Why Israel Is a World Leader in Catchy Political Party Names

Jewish Home? Meretz? Let's Call The Whole Thing Off

What’s in a Name?: When it comes to political parties in Israel, perhaps far too much.
Getty Images
What’s in a Name?: When it comes to political parties in Israel, perhaps far too much.

By Philologos

Published March 03, 2013, issue of March 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Similarly, its two rivals on the left, Achdut Ha’avodah and Mapam (short for Mifleget ha-Po’alim Ha’me’uḥedet), were also referred to in English by their Hebrew names, never as the “Labor Unity” and “United Workers” parties. And Menachem Begin’s right-wing ḥerut remained Herut in English and did not become the Freedom Party. Yet the centrist Ha-Tsiyonim ha-Klaliyim were always called the General Zionists in English, and — as my anonymous correspondent points out — the 1968 merger of Mapai, Mapam and Achdut ha-Avodah was never anything but the Labor Party.

Go figure. Perhaps “Labor Party” seemed natural in English because “Labor Zionists” was traditionally the inclusive English term for the left-wing Zionist parties, whereas the “Solidarity Party” for the Likud, formed by a merger in 1973 of Herut, the General Zionists (who had meanwhile become the Liberals) and several smaller groups, sounded strange. (The Polish Solidarność didn’t begin to function and get publicity until several years later.) And to speak in English of Yair Lapid’s “There Is a Future Party” definitely would sound strange.

Israel happens to be one of the world’s leaders in the contemporary trend of calling new political parties by catchy phrases, as if they were not movements based on enunciable principles, but commercial products to be marketed. And while it’s a trend that exists in many countries — think of the German party “Pirates” or the new Italian party “Stop the Decline” — it started earlier in Israel than elsewhere.

Indeed, it originated with the country’s system of voting, which has always used paper ballots instead of machines. For the benefit of voters who were functionally illiterate, each ballot was made to bear not only the name of the party to be selected, but also two or three easily recognizable letters. Naturally, parties always tried choosing letters that have positive associations; those of the Labor Party, for example, have traditionally been alef-mem- taf, spelling the word emet, or “truth.”

No one ever called Labor “Emet,” but when the left-leaning Citizens Rights Party was formed in 1973 and chose the letters resh-tsadi — spelling ratz, the verb for “run” — Ratz or “Run” was how the party soon became known to the Israeli public. Similarly, the Democratic Party for Change, founded in 1977, became Dash, or “Regards,” from its letters of daled-shin, and the Sephardic Union of Torah Observers, founded in 1982, was Shas from shin-samakh. (The “Shas” in rabbinic language is a synonym for the Talmud.) And in 1992, when Ratz merged with Mapam, it became Meretz or the “Energy” party.

The next step came in 1996, with former prisoner of Zion Nathan Sharansky’s short-lived Yisra’el b’Aliyah or “Israel Ascending” party, with its pun on the double meaning of aliyah as “ascent” and immigration to Israel. Although Sharansky could have called his new party the Immigrant Party or the Israeli Social Integration Party or something else of the sort, he wanted a name that was snappier — and when his rival for the Russian vote, Avigdor Lieberman, ran on a different Knesset list in 1999, he countered with “Israel Is Our Home.”

This was followed by “Onward” in 2005, and “There Is a Future” and “The Jewish Home” in 2012, along with “Hope,” “Power to Israel” and still other parties. One misses the days of Mapai.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.