On the surface, the order of government and the division of power among various organs of State in Israel would seem a priori to protect our leaders from scandal and corruption: Israel is a parliamentary democracy consisting of legislative, executive and judicial branches. Its institutions are the presidency, the Knesset (parliament), the government (cabinet of ministers) and the judiciary. The system is based on the principle of separation of powers, in which the executive branch (the government) is subject to the confidence of the legislative branch (the Knesset) and the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by law.
The 120-seat Knesset is the single-house the Parliament or “House of Representatives” of the State of Israel, in which the full range of current opinions is represented. Elected every four years, the Knesset elects and supervises the executive branch, the government ministers headed by the Prime Minister, and retains the right to dissolve the House. The President of Israel www.president.gov.il , elected by the Knesset, holds no executive power.
Every Israeli citizen from the age of 18 has the right to vote and there are over three million eligible voters in Israel. A party needs to win 61 seats in order to govern; however, since no single party has ever reached this number of seats, various parties must combine to make up government. Because of this, the smaller parties are able to seek major concessions from the larger parties, in exchange for joining the government, and can subject the government to pressures way beyond the proportional strength of the particular party. There even exists the possibility of a small Arab party holding the balance of power in the State of Israel.
This pull and push form of coalition governance tends to undermine the democratic and representational nature of the system. Moreover, since the electorate votes for a party and not for its representatives, there is almost no direct accountability to the voters, who have little power to change or influence government decisions.
The Prime Minister forms the coalition and has, so far, always been a member of the largest party. From 1996-2001, the Prime Ministers (Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon) were directly elected - which allowed an anomaly whereby a PM who was not from the largest party to form a government. Direct elections added to the P.M.'s power base, to such an extent that successive Israeli Prime Ministers dismissed those Cabinet ministers with whom they disagreed.
Should a Prime Minister fail to represent the largest party, a situation similar to the United States presidential election could occur, similar to that when the White House and Congress are controlled by different parties. While this would serve to increase the accountability of Israel's PM., the trend in Israel was to eliminate direct elections, perhaps in recognition of the potential abuse of the power vested in the position.
The Knesset has the exclusive authority to enact laws. The Knesset may pass laws on any subject and in any matter, as long as a proposed law does not contradict an existing Basic Law and the legislative process is carried out as required by the law.
Legislation constitutes the most important part of the Knesset's work. Of interest, however, is the slow but increasing power of the Israel Supreme Court in opposing government legislation when there is a perceived contradiction between an existing Basic Law and an ordinary law. This has caused those “negatively” impacted by the Court’s decisions to question the independence granted to Israel's Supreme Court – also creating an acute conflict between the executive/legislative branches housed in the Knesset and the judiciary. The Supreme Court is also highly proactive in the debate around the formulation of a Constitution for Israel.
Another interesting function of the Knesset is its power to lift the immunity of its members, and the power to have the President of the State and State Comptroller removed. This used to be a somewhat redundant and hypothetical possibility; today, however, the possibility of legal proceedings against those in the highest offices of state has become an apparent reality.
1. Discuss the pros and cons of large and small political parties in terms of:
- representing the interests of the electorate;
- parliamentary democracy;
- effective government.
2. Discuss the quality of leadership in different Israeli political parties today, and what it can offer Israel and Israeli society into the future.
3. The personalization of political leadership in Israel:
- What does this resemble?
- Has this been a positive step in terms of democracy and leadership?
- Is the process appropriate for Israel today?
- Name some leaders whom you admire and explain why.
4. Israel is a small country alive with volunteering, initiative, high-tech, Jewish learning of all kinds, excellent academic universities, philanthropical works, and leadership development programmes for its young people.
- How can Israel take these good practices into public leadership?
Please see: Bibliography & References, Rabin; Internet References: Israel, Official Websites; & Leadership Resources, Gallery of People (Biographies), .