Monday, December 10, 2012


The Israeli elections are coming up on January 22, and the 37 “lists” competing run the gamut from communist, pro-marijuana, pirate (yes, pirate), and anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox to green, nationalistic, and anti-Zionist Arab.  Other than the fact that they are both democratic and the fact that the voters complain about their choices, there is little in common between the American presidential and the Israeli parliamentary elections. 

Although the media might focus on the personalities of those at the head of a party, Israelis do not elect a prime minister.  Each party assembles its “list” of candidates.  Because the number of seats a party gets in the 120-member Knesset reflects the percentage of votes the party receives out of the total votes cast, the higher one is on the list, the more likely the candidate is to get a seat in the Knesset.  A candidate’s place on the list is decided either in a party primary, by a party committee, or by the leader of the party.  The fighting for position is intense. 
When an Israeli voter enters the voting booth, he or she does not see a list of the candidates.  Usually the voter sees the name of the parties and the name of the leader of each party.  The voter votes for the party.  Unique among democracies, Israel has no districts. Each person on the list who becomes a Knesset member represents the whole of Israel.  The threshold for a Knesset seat is only two percent of the vote, so virtually anyone can, and many often do, form their own party and win a few seats.
The leader of the party that receives the most votes does not necessarily become the Prime Minister.  In recent years no party has received the 61 votes to rule on its own and to decide who will be Prime Minister.  They have had to form coalitions.  For example, in the last election Kadima leader Tzipi Livni received one more vote than Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu.  However, Netanyahu was able to put together a coalition with other parties to form a majority of the Knesset and to become the Prime Minister.
Here is a rundown of the major parties contesting the current election and the likely, but in no way certain, results: