Would you vote for a political party of taxi drivers? Would you vote for the party of divorced fathers? Would you vote for a criminal trying to avoid imprisonment, as many Israelis did several years ago, so that he won a Knesset seat? Israel has a true democracy, and its elections are much more exciting than American elections.
When the United States fought England for its independence, national leaders decided that they did not want the British system. The many grievances against the policies of the king of England led to the creation of several branches of government and a complex series of checks and balances to limit the power of any one branch of government.
Israel chose a system similar to the British, where the parliament is supreme, but it has even fewer checks and balances than England has. Israel has no Magna Carta, no constitution, no bill of rights, no House of Lords and no king or president required even to rubber stamp the laws and, of course, no Talmud or Torah Law. The Knesset makes, ratifies and carries out the laws, and the Knesset can overrule the courts, if it so chooses. The courts must follow the “Scroll of Independence” and the Knesset laws, and it is only when Knesset law does not exist in a specific case that the court can decide to adjudicate using American law, English law, international law or even Talmudic law. In recent years, the court has become very proactive and has taken many liberties with the law, but local and world opinion and international pressure have prevented the Knesset from passing laws to overrule or bypass the court.
Unfortunately, the court is made up of mostly secular Israelis whose approach to Judaism is less than positive. Judges often seem to feel that Judaism and a Jewish state are in conflict with “the Scroll of Independence,” “basic human rights” and “equality before the law.” This leads to conflicts between Orthodox Jews and the courts.
There are 120 seats in the Knesset. Any citizen over the age of 21, who has not been in prison for a serious crime, and who was not a senior government employee recently, may run for the Knesset. There are no direct elections for a member of the Knesset, for the prime minister or for the president of Israel. There are no districts in Israel, so all of Israel is one district. A voter gets one vote and may vote for any one party, and the first people listed on the party list will become Knesset members, depending on the percentage of the national vote the party receives. If the party gets, for example, 10 percent of the votes, the first 12 people on the list will become Knesset members. There are no by-elections. If a Knesset member resigns for any reason, or passes away, the next person on his or her party list automatically becomes a member of the Knesset (even if it is one day before the next elections).
There were direct elections for prime minister in 1996, but the law was quickly repealed in 2001. Today, the prime minister is chosen by the Knesset. He or she is usually the leader of the largest party, but several smaller parties may form a coalition, gain a majority and choose anyone they wish to be prime minister. Six parties, for example, each with approximately 10 or 11 seats (together having 61 seats) may form a coalition and choose a prime minister, despite the fact that a large party may have 59 seats. In actuality, a coalition of several parties is usually required and there is a lot of horse trading for support. Each party wants its pet projects funded and wants its leaders in strategic ministries.