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Israel Politics

State and politics

GOVERNMENT

Political System of Israel PoliticsThe State of Israel received no written constitution in 1948, essentially due to disagreement over the role religion would play in the new Jewish state (see the section Religion above). However, a number of so-called constitutions have been established.

Political power is rooted in Parliament, the Knesset. It is a single-chamber assembly, elected in direct general elections every four years. The Knesset makes laws, which, however, must be formally signed by the Prime Minister and the President. The President is elected by Parliament for a seven-year term. His tasks are essentially representative. The country's government is accountable to the Knesset and Israel consequently has a parliamentary state. The government is headed by a prime minister who must be a member of the Knesset. From 1996 to 2001, the Prime Minister was elected in direct elections. However, this system was abolished in 2001.

Political System of Israel

The selection system is proportional. In the Knesset elections, all of Israel constitutes a single constituency. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how IL can stand for Israel. There is a 3.25 percent barrier to obtaining a mandate. All citizens have the right to vote from the age of 18. Voters only vote on party lists, not people. The Knesset consists of 120 members. The majority of these have so far been men (2019).

The result of Israel's proportional electoral system and the many dividing lines in Israeli politics has become a multi-party system, which is despite the fact that the barrier for small parties in 2014 was raised from 2 percent to 3.25 percent.

Party political fragmentation has led to difficulties in forming governments with majority support. All of Israel's governments have been coalition governments consisting of about 5-7 parties. A few times, Israel has had unifying governments consisting of the largest parties (especially with the Labor Party and Likud). The proportional electoral system with many parties and coalition governments has meant that the Israeli governments rarely rule out the term of office. Instead, new elections are often announced before the end of the term of office.

PARTY SYSTEM

Israel's dominant political party in 1948-77 was the Socialist Workers Party of Israel (32-38 percent in the 1949-65 elections), formed as early as 1930 in Mapai.

During this period, the Labor Party, in close alliance with the trade union movement Histadrut, held an almost hegemonic position in Israeli politics. Its support party on the left was the Marxist United Workers' Party (Mapam). However, in order to form a majority government, the Labor Party must always have at least one coalition partner, which has almost always been the National Religious Party (NRP or Mafdal). The Labor Party voters are recruited primarily from Israel's "European" Jews, the Ashkenazi.

Israel's political right wing was weak at the formation of the state in 1948. The right-wing nationalist Herut ('Freedom') had its roots in the Revisionist movement of 1925 and in Irgun Zvai Leumi. The party advocated a greater role for private enterprise as well as a Greater Israel on both sides of the Jordan River. In Israel's first elections in 1949, Herut received only 11.5 percent of the vote, corresponding to 14 seats in the Knesset. In 1965 the party merged with the Liberals and in 1973 with two more small parties to the Likud alliance ("Collection", "Confederation"). The 1977 election was sensationally won by Likud, who has since been most often the government-bearing party with Menachem Begin (1977-83), Yitzhak Shamir (1983-84 and 1986-92), Benjamin Netanyahu (1996-99 and since 2009), and Ariel Sharon (2001-05) as Prime Ministers. Among Likud's voters, the "Oriental" Jews dominate the Mizrahs, Jews with the roots in the Middle East.

Likud was also forced to form coalition governments to govern. In the years 1984-90 and 2001-02 this was done through a large national unity government with the Labor Party. Since 2001, Likud's coalition partners have been found mainly among parties to the right of Likud as well as religious parties.

The right-wing party Yisrael Beitenu ("Our Israel"), formed by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, became the third largest party in the Knesset in 2009 with 15 seats in the Knesset, that is 12 percent of the electorate behind it. Also in the 2013 election, Yisrael Beitenu received a large number of votes and party leader Avigdor Lieberman (born 1958) became Foreign Minister in the coalition government that was appointed.

Since the establishment of Israel, religious parties have taken 9-17 percent of the vote in the elections. This has usually given them the positions of wave masters. Consequently, the religious parties have been indispensable in the formation of the government (apart from the unifying government 1984-90), which has given the religious parties a disproportionate influence on Israeli politics.

The religious parties consist of both ultra-Orthodox parties and nationalist religious parties such as the NRP (since 2008 Habayit Hayehudi, 'The Jewish Home') with support for the settler movement. The ultra-Orthodox parties have a fundamentally anti-Zionist stance and have historically had a limited interest in participating in Israeli politics. In 1984, however, the ultra-Orthodox Mizrachis formed the party Shas who chose to take a somewhat different stance. The party received 10 seats in the 1996 election and Shas has since been a member of most coalition governments.

Israeli Arab citizens (Palestinians, Drusters, Bedouins, Cherks) have full civil rights. They distribute their votes to many different Arab parties. These parties usually receive about 10 percent of the vote, which has resulted in a maximum of 14 seats in the Knesset (after the 2015 election). In the September 2019 elections, the Arab parties merged into a joint party list (Collected list) and received 13 seats. No Arab parties have so far sat in the Israeli governments.

Quite a large part of the Arab vote has historically gone to Israel's leftist parties, especially Hadash and Meretz. These have undergone several divisions and received 3-6 percent of the vote in elections. In the September 2019 elections, Meretz and a newly formed party led by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (then the Labor Party) merged into a party list called the Democratic Union which received 5 seats. Hadash joined the September 2019 general election.

In the national elections since 1996, the dominance of the Workers' Party and Likud has been reduced to the benefit of small parties representing different special interests. However, the 2015 election marked a trend break when the Zionist Union (the alliance between the Labor Party and Hatnuah) received 24 seats, while Likud received 30 seats in the Knesset. The largest party in the 2006 and 2009 elections was as late as the autumn of 2005, the party formed Kadima ('Forward'), but in the 2013 election, the party lost almost all of its voter support and ended on 2 terms, corresponding to 2 percent of voter support. Kadima was founded by Ariel Sharon and was supposed to capture voters in the middle of the political field.

Ahead of the 2013 election, the center party Yesh Atid ('There is a future') was formed, which became the second largest with 19 seats. The party has a strong secular party agenda. In the 2015 election, the party received 11 seats. Prior to the 2019 election, Yesh Atid was part of the newly formed Kachol Lavan (under the leadership of Benny Gantz, born 1959).

Policy

After the 2013 elections, Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) formed a coalition government together with Yisrael Beitenu, Yesh Atid, Hatnuah ('The Movement', party formed from Kadima) and Habayit Hayehudi. Yesh Atid and Hatnuah left the government in 2014 after Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) were forced to resign after disagreement with Netanyahu partly on economic policy and partly on a new law establishing Israel as a Jewish state, the so-called called the National State Act.

The government crisis led to a new election in 2015, in which Likud made an unexpectedly strong result and became the largest party. The Zionist Union, a Alliance between the Labor Party and Hatnuah, received 24 seats. The newly formed Kulanu middle party received 10 seats in the Knesset, corresponding to about 7 percent. Netanyahu (Likud) again formed government, this time together with right-wing extremists and religious-nationalist parties, as well as Kulanu. The government thus became the most religious-nationalist government to date in Israeli politics. The government implemented a series of controversial reforms that strengthened the Jewish and religious character of Israeli society and the state. In July 2018, the National State Act was adopted after a long and upset debate in the Knesset. The law states that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people,

In the April 2019 elections, Likud received 35 seats; just as many received the newly formed party alliance Kachol Lavan (Blue and White) led by former commander Benny Gantz. The situation after the election was locked and in the end it was clear that Netanyahu would not succeed in forming government. One of the main reasons was Avigdor Lieberman's (Yisrael Beitenu) demand for the adoption of a law that requires ultra-Orthodox Jews to do military service. Since the 1950s, ultra-Orthodox Jews have been exempted from compulsory military service in order to devote themselves to religious studies. At the end of May, therefore, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself, after which new elections were announced until September 2019.

In the September 2019 extras, Likud lost a mandate against the newly established coalition Blåvitt (Kachol Lavan) which became the largest party. At the same time, internal criticism of Netanyahu emerged from several leading Likud politicians. When no government could be presented, a new election was announced, the third in the course of a year. In the elections held in March 2020, Netanyahu's Likud became the largest party, but the right wing still did not receive a majority of the votes.

Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership was criticized when in 2019 he was suspected of corruption for the third time. The charges involved several cases of bribery and fraud, including obtaining a more favorable media coverage. Netanyahu tried to negotiate legal immunity in the government negotiations after the September 2019 election, but failed. In March 2020, the trial of Netanyahu begins.

Judiciary

Upon its creation in 1948, Israel inherited a complicated legal system, consisting of rules that had been introduced during the Turkish Empire and during the British term of office, but over the years a large number of these have been replaced by new Israeli legislation. The development of the law has been characterized by a strong Anglo-American influence in terms of both the content of the legal rules (especially in criminal and procedural law) and the structure of the legal sources, where precedents are generally recognized as having binding effect. In the area of family law, however, the various population groups follow their respective religious rules, which are applied by Jewish, Muslim, Druze and various Christian religious courts.

The state court organization consists of petty courts, district courts and a supreme court, to which are a number of special courts, such as municipal courts, rental courts, youth courts, military courts and a labor court. The Supreme Court functions both as an appellate body and as a central court for certain types of cases.

The death penalty was abolished in 1954 for crimes during peacetime but can still be punished under war or warlike conditions. The last execution took place in 1962, when the German SS officer Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death for his war crimes against the Jewish people during the Second World War.

Heads of State

Presidents

1948-52 Chaim Weizmann
1952-63 Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
1963-73 Zalman Shazar
1973-78 Ephraim Katzir
1978-83 Yitzhaq Navon
1983-93 Chaim Duke
1993-2000 Ezer Weizman
2000 Avraham Burg (interim)
2000-07 Moshe Katsav
2007-14 Shimon Peres
2014- Reuven Rivlin

Prime Ministers

1948-53 David Ben-Gurion
1953-55 Moshe Sharett
1955-63 David Ben-Gurion
1963-69 Levi Eshkol
1969-74 Golda Meir
1974-77 Yitzhak Rabin
1977-83 Menachem Begin
1983-84 Yitzhak Shamir
1984-86 Shimon Peres
1986-92 Yitzhak Shamir
1992-95 Yitzhak Rabin
1995-96 Shimon Peres
1996-99 Benjamin Netanyahu
1999-2001 Ehud Barak
2001-06 Ariel Sharon
2006-09 Ehud Olmert
2009- Benjamin Netanyahu
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