Unlike the U.S. electoral system, the Israeli model is both general and proportional.
New elections are called for in Israel for Nov. 1. After a record five national elections in four years, let’s delve into how the Israeli electoral system (over) works.
The system of governance in Israel is a parliamentary democracy, where the prime minister is the head of a multi-party government. The Knesset (parliament) is Israel’s house of representatives, the body with sole legislative power. Israel also has a president, a predominately ceremonial position who is elected by the Knesset for a single seven-year term. The current president is Yitzhak Herzog.
All Israeli citizens over the age of 18, present in Israel on election day, are entitled to vote for a party (not an individual) at the local voting booth. Israelis abroad do not have the option to send in an absentee ballot (with exceptions for diplomats, emissaries, sailors and soldiers). Elections are held every four years unless the government falls. The last election was in March 2021 with a 67% voter turnout.
Unlike the U.S. electoral system, the Israeli model is both general and proportional. It is general in that Israel is one electoral district or single constituency and all votes are counted together. The election is proportionate because a party receives the same percentage of the seats in the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) as their percentage of total votes.
To be represented in the Knesset, a party must receive at least three seats or 3.25% of the vote. In the 2021 election, there were 38 parties represented at the polls, of which only 13 reached the minimum three seats or more. In order to have a majority in the Knesset, a party needs 61 of the total 120 seats. As no party in recent decades has received the minimum 61 seat majority, the leader of the party with the highest number of seats is invited by the president to try to form a government by creating a coalition combining a number of parties. Forming a coalition involves intense, high-stakes negotiations where the leading party will agree to accommodate certain demands from the other parties to get them to join the coalition.
In March 2021, the party that won the most was the Likud party led by Binyamin Netanyahu, receiving 24% of the vote or 30 of the 120 seats (24% of the seats). With the Likud’s leading 30 seats, Netanyahu was given the first chance. After a month of trying to form a coalition, Netanyahu was unsuccessful in forming a block of at least 61 seats, so President Rivlin assigned Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, with the next highest number of seats (17) to attempt to form a coalition.
By June, a coalition was formed with eight parties, ranging from the nationalist right to the Arab left with no representation from the majority Likud party. One of the major conditions of the coalition was that Lapid would split the premiership with the Yemina Party’s Naftali Bennet with Bennet serving the first two years and Lapid serving the last two.
Due to numerous crises and unruly members defecting from the coalition, the government was dissolved on June 20, 2022. The agreement for alternating prime ministers was honored, and on July 1, Bennet stepped down and Lapid became Israel’s 14th Prime Minister.
Elections are set for Tuesday, Nov. 1. Currently, parties are holding primaries, reorganizing and reinventing themselves. Just a couple of weeks ago, a new party was created headed by the current Minister of Defense, Benny Gantz, known as the National Unity Party.
Despite enjoying a public holiday on Election Day, many Israelis are ready to welcome functioning, healthy coalitions and a government that reaches term. Let us hope that November 2022 puts and end to a global record of elections.
Naomi Miller is director of Israel Partnerships at the Michigan Israel Business Accelerator and the director of Missions and Exchanges at the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit. This essay is reprinted from the MIBA.