Israel Election Process: a basic overview

Israel is a parliamentary democracy; thus, the Prime Minister is the leader (number one on the list) of the party that formed the government (coalition). How do we get there?

There are 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset. Filling these seats are candidates from multiple parties representing a wide range of different platforms and constituencies, such as Religious-Zionist, Arab Nationalist, Labor, Communist, and many others.

In Israel, you vote for parties, not specific people. Since there are 120 seats available, each party must submit a list of 120 potential candidates; thus, you know which candidates each party will potentially put in the Knesset. The candidates selected to fill the list are either selected by a primary that each party holds, or they are selected by the party elite. Of course, a party will not get 120 seats, so the names toward the end of the list are of little significance. For example, if a party receives 30 seats, then the top 30 people on their list will be in the Knesset, and the last 90 will not.

Israelis then go and vote for these parties with their given candidate lists. The number of seats that a certain party gets is dependent on the percentage of votes that they get. A party must get at least 3.25% of the total votes (which equals four seats) to be let into the Knesset. Thus, parties have to reach this “threshold” of 3.25% of votes/four seats, or they are not allowed into the Knesset.

Here is where it gets interesting. It is not just enough to win the most seats. A party must also be able to form a coalition (61 seats total) in order to lead the government. To form a coalition, the party that wins tries to join with other parties to reach the threshold of 61 seats. The party that wins the most seats in the election gets the first crack at forming the coalition, however, if they are unable to form a coalition (which happened in 2009 with Tzipi Livni), then the party with the next most votes gets to try and form a coalition. It all comes down to whether certain parties are willing to be in a coalition with other parties. For example, a Jewish religious party may not want to be in a coalition with another party that supports public transportation on Shabbat.

So, let the games begin…

About the Author
Ezra is a recent graduate of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a former Fulbright scholar in Israel. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy with a focus on conflict resolution and mediation at Tel Aviv University. Ezra is the founder of wheredowestand.org, and co-host of the podcast “Israel: Beyond the Headlines with Ezra and Alec."
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