By Andrew Mccarty, Staff Member

On April 9, 2019, Israel held national congressional elections to determine the 120 new representatives of the 21st Knesset[1], and importantly, the next Prime Minister of Israel. National elections in Israel were originally scheduled for the end of 2019, but in late 2018 the previous Knesset was dissolved over a dispute between the governing coalition concerning proposed exemptions to Israel’s military draft policy.[2]

Unlike American elections where voters cast vote for specific candidates, Israel voters cast ballots for specific lists of candidates which associate with one party.[3] In order to receive seats in the Knesset, a party must retain at least 3.25% of the total vote for the Knesset.[4] Also very unlike American politics, where the two-party system is a central feature at all levels of government, national Israeli politics features many political parties all across the political spectrum.[5] As such, it is very common for no party to receive a governing majority of the Knesset, forcing parties to join together to create a governing coalition.[6]

The first four months of 2019 featured campaigning that was defined largely by two major power centers. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party had been the controlling party of the previous governing coalition, with Prime Minister Netanyahu serving in his role since 2009 after previously serving as Prime Minister in late 1990s.[7] The conservative Likud party faced an uphill battle to win a governing coalition again: besides the draft exemption concern that caused the dissolution of the previous Knesset, Prime Minister Netanyahu also faced the threat of an indictment over charges of corruption.[8] The main opposition to the Likud party was a newly formed coalition called the “Blue and White” party, which featured a centrist political alliance designed primarily to oppose Netanyahu.[9]

After a wild election night in which both the Likud and Blue and White parties declared victory[10], both parties ended up receiving 35 out of the 120 total seats in the 21st Knesset.[11] However, due to the strength of the smaller conservative parties, Prime Minister Netanyahu was given the first opportunity to form a governing coalition by the President of Israeli.[12] Although this does not guarantee that he will be able to form a government, this makes it all but certain that Netanyahu will receive another term as Prime Minister.

[1] Israel has a unicameral legislative body that is referred to as the “Knesset.” The word “Knesset” derives from a Hebrew word for “assembly.” See The Knesset History – Introduction, The State of Israel (last accessed Apr. 19, 2019) https://knesset.gov.il/history/eng/eng_hist.htm.

[2] See Arutz Sheva, It’s final: 20th Knesset dissolved, Israel heading to elections, Israel Nat’l News (Dec. 26, 2018), http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/256756.

[3] Elections for the Knesset, The State of Israel (last accessed Apr. 19, 2019) https://main.knesset.gov.il/en/mk/pages/elections.aspx.

[4] Id. (“In order to be represented in the Knesset, a list which takes part in the elections must pass the qualifying electoral threshold, which is currently 3.25%.”)

[5] See generally Jonathan Lis, Final Israeli Election Results: Likud Loses Seat, but Netanyahu Still Set to Form Next Government, Haaretz (Apr. 16, 2019), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/elections/final-israeli-election-results-likud-loses-seat-but-netanyahu-will-still-form-next-1.7133089 (explaining the performance of multiple different parties).

[6] See Zach Beauchamp, Benjamin Netanyahu won Israel’s election. Here’s what comes next., Vox (Apr. 10, 2019), https://www.vox.com/world/2019/4/10/18302233/israel-election-results-benjamin-netanyahu-2019 (explaining that failing to win an outright majority of seats is “typical in Israeli elections”).

[7] See Isabel Kershner, Netanyahu to Form New Israel Government, N.Y. Times (Feb. 20, 2009), https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/21/world/middleeast/21israel.html.

[8] Isabel Kershner, With Netanyahu Facing Indictment, Israel Braces for a Wild Election, N.Y. Times (Mar. 1, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/01/world/middleeast/netanyahu-indictment-election.html.

[9] Megan Specia and Rick Gladstone, Israel Elections: How the Country Chooses a Leader and What’s at Stake, N.Y. Times (Apr. 9, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/09/world/middleeast/elections-israel.html.

[10] Felicia Schwartz and Dov Lieber, Both Sides Declare Victory in Israeli Election, WSJ (Apr. 9, 2019), https://www.wsj.com/articles/netanyahu-raises-fear-of-election-loss-urges-right-wing-turnout-11554804267.

[11] See Lis, supra note 5.

[12] Gil Hoffman, Netanyahu Gets Chance To Form Fifth Government, The Jerusalem Post (Apr. 18, 2019), https://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Rivlin-receives-official-election-results-587148.