17 in May 1977 | Transformation

On the night of May 17, 1977, after running in 8 elections, Begin scored a great victory and became the leader of the majority in the Knesset. Cries of protest were voiced within the leftist camps, such as the call of one of its senior leaders, Yitzhak Ben Aharon: “The people made a mistake”.

At 1:00 AM, Begin arrived at the Independence Hall in Mezudat Ze’ev. Surrounded by his family and supporters, Begin spoke to the crowd and delivered words of appreciation to his friends and political colleagues. Begin saved his best thank you for last and thanked his wife Aliza for “your affection of youth, your love of espousal, how you went after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown,” paraphrasing the verse from Jeremiah.

A month later a new government was introduced to the Knesset. It was accepted in good faith and Begin became the sixth Prime Minister of Israel. In his inauguration speech Begin said “we will do [our work], my friends and I, with dedication, loyalty, good conscience, a confident heart and with faith that with God’s help we can do the people good”.

His first decision as prime minister was making a humanitarian gesture towards refugees from Vietnam rejected by many countries. Begin ordered to absorb sixty-six refugees who were collected aboard an Israeli merchant ship, drawing a comparison to similar ships carrying Jewish refugees in the 1930s.  Begin later ordered the absorption of 1700 more Vietnamese refugees.

In the economic sphere, Begin worked to develop a free economic atmosphere in the spirit of the West. In a dramatic press conference held on October 29th, Begin and Minister of Finance Simha Erlich announced the deregulation of foreign currency, toward economic liberalization and the expansion of individual freedoms, through reducing the government’s involvement in the everyday lives of its citizens. The first move was to make the Israeli economy generally a Western economy, driven by private initiative.

On the political level, Begin announced that his first task was making peace with the Arab states. In August 1977, Begin attended diplomatic meetings in Romania, which gave rise to negotiations with Morocco and led to an meeting with King Hassan. Later, Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan was sent to Morocco to meet with an adviser to Sadat, Hassan Tuhami.

Policy changes led to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat declaring that he is ready to go to the Knesset and start direct negotiations with Israel. Begin responded to the call, and on Saturday night of November 19, 1977, the Egyptian President landed in Israel. In his speech to the Knesset Begin declared that the “war is preventable; Peace is inevitable”, and the peace process was launched.

עליזה ומנחם בגין מצביעים ביום הבחירות 17 במאי 1977, צלם: יעקב סער, באדיבות לע"מ