Israeli Politics Explained

Politics are complicated, especially Israeli politics. Why do Israelis keep having elections? What parties make up the Knesset — Israel’s parliament? A party needs at least 61 seats to form a government, but no single party has ever come close to winning that many seats, which means that parties have had to team up with one another to form a “Coalition Government.” Currently, getting those 61 seats has proved more of a challenge than ever, causing Israelis to go to the polls four times in two years. Are they stuck in an endless cycle?

This video will help you make heads and tails of what you read in the news — the issues at hand, the various politicians, what “right” and “left” even means anymore, and how one man — Benjamin Netanyahu — managed to eclipse even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  1. Who was the longest serving Prime Minister of Israel?
    • David Ben-Gurion
    • Levi Eshkol
    • Menachem Begin
    • Benjamin Netanyahu
  2. How many seats are in the Knesset?
    • 80
    • 100
    • 120
    • 140
  3. What is the minimum number of seats a party must win to enter the Knesset?
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    • 6
  4. Which Prime Minister was NOT charged with a criminal offence while in office?
    • Yithzak Rabin
    • Benjamin Netanyahu
    • Ehud Olmert
    • Golda Meir
  5. Which party had the least number of seats in the 24th Knesset elected on March 23, 2021?
    • Joint List
    • Religious Zionism
    • New Hope
    • Raam 
    • Meretz
  1. What are the names of the two Israeli-Arab majority parties in the knesset? In what ways are they similar and different to one another? Why do you think that both of these parties usually avoid being in governing coalitions, or only support governments externally without taking ministry positions?
  2. Israeli left wing parties (Meretz and Avoda) have shrunk in size dramatically over the last few decades. Meanwhile, in other places like the United States, left wing and progressive philosophy is growing more popular. What do you think led to the decline of left wing parties in Israel, and the rise of left wing politics in places like the United States?
  3. The two main Haredi parties in the Knesset (Shas and United Torah Judaism) generally oppose the enlistment of young Haredi men into the IDF causing much tension within Israeli society. Former Health Minister and member of United Torah Judaism Yaacov Litzman argues that studying Torah can protect and safeguard the wellbeing of Israelis no less than can serving in the army. Where do you stand on this issue?
  4. Israel has had a number of center parties over the years including Kadima, the Pensioners Party, Kulanu, HaTnua, Derech Eretz, Yesh Atid, Blue White and New Hope. What explains the rise and fall of so many center parties in Israel? Do you agree with the video that it’s all about the personality of the leader, or can you see an ideological commonality between these parties?
  5. What do you know about the right wing parties including Likud, Yamina and Religious Zionism? Why do you think the majority of Jewish Israelis lean to the right and what policies would you like to see a right wing government push forward in the future?
  6. Israel’s electoral system is often scrutinized because the electoral threshold to enter the Knesset is low (3.25%). Therefore, there are many parties making it difficult to form and maintain a ruling coalition. But some people make the opposite argument. Read the following quote from Haviv Rettig Gur:

    “There is more to Israel’s electoral system than meets the eye. It doesn’t just magnify the tribal divides; it allows Israeli society to mediate and manage them in ways that help prevent political violence. It forces majorities to pay heed to minorities — sometimes too much, sometimes not enough, but the simple fact that Haredim, religious-Zionists, Sephardi Jews, Russian-speakers, and so on and so forth all get a seat at the table, to the boundless frustration of prime ministers who resent the political juggling act this entails, has shaped some of the best features of Israeli society, from its cohesion to its very democracy.

    Do you believe Israel’s electoral system needs to change (ie. fewer parties? raise the electoral threshold? have political representation for geographic areas?), or should it be left as is?

  1. Mock Elections:

    Divide your students into small groups and give each the name of an existing Israeli political party. Each group must create an advertisement, banner and three-minute stump speech for their party on three key issues: Religion and State, Negotiations with the Palestinians and the economy. Once each group has presented their party’s vision to the larger group, conduct a vote using paper ballots as done in Israel to determine your imaginary government.

  2. Create your own political party:

    Based on your personal values and beliefs surrounding Israel, create an imaginary Israeli political party and write a political platform surrounding three topics of your choosing. Your party platform should also include a party name, jingle and bumper sticker.

  3. The Tribes of Israel:

    Commenting on Israel’s divided tribes, Yohanan Plesner of the Israel Democracy Institute said, “We must aspire to re-create a shared Israeli identity. Israel’s shifting demographics have called into question the balance between its various identities: Jewish or democratic, religious or secular, Jewish or Arab, and so on. The lack of consensus between the various ‘tribes’ of Israel (as President Reuven Rivlin called the different sectors that make up contemporary Israeli society) has increased divisions, making the public forum a more aggressive and violent place. Almost every tribe sees itself as both the majority and the minority, both powerful and under threat, at the same time”.

    Create a table listing the four tribes of Israel as outlined in Rivlin’s speech, and highlight the fears and hopes that each group holds in its vision for Israel.

  4. Where do you stand?

    Review this table and circle all the policies with which you agree, counting which party has the most support for your vision for Israel. Write a one paragraph response about who you would vote for and why if you are an Israeli citizen. Review some samples here for inspiration.

  5. Play our Kahoot about Israeli politics!

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