IN BRIEF: The Israeli Electoral Process

The upcoming elections for Israel’s House of Representatives, the Knesset, will be taking place this year on 17 March, 2015. Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party is currently vying for his fourth term as Prime Minister, which would prolong his involvement in Israeli politics to nearly two decades.1 But before we lay out the specific parties and their candidates, it is important to understand the process of these elections and how it marginalizes Palestinian parties and the right to vote for Palestinians citizens of Israel. In Israel, there is a parliamentary system that exists which is very different from the electoral system in the United States. Israel uses a system of proportional representation where voters elect the nationally registered political parties instead of local candidates.2 It is also important to understand how this system dates back to the original political system of the Yishuv in Mandatory Palestine, before Israel’s establishment as a state in 1948.

History of the Yishuv

In the early 1920s, during the time when the British Mandate of Palestine was the legal commission for the administration of the territory, a newly formed Yishuvhad become the national liberation movement to establish an independent Jewish state in Palestine.3 At this point in time, less than one percent of Jews inhabited Palestine, but waves of immigration largely increased before and after World War II.

The Yishuv, or organized Jewish community, functioned as a parliamentary democracy with three formal branches of government comprised of the parliament Asefat ha-Nivharim (the National Assembly), the executive branch ha?Va’ad ha-Le’umi (the National Council) and the judicial system Beit Mishpat ha-Shalom ha-Ivri (the Hebrew Court of Peace).4 The first elections to the National Assembly were held in 1920, establishing a protocol that elections be held every four years. The Yishuv were very politically oriented and eventually formed different parties. Therefore, after 1935, there were actually three main groups of Jews in Palestine, which consisted of the “Organized Yishuv” (the labor Zionists, the General Zionists and the religious Zionists), the “Porshim” (the Revisionists) and the Ultra-Orthodox.5In the summer of 1947, when the United Nations’ Special Committee on Palestine arrived in the region, they had seen the internal organization of the Yishuv, with elected political leadership, as sustainable, and the international committee was convinced that British supervision was no longer needed. In 1948, the official transformation of the Yishuv into a sovereign independent state of Israel was completed.

How Do the Elections Work?

Elections are held every four years. Every citizen of Israel above the age of eighteen is eligible to vote.6 The members of the Knesset are elected by party vote – the voters cast one ballot for a specific party (who list their candidates in preferential order) to represent them.

In these elections, voters also vote by direct vote. There is no “body of electors,”7 but rather, the entire country counts as one district so all votes are counted together, contrasting the American Electoral College system where Americans do not cast a direct vote for the President. In contrast to the American winner-take-all voting system, the Knesset follows proportional representation. Of the 120 seats in the Knesset, each party has a chance to hold a seat provided they receive two percent of the total votes proportional to the percentage of votes they received, providing an opportunity for every party to represent their voters’ interest.

Once elections are held, results are published eight days later. The first session of the Knesset is held two weeks later and elected members declare their allegiance to Israel.8 The President is elected by the Knesset by majority vote, and the President appoints the Prime Minister.

This information is defined in Article 4 of the Basic Law of Israel which states, “The Knesset shall be elected by general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional elections, in accordance with the Knesset Elections Law.”9

What About Palestinians Living in Israel?

According to the Basic Law, the Central Elections Committee (those who oversee and make rules regarding elections) are able to prevent a party from participating in the elections if “its objective or actions, expressly or by implication” include “1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; 2) negation of the democratic character of the State; and 3) incitement to racism.”10 This is able to be interpreted in any way the Central Elections Committee deems fit.
A large issue surrounding the elections is the question of “citizenship.” While a minority of Palestinians are citizens of Israel, the systematic discrimination enacted by Israeli policy keep the majority as residents of Israel which prohibits them from voting in elections, affecting a vast majority of Palestinians living in Jerusalem. The Knesset Members (MK’s) must swear allegiance to the State of Israel as the home of the Jewish people, which can act as a deterrent to Palestinians as the Knesset “emphasizes the exclusive connection of the state to the Jewish people.”1


Amendment 39 of 7A (Candidate who Visited a Hostile State Illegally) states a candidate or party can be denied an election campaign if that party/candidate visited an Arab or Muslim country defined as an “enemy state” – this includes Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.12

Overall, a poll conducted by the Abraham Fund Initiatives reflects that Arabs are “frustrated with pervasive inequality in Israeli society and feel that voting in the past has not translated into influence over government policy.”13 This is most apparent given that the Arab turnout for voting barely averages around 50 percent.14

Implications and Predictions

This year’s elections are particularly important given that they have been pushed early as a result of a fractured Israeli government. In an attempt to gain unity on key agenda setting issues, Netanyahu decided to fire top officials within his government. This led parliament to vote on dissolving the coalition and moving the elections earlier than they would have normally been.15 The results of this election are predicted to be close, with a center-left alliance threatening to unseat Netanyahu’s government.16

Numbers Breakdown

            All numbers are taken from +972 Magazine translated from Hebrew to English from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics of December 2012:

  • 255,000 Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem have no voting rights for the Knesset.
  • 1,855,115 Palestinians living in the West Bank (Areas A, B & C) have no voting rights.
  • 1,710,257 Palestinians living in Gaza have no voting rights.

“2,128,115 people have no voting rights. Altogether, one in every 4.5 people is denied political representation; this one person is almost always Palestinian. If the people of Gaza are included, the number of the unrepresented climbs to 3,820,372, or roughly one in every three people.”17

External Links

Basic Law: The Knesset

The Central Bureau of Statistics

The Knesset Website