Elections in Israel

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Ballot slips used in Israeli elections
Josef Tal voting with the assistance of his granddaughter, 2003 elections
Israeli poll booth

Elections in Israel are based on nationwide proportional representation. The electoral threshold is currently set at 3.25%, with the number of seats a party receives in the Knesset being proportional to the number of votes it receives.[1][2] The Knesset is elected for a four-year term, although most governments have not served a full term and early elections are a frequent occurrence. Israel has a multi-party system based on coalition governments as no party has ever won a majority of seats in a national election, although the Alignment briefly held a majority following its formation by an alliance of several different parties prior to the 1969 elections. The legal voting age for Israeli citizens is 18. Elections are overseen by the Central Elections Committee and are held according to the Knesset Elections Law.

Electoral procedure[edit]

National elections for the Knesset are required to be held once every four years, though early elections have occurred more often and few governments have reached the four year limit.[3] Early elections can be called by a vote of the majority of Knesset members, or by an edict of the President, and normally occur on occasions of political stalemate and inability of the government to get the parliament's support for its policy. Failure to get the annual budget bill approved by the Knesset by March 31 (3 months after the start of the fiscal year) also leads automatically to early elections.

Israel uses the closed list method of party-list proportional representation;[4] thus, citizens vote for their preferred party and not for any individual candidates. The 120 seats in the Knesset are then assigned (using the D'Hondt method) proportionally to each party that received votes, provided that the party gained votes which met or exceeded the electoral threshold.[4] Parties are permitted to form electoral alliances so as to gain enough collective votes to meet the threshold (the alliance as a whole must meet the threshold, not the individual parties) and thus be allocated seats. The low threshold makes the Israeli electoral system more favourable to minor parties than systems used in most other countries. Two parties can make an agreement so that both parties' sum of surplus votes are combined, and if the combined surplus votes amounts to an extra seat, then the extra seat goes to the party with the larger amount of surplus votes.[5]

Any Israeli citizen over 21 may be elected to the Knesset, except holders of several high positions in the civil service and officers or career soldiers (those should resign from their post before the elections), soldiers in compulsory service, and felons who were convicted and sentenced to prison terms exceeding three months (until seven years after their prison term expired).

The following people may not serve as a Member of Knesset (MK) due to conflicting job:[6]

  1. The President of the State of Israel
  2. The two Chief Rabbis of the State of Israel
  3. Any judge in the judicial system, so long as they still hold office
  4. Any dayan, or judge in the Rabbinical Court system, so long as they still hold office
  5. The State Comptroller
  6. Rabbis or Ministers of religions, while receiving salaries for such a position
  7. Senior State employees and senior Army officers of such grades or ranks and in such functions as shall be determined by Law

The following prevents a party from running a list in Knesset elections:[7]

  1. Negating the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people
  2. Negating the democratic nature of the State
  3. Incitement to racism

After an election, the President, following consultations with the elected party leaders, chooses the Knesset member most likely to form a viable coalition government. While this typically is the leader of the party receiving the most seats, it is not required to be so. In the event a party wins 61 or more seats in an election, it can form a viable government without having to form a coalition. However, no party has ever won more than 56 seats in an election; thus, a coalition has always been required.[3] That member has up to 42 days to negotiate with the different parties, and then present his or her government to the Knesset for a vote of confidence. Once the government is approved (by a vote of at least 61 members), he or she becomes Prime Minister.

As the coalitions are highly unstable given the number and diverse views of the political parties involved, parties (or portions thereof) leaving are quite common. However, so long as the coalition has at least 61 members (and it is free to recruit from parties not originally in the coalition) it is entitled to remain in power. This is the case with the current[when?] Knesset: Ehud Barak and four other members left the Labor to form the Independence Party and continued their alignment with Likud, while the remaining eight Labor members remained with the party but left the coalition; after all the changes the Likud coalition has the minimum 61 members and such it remains in power. Once a coalition fails a motion of confidence it ceases to be in power, but has a prescribed time to form a new coalition, after which other parties can attempt to form one, before early elections must be called.

Former procedures[edit]

The electoral threshold for a party to be allocated a Knesset seat was only 1% until 1988; it was then raised to 1.5% and remained at that level until 2003, when it was again raised to 2%. On March 11, 2014, the Knesset approved a new law to raise the threshold to 3.25%, approximately 4 seats. (This law is set to take effect for the next election, for the 20th Knesset.)[8]

In 1992, in an attempt to produce more stable governments, Israel adopted a system of direct election of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was directly elected separately from the Knesset in 1996, 1999 and 2001. The direct election of the Prime Minister was abandoned after the 2001 election, having failed to produce more stable governments.

Voting method[edit]

Israel's voting method is simplified by the fact that voters vote for a political party and not specific candidates.

On election day, and upon entry to a polling station, the voter is given an official envelope, and shown to a voting booth.

Inside the booth is a tray of slips, one for each party. The slips are printed with the "ballot letters" of the party (between one and three Hebrew or Arabic letters), the full official name of the party, and sometimes a slogan in small print. Each party publicizes their letter prior to election day, with most election posters featuring them. As many political parties in Israel are known by their acronyms, several parties can spell out their name in two or three letters, and thus use their name as their ballot letters (e.g. Meretz and Hetz).

The voter chooses the relevant slip for their party, puts it in the envelope, seals it, and then places the envelope into the ballot box.

An Yisrael Beiteinu ballot letter from the 2009 election. The letter, lamed (ל, "l") is for party chairman Avigdor Lieberman.
A Shas party ballot, also from the 2009 election. The letters, shin-samech (שס, "Sh-S") is the spelling of the party's name.

Parties use the equivalent letters in both official languages, Arabic and Hebrew; for instance Kadima use כן (Kaph-Nun) in Hebrew and كن (also Kaph-Nun) in Arabic. Because the Arabic alphabet shares a common source with the Hebrew (the Aramaic alphabet), each Hebrew letter has a perfectly corresponding Arabic one, facilitating this system.

The system has the advantage of being simple to use for those with limited literacy. This is especially important in Israel where many new immigrants struggle with the language, especially reading and writing, as Hebrew uses a unique alphabet.

Each party must register its chosen letters with the Israeli Central Elections Committee, and certain letters are reserved. If a new party wishes to use letters from an older party, it must receive permission from that party. Example of reserved letters are Mem, Het and Lamedh for Likud and Shin and Samekh for Shas.


The following (Hebrew) ballot letters were used in the 2009 election:

Party Ballot
Notes Party Ballot
נפ ; ن ف
נר ; ن ر
Ale Yarok
קנ ; ق ن
First two letters of cannabis Lev LaOlim
ינ ; ي ن
ד ; ض
מחל ; م ح ل
Brit Olam
פי ; ف ي
Man's Rights in the Family Party
פק ; ف ق
ק ; ق
New Movement-Meretz
מרצ ; م ر ص
Party name
זך ; ز خ
"Pure" National Union
ט  ; ط
The letter actually belongs to the Moledet party [9]
Green Movement-Meimad
ה ; ه
אר ; ا ر
(The first and last letters of the party name)
Green Party
רק ; ر ق
"Only" Shas
שס ; ش س
Party name
ו ; و
The Jewish Home
ב ; ب
ים ; ي م
צי ; ص ي
Holocaust survivors & Ale Yarok Alumni
יק ; ي ق
ץ ; ص
כן ; ك ن
"Yes" United Arab List-Ta'al
עם ; ع م
Koah HaKesef
קפ ; ق ف
United Torah Judaism
ג ; خ
Koah LeHashpi'a
פ ; ف
Yisrael Beiteinu
ל ; ل
L for Lieberman
אמת ; ا م ت
"Truth" Yisrael HaMithadeshet
נ ; ن
N for Nudelman
נץ ; ن ص
Yisrael Hazaka
חי ; ح ي
קץ ; ق ص


The following (Hebrew) ballot letters were used in the 2006 election:

Party Ballot
Notes Party Ballot
Ale Yarok
First two letters of Cannabis Lev LaOlim
Arab National Party
Atid Ekhad
Party name
Brit Olam
National Union-NRP
"Good" (using Niqqud)
"Pure" New Zionism
Green Party
"Only" Organization for Democratic Action
Oz LaAniyim
Party name
Herut – The National Movement
"Hawk" Shinui
There is
Party name Tafnit
Jewish National Front
Justice for All
United Arab List-Ta'al
"Yes" United Torah Judaism
"Truth" Yisrael Beiteinu
L for Lieberman


The following ballot letters were used by historical parties or in previous elections:

Party Ballot
National Union
In 1999 יט; in 2003 ל

2013 elections[edit]

Party Votes % Seats +/–
Likud Yisrael Beiteinu 885,054 23.34 31 –11
Yesh Atid 543,458 14.33 19 New
Labor Party 432,118 11.39 15 +7
The Jewish Home 345,985 9.12 12 +9
Shas 331,868 8.75 11 +1
United Torah Judaism 195,892 5.16 7 +2
Hatnuah 189,167 4.99 6 New
Meretz 172,403 4.55 6 +3
United Arab List 138,450 3.65 4 0
Hadash 113,439 2.99 4 0
Balad 97,030 2.56 3 0
Kadima 79,081 2.09 2 –26
Otzma LeYisrael 66,775 1.76 0 New
Am Shalem 45,690 1.20 0 -1
Ale Yarok 43,734 1.15 0 0
Eretz Hadasha 28,080 0.74 0 New
Koah Lehashpi'a 28,049 0.74 0 0
HaYisraelim 18,941 0.50 0 0
The Greens and the Youth 8,117 0.21 0 0
Dor 5,975 0.16 0 0
Living with Dignity 3,640 0.10 0 New
Da'am Workers Party 3,546 0.09 0 0
We are Brothers 2,899 0.08 0 New
Social Justice 2,877 0.08 0 New
We are all Friends 2,176 0.06 0 New
Pirate Party 2,076 0.05 0 New
Economics Party 1,972 0.05 0 New
Leader 1,352 0.04 0 0
Or 1,027 0.03 0 0
Brit Olam 761 0.02 0 0
Hope for Change 649 0.02 0 New
Moreshet Avot 461 0.01 0 New
Invalid/blank votes 40,904
Total 3,833,646 100 120 [1]
Registered voters/turnout 5,656,705 67.78%
Source: Government of Israel
1 Does not sum to zero because Independence (5 seats in the previous Knesset) and National Union (4 seats) did not participate in the elections.


Year Valid
1949 434,684 5,411 440,095 - -
1951 687,492 7,515 695,007 - -
1955 853,219 22,969 876,188 - -
1959 969,339 24,967 994,306 - -
1961 1,006,964 30,066 1,037,030 - -
1965 1,206,728 37,978 1,244,706 - -
1969 1,367,743 60,238 1,427,981 - -
1973 1,566,855 34,243 1,601,098 - -
1977 1,747,870 23,906 1,771,776 - -
1981 1,920,123 17,243 1,937,366 - -
1984 2,073,321 18,081 2,091,402 - -
1988 2,283,123 22,444 2,305,567 - -
1992 2,616,841 21,102 2,637,943 3,409,015 77.4%
1996 3,052,130 67,702 3,119,832 3,933,250 79.3%
1999 3,309,416 64,332 3,373,748 4,285,428 78.7%
2003 3,148,364 52,409 3,200,773 - -
2006 3,137,064 49,675 3,186,739 5,014,622 63.5%
2009 3,373,490 43,097 3,416,587 5,278,985 64.7%
2013 3,792,742 40,904 3,833,646 5,656,705 67.8%


External links[edit]