Travel back in time and visit the elections for the 7th Israeli parliament

The election campaign went about (relatively) peacefully, in a country that had just achieved a huge military victory. The majority of the population hoped the results would stay the same as they were, and the two camps joined hands and formed a unity government. What did the first ever TV-broadcasted election campaign in Israel of 1969 look like?

The election campaign for the 7th Knesset, which was held when I was barely four months old (please don’t do the count), was 180 degrees from what it is today. In America, hippies were tripping LSD at Woodstock, and in Paris students took to the streets. In Vietnam, a bloody war raged without an end in sight, and the tensions with the USSR were also hovering in the distance, accompanied by a lingering nuclear threat. But all of those events seemed far from the reality in an Israel that was still practicing austerity and political conservatism, and could not even imagine how quickly that was going to change.


The elections went about relatively smoothly, with the majority of the public seeing in them an opportunity to prolong the successful unity government of Golda Meir and Menachem Begin, whose huge achievement was the Six-Day War and its successive occupation of the Sinai peninsula, Gaza and the West Bank. Mapai, headed by Golda Meir who took the place of the deceased Levi Eshkol, changed its name to “HaMa'arach” (“the alignment”), while Begin's party was still called Gahal (“Herut–Liberals Bloc”). Branding the party as the “Likud” came about only in the next election, initiated by the war-hero and retired Major General of the IDF, Ariel Sharon. The bitter feuds between these two strands and what they stood for — the Ma'arach against the Likud — the rift that has shaped, perhaps more than any other, the Jewish Israeli discourse for decades to come — reached a boiling point only eight years later, and we still feel the burn till today.


So, back to the 1969 elections: While most of the country (except for some marginal figures on the left and some tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel) was indulging in what would later be called “the euphoria” — no one had yet mentioned the word “occupation” or even conceived it as such. As expected, the result was an extremely broad coalition of 90 members of knesset. Almost everyone went home satisfied with those election results. Nowadays, when even a majority of 61 seems unattainable, that seems like a distant reality.


Although these were the first elections in the history of the country that included TV broadcasts of election propaganda, the old-time format of cinema diaries (a kind of soft-news edition that is aired before a film) still dominated the medium. And so, the segment we have before us that was produced by "Carmel Diaries", survived as a historic relic of that harmonious time, so different from the tumultuous campaigns of 1977 and 1981 that followed. Here, Mencahem Begin and Golda Meir seem cheerful, and the swearing-in of the incoming government looked like a huge wedding celebration. Oh, and cigarettes and liquor were still legit props.


This Youtube video was uploaded by the account of the late Uri Avneri, who was then running for office with his "This World — New Power" (the sophisticated Avneri did not hesitate to use the brand name of his very own weekly newspaper). He actually succeeded in getting himself and his colleague Shalom Cohen into the 7th Knesset.


In the video, after the news broadcast, Avneri puts forth his election campaign ad, which provides us a rare glimpse into one of the first broadcasts in the history of election campaigns in Israel. It’s not exactly “up-beat”, but it’s interesting to see how the issues that Avneri discussed back then, such as the concern regarding the exemption from military service for the ultra-Orthodox men, or the lack of public transportation on Shabbat or the promotion of civil marriage — were once considered on the margins of the political debate and often associated with the far left-wing. Now, they are mainstream and even centrist positions.