Israel’s Fractured Democracy And Its RepercussionsRoundup
tags: Israel, democracy, international relations
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.
Israel is a democracy and like most parliamentary democracies, the party that wins a plurality of the vote typically ends up forming the government, asking a few of the smaller parties to join a coalition government if they have not received an outright majority. Relative to most parliamentary (particularly West European) democracies, Israel has a larger number of parties which has only grown over the years, each vying for the biggest representation in the Israeli parliament.
There are two major reasons behind the vast number of political parties. The Jews who immigrated to Israel from nearly 120 different countries came with different cultural, political, and ideological backgrounds – there were liberals, conservatives, socialists, and even communists. Although they were all committed to the security and wellbeing of the state, they held onto their sets of political and ideological beliefs, which led to the creation of a plethora of parties.
The second reason is that, until 1988, the electoral threshold for a party to be allocated a Knesset seat was only 1 percent. It has been increased in minute percentage points since then, until March 2014, when the Knesset approved a new law to raise the threshold to 3.25 percent, with the objective of consolidating and reducing the number of parties.
Given the low threshold, even at 3.25 percent, it has encouraged different ideological groupings to form parties of their own so as to accomplish four objectives: satisfy the personal ambition of the party’s leaders, promote the party’s own policies, maintain the support of its loyal adherents, and strengthen their bargaining positions at the negotiating table should they be invited to join a coalition government.
Another interesting phenomenon of the Israeli electoral system is the party shakeups prior to any election – several new parties are formed, some existing parties unite to establish a stronger block, and other existing parties dissolve altogether.
The chief shortcoming of the existence of many parties is that it is impossible for a single party to garner more than 50 percent of the parliamentary seats (61 out of 120). As a result, all Israeli governments since inception have been coalition governments consisting of several parties.
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