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Israeli system of government


The Israeli system of government is based on parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister of Israel is the head of government and leader of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the Knesset. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The political system of the State of Israel and its main principles are set out in 11 Basic Laws. Israel does not have a written constitution.


Executive branch

The Prime Minister is the chief executive of Israel, and the most powerful political figure in the country.

The Prime Minister is elected by the Knesset, and makes foreign and domestic policy decisions which are voted on by the cabinet.

The cabinet is composed of ministers, most of whom are the heads of government departments, though some are deputy ministers and ministers without portfolio.

Cabinet ministers are appointed by the Prime Minister, who must appoint members based on the distribution of votes to political parties. The cabinet's composition must also be approved by the Knesset.

The Prime Minister may dismiss cabinet members, but any replacements must be approved by the Knesset. Most ministers are members of the Knesset, though only the Prime Minister is required to be one.

The cabinet meets weekly on Sundays, and there may be additional meetings if circumstances require it. Each cabinet meeting is chaired by the Prime Minister.

A select group of ministers led by the Prime Minister forms the security cabinet, responsible for outlining and implementing a foreign and defense policy. This forum is designed to coordinate diplomatic negotiations, and to make quick and effective decisions in times of crisis and war.

The Israeli government has 28 ministries,[4] each of them responsible for a sector of public administration. Many Ministries are located in the Kiryat Ben Gurion Government complex in the area of Givat Ram in Jerusalem.

Each ministry is led by a minister, who is also a member of the cabinet and is usually a member of the Knesset.

The Office of the Prime Minister coordinates the actions of the work of all government ministries, and serving and assisting the Prime Minister in his daily work.

The President of the State is the de jure head of state of Israel, but the position is largely an apolitical and ceremonial role, with real executive powers lying in the hands of the Prime Minister.

The President's ceremonial roles include signing every law (except those pertaining to the President's powers) and international or bilateral treaty, ceremonially appointing the Prime Minister, confirms and endorses the credentials of ambassadors, and receives the credentials of foreign diplomats.

The President also has several important functions in government. The President is the only government official with the power to pardon or commute prisoners.

The President also appoints the Governor of the Bank of Israel, the State Comptroller upon recommendation of the Knesset House Committee, the President of Magen David Adom, and the members and leaders of several institutions. The President also ceremonially appoints judges to their posts after their selection

Legislative branch


The Knesset is Israel's unicameral legislature and is seated in Jerusalem. Its 120 members are elected to 4-year terms through party-list proportional representation. (see electoral system, below), as mandated by the 1958 Basic Law: The Knesset. Knesset seats are allocated among parties using the D'Hondt method of party list proportional representation. Parties select candidates using a closed list.

Thus, voters select the party of their choice, rather than any specific candidate. Israel requires a party to meet an election threshold of 2% to be allocated a Knesset seat. All Israeli citizens 18 years of age or older may participate in legislative elections, which are conducted by secret ballot.

As the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset has the power to enact and repeal all laws. It enjoys de jure parliamentary supremacy, and can pass any law by a simple majority, even one that might arguably conflict with a Basic Law, unless it has specific conditions for its modification.

The Knesset can adopt and amend Basic Laws acting through its capacity as a Constituent Assembly.

The Knesset also supervises government activities through its committees, elects the Prime Minister and approves the cabinet, elects the President of the State, and recommends the State Comptroller.

It also has the power to remove the President and State Comptroller from office, revoke the immunity of its members, and to dissolve itself and call new elections.

The February 2009 elections produced five prominent political parties; Kadima, Likud, Israel Beytenu, Labor and Shas, each with more than ten seats in the Knesset.

Three of these parties were ruling parties in the past. However, only once has a single party held the 61 seats needed for a majority government (the Alignment from 1968 until the 1969 elections).

Therefore, aside from that one exception, since 1948 Israeli governments have always comprised coalitions. As of 2009, there are 12 political parties represented in the Knesset, spanning both the political and religious spectra.

Electoral system

Israel's electoral system operates within the parameters of a Basic Law (The Knesset) and of the 1969 Knesset Elections Law.

The Knesset's 120 members are elected by secret ballot to 4-year terms, although the Knesset may decide to call for new elections before the end of the 4-year term, and a government can change without a general election; since the 1988 election, no Knesset has finished its 4-year term. In addition a motion of confidence may be called[by whom?].

Voting in general elections takes place using the highest averages method of party-list proportional representation, using the d'Hondt formula.

General elections use closed lists: voters vote only for party lists and cannot affect the order of candidates within the lists. Since the 1992 Parties Law, only registered parties may stand. There are no separate electoral districts; all voters vote on the same party lists.

Suffrage is universal among Israeli citizens aged 18 years or older, but voting is optional. Polling locations are open throughout Israel; absentee ballots are limited to diplomatic staff and the merchant marine. While each party attains one seat for 1 in 120 votes, there is a minimum threshold (recently increased to 2%[7]) for parties to attain their first seat in an election.

This requirement aimed to bar smaller parties from parliament but spurred some parties to join together simply to overcome the threshold.

The low vote-threshold for entry into parliament, as well as the need for parties with small numbers of seats to form coalition governments, results in a highly fragmented political spectrum, with small parties exercising extensive power (relative to their electoral support) within coalitions.

The president selects the prime minister as the party leader most able to form a government, based on the number of parliament seats his or her coalition has won.

After the president's selection, the prime minister has forty-five days to form a government. The Knesset collectively must approve the members of the cabinet.

This electoral system, inherited from the Yishuv (Jewish settlement organization during the British Mandate), makes it very difficult for any party to gain a working majority in the Knesset and thus governments generally form on the basis of coalitions.

Due to the difficulties in holding coalitions together, elections often occur earlier than scheduled. The average life-span of an Israeli government is 25 months. Over the years, the peace process, the role of religion in the state, and political scandals have caused coalitions to break apart or have produced early elections.

Judicial system

The Judicial branch is an independent branch of the government, including secular and religious courts for the various religions present in Israel. The court system involves three stages of justice.

Judges for all courts are appointed by the Judicial Selection Committee. The committee is composed of nine members: two cabinet members (one being the Minister of Justice), two Knesset members, two members of the Israel Bar Association, and three Supreme Court justices (one being the President of the Supreme Court). The committee is chaired by the Minister of Justice.

In November 1985, the Israeli government informed the United Nations Secretariat that it would no longer accept compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.

Judicial courts

Israeli judicial courts consist of a three-tier system:

Magistrate Courts serve as the court of first instance

District Courts serve as the appellate courts and the court of first instance for some cases;

The Supreme Court acts as both a court of first instance in matters concerning the legality of decisions of state authorities, and as a supreme appellate court.

Religious courts

Some issues of family law (marriage and divorce in particular) fall either under the jurisdiction of religious courts or under parallel jurisdiction of those and the state's family courts. The state maintains and finances Rabbinical, Sharia and various Canonical courts for the needs of the various religious communities.

All judges are civil servants, and required to uphold general law in their tribunals as well. The Supreme Court serves as final appellate instance for all religious courts.

Jewish religious courts are under control of the Prime Minister's Office and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

These courts have jurisdiction in only five areas: Kashrut, Sabbath, Jewish burial, marital issues (especially divorce), and Jewish status of immigrants. However, except for determining a person's marital status, all other marital issues may also be taken to secular Family Courts.

The other major religious communities in Israel, such as Muslims and Christians, have their own religious courts. These courts have similar jurisdiction over their followers as Jewish religious courts, although Muslim religious courts have more control over family affairs.

Labor courts

There are five regional labor courts in Israel as a tribunal of first instance, and a National Labor Court in Jerusalem to hear appeals and few cases of national importance.

The labor courts have exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving employer-employee relationship, employment, strikes and labor union disputes, labor-related complaints against the National Insurance Institute, and Health Insurance claims.

Military courts

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) maintains a series of district military courts and special military tribunals.

The Military Court of Appeals is the IDF's supreme appellate court. It considers and judges over appeals submitted by the Military Advocate General, which challenges decisions rendered by the lower courts.

Court of Admiralty

In all matters having to do with admiralty, commercial shipping, accidents at sea, and other maritime matters, the Haifa District Court, sitting as the Court of Admiralty, has exclusive statewide jurisdiction.

Local government

For governmental purposes, Israel is divided into six districts:Central District; Haifa District; Jerusalem District; Northern District; Southern District; Tel Aviv District

The districts further subdivide into fifteen sub-districts and into fifty natural regions. Administration of the districts is coordinated by the Ministry of Interior.

There are three forms of local government in Israel: city councils, local councils, and regional councils.

City councils govern municipalities classified as cities, local councils govern small municipalities, and regional councils govern groups of communities.

These bodies look after public services such as urban planning, zoning, the provision of water, emergency services, and education and culture, as per guidelines of the Ministry of Interior. Local governments consist of a governing council chaired by a mayor. The mayor and all council members are chosen in municipal elections.

The Ministry of Defense has responsibility for the administration of the occupied territories.