Living as a minority for centuries in Europe and the Middle East required the Jewish people to develop structures of organization and leadership in order to preserve and represent the community’s interests to the ruling regime.

Jews taxed and educated themselves, essentially practicing self-government well before they ever controlled a territory. By emerging from a variety of social, geographic, and ideological backgrounds, the World Zionist Organization became an umbrella movement of diverse outlooks. Political debate was constant, often rancorous, and more often inclusive. In Palestine, institutions were established to link people to the land, with the Jewish Agency established to interact with the British on behalf of the growing Jewish community. Zionists elected a self-governing assembly in April 1920, with 22,000 out of 28,000 eligible voters casting ballots. The assembly did not have much power, but there was universal suffrage and parties were represented proportionately to the votes received. There were four such elections prior to the establishment of the state in 1948.

Even before the end of the Independence War, Israel held its first election as a parliamentary democracy. The Israeli Parliament remains the supreme political institution of the state with 120 members. Voters cast ballots for political parties and not for individuals, with allocations in the parliament based upon the percentages a particular party receives. Elections must take place every four years, though they have occurred 19 times, with no single party ever winning a majority of parliamentary seats. Every Israel government has comprised a coalition of several parties which has required trading of votes for cabinet positions and access to budgetary allocations. A Cabinet is assembled by the Prime Minister, who usually hails from the political party that won the most seats in an election. The President of the State is essentially a ceremonial position while the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Any Israeli citizen can make an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Though Israel’s Declaration of Independence explicitly called for writing a constitution, that did not occur. Instead, the Parliament has passed 13 Basic Laws which constitute the structure for Israeli government and citizen obligations. In 67 years, Israel has had 13 Prime Ministers and close to 900 different parliamentary members. The Israeli Army is a citizen force, falling under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. Israel has a free press and a very high rate of citizen participation in local and national governance.


1948 Israel’s Declaration of Independence
1958 Israel’s Basic Laws