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Israel’s Upcoming National Elections: Background Information

Israel is facing national elections shortly after the U.S. elections. Interestingly, Israel was mentioned more than 30 times  in the October 22, 2012 U.S. presidential debate . There is no doubt that the results of either election will have serious ramifications on both countries’ policies in the Middle East.

On Oct. 16, 2012, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the Law for the dissolution of the 18th Knesset. Accordingly, general early elections for the Knesset will be held on January 22, 2013, less than a month ahead of the termination of its full four year term. According to media reports, Prime Minister Netanyahu initiated the passage of the Law after concluding that he could not pass the 2013 state budget based on the composition of his current coalition government. Other reports  attribute his introduction of the Law to his intention to adopt a strategy in response to Iran’s development of nuclear capabilities, one that would enjoy broader parliamentary support.

Unlike the U.S., Israel maintains a parliamentary system of government, with the Prime Minister serving as the executive authority of the state and the head of the government, and the President serving as the Head of State but not the head of the government. Knesset Members are generally chosen from candidate lists selected by the parties, following their own primaries. The Prime Minister is selected by the President and is usually the head of the largest party, or the party capable of forming a coalition government, as is the case with the current Prime Minister, Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Knesset Building; Photograph provided to author by the Knesset with permission for re- use.

In accordance with the Basic Law: The Knesset, the Knesset must be elected in a country-wide single electoral district. The Basic Law requires that the elections be direct, equal, secret and proportional. Accordingly, the number of seats that each candidates’ list receives out of the 120 seats available in the Knesset is proportional to the number of votes it received, subject to a minimum qualifying threshold of two percent.

As a general rule, the financing of political campaigns is derived from both private as well as government funding. Parties obtain government funding for the duration of the campaign as well as for ongoing expenses. The funding and expenditures of both political campaigns and ongoing activities are subject to extensive rules of financial disclosure and enforcement. Additionally, individual contributions to general elections are permitted as long as they originate from donors who are Israeli citizens and residents above the age of eighteen and who are not anonymous.

It should be noted that under Israeli law candidates do not have the right to an independent campaign for election to the Knesset. Party groups and candidate lists nominate their candidate for the post and incur expenses in promoting that individual’s candidacy. Candidates, however, run independent campaigns within their party primaries. The Law limits the total amount that may be contributed to an individual’s campaign in the primaries.

For further information on the financing of the primary elections held by the political parties, as regulated by the Israel’s Parties Law, 5752-1992, as well as on the financing of the general elections for the Knesset under the Political Parties (Financing) Law, 5733-1973, we recommend that you check our Law Library of Congress website under “Legal Topics”, where, in addition to information on campaign financing in Israel you can find articles on the financing of general elections under the laws of Australia, France, Germany and the U.K.

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