Israel Political System
Short for IL by Abbreviationfinder, Israel is a parliamentary democracy. Two major parties – the Labor Party (left) and Likud (right) – dominated politics until 2005. Since then, the political landscape has moved sharply to the right. Likud stands strong, but not dominant on its own. In the center there is a fragmented collection of parties and the left parties have gone backwards. Religious parties play an active role.
There is no constitution, but the activities of the state institutions are regulated in a number of so-called basic laws . The Return Act was adopted in 1950 and the Citizenship Act 1952. The first gives all Jews in the world the right to immigrate, the second guarantees citizenship for immigrant Jews. A new law was added to the assembly when the parliament in 2018 adopted the so-called National State Law which establishes the exclusive Jewish character of the state (see Current policy).
- Countryaah: Total population and chart of Israel for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024. Also covers population density, birth rate, death rate and population growth rates.
Parliament, the Knesset, consists of a chamber of 120 members who are elected in general elections every four years. The Prime Minister has the right to announce new elections at any time. The whole country constitutes a constituency. The voting age is 18 years. In Parliament, legislative proposals are adopted after three votes.
The President of Israel, who mainly has representative duties, is elected by the Knesset for a period of five years and can be re-elected.
With short-term exceptions, all governments have been coalitions. The parliamentary blockade was long just 2 percent of the vote and even very small parties could have a role as the tongue on the scales. In 2014, the threshold for entering Parliament was raised to 3.25 percent.
All governments have been led by the Labor Party or the Likud Right Party except for the period 2006-2008, when the center party Kadima sat at the helm. On several occasions, the two dominant parties have simultaneously joined broad coalitions.
The Labor Party (Labor) was formed in 1930 under the name Mapai. The party was founded on socialist and secular ideals and gained followers in the trade union movement, on the kibbutz (see Older History) and among the intellectuals. The party is dominated by Ashkenazis, Jews originating in Europe. Historically, the party has also been supported by many Arabs. In all elections up to 1969, the party received at least half the votes. But when the 1990s peace process went unnoticed (see Modern History), many voters turned their disappointment to the Labor Party, which saw its influence diminish. Three new elections in 2019 and 2020 confirmed the party’s sharp decline.
Israel gained a strong right-wing party only in 1973, when Likud (which means consolidation) was formed. The party, which formed government after the 1977 elections, combines market economy with a hard-line approach to security policy issues. Many Jews who immigrated from countries in Israel’s neighborhood vote for Likud.
When Likud’s then leader Ariel Sharon pushed for Israel to leave Gaza in 2005 (see Modern History), this opened a deep crack in the party. In the fall of 2005, Sharon and other party members left Likud to form the “nationally liberal” middle party Kadima (Forward) that wanted to secure a Jewish majority in Israel in exchange for land resignations to the Palestinians. Kadima became the biggest party in the 2006 and 2009 elections but then lost ground and is now dissolved. An exchange group from Kadima formed the middle party Hatnua (Movement) in 2012 , led by Tzipi Livni, who worked for a peace settlement with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution. Prior to the 2015 election, the Labor Party and Hatnua collaborated in an alliance called the Zionist Union . In 2019, Livni, who was, among others, Foreign Minister, chose to leave politics because Hatnua failed to form a new middle alliance for the next election and did not appear to be able to pass the threshold to Parliament on his own.
Likud has held power since 2009. Likud’s allies have used the nationalist, secular right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is our home), but the party’s secular ideal is difficult to digest for the religious parties on which Likud has also had to build its government holding. Yisrael Beiteinu is supported by many Russian immigrants. Party leader Avigdor Lieberman believes that areas in Israel where Arabs are in the majority should be transferred to a Palestinian state, against Israel taking over parts of the West Bank.
Likud has also collaborated with the settler party Beit Yehudi (Jewish home), which rejects all thoughts of a Palestinian state and wants to annex most of the West Bank. In 2019, the Jewish Home formed an alliance, the United Right (Yhud Miflagot haYamin), with the religious Zionist parties Otzma Yehudit (see Calendar) and Tkuma. The alliance, usually called Yamina, succeeded in gaining a seat in 2020 as well. Likud’s traditional support troops also include the ultra-Orthodox parties (see below).
Ahead of the April 2019 election, both former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and former Army Chief Benny Gantz emerged with new parties. Yaalon’s party was named Telem, Tnua Leumit Mamlachtit (National Statesman Movement). The war hero Moshe Dayan ran a party with that name for a period in the 1980s. Gantz called his party Hosen L’Israel (about Israel’s resilience). It all developed quickly into the alliance Kahol lava (Blue and white), when even the middle party Yesh Atid(There is a future) joined. Yesh Atid was founded in 2012 by a well-known TV profile, Yair Lapid. Blue and white made an almost sensational choice, much because the alliance managed to gather voters who were dissatisfied with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The three new elections in 2019 and 2020 showed that Blue and White drew on the political landscape: as the main alternative to the right-wing Likud’s power holding no longer stood the left, but a middle block led by Blue and white. But the ability to cooperate within the Netanyahu-critical alliance crackled, and when Gantz declared after the 2020 election that he was, after all, ready for a unity government with Netanyahu as head of government left both the Telem and the Yesh Atid alliance. (In the kness, it quickly gave rise to changes compared to the election result, when the Alliance’s 33 mandates were split into three parts:
The center-right party Kulanu (We all) has also been counted for the middle parties . It was founded prior to the 2015 election by a popular former Likud minister and has been in Likud since 2019.
The left-wing party Meretz (Kraft), which has strong ties to the peace movement Peace Now, was Israel’s third largest party in the early 1990s. It has declined, but it is above all the Labor Party, which drove the peace process in the 1990s, which has lost confidence in the electorate. The unified left (Labor Party, Gesher and Meretz) did not even reach a quarter as many mandates as Likud in the 2020 election.
The ultra-Orthodox parties have had a greater influence than what has corresponded to their share of the electorate. Voter turnout is high among ultra-Orthodox, and their rabbis often dictate how to vote. The largest ultra-Orthodox party, Shas, has been a member of several governments and represents Sephardic Jews (from North Africa and the Middle East). Shas has labeled itself as non-Zionist – the ultra-Orthodox have not driven political demands to establish and expand an Israeli state. The same applies to the Ashkenazi counterpart of the party, the United Torah Party. Shas and the Torah Party guard the privileges of ultra-Orthodox but have been pragmatic on other issues.
The Arabs of Israel are at times divided. Most previously voted on the Labor Party, some on Meretz. Later, many have given their vote to small Arab parties, but when the threshold for getting a seat in the kness was raised, it became more difficult for Arab parties to enter parliament. In 2015, they chose to collaborate in the United List, which resulted in higher Arab voter turnout than before and 13 out of 120 seats. Prior to the new elections in April 2019, the collaboration exploded and their constituents were presented with the perspective “more alternatives, but less power”. The United list was split into two alliances: in one former communist – and Arab-Jewish – Hadash along with Taal, the Arab Movement for Change, in the other religious Raam, the United Arab List, together with secular nationalist Balad. 2019 – after the passing of the National State Act – Arab turnout dropped dramatically, but until the next new election, as early as September, the United list resurfaced. Voter turnout increased again and the list was mandated to be the third largest force in the kness. Prior to the new elections in 2020, cooperation continued, which also produced a similar result.
Outside the system
An organization that has an important role in the state of Israel lacks equivalents in other countries: the Jewish Agency. It is a government belonging to the World Zionist Organization. In Israel, it is responsible for the reception of immigrant people. Goals driven in the political world make an impression even within the Jewish Agency, and vice versa. In 2018, opposition leader Isaac Herzog was elected chief, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu striving to get one of his ministers elected.
The democratic rights of residents in occupied areas are of particular interest. The population does not, of course, receive citizenship even at the Golan Heights and in East Jerusalem where Israeli law has been introduced.
In the 2018 municipal elections, the Drusians at the Golan Heights got to vote for the first time since Drusian representatives turned to Israel’s highest court. The local government had been appointed by Israel before. But the request was not uncontested among the drusts and boycott calls were the result. Critics believe that the voting rights they have been granted legitimize the occupation. Only people who have Israeli citizenship are allowed to run for office.
In East Jerusalem, the Arab population has the right to vote in municipal elections, but even there, boycotts have been banned in protest against the occupation. Ahead of the 2018 municipal elections – after over 50 years of occupation without the hailing Palestinian state becoming a reality – growing interest was noted in Jerusalem’s electorate for participating, but most nevertheless refrained from going to the polls.