In Israel, Political Fights Have Always Gotten Ugly

March 3, 2020 | Tevi Troy
About the author: Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. In 2001, he served as the first director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives at the Department of Labor. His latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump

On his way to cast his vote in Jerusalem yesterday, President Reuven Rivlin told reporters that he was “ashamed” that his country had to go through “another awful and grubby election campaign.” But, as Tevi Troy relates, the Jewish state has a long history of ferocious political rivalries, beginning with that between Chaim Weizmann, the first person to hold Rivlin’s position, and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. And the mutual hatred between that pair was no greater than that between the two great heroes of the Labor party, Yitzḥak Rabin and Shimon Peres:

Rabin and his nemesis Shimon Peres feuded for decades before Rabin’s tragic assassination in 1995. The two men had known each other since the 1940s, but their enmity reached a boiling point in 1974, when they both vied to replace [Golda] Meir as Labor leader and prime minister. Rabin won—with Meir’s behind-the-scenes help—but it was close, and their contest would have consequences. Peres [garnered] enough support to compel Rabin to appoint him defense minister, and the hardball tactics employed in the race deepened their mutual hatred.

While serving in government together, the two men had some significant disagreements. One was over the development of the first settlements on land Israel had won during the 1967 war. Another was over the risky but ultimately successful hostage-rescue operation of a hijacked Air France plane in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976. In both cases, Peres was for, and Rabin against, and they fought it out via their allies in the press.

Rabin maintained his feud with Peres after losing the premiership in 1977. [Four] years later, Rabin challenged Peres in an open primary for the Labor party leadership, and won. Once again, Peres joined the cabinet under his rival, as foreign minister. This time, it was Peres who was the more dovish one, pushing surreptitious peace talks with the Palestinians that ultimately became the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Three days before the signing of the accords, Peres could not stand the notion that Rabin was getting the credit, griping, “That man ruined my life. I’ve been working for him for over sixteen years, and he doesn’t say ‘thank you’ to me. He’s crazy, and now he wants to hijack my ceremony.”

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