The voting base of the Likud Party was among Middle Eastern Jews. But so many Middle Eastern Jews voted for the Labor Party that together with the great voting majorities Labor got among European Jews, the Labor Party ran Israel for the first 25 years of its existence. Likud was seen as a crank fringe group.
Into the early Fifties Israel had friendly relations with the Soviet Union. Israeli intelligence shared information with Soviet intelligence - although not to the same extent that Israeli intelligence would later share information with the CIA.
Much of Israeli society maintained a negative attitude towards the Jewish religion into the Fifties. Many Israeli teachers gave heavy homework assignments over the weekend so schoolchildren would have to break the Sabbath to keep their grades up. When Middle Eastern Jews immigrated to Israel often the parents sent their children to Israel ahead of them. Often the Labor government deliberately kept these children separated from their parents for as long as possible after the parents arrived in Israel. This was so the children would not be infected with "backward" ideas such as the Jewish religion or sympathy for the Likud Party. Some of these children did not see their parents again until they were adults and the Likud Party got much favorable publicity from exposing these enforced separations.
Soviet-Israeli friendship continued as long as the Arab states were dominated by rulers who had been puppets or close allies of British and French colonialism.
In the USA, except for Jews, the great majority of Americans were indifferent to Israel. Palestinian Christians spoke to friendly audiences in evangelical Protestant churches about the hardships they had endured from being displaced by Israel.
Things began to change in 1952 when Farouk, the British puppet king of Egypt, the most populous Arabic-speaking country, was overthrown. A group of young army officers, disgusted by the corruption and mismanagement of the Egyptian army during the 1948 war with Israel, took over Egypt. Their leader was a 34 year old colonel, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who became president of Egypt for 18 years until his death in 1970.
Nasser allowed Algerian nationalists to come to Egypt and set up headquarters in Cairo for a movement to make Algeria independent from France. In 1956 he nationalized the Suez Canal, a major international waterway, which had belonged to Britain.
In October, 1956, Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt. The Soviet Union threatened these three countries, and by implication the United States, unless they stopped their invasion of Egypt. The USA managed to obtain a ceasefire. By the end of this brief war the Egyptian military had sunk ships in the Suez Canal, which make it impossible to navigate for several years. Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula to the east of the Suez Canal for a while.
The next year, 1957, President Nasser of Egypt requested the USA to sell him weapons. The USA refused on the grounds that he might use these weapons against Israel. So Nasser bought weapons from the Soviet Union. In turn the USA withdrew financial aid from the huge Aswan High Dam which Egypt was building to irrigate large areas of desert land and provide desperately needed electricity for industrialization. So Nasser got Soviet financing and Soviet technicians to help build the Aswan High Dam.
The same year Faisal, the British puppet king of Iraq, was assassinated and Iraq was taken over by pro-Soviet army officers. The USA sent Marines to Lebanon to make sure that a coup sympathetic to Nasser would not succeed there. Another month of crisis followed with the Soviet Union threatening war.
For the next 13 years Nasser's eloquent speeches on radio were popular with millions of people across the Middle East. And his message was socialist, pro-Soviet, indifferent to Islam - although very anti-Israel. To oppose Nasser the intelligence services of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the USA subsidized Muslim fundamentalist groups which often carried out terrorist operations against Nasser's government.
Now the Soviet Union was committed to support of Egypt and opposition to Israel. So Israel turned to its most logical ally, the USA. This "special relationship" began to flower after John F. Kennedy became president. Until his presidency, the diplomatic and national security bureaucracies had ben overwhelmingly white Protestant, at least on their upper levels. In Kennedy's presidency, members of the Jewish community such as Walt Whitman Rostow began to rise to higher positions in the national security establishment.
A best-selling novel, Exodus by Leon Uris, which glorified Zionist history, was made into a hit movie, which brought much goodwill to Israel in the USA. The Israeli Labor Party developed many links to the American liberal Democrats. In Israel itself the Jewish religion began to receive more favorable treatment since the old-time socialist hostility to religion, which was common in the earlier Israel, might alienate many American Jews.
The turning point of the history of Israel - and of much of the rest of the Middle East came in June, 1967. Israel, in six days, defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The Zionist state seized the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and most important, the old walled city of Jerusalem and the hilly country west of the Jordan River from Jordan. This hilly country contains the large towns of Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah, major locations of the current struggle.
Israel's justification was that it was fighting a preventive war to counter a military buildup by Egypt that might be a prelude for an attack on Israel. But General Mattiyahu Peled who led the Israeli offensive in the Six-Day War and Menachem Begin, the Likud leader who later became Prime Minister of Israel, have both said that this was not the case. They agree that whatever military buildup Egypt was doing was not adequate for an attack on Israel. It certainly didn't call for such a massive Israeli response.
The real reason for the Six-Day War seems to be that the USA was bogged down in the Vietnam War so Israel could seize territory it had long desired without having to worry about serious American objections. Even those in the Labor Party who were most sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians wanted larger areas along Israel's borders to make defense easier. (In one place the pre 1967 border was less than 20 miles from the Mediterranean Sea). Much of Israel's religious right wing wanted all the ancient land of Israel mentioned in the Bible - especially the old walled city of Jerusalem with all its holy sites.
The Six-Day War brought a tremendous wave of admiration among Americans for the bravery and skill of the Israeli Army. Israel gained goodwill in the USA - even though an Israeli plane attacked an American spy ship in the Mediterranean during the Six-Day War and killed a number of American sailors.