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AJC's Israel Elections Guide: How do the Elections Work?

This post is the first in a series about the upcoming March 17 Israeli national elections. The other posts can be viewed at AJC Elections Central.

To help you follow the upcoming Israeli elections, here’s a rundown of what will go into creating a new government—before, during, and after the March 17 elections. Read on:

Before the election

Even aside from campaigning, a great deal of strategic shuffling takes place prior to Election Day. First, there are party formations and mergers. Each of the last several election seasons has seen at least one serious new party emerge. In 2013, it was Yesh Atid, headed by former broadcaster Yair Lapid, which won the most seats of any single party. This year the nascent Kulanu, under the leadership of the popular former communications minister Moshe Kahlon, seems poised to perform well at the polls. Also, just as in 2013 the center-right united around Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, this year the center-left is uniting around a merged Labor-Hatnuah list. Finally, each party determines its list of Knesset candidates. Some, like The Jewish Home, do so through primaries, ranking their list by the number of votes each candidate received from the party members. Other party lists—such as those of Yesh Atid and Kulanu—are set by the party leader. Finally, some parties use a hybrid model, reserving spots to be filled by the party leader on an otherwise elected list. This stage of the election has just been completed.

During the election

The Knesset is elected through proportional representation. There are no geographic districts—the entire country makes up a single, 120-member district. Whereas in the U.S. voter turnout rates are traditionally quite low—only 36% of Americans of voting age cast ballots in 2014—the voting rate in Israel approaches 70%. Knesset seats are allocated based on the percentage of the vote each party wins. However, there is an electoral threshold of 3.25%. This means that in order for a party to earn any seats it must earn at least 3.25% of the total vote—equivalent to four seats—rather than the .83% of the vote that would theoretically be required for one seat. This is a relatively low threshold compared to the 5%-thresholds in Germany and New Zealand, or the 10%-threshold in Turkey. The low threshold ensured that of the 36 parties that ran in the 2013 elections, 13 earned seats. This distribution of seats among many small and medium-sized parties has so far made it impossible for any one party to gain a majority, and makes it difficult to arrange and maintain the necessary coalitions to form and sustain governments.

After the election

Once the votes are in, the president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, will be responsible for choosing a party leader to be the “formateur,” responsible for creating the coalition government. That person will do so by promising ministerial portfolios, funding for pet projects, and pledges to advance legislation that may entice parties into joining the government. In 2013, then-President Shimon Peres picked Benjamin Netanyahu to form the government even though Netanyahu’s Likud party won fewer seats than Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Peres made this decision because he felt that Netanyahu—whose Likud ran jointly with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, and thus represented a large list—was the likeliest party leader to be able to build a governing coalition. This proved correct, as Netanyahu quickly assembled a coalition of five parties.

The current government, which was supported by 68 out of the 120 members, is a surplus majority government, meaning that it includes parties that are unnecessary for maintaining a majority. This is common practice, since the intensely factionalized Israeli polity can easily lead to the defection of one or more parties from the government over such divisive issues as negotiations with the Palestinians or secular-religious tensions. By including extraneous parties, formateurs are better able to ensure the long-term survival of their coalitions.

This post is the first in a series about the upcoming March 17 Israeli national elections. The other posts can be viewed at AJC Elections Guide.

Date: 1/29/2015
AJC Dispatch 1/23/15 Sanctions Debate, Murder in Buenos Aires, and more...

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"...It's why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world." —President Obama in his State of the Union Address


A Plea for Time
The Washington Post / 4-minute read
The foreign ministers of France, the UK, Germany, and the EU jointly penned an op-ed in The Washington Post, seemingly aimed at U.S. legislators on both sides of the aisle who are looking to pass new sanctions on Iran. In their missive, the Europeans say that the global community "may have a real chance to resolve one of the world's long-standing security threats — and the chance to do it peacefully," all because of the strong sanctions regime that is already in place. Any move to add more sanctions, they argue, could cause the negotiations to fall apart. Read more

Coming Together to Address Anti-Semitism
U.S. Mission to the UN / 6-minute read
The UN General Assembly held its first ever meeting to discuss the rising tide of anti-Semitism worldwide. The meeting was called for by 37 countries, including the U.S., the 28 member states of the EU, and Israel. Over 40 countries spoke out against the most persistent and pernicious of hatreds. Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, delivered an especially powerful address, and called for everyone in the room—not just Jews—to "return to their capitals with the urgency and energy this monstrous global problem demands, to turn words into long overdue actions." Read her address

Plus Watch Congressman Ted Deutch's strong speech to the UN General Assembly conference on anti-Semitism.
(20-minute watch)

Bypassing White House, House Speaker Invites Israeli PM to Washington
The New York Times / 5-minute read
Only hours after President Obama finished delivering his State of the Union address, where he vowed to veto any new Iran sanctions legislation, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. This will be Netanyahu's third such address, tying him with Winston Churchill for the most of any foreign leader. President Obama and Secretary Kerry announced Thursday that they will not meet with Netanyahu during his visit, citing a precedent of not meeting with foreign leaders ahead of elections. Read more

Good to know

Drama on Israel's Northern Border
Ha'aretz / 2-minute read
An Israeli strike in Syria killed a top Iranian general, along with several other...

Date: 1/23/2015
The Chrysanthemum Meets the Sabra: 3 Reasons Why Japanese Prime Minister Abe's Visit to Israel is So Important

By Shira Loewenberg, Director of AJC's Asia Pacific Institute

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Israel is the first by a Japanese Prime Minister in nine years. His three-day trip, coming at the end of a six-day tour of the Middle East, is intended to boost economic ties between both countries. Traveling with a delegation of 100 Japanese officials and top business executives, Abe's visit to Israel included meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as a visit to Yad Vashem.

The visit was sadly abruptly interrupted by Islamist terror, coming this time from the Islamic State, which abducted two Japanese citizens. Prime Minister Abe took the podium in Jerusalem and termed ISIS’s actions “an unacceptable act of terrorism.” Abe seemingly rejected out of hand the Islamic State’s demand for a $200 million ransom—a figure that was likely chosen to symbolically mimic Japan’s $200 million humanitarian pledge to the countries allied against ISIS—saying, “Japan will cooperate with the international community and further contribute to peace and stability in the region. This policy is unshakable and we won’t change it."

Japan is not a typical target for Islamist terror. This event serves as only the latest reminder that extremist terror is a menace that the whole world must confront together. Japan’s burgeoning partnership with Israel—a natural match, considering their mutual commitment to democratic values, human rights, and rule of law—is an important step in the right direction.

Let’s take a look at the top 3 reasons why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's trip to Israel is so important.

1. Economics
In his comments to Abe, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the visit "gives us a historic opportunity to bring together the great capabilities of the people of Japan and the people of Israel." Over the past few decades, Israel and Japan have contributed to the advancement of...
Date: 1/21/2015
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