So the Israeli elections are almost upon us, and I was tasked with simplifying the process to understand what is going on.
Let's start from the basics
In Israel, elections for the Knesset are held, at most, every four years. However, disagreements between coalition partners often trigger early elections, as in this present case.
Once the Knesset is dissolved and a voting date is declared, there is usually a 3-4 months campaigning period.
How does the Israeli Knesset work?
Israel is a parliamentary democracy, therefore in Israel the people elect the 120 members of Knesset (the Israeli parliament). In turn, the Knesset elects a government, headed by a prime minister, from among its 120 members. The government is usually made up of a coalition of parties that together hold the majority of seats in the Knesset.
The Israeli system is thus heavily centered on political parties, which play a critical and central role in the process.
All parties must register themselves and submit a list of their proposed candidates, in order of preference (typically numbered from 1 to 120). First on the list will be the party leader (i.e., usually the prime minister candidate), followed by a list, in descending order, of the party’s preferred candidates. Once the lists are submitted, these cannot be changed or rearranged in any way.
To discourage small parties and limit the disproportional influence they can wield in Israel’s parliamentary system, votes for any party that does not win at least 3.25% of the total (4 seats) are completely discarded and that party will not receive any seats. This “electoral threshold,” is the reason that many parties merge before the elections, as voters are reluctant to “throw away” their vote by supporting a party that will not make it past 3.25%. (Remember this part, it's going to play a big role in the upcoming elections)
On Election Day, voters do not vote for individuals or candidates, nor do they vote according to the area or district where they live. Instead, every citizen in the country is given the same option: to select one political party. This is a critical point: Israeli voters make one choice only: Which party they want to vote for.
Once the votes are counted, the submitted lists of candidates choose who enters the Knesset. So, a party that receives 10 seats will send to the Knesset the top 10 people listed on their pre-submitted list. Should a member of Knesset resign or pass away during the Knesset’s term, then the next person on the list takes their place.
It is now clear exactly who the new 120 members of Knesset will be.
By law, after the votes are counted, the heads of each party are summoned to meet with the President, who asks them who they prefer to see as prime minister. Once all parties have been consulted, the President then decides who they believe has the best chance of securing the support of a majority of Knesset members. That potential prime minister then has 45 days to try to form a government
In Israel’s entire history no single party has ever won a majority of Knesset seats. Therefore, coalitions between multiple parties have to be formed in order to govern. Many parties declare their allegiances prior to elections, often announcing who they prefer to see as prime minister among the larger parties; so once final results are out, it can sometimes be clear who is likely to emerge at the head of a governing coalition.
“Forming a government” involves conducting negotiations with other parties in an attempt to strike a deal. Smaller parties will make certain demands in return for joining a coalition. These demands will usually include a certain number of ministerial and other positions, plus a commitment to certain policies and directions. Once finalised, agreements to join a coalition need to be made in writing, and must be made public (available on the Knesset website).
The Knesset needs to confirm the coalition in an investiture vote – essentially the opposite of a no-confidence motion. Then the prime minister and the new government (after this election Israel's 35th) will be sworn into office.
The new prime minister remains in power until they no longer have the support of the majority of the Knesset, at which point either a new coalition is formed or new elections are called.
You can watch a video summarising the Knesset and the electoral system here!
Aaron Benderski, JAFI Shaliach to UJS
Adapted from the Jewish federation of North America
For more information: