For a time, Israel's prime minister
was unlike most others, being elected by popular vote
and not by the parliament
. While the Knesset
was elected by proportional representation
on a statewide level, the prime minister was elected in a national winner take all
election, with a runoff election
two weeks later if no candidate won the first. This unique system was first employed in 1996
, and later abandoned when the Knesset ended up badly spread.
The Knesset can remove the prime minister by a two-thirds vote (80/120), and can vote no confidence by a simple majority of 61 (which means that the assembly is dissolved as well). In either case, new elections must be held.
When are elections held? According to law, on the third Tuesday of Heshvan (or the first Tuesday, if following a Hebrew leap year). This usually comes in November. However, the Knesset is allowed to approve a different date, and have extended and shortened their term on many occasions, as the following table indicates.
Born Term Died
M David Ben-Gurion Poland 1886 1948-1953 1973
M Moshe Sharett Ukraine 1894 1953-1955 1965
M David Ben-Gurion (2) 1955-1963
M/L Levi Eshkol Russia 1895 1963-1969 1969
L Golda Meir Russia 1898 1969-1974 1978
L Yitzhak Rabin Palestine 1922 1974-1977 1995 (assassinated)
Lik Menachem Begin Poland 1913 1977-1983 1992
Lik Yitzhak Shamir Poland 1915 1983-1984
L Shimon Peres Poland 1923 1984-1986
Lik Yitzhak Shamir (2) 1986-1992
L Yitzhak Rabin (2) 1992-1995
L Shimon Peres (2) 1995-1996
Lik Binyamin Netanyahu Israel 1949 1996-1999
L Ehud Barak Palestine 1942 1999-2001
Lik Ariel Sharon Palestine 1928 2001-
Party abbreviations: M = Mapai
, L = Labor Party
, Lik = Likud
. Note that Israeli governments are coalition
s, and therefore this designation only reflects the prime minister, not necessarily the majority of the Knesset
You may notice that all of Israel's prime ministers are Ashkenazim—European Jews—despite the fact that the Ashkenazim only make up around half of Israel's citizenry. Many political thinkers believe that this is because the African and Asian Sephardim in Israel have arrived without an adequate knowledge of democracy, and believe that as future Sephardi generations grow up in a democratic environment, the ethnic tilt in Israeli politics will change.
Unlike most other industrial democracies, elections in Israel generally revolve around defense policy and religious policy, not the economy. The two major historical factions in Israel, Mapai/Labor and Herut/Liberal/Likud, chiefly fought across these lines, and there is little reason to believe that the situation will change in the near future.
principal source: Arian, The Second Republic - thanks to arieh and da-x for clarifications