Matthew S. Shugart
The electoral system of Israel is an “extreme” example of proportional representation because of its use of a single nationwide district. This feature has been a constant since 1949, while secondary features, such as legal thresholds and the proportional seat-allocation formula, have changed and had an impact on degrees of proportionality. The party system is highly fragmented, as expected in extreme proportional systems. By applying the Seat Product Model to indices of election outcomes, it is possible to determine whether Israel’s system is more or less fragmented and proportional than expected for its institutional design. This chapter reports that the long-term average outputs are about as expected, but they have fluctuated over time. Some of these fluctuations reflect changes in the secondary features of the system, while others are the results of political factors independent of the institutions.
As in other parliamentary democracies, the Israeli government is dependent on the confidence of parliament. Israel is a country with a diverse society, divided by multidimensional political issues and using a proportional representation electoral system. It is therefore not surprising to find a multiparty system with a highly fragmented parliament. This setting produces the central institutional feature of its executive branch: coalition politics. This chapter outlines the process of cabinet formation and the types of coalitions formed, presents an overview of the position of the prime minister, describes the work and structure of cabinet ministers and ministries, explains why governments seldom complete a full term, and assesses claims about both instability and nongovernability in Israel.
Menachem Hofnung and Mohammed S. Wattad
The contemporary perception of Israel’s judiciary as an independent branch does not coincide with Israel’s first government’s perception after establishing the first Supreme Court. To a great extent the executive branch deemed the court its long arm. Until the mid-1950s judges were appointed by the government, and questions of conflicts of interest and political affiliation—in the wide sense of the term—were not compelling. However, since the 1990s the court’s power of judicial review and the legitimacy of its decisions have become issues of heated public debate. Consequently, the process of appointing justices to the court has become subject to very strict public and political scrutiny. This chapter asks whether the Israeli judiciary truly constitutes a third independent branch of government. This is relevant considering the continuous attempts to change the existing balance of power, aiming to limit the court’s capacity to apply universal judicial doctrines and legal standards to executive and legislative decisions.
Chen Friedberg and Reuven Y. Hazan
The Knesset is the legislative body of Israel, which has been a parliamentary, unitary democracy since its foundation. It is a unicameral parliament, elected through a proportional election system that to a great extent reflects Israeli society. Because there is no written constitution, the Knesset alone delineates the three branches of government. On top of its legislative role, the Knesset also oversees the executive branch, handles political conflicts, and is in charge of decision-making. Although it is the main source of all political power in Israel and appears strong on paper, it operates under structural, legal, procedural, and historical constraints. The result is a relatively weak legislative branch in practice, in some roles more so than in others.
Reuven Y. Hazan
Both the parties and the party system of Israel have undergone significant changes during the last seventy years. This chapter begins by delineating the transformation of the political parties in Israel, from classic mass parties to a plethora of types that coexist somewhat uneasily, and from parties focused on domestic socioeconomic issues to ones dominated by foreign policy and security concerns. It then shifts to its main focus, assessing the changes in the party system. The chapter argues two points: first, that while the Israeli parties were extremely volatile, the party blocs were surprisingly stable; and second, that while the Israeli party system exhibited two very stable periods during the first fifty years—albeit with a short, transformative interim phase—during the last twenty-five years it has exhibited accelerated change and instability.
Israel has experienced both failed and successful attempts to reform its democratic institutions in the seventy years since its founding. The most noteworthy failure has been in the promotion of much-needed electoral reform that would moderate the “extreme” features of the hyper-representative, party-centered electoral system. Successes range from small modifications of the electoral system to wide-ranging reforms of the government system at the local and national levels and within political parties. These reforms injected doses of majoritarianism and personalism into the system. But they did not help to solve the problems in the functioning of the Israeli regime; in fact, they often made them worse.