The possibility of a third Bush presidency and the near certainty of Hillary Clinton becoming the Democratic nominee have the American media writing overtime about political dynasties. While either a Bush or a Clinton was part of the presidential ticket of one of the two main parties from 1980 to 2004, the relationships among the leading military and political families in Israel have been even more pervasive.
In Israel, the secular Right has been heavily populated by heirs of prominent political figures from the Etzel and Lehi paramilitary movements that went into Herut and then into the Likud. The second generation of Likud leaders, known collectively as the “princes,” began to emerge in the Likud in the late 1980s with the arrival of Benny Begin, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and Dan Meridor. Netanyahu soon established his leadership in the party due to his hard organizational work and media skills.
Other prominent Likud princes have included: Ron Milo, who is related to Menahem Begin’s wife Aliza; Ehud Olmert, whose parents were both in the Etzel (aka Irgun); Tzipi Livni, the daughter of the former Etzel commander in Jerusalem; and Tzahi Hanegbi, the son of former Tehiya leader Geula Cohen (herself a Lehi veteran). Meridor served as Menahem Begin’s chief political aide and as justice minister. He and Ron Milo followed Amnon Lipkin-Shahak to create the moderate Center Party in 1999. After that party collapsed in 2003, Milo and Meridor returned to the Likud. Following Sharon into Kadima, Ehud Olmert ended up as prime minister; but convictions for political corruption have ended his career. Besides Netanyahu, this leaves Hanegbi in the Likud, Livni (who has at least temporarily merged her Kadima-offshoot party with the Labor Party) and Yair Shamir in Israel Beitenu, the son of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (and Lehi leader). Most of the princes have served as government ministers at least once in their careers, if not multiple times.
In contrast to this impressive dynastic record on the Right, there have only been two major dynastic families on the Left: the Dayans and the Herzogs. Shaul Dayan emigrated from Russia to Palestine during the Second Aliya and ended up as one of the first families in the first kibbutz at Degania, on the southern shore of Lake Kinneret. His son Moshe was the first child conceived and born at Degania. Shaul grew dissatisfied with the close communal life at Degania and developed the idea for a new type of settlement: each family would work its own plot of land but the major agricultural machinery and central facilities would be shared communally. This became the moshav shitufi (cooperative settlement). Shaul Dayan established the first moshav at Nahalal in the early 1920s when Moshe was still a child. Shaul Dayan went on to serve in the earliest elected Knessets, overlapping with his son Moshe from 1959 to 1961.
Moshe Dayan was a prominent member of Mapai and the Labor Party from 1946 to 1977. He entered the Hagana in 1938 and had a rapid rise in the Hagana and Palmakh until he lost his eye in a raid on Vichy-controlled Lebanon in June 1941. In the mid-1940s, Moshe returned to the Hagana as an intelligence officer. During the 1948 War of Independence he served as an important field commander, and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion elevated him to command the Jerusalem front. After the war, Ben-Gurion purged the IDF of many former Palmakh officers because they were loyal to the rival Mapam party. Chief among these was Yigal Allon, Dayan’s main rival in the Hagana since 1938 and the leading field general of the 1948 war. Allon’s deputy, Yitzhak Rabin, had his rise in the IDF delayed for political reasons. Dayan became chief of staff at the end of 1953 and served for five years, during which time he led the IDF through the very successful 1956 Sinai Campaign.
In 1959, Dayan entered politics. From June 1967 to June 1974 Moshe Dayan served as defense minister under Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir. Meir was brought out of retirement in February 1969 to largely keep Dayan and Allon from tearing the new Labor Party apart in their rivalry for the top job. Dayan’s political career in the Labor Party was largely ended by his failure to foresee the Arab surprise attack in October 1973. After languishing in the Knesset under Rabin from 1974 to 1977, Dayan left Labor in June 1977 to join Menahem Begin’s government as foreign minister. Dayan served as a top negotiator at Camp David in September 1978 and afterwards. He resigned as foreign minister in October 1979 to protest Begin’s refusal to take the autonomy negotiations with Egypt seriously. He died of cancer two years later.
Moshe Dayan’s oldest child Yael was born in Nahalal in 1939; she grew up privileged as the daughter of a prominent IDF general. After graduating from Hebrew University, she became a writer. She started off as a novelist publishing five novels from 1959 to 1979 and also served as a war correspondent in June 1967. After her father’s death, she wrote a memoir of her relationship with her father, My Father, His Daughter. She served as an MK for Labor starting in 1992 after having become a prominent activist within Peace Now. In her politics she took after her mother Ruth, Moshe’s first wife, who was involved in Jewish-Palestinian economic and political ventures during the 1960s. In 2003, after losing her seat in the Knesset, she left Labor along with Yossi Beilin to join Meretz. In Meretz, her career was largely as a deputy mayor of Tel Aviv from 2008 to 2013.
The other prominent family on the Left is the Herzogs. Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog was Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1922 to 1935 and then immigrated to Palestine in 1936 where he served as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi from 1936 to 1959. Rabbi Herzog had two sons, Chaim and Ya’acov.
Chaim entered the British army after becoming a lawyer and worked in military intelligence. He then joined the IDF and rose to the rank of major general (aluf). During the Six Day War, he served as the military correspondent for Kol Israel and was partly responsible for calming the public with his interviews. After the war, he became military governor of the West Bank. He then returned to his law practice and helped to establish one of the most prominent law firms in Israel. In 1975 he published a bestselling history of Israel’s wars from 1948 to 1973. He was Israel’s ambassador to the United Nation in 1976, when the UN General Assembly passed its notorious “Zionism is racism” resolution. In 1983, he was elected president of Israel and served for two terms.
Chaim’s younger brother Ya’acov became a professional diplomat, but died prematurely at the age of 50, in 1972. He published a book of articles on Israeli foreign policy that was required reading at some Israeli universities in the 1970s.
In 1960, Isaac “Buji” Herzog was born to Ya’acov and Aura Herzog. His mother was Abba Eban’s sister-in-law, which made Eban his uncle. Herzog did his mandatory military service in military intelligence and then became a lawyer and joined the family law firm. He was unsuccessful in a bid to join the Knesset in 1999, but was elected in 2003 after having served as a secretary in the Barak government. Buji was elected leader of the party in 2013 after Shelly Yakhimovich failed to improve the performance of the party by concentrating on economic issues. But in the 2015 election, although not entirely ignoring the peace issue, Herzog largely followed the same strategy. While his alliance with Tzipi Livni bolstered Labor, the Likud victory leaves Buji’s future as party leader in doubt.
Ezer Weizman was another political prince, but one who was not firmly in either ideological camp. His uncle Haim Weizmann was the most prominent member of the Zionist movement from 1917, when he secured the Balfour Declaration from Britain, until 1946.
After serving in the RAF during World War II, Weizman was one of a handful of Israeli fighter pilots in the 1948 war. In 1950 he married the younger sister of Moshe Dayan’s first wife. He served as head of the Israeli Air Force from 1958 to 1966 and was IDF chief of operations and acting deputy chief of staff during the 1967 war. Following his military career, he fluctuated in his political allegiances. He resigned as Menahem Begin’s defense minister in March 1980 and was elected to the Knesset as an independent in 1984. Two years later he joined the Labor Party and became a leading dove. From 1993 to 2000 he served as president of Israel and variously made dovish and hawkish pronouncements.