The Eighth Knesset officiated for three and a half years, during which two governments held office: The 16th Government, headed by Golda Meir, which resigned a month after its formation due to the Agranat Commission’s Interim Report, and the 17th Government, headed by Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin resigned from office after two and a half years, following an abstention of two of the three ministers from the National Religious Party in a no-confidence motion on the desecration of Shabbat. Rabin consulted with the Minister of Justice, Haim Zadok, and considered their abstention as a resignation from the Government. The Government continued to preside for six months as a transitional government.
In the elections to the Eighth Knesset, the Alignment and the Likud comprised 90 seats of the Knesset, signaling the transformation of the political system to a bipartisan system. These elections were the first to introduce a party that was concerned mainly with civil and human rights – the Civil Rights Movement.
During its term, the outcome of the Yom Kippur War had become evident. The Agranat Commission, appointed to investigate the circumstances leading to the outbreak of the war, published its Interim Report on April 1st 1974. This report led to the resignation of Prime Minister Golda Meir, though the Commission was most critical of the military. It actually praised Golda Meir’s administration, and did not find fault with the performance of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. The Labor Party elected Yitzhak Rabin, despite his lack of political experience, to form the new government. This was the first of four election campaigns between Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres for party leadership.
Despite the sounds of protest movements, the elections to the Knesset did not manifest the shock caused to the public by the war. The reactions were later evident towards the elections to the Ninth Knesset, including the formation of a new party – the Democratic Movement for Change. Ideological differences on the peace process and the fate of the occupied territories also began to evolve at this time, especially after the signing of Separation of Forces Agreements with Syria and Egypt and the Interim Agreement with Egypt. These agreements set the principle of land in exchange for peace.
The Gush Emunim movement was founded in February 1974, accelerating the settlement in the occupied territories.
The Eighth Knesset experienced an increase in terrorist attacks. In May 1974, terrorists attacked a school in Ma’alot. This attack resulted in 26 casualties, 21 of whom were teenagers. In July 1976, an “Air France” aircraft was hijacked to Uganda. The IDF committed a bold rescue mission in Entebbe, where Yoni Netanyahu, a commander in the force, was killed.
The Knesset debated over the international acceptance of the PLO and the meetings that began taking place between Israeli figures and PLO representatives.
Israel’s isolation in the international arena intensified. It reached its peak in November 1975, upon the approval of resolution 3379 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, in which Zionism was likened to racism. At the same time, the Soviet Union decided to prohibit Aliyah. The international status of Israel, as well as terrorist activity, were discussed often at the Knesset plenum.
The Eighth Knesset dealt often with the state of the national economy and the Government’s policy to reduce inflation and to balance the national deficit. This policy included the more than 40% devaluation of the Israeli lira, applied in November 1974. Israel’s national debt was enlarged due to the American assistance given during and after the Yom Kippur War. The Likud faction, and mainly its liberal element, severely criticized the Government’s handling of the situation.
In 1975, an inquiry committee on the status of women was established, headed by MK Ora Namir. Its establishment signaled an official change in Israel’s approach towards the status of women.
“Land Day” was marked by riots in March 1976, protesting the expropriation of lands in the Arab sector. Six Arab citizens were killed by the security forces in the riots.
Several affairs concerning financial irregularities within the governing authorities were exposed during the Eighth Knesset. Prime Minister Rabin resigned over the termination of the “historical alliance” between the Labor Party and the National Religious Party. Towards the end of his term, Rabin passed on his authority to Shimon Peres, due to the discovery of a bank account Rabin had in the United States from the time he served as ambassador in Washington. Aharon Barak, the Attorney General at the time, recommended that he resign.
During the Eighth Knesset, the Government had made first attempts to legislate the Basic Law: Human Rights and Basic Law: Legislation. These attempts failed, and have yet to be successful.