Politics of Israel: Wikis


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Politics of Israel takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Israel is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the Knesset. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The political system of the State of Israel and its main principles are set out in 11 Basic Laws.


Executive Branch


Cabinet of Israel

Interim Government

Legislative branch


The Knesset (Hebrew: כנסת‎, lit. Assembly) is Israel's unicameral parliament and is seated in Jerusalem. Its 120 members are elected to 4-year terms through party-list proportional representation (see electoral system, below), as mandated by the 1958 Basic Law: The Knesset. As the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset enacts laws, supervises government activities, and is empowered to elect or remove the President of the State or State Comptroller from office.

The February 2009 elections produced five prominent political parties; Kadima, Likud, Israel Beytenu, Labor and Shas, each with more than ten seats in the Knesset. Three of these parties were ruling parties in the past. However, only once has a single party held the 61 seats needed for a majority government (the Alignment from 1968 until the 1969 elections). Therefore, aside from that one exception, since 1948 Israeli governments have always comprised coalitions. As of 2009, there are 12 political parties represented in the Knesset, spanning both the political and religious spectra.

Electoral system

Israel's electoral law is based on a Basic Law (The Knesset) and the 1969 Knesset Elections Law.

The Knesset's 120 members are elected by secret ballot to 4-year terms, although the Knesset may decide to call for new elections before the end of the 4-year term, and a government can change without a general election; since the 1988 election, no Knesset has finished its 4-year term. In addition a motion of confidence may be called. Voting is carried out using the highest averages method of party-list proportional representation, using the d'Hondt formula.

General elections are closed list; that is, voters vote only for party lists and cannot affect the order of candidates within the lists and since the 1992 Parties Law, only registered parties may stand. There are no separate electoral districts; all voters vote on the same party lists. Suffrage is universal among Israeli citizens aged 18 years or older, but voting is optional. Polling locations are open throughout Israel; absentee ballots are limited to diplomatic staff and the merchant marine. While each party attains one seat for 1 in 120 votes, there is a minimum threshold (recently increased to 2% [1]) for parties to attain their first seat in an election. This action was intended to bar smaller parties from parliament but spurred some parties to join together simply to overcome the threshold. The low vote threshold for entry into parliament, as well as the need for these small-party seats to form coalition governments, causes the political spectrum to be highly fragmented, with small parties exercising disproportionate coalition power[1] relative to their electoral strength.

The president selects the prime minister as the party leader most able to form a government, based on the number of parliament seats her or his coalition has won. After the president's selection, the prime minister has forty-five days to form a government. The members of the cabinet must be collectively approved by the Knesset. This electoral system, inherited from the Yishuv (Jewish settlement organization during the British Mandate), makes it very difficult for any party to gain a working majority in the Knesset and thus the government is generally formed on the basis of a coalition. Elections are often held earlier than scheduled, due to difficulties in holding coalitions together. The average life span of an Israeli government is 25 months. Over the years, the peace process, the role of religion in the state, and political scandals have caused coalitions to break apart or produced early elections.[1]

Judicial system

The Judicial branch is an independent branch of the government, including secular and religious courts for the various religions present in Israel. The court system involves three stages of justice.

Judicial courts

Israeli judicial courts consist of a three-tier system:

  • Magistrate Courts serves as the court of first instance
  • District Courts serves as the appellate courts and also serve as the court of first instance for some cases;
  • Supreme Court is located in Jerusalem and acts as an appellate court, and as the High Court of Justice as a court of first instance often in matters concerning the legality of decisions of state authorities.

In December 1985, Israel informed the UN Secretariat that it would no longer accept compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.

Religious courts

Some issues of family law (marriage and divorce in particular) fall either under the jurisdiction of religious courts or under parallel jurisdiction of those and the state's family courts. The state maintains and finances Rabbinical, Sharia and various Canonical courts for the needs of the various religious communities. All judges are civil servants, and required to uphold general law in their tribunals as well. The High court of Justice serves as final appellate instance for all religious courts. The Jewish religious authorities are under control of the Prime Minister's Office and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. These courts have jurisdiction in only five areas: Kashrut, Sabbath, Jewish burial, marital issues (especially divorce), and Jewish status of immigrants. However, except for determining a person's marital status, all other marital issues may also be taken to secular Family Courts.

The other major religions in Israel, such as Islam and Christianity, are supervised by their own establishments of religious law. These courts have similar jurisdiction over their followers, although Muslim religious courts have more control over family affairs.

Political conditions

Golda Meir, a former Israeli Prime Minister, joked that "in Israel, there are 3 million prime ministers". Because of the proportional representation system, there is a large number of political parties, many of whom run on very specialized platforms, often advocating the tenets of particular interest groups. The prevalent balance between the largest parties means that the smaller parties can have disproportionately strong influence to their size. Due to their ability to act as tie breakers, they often use this status to block legislation or promote their own agenda, even contrary to the manifesto of the larger party in office.

Israeli politics is dominated by Zionist parties which traditionally fall into three camps, the first two being the largest: Labor Zionism (which has social democrat colors), Revisionist Zionism (which shares some traits with Tories or conservatives in other countries) and Religious Zionism (although there are several non Zionist Orthodox religious parties, as well as anti-Zionist Israeli Arab parties). In 2009 the two main Arab political parties, the National Democratic Assembly (also known as Balad) and Ra'am-Ta'al, were initially banned from contesting the next election by the Central Election Committee,[2][3] but this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court of Israel[4].

From the founding of Israel in 1948 until the election of May 1977, Israel was ruled by successive coalition governments led by the Labor Alignment (or Mapai prior to 1967). From 1967 to 1970, a national unity government included all of Israel's parties except for the two factions of the Communist Party of Israel. After the 1977 election, the Revisionist Zionist Likud bloc, then composed of Herut, the Liberals, and the smaller La'am Party, came to power forming a coalition with the National Religious Party, Agudat Israel, and others.

Prime Ministers and governments in the last ten years

Netanyahu (1996-1999)

In those elections - the first direct election of a prime minister in Israeli history - Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu won by a narrow margin, having sharply criticized the government's peace policies for failing to protect Israeli security. Netanyahu subsequently formed a predominantly right-wing coalition government publicly committed to pursuing the Oslo Accords, but with an emphasis on security first and reciprocity. His coalition included the Likud party, allied with the Tzomet and Gesher parties in a single list; three religious parties (Shas, the National Religious Party, and the United Torah Judaism bloc); and two centrist parties, The Third Way and Yisrael BaAliyah. The latter was the first significant party formed expressly to represent the interests of Israel's new Russian immigrants. The Gesher party withdrew from the coalition in January 1998 upon the resignation of its leader, David Levy, from the position of Foreign Minister.

Barak (1999-2001)

Office of the President of Israel in 2007.

On 27 May 1999, Ehud Barak from One Israel (an alliance of Labor, Meimad and Gesher) was elected Prime minister, and formed a coalition with the Centre Party (a new party with centrist views, led by former generals Yitzhak Mordechai and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak), the left-wing Meretz, Yisrael BaAliyah, the religious Shas and the National Religious Party. The coalition was committed to continuing negotiations; however, during the two years of the government's existence, most parties left the coalition, leaving Barak with a minority government of the Labor and the center party alone. Barak was forced to call for early elections.

Sharon (2001-2006)

On February 17, 2001, elections resulted in a new "national unity" coalition government, led by Ariel Sharon of the Likud, and including the Labor Party. This government fell when Labor pulled out, and new elections were held January 28, 2003.

Based on the election results, Sharon was able to form a right-wing government consisting of the Likud, Shinui, the National Religious Party and the National Union. The coalition focused on improving Israeli security through fighting against terror, along with combating economic depression. However, when Sharon decided on his 2004 disengagement plan, which included evacuation of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories (particularly the Gaza Strip), the National Union and National Religious Party withdrew from the coalition. Sharon's attempt to add the Haredi United Torah Judaism to the coalition drove Shinui out, and forced Sharon to bring the Labor Party back into his coalition.

Since not all Likud Knesset members supported Sharon's disengagement plan, he still lacked a clear majority in the Knesset. Apparently calculating that his personal popularity was greater than that of the party, Sharon pulled out of the Likud on November 21, 2005 and formed his own new Kadima party. He was joined only days later by Shimon Peres, who pulled out of the Labor party to join Sharon in a bid for a new government. This represents a cataclysmic realignment in Israeli politics, with the former right and left joining in a new centrist party with strong support (unlike previous centrist parties in Israel, which lacked the popularity Kadima now seems to enjoy).

Olmert (2006-2009)

On January 4, 2006 Prime Minister Sharon suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma, in which he still remains. Designated Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took power, becoming interim Prime Minister 100 days after Sharon's incapacitation. He did not become full Prime Minister due to elections being held in March and a new government being formed.

Following the March 2006 elections, which left Kadima as the largest party in the Knesset, Olmert became prime minister. He included Labour, Shas and Gil in a 67-seat coalition. In November 2006, Yisrael Beiteinu (11 seats) also joined the government, but departed from the coalition in January 2008. Olmert stood down as Prime Minister on 31 March 2009 after the opposition Likud party headed by Benjamin Netanyahu gained enough support in the 120 seat Knesset to govern. The Likud party won 27 seats in the 2009 elections, a net gain of 15 seats.

Netanyahu (2009-Present)

On 31 March 2009 the Knesset approved the appointment of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister with Netanyahu's government taking office the following day, 1 April 2009.

Political parties and elections

e • d  Summary of the 10 February 2009 Israeli Knesset election results
Party Votes % Seats +/–
Kadima 758,032 22.47% 28 −1
Likud 729,054 21.61% 27 +15
Yisrael Beiteinu 394,577 11.70% 15 +4
Labor Party 334,900 9.93% 13 –6
Shas 286,300 8.49% 11 –1
United Torah Judaism 147,954 4.39% 5 –1
United Arab ListTa'al 113,954 3.38% 4
National Union 112,570 3.34% 4 [A]
Hadash 112,130 3.32% 4 +1
New Movement-Meretz 99,611 2.95% 3 –2
The Jewish Home 96,765 2.87% 3 [B]
Balad 83,739 2.48% 3
The Green MovementMeimad 27,737 0.82% –1
Gil 17,571 0.52% –7
Ale Yarok 13,132 0.39%
The Greens 12,378 0.37%
Yisrael Hazaka 6,722 0.20%
Tzabar 4,752 0.14%
Koah LeHashpi'a 3,696 0.11%
Da'am Workers Party 2,645 0.08%
Yisrael HaMithadeshet 2,572 0.08%
Holocaust Survivors and Ale Yarok Alumni 2,346 0.07%
Leader 1,887 0.06%
Tzomet 1,520 0.05% –1
Koah HaKesef 1,008 0.03%
Man's Rights in the Family Party 921 0.03%
HaYisraelim 856 0.03%
Or 815 0.02%
Ahrayut 802 0.02%
Brit Olam 678 0.02%
Lev LaOlim 632 0.02%
Lazuz 623 0.02%
Lehem 611 0.02%
Valid votes 3,373,490 98.74%
Invalid or blank votes 43,097 1.26%
Totals 3,416,587 100.00% 120
Turnout  %
Source: Knesset Board of Elections
A The four parties making up National Union had six seats in the previous elections in the combined National Union−National Religious Party slate. The Ahi party (2 seats) left the National Union and joined the Likud.
B The Jewish Home (formerly the National Religious Party) had three seats in the combined National Union−National Religious Party slate. The two parties together won 7 seats in this election for a net loss of 2.

Other political groups

Israeli politics are subject to unique circumstances and often defy simple classification in terms of the political spectrum. Groups are sometimes associated with the political left or right, especially in international circles, according to their stance on issues important to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Political right

On the political right:

Political left

On the political left:

  • Israeli "Peace Camp" is a coalition of parties and non-parliamentary groups which desire to promote peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours and to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict through a return to the pre-1967 border and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
  • Anarchism in Israel: Israeli political movements with either an anti-nationalistic agenda or a fundamental opposition to government in general. Anarchists Against the Wall is a high-profile group that regularly protests the Israel-Palestine "wall".
  • Peace Now supports territorial concessions in the West Bank and was critical of government's policy in withdrawing from Lebanon after the 1982-6 war and the subsequent withdrawal from South Lebanon.
  • Geneva Initiative and The People's Voice (HaMifkad HaLeumi), two peace initiatives led by prominent Israeli and Palestinian public figures that surfaced in 2004. These initiatives were based on unofficial bilateral understandings between the two sides, and offer models for a permanent agreement.
  • HaHistadrut ("The Union"; short for "the General Union of the Workers in Israel"), an umbrella organization for many labor unions in Israel. In the past, was identified with the different forms of the Israel Labor party; nowadays, the chairman of the Histadrut is Offer Eyni. The former chairman is Amir Peretz became head of the socialist One Nation party, which eventually merged into Labor in 2004, which Peretz led from November 2005 to June 2007.
  • Several radical left-wing organizations calling soldiers to refuse service in the West Bank and Gaza; the best known are Ometz LeSarev ("Courage to Refuse") and Yesh Gvul (There's a limit/border).
  • Ma'avak Sotzialisti (Socialist Struggle) campaigns against privatisation and the worsening conditions faced by workers and young people in Israel.

Political centre

In the Political centre:

The political centre (represented in Knesset by Kadima and Gil, and in the past represented by Shinui) combines the Israeli right's lack of confidence in the value of negotiations with the Palestinians and the Arab states with the assertion of the Israeli left that Israel should reduce the Israeli presence in the areas of the West Bank. As a result of that, the Political centre supports unilateral actions such as the Israeli West Bank barrier and Israel's unilateral disengagement plan alongside the continuation of militaristic actions (such as the Selective assassination policy) as a means of fighting against terrorism. Economically, the centre is liberal and supports Economic liberalism and has a capitalistic approach. Until recently, the Political centre in the Knesset was relatively small - it never won more than 15 seats on average and centre parties tended to disintegrate within less than two terms (for example: Democratic Movement for Change, the Centre Party and Shinui). Other centre parties split up into factions which joined one or both of the two major parties, like Yachad (Ezer Weizman's party, which merged into the Alignment in 1987), Telem (Moshe Dayan's party, which eventually split up between the Alignment party and Likud), Independent Liberals (also merged into the Alignment) and the General Zionists (which together with Herut created Gahal, the forerunner of Likud).

Also parties which do not identify themselves as political right or political left are considered to be centre parties. For example: The Greens which focuses on environmental subjects and up until today has not been able to enter the Knesset.

Interest groups

  • The kibbutzim lobby, which seek to receive financial aid from the government.
  • The agriculture lobby, which seek to receive subsidies and tax relief on water.
  • The lobby for promoting the status of women, a feminist group which co-operates with the Knesset.
  • The lobby for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish spy jailed in the USA
  • Or Yarok ("Green Light"): an organization devoted to reducing road accidents in Israel through education, enforcement, improvement of infrastructure and the establishment of a national task force to research the problem and formulate a long-term plan to reduce car accidents.


  • Notable rabbinic figures have considerable influence on several Israeli parties and politicians, notably Shas and United Torah Judaism.
  • Neturei Karta, an anti-zionist fringe Haredi group that rejects Israel and refrains from taking part in elections. They have little to no effect on Israeli politics.
  • Edah HaChareidis, anti-zionist charedi organisation, that mostly demonstrates against secularization, mostly in Jerusalem
  • The Monitor Committee of Israeli Arabs: an Arab group, claiming to represent the interests of the Israeli Arab minority in Israel, tend to be separatists and hence perceived as hostile by the Jewish majority and have little influence in politics.

Political issues

Major issues in Israeli political life include:

International organization participation

BSEC (observer), CE (observer), CERN (observer), EBRD, ECE, FAO, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, IDA, IFAD, IFC, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, OAS (observer), OPCW, OECD (Trial member), OSCE (partner), PCA, UN, UNFM, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, WTO.


For governmental purposes, Israel is divided into six districts: Central, Haifa, Jerusalem, Northern, Southern, Tel Aviv. Administration of the districts is coordinated by the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Defense is responsible for the administration of the occupied territories.

Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy and treaties

See also


  1. ^ a b Migdalovitz, Carol (2007-07-06). "Israel: Background and Relations with the United States" (PDF). Congressional Research Service (via the U.S. Mission to Italy). pp. 23. http://italy.usembassy.gov/pdf/other/RL33476.pdf. Retrieved 2009-02-20.  
  2. ^ http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/01/2009112165350696500.html
  3. ^ http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasen/pages/ShArtStEng.jhtml?itemNo=1054867&contrassID=1&subContrassID=1&title=%27Israel%20bans%20Arab%20parties%20from%20running%20in%20upcoming%20elections%27&dyn_server=>
  4. ^ Hadash praises verdict on Arab parties
  • Knesset web site
  • Pasquale Amato, Unità socialista in Israele, Intervista con Victor Shemtov, in "Mondoperaio", Rome, January 1981, pp. 47-51

External links


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