Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the Knesset?
A: The Knesset, is Israel's parliament. It is a uni-cameral body (meaning it has one house, not two like the US). The word 'Knesset' means assembly and is based on the historic Great Knesset which convened in Jerusalem after the return of Jews to Eretz Yisrael from the Babylonian exile in the Fifth Century BCE.
Q: How many seats are in the Knesset?
A: There are 120 seats in the Knesset. The number of Knesset Members was also determined on the basis of the number of members of the Great Knesset.
Q: Who has the right to vote in Israel?
A: All citizens of the State of Israel, regardless of religion, place of birth, gender, race, etc. are eligible to vote in Israeli elections.
Q: What is a coalition?
A: In the history of Israel, there has never been one party which received a enough seats (61) to govern by itself. Thus the leader of the party which received that largest number of mandates is charged by the President of Israel with forming a government which is made up of a coalition of parties which agree to join the largest party in governing.
Q: How often are elections held in Israel?
A: Elections are held every four years in Israel. However, due to the intricacies of the political system, elections are often held early (as is the case with the current elections). According to the Basic Law, early elections can be called through any of four different mechanisms: 1) the Prime Minister can decide to dissolve the Knesset, 2) the Knesset can decide to dissolve itself before its term is completed, 3) the Knesset passes a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister, and 4) the Knesset fails to pass the budget law within three months of the beginning of the financial year.
Q: What is 'proportional representation'?
A: Israel's electoral system is based on nation wide proportional representation. In other words, the number of seats that each party receives in the Knesset - Israel's legislative body - is proportional to the number of votes it received. Unlike in the United States where voters elect an individual who represents a specific geographic area, Israelis vote for a specific party list which has no geographical base.
Q: Do Israelis vote for the Prime Minister and a Party?
A: In short, the answer is 'No'. Israelis vote for a party, headed by the Chairman/Leader of the party. After the elections, the President asks the leader of the largest party to form a government and this individual then becomes Prime Minister. Direct elections for Prime Minister were held 1996, 1999 and again in 2001. However, for various technical reasons, the ability to vote both for an individual and a party led to rapid expansion in the number of small parties elected to the Knesset which made the government less stable. After the 2001 elections, the Knesset passed a law abolishing direct elections for Prime Minister.
Q: Are there term limits in Israel?
A: No, there are no term limits in Israel. Party members are elected or appointed to their party's Knesset list and are not limited in the number of Knesset terms they may serve. Since the Prime Minister is not directly elected, but is the head of his/her party, they can serve multiple terms as long as they remain the head of their party and the party forms the government.
Q: Why does the government of Israel fall so regularly?
A: Parliamentary systems of government, by nature, are not as stable as other forms of democratic governments. The coming elections will bring to power the 31st government in the history of Israel. In a similar time span Italy and Japan, which have similar parliamentary systems, have both had a similar number of governments. The ruling/large party(s) are dependent on the cooperation of smaller parties to form a coalition, which leads to instability as these smaller parties can leave the coalition at any time which often leads to the fall of the government.
Q: Why does Israel have a President and a Prime Minister?
A: Israel's President is a largely ceremonial job, with the bulk of power lying in the hands of the Prime Minister. The President is the official head of state who is elected by the Knesset whose roles include: signing laws, chooses the member of Knesset to form the government, confirms diplomats, signs Knesset approved treaties, appoints judges and the governor of the Bank of Israel (as well as other bureaucrats). The Prime Minister, who is elected as a Member of Knesset through general elections is responsible for the official running of the country, a role similar to that of other heads of State in the West.
Q: How many votes must a party receive to get into the Knesset?
A: The current threshold for election into the Knesset is 2.0% of the total votes cast (currently the equivalent of approximately 80,000 votes).