid to Saddam Hussein's nuclear program. Reactions abounded, both in Israel and the rest of the world, to the June 7 attack. Many accused Menachem Begin of using the operation to garner support and glory in advance of the elections. Begin denied this emphatically and played the historical card, claiming that his government had removed a tangible threat of destruction that had been hanging over the state. The operation earned Israel international criticism alongside admiration for the military capacity, and daring, to undertake such an operation so far from the state itself. It eventually emerged that Prime Minister Menachem Begin had consulted with Shimon Peres, leader of the opposition. Peres had cautioned Begin against the operation. Over time, there was increasing agreement that the destruction of the nuclear reactor had been necessary, especially since the window of time within which the reactor could be destroyed without causing a nuclear disaster in Iraq was rapidly closing and Israel could not have afforded to postpone the operation.
 
Attack on the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor​
 

 

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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​​

  

 

  

Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres was born in 1923 in Poland. In 1947, at Ben Gurion's request, he became involved in security affairs, particularly the purchase of arms from the United States. As director general of the ministry of defense, he cultivated cooperation with France, which resulted in the establishment of the nuclear reactor in Dimona. In 1959 he was elected to the Knesset as a representative of Mapai. In 1965, he and Ben Gurion left Mapai and formed Rafi. Later, he returned to Mapai, becoming a minister in 1970. His bid for leadership of the Labor party against Rabin was unsuccessful and he served as minister of defense in Rabin's first government. When Rabin stepped down, he led the Ma'arach in the 1977 and 1981 elections.  In 1984 he and Rabin made a rotation agreement with Yitzhak Shamir and he served as prime minister until 1986. In 1988 he was appointed minister of finance in Shamir's coalition government. In 1992 he once again lost to Rabin in competing for leadership of the Labor party. He served as foreign minister in the second Rabin government. Later, he brought the Labor party into Sharon's government, serving as foreign minister himself. In 2005, Peres resigned from the Labor Party and in 2007 he was elected president of the State of Israel..
 
Shimon Peres ​
 

 

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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​​

  

 

  

Victor Tayar
A colorful figure who tried to win a seat in the Knesset in the 1981 elections was Victor Tayar. Tayar was a restaurateur from Jaffa who saw himself as a spokesman for the simple folk, the poor and downtrodden in society. He called his party Amcha and chose the symbol "zach" (meaning "pure") for his ballots, which reflected his commitment to clean politics and governmental transparency. Taya called attention to the distinction between himself and professional, seasoned, politicians. He portrayed himself as a simple citizen who spoke the language of his peers and was direct and uncomplicated. Born in Tripoli, Libya, Tayar was also an artist who worked in rehabilitation of convicts. His attempt to earn a seat in the 1981 elections failed. He also ran for election to the eleventh and twelfth Knessets, but never received more than a few hundred votes. Victor Tayar died in 1993. He is remembered by virtue of a law that bears his name. According to the Victor Tayar Law, a list running for the Knesset must pay its registration fees by means of a bank cheque. The law was enacted because Tayar demonstrated his "simple man" image by paying his fees in small coins.
Victor Tayar​

 

 

Posters and Advertisements Press Photographs
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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​​