Politics of Israel

From Academic Kids

Template:Israelis Politics of Israel comprises of several interwoven components:



Israel's governmental system is based on several basic laws enacted by its unicameral parliament, the Knesset. The president (chief of state, a largely ceremonial role) is elected by the Knesset for a 5-year term. Since August 2000, this post has been filled by Moshe Katsav. The prime minister (head of government) exercises executive power. Every 4 years there are national elections to the Knesset. In 2003 there were 13 poltical parties represented, from left wing (including arab parties) to liberals, right wing conservatives and Jewish orthodox parties. The largest are the "Avoda" (Labour) social-democrat party and the "Likud" (unity) right wing conservative party.

The prime minister is selected by the president as the party leader most able to form a government, based on the number of parliament seats his coalition has won. After the president's selection, the prime minister has forty-five days to form a government. In the May 1996 elections, Israelis, for the first time, voted for the prime minister directly, but direct election has since been repealed and the former system re-enacted. The members of the cabinet must be collectively approved by the Knesset. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (from the Likud party) was first elected 17 February 2001, and re-elected 28 January 2003, forming a coalition government with Shinui, National Union, and the Mafdal (National Religious Party). In addition, Yisrael Ba-Aliya dissolved itself into Likud. All three parties later left the coalition, and the current coalition government is composed of the Likud, the Labour Party, and United Torah Judaism.


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 its 4-year term. 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. There are no separate districts; all voters vote on the same party lists. Suffrage is universal among Israeli citizens aged 18 years or older. Polling locations are open throughout Israel ; absentee ballots are limited to diplomatic staff and the merchant marine. The electoral system 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 coalitions of parties, based on negotiations which take place after the elections.


The independent judicial system includes secular and religious courts. The secular courts consist of a three-tier system: Magistrate Courts serve as courts of first instance; above them are the District Courts which serve as appelate courts and also serve as courts of first instance for some cases; at the top of the judicial pyramid is the Supreme Court, which is situated in Jerusalem. The religious authorities, which were under control of the Religious Affairs ministry, which have since been abolished, and put under the direct control of the Prime minister's office and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. These courts only have judicial distiction in five areas: Kashrut, Sabbath, Jewish burial and 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. This is known as the religious status quo, achieved by David Ben-Gurion with the religious parties at the time of the declaration of independence in 1948, which is still mostly held today, under which streets of Haredi neighborhoods are closed to traffic on the Sabbath, there is no public transport on that day, and most businesses are closed. Restaurants who wish to advertise themselves as kosher must be certified by the Chief Rabbinate. Importation of non-kosher foods is prohibited, but there are a few local pork Farms in kibbutzim, catering for establishments selling "White Meat" (the Israeli euphemism for pork, forbidden under kashrut laws), due to its relatively popular demand among specific population sectors (especially after the waves of Russian immigration in the 1990s.)

The other major religions in Israel, such as Islam and Christianity are supervised by their own official religious establishments, which have similar jurdistiction over their followers, although Muslim religious courts have more control over family affairs. This is an agreement reached with the British Mandatory Authorities under the Mandate.

The Ministry of Education manages the secular (largest) and religious streams of various faiths in parallel, with a limited degree independence and a common core Curriculum.

Nevertheless, some breaches of the status quo have become prevalent, such as several suburbian malls remaining open during the Sabbath. Though this is contrary to the law, the Government largely turns a blind eye. Currently, there is an ongoing discussion on the relationship between Judaism and state, and these issues do not seem to be resolved any time soon.

Origins of Israeli law

Israeli law is composed of both laws enacted by the Knesset and of Ordinances which were enacted by the British Mandate rule (until 1948) and later adopted and revised by the Knesset. Israel's legal system is best described as a "mixed" one: it belongs to the western legal tradition, it is heavily influenced by the Anglo-American legal system, has some aspects which are typical to the Civil Law tradition, and has unique characterisitics which are induced from the fact that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. The courts' right of judicial review of the Knesset's legislation comes into effect in cases of non-conformance of legislation to the Basic Laws, in problems of execution of laws and when the validity of subsidiary legislation is in question. In December 1985, Israel informed the UN Secretariat that it would no longer accept compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.

In recent years, perceived frustration among some members of the secular sector with the status quo has strengthened parties such as Shinui, which advocate separation of religion from the state, without much success so far. Although there is support for the enactment of civilian marriage (not requiring religious affilation), there is little agreement on its implementation. There is fear that civil marriage will divide the Jewish people in Israel between those who can marry Jews and those who cant. Because of the wide religious and cultural disagreements, among fears about the character of the Jewish state, this complex issue will most likely be alive in the near future until the internal character of Israel is determined (see Political conditions, below). Currently, civilian marriages officially sanctioned if performed abroad. Local marriage licenses must declare to be Jewish, Muslim, Christian or any of the other officially recognized religions.

Israel has no formal constitution. Some of the functions of a constitution are filled by the Declaration of Independence (1948), the Basic Laws of the parliament (Knesset), and the Israeli citizenship law.

Israel is divided into six districts (mehozot, singular - mahoz): 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 disputed territories.

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, Labour Zionism, Revisionist Zionism and Religious Zionism (although there are several non Zionist Orthodox religious parties, as well as anti-Zionist Israeli Arab parties).

From the founding of Israel in 1948 until the election of May 1977, Israel was ruled by successive coalition governments led by the Labour 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.

Recent Prime Ministers and governments

Begin and Shamir

As head of Likud, Menachem Begin became Prime Minister. He remained Prime Minister through the succeeding election in June 1981, until his resignation in the summer of 1983, when he was succeeded by his Foreign Minister, Yitzhak Shamir. After losing a Knesset vote of confidence early in 1984, Shamir was forced to call for new elections, held in July of that year.

The vote was split among numerous parties and provided no clear winner leaving both Labour and Likud considerably short of a Knesset majority. Neither Labour nor Likud was able to gain enough support from the small parties to form even a narrow coalition. After several weeks of difficult negotiations, they agreed on a broadly based government of national unity. The agreement provided for the rotation of the office of prime minister and the combined office of vice prime minister and foreign minister midway through the government's 50-month term.

Peres and Shamir

During the first 25 months of unity government rule, Labour's Shimon Peres served as prime minister, while Likud's Yitzhak Shamir held the posts of vice prime minister and foreign minister. Peres and Shamir switched positions in October 1986. The November 1988 elections resulted in a similar coalition government. Likud edged Labour out by one seat but was unable to form a coalition with the religious and right-wing parties. Likud and Labour formed another national unity government in January 1989 without providing for rotation. Yitzhak Shamir became Prime Minister, and Shimon Peres became Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

The formation of the Labour-Likud coalition in 1984 resulted in the Mapam party leaving the Labour Alignment to join other members of the Israeli peace camp in forming the left wing Meretz party.

The national unity government fell in March 1990, in a vote of no-confidence precipitated by disagreement over the government's response to U.S. Secretary of State Baker's initiative in the Oslo Accords.


Labour Party leader Peres was unable to attract sufficient support among the religious parties to form a government. Yitzhak Shamir then formed a Likud-led coalition government including members from religious and right-wing parties.

Shamir's government took office in June 1990, and held power for 2 years.


In the June 1992 national elections, the Labour Party reversed its electoral fortunes, taking 44 seats. Labour Party leader Yitzhak Rabin formed a coalition with Meretz (a group of three centre-left parties) and Shas (an ultra-Orthodox religious party). The coalition included the support of Arab and communist parties. Rabin became Prime Minister in July 1992. Shas subsequently left the coalition, leaving Rabin with a minority government dependent on the votes of Arab and communist parties in the Knesset.

Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish radical on November 4, 1995, after the passage of the controversial Oslo Accords. Peres, then Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, once again became Prime Minister and immediately proceeded to carry forward the policies of Yitzhak Rabin, as well as the economic liberalization policies, of the Rabin government and to implement Israel's Oslo commitments (including military redeployment in the West Bank and the holding of historic Palestinian elections on January 20, 1996).

Peres, again

Enjoying broad public support and anxious to secure his own mandate, Peres called for early elections after just 3 months in office. (They would have otherwise been held by the end of October 1996.) In late February and early March, a series of suicide bombing attacks by Palestinian terrorists took some 60 Israeli lives, seriously eroding public support for Peres and raising concerns about the Oslo Accords. Increased fighting in southern Lebanon, which also brought Katyusha rocket attacks against northern Israel, raised tensions and weakened the government politically just a month before the 29 May elections. This was further exacerbated, despite the sharp increase in economic growth rates.


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 Tsomet and Gesher parties in a single list; three religious parties (Shas, the National Religious Party (Mafdal), and the United Torah Judaism bloc); and two centrist parties, The Third Way and Yisrael b'Aliyah. The latter is the first significant party formed expressly to represent the interests of Israel's new 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.


In 27 May 1999, Ehud Barak from the Labour party was elected Prime minister, and formed a coalition with the center party (a new party with centrist views, led by former generals Yitzhak Mordechay and Amnon Lipkin Shachak), the left-wing Meretz, Yisrael b'Aliyah, 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 Labour and the center party alone. Barak was forced to call for early elections.


The 17 February 2001 elections resulted in a new "national unity" coalition government, led by Ariel Sharon of Likud, and including the Labour Party. This government fell when Labour pulled out, and elections held 28 January 2003, resulted in the following party structures:

Percentages of votes per party

Party (translation in quotes, party leader in parentheses) - percent of vote by party -

Yisra'el Ba'Aliya dissolved into Likud shortly after the elections.
Meretz became Yachad in 2004, and Yosi Beilin became its leader.
Amram Mitsna resigned from his post as leader of the labour party, and Shimon Peres became (once again) its leader.

14 parties didn't pass the qualifying threshold of 1.5%. These parties got 4.0% of votes in total. (For a complete list of political parties, see list of political parties in Israel. Information on past elections can be found at the archive.)

Following these elections, Sharon formed a right-wing government, consisting of the Likud, Shinui, the National Religious Party and the National Union. The coalition was based on resuming security to Israel through fighting against terror, and on fighting the economical depression. However, when Sharon decided on his 2004 disengagement plan, which included evacuation of Israeli settlements in the disputed territories, 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 join the Labour Party to the coalition. However, since not all Likud Knesset memebers support Sharon's disengagement plan, he does not currently have a clear majority in the Knesset.

Political pressure groups and leaders

Political right

On the political right:

Political left

On the political left:

  • the self identified Israeli "Peace Camp" is a coalition of parties and non-paralaimental groups which desire to promote their version of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict through a "land for peace" program. One of its major groups is Peace Now (see below).
  • Peace Now supports territorial concessions in the West Bank and was critical of government's policy in the Lebanon Civil War and military control of 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. These initiatives have little validity with the Israeli public.
  • Histadrut ("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 Amir Peretz, head of the socialist Am Ehad party (which eventually merged into the Labor in 2004).
  • Several radical left-wing organizations calling soldiers to refuse service in the West Bank and Gaza; the best known are HaOmetz LeSarev ("Courage to Refuse") and Yesh Gvul. They effect is little since they are shuned by the majority of the public, and only anti-Israeli parties agree to have contacts with them.

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 stablishment of a national task force to research the problem and formulate a long-range 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, fringe Haredi group that rejects Israel and refrains from taking part in elections. They have very tiny effect on the Israeli politics.
  • The Monitor Committee of Israeli Arabs: an Arab group, claiming to represent the interests of the Arab minority in Israel, tend to be seperatists and hence percieved as hostile by the Jewish majority and have little influence in politics.

Political issues

Major issues in Israeli political life include:

Country name

Conventional long form: State of Israel
Conventional short form: Israel
Local long form: Medinat Yisra'el (Hebrew: מדינת ישראל)
Local short form: Yisra'el (Hebrew: ישראל)

Data code

  • IS


note: Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950, but most countries maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv.

National holiday

Independence Day is known as Yom Ha'atzma'ut, 14 May 1948; note -Israel declared independence on 14 May 1948, but the Jewish calendar is lunar and the holiday may occur in April or May. Its Hebrew date is 5 Iyar.

International organization participation

BSEC (observer), CCC, CE (observer), CERN (observer), EBRD, ECE, FAO, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, IDA, IFAD, IFC, ILO, IMF, International Maritime Organization, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, OAS (observer), OPCW, OSCE (partner), PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UPU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO.

Flag description

Flag of Israel
Flag of Israel

White with a blue hexagram (six-pointed linear star) known as the Magen David (Star of David) centered between two equal horizontal blue bands near the top and bottom edges of the flag.

Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy and treaties

See also

he:פוליטיקה של ישראל pl:Ustrj polityczny Izraela pt:Poltica de Israel sv:Israels politik


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