Israel’s Government

Key Facts:

  • Israel has been a democracy since it was founded in 1948.
  • Israel is governed by a multi-party parliamentary system.
  • The present government of Israel is a coalition of parties from across the political spectrum.
  • Israel is one of only a few countries (including the United Kingdom) with a single chamber parliament and no written constitution.

Israel is governed by a democratic system comprising Executive and Legislative branches and the Judiciary. Israel has a set of Basic Laws that define the role of state institutions and state-society relations. The Basic Laws function as Israel’s Constitution, which has yet to be formally codified.

Executive

The ceremonial head of the Israeli state is the President, elected for a maximum single term of seven years. Executive power rests in the office of the Prime Minister, normally the head of the party with the most seats in the Knesset, and the cabinet, which the Prime Minister appoints and the Knesset approves.

Legislature

Like Canada, Israel is a parliamentary democracy – although with a single-chamber legislature, the Knesset. 120 members are elected in nation-wide elections for a maximum term of four years.

Representation and Elections

Israel’s proportional representation system is unique in that it is nation-wide. Every four years (or less, if an ordinary majority in the Knesset favours early dissolution), political parties present lists of party-selected candidates to voters. Two or more parties can decide to align and present a unified list to voters. This “national list” system, combined with a very low threshold of 2% of the vote to secure representation in the Knesset, often leads to a fragmented legislature and government by coalition. Israel has a large number of political parties, the membership and structure of which are generally quite fluid.

There are three Arab political parties with representation in the Knesset but, because of low voter turn-out, representation is not proportionate to the size of the Arab population.

Judiciary

Israel’s independent judiciary – similar to Canada’s – is tasked with upholding and protecting the rule of law and individual rights. The highest court is the Supreme Court, whose justices are appointed by the President based on the nomination by a committee composed of Supreme Court justices, members of the Knesset, cabinet ministers, and representatives of the Israel Bar Association.

Social Services

The Israeli government comprises various branches. The Ministry of Welfare and Social Services provides services similar to those offered in Canada, including pensions for the elderly, support for single-parent households, and assistance for new immigrants. In 1995, Israel passed the National Health Care Law, which granted all Israeli residents health care coverage. Israel’s four comprehensive health insurance schemes ensure no one is denied medical services, regardless of age or state of health.

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