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It may be easy for us to think that we know about the Israeli Political System. It began after the Partition Plan Resolution presented in the United Nations in 1947. We read and hear about it in the headlines, Israeli and American officials meet each other often. AND it’s a democracy, so how hard can be to understand? However, the fact is that there are some major differences that separate the Israeli political system from the American one. So what are those differences? How can we use the understanding of both systems to improve international relations? What Do You Know About Israeli Politics?

Knesset What Do You Know About Israeli Politics?
The Knesset, or Parliment, building. (צבי טובריוס קלר.מתוך אתר פיקיוויקי).

So let’s start from the beginning.

There are three parts of the Israeli government: the judicial branch, the executive branch, and the legislative branch. This seems to be similar to the United States.


How does the legislative branch work?

There are 120 members of the Israeli Parliament. How many members of different parties are based in elections but they can span from Meretz to Shas. Unlike the United States which has both the House of the Representatives and the Senate, Israel only has this one body within the legislative branch. It is here that laws are proposed, fine-tuned, and passed.   Any law must be passed by sixty-one members of Knesset. While Governmental Ministers do not have to be part of the Knesset, most of the time they are.

Moshe-Sneh-at-the-Knesset What Do You Know About Israeli Politics?
Moshe Sneh, former Israeli politician, speaking to the Knesset. (לשכת העיתונות הממשלתית. אתר פיקיוויקי).

How does the executive branch work?

The man, or woman, who makes up the Israeli executive branch is the Prime Minister. Currently the Israeli Prime Minister is Mr. Binyamin (Bibi) Netenyahu. The prime minister is in charge of leading the government through laws, reforms, and governmental functions. Most of the time, they are the head of the party which received the most votes during elections. While there are many well- known Israeli politicians who appear in American headlines, the Israeli Prime Minister is probably the most known Israeli politicians.

Finally, how does the judicial branch work?

There are three major levels of the judicial branch in Israel: The Magistrate Court, the District Court, and the Supreme Court. Labor Courts are a specialized court with a special judge and then two more judge from each side. The Magistrate Court is home to the court of transportation and small claims court. While land ownership issues are not presented to in magistrate court, the position of land is presented here.

The District Court can be the first court to deal with issues that are not in the power of other courts. For example, if the Magistrate Court can only deal a punishment of up to seven years, the District Court can deal a punishment up to ten years.

The Supreme Court has two capacities: the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Justice. In the Court of Appeal, there are three judges presiding. After an additional appeal will get more judges, but there will always be an odd number of judges.

Juries do not exist in Israel because it didn’t occur during the British Mandate. The custom carried over when Israel became an independent state in 1948.


Where does the president fit into all of this?

The Israeli President is a symbolic figure, and is supposed to be political in his professional work. They have several roles they take on. The President can pardon people convicted of crimes if it is approved by the Minister of Justice or the Minister of Defense. The President appoints judges based on recommendations of a committee of nine people. In addition, the President has to accept new charters from new ambassadors from countries around the world. The second President of Israel, Yitzchak Ben Zvi, started a tradition of opening the Presidential House during the holiday of Sukkot. It still happens today.

Why do we need an Israeli President if it costs so much to pay and house the President? It is nice to have a leader who is not so entangled onto the politics, laws, etc. Israel’s President is Mr. Reuven Rivlin.


What about elections?

Elections occur in Israel every four years. Before Election Day, political parties have inside votes to rank the politician parties. Elections is a national holiday, so that everyone can get out and vote. Many voting booths are usually set up at schools with slips of paper with the names of political parties written on them. The voter picks the party they want, put it in an envelope, and then put it in a box for later counting. The more votes a party gets, the more seats they gain in the Knesset. The leader of the party winning the most votes is given a twenty-one period to form a coalition.

elections What Do You Know About Israeli Politics?
President Rivlin voting in elections. (דוברות בית הנשיא הצלם: מארק ניימן. מתוך אתר פיקיוויקי).

If they succeed, Israel has a new Knesset. If not, they are given a second chance before the opportunity moves onto the second most popular party.


Why do I care? What Do You Really Know About the Israeli Political System?

This is a valid question. But to begin, with this understanding, we cannot deny that Israel is a thriving democracy. From this point forward, if you ever hear someone say otherwise, you can explain how it is a democracy. Furthermore, now that we understand how the Israeli political system work we can better understand what happens today in our headlines. The next time Bibi Netenyahu, Tzipi Livni, or any of the other Israeli politicians say something, we can let this information further enlighten us about the event.


So let the deeper understanding begin!




Samantha Ben Avraham
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Samantha is a private tour guide in Israel. Her passion is to bring Israel to you on a personal and interesting level. From guiding University groups to Birthright trips to private family tours, Samantha brings Israel to you!

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