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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

5 - Israel: New Parties for New Groups?


This chapter begins a case study of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world. A small country with a population of seven and a half million and a land mass the size of New Jersey, Israel has nevertheless been an important actor on the world stage in its sixty years of existence. This has brought it to the attention of historians and scholars of international relations. But Israel has also drawn the attention of political scientists studying comparative politics, both for its plural society and for its political institutions.

Regarding the latter, Israel has been a parliamentary democracy since its founding in 1948. The exception is the period from 1996 to 2001, when it directly elected its prime minister and thus employed an unusual type of regime. However, Israel exhibits less dynamism with respect to the second key political institutional variable: throughout its history, it has had one of the world's most permissive electoral systems. To elaborate, all 120 members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, are elected in a single nationwide district. A list proportional representation electoral formula, the d'Hondt, is used to translate the votes into seats in the parliamentary elections. This means that voters cast their ballots for a party's list of candidates, and that seats in the parliament are allocated to the parties roughly in proportion to the votes that they receive. Moreover, the threshold for representation in the Knesset has ranged from a low one to two percent of valid votes.