"Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East" - this sentence is often heard,
but what does it really mean? While desiging FactsOfIsrael.com I had to ask myself the above question, and I
did some research to come up with an answer.
Raymod Aron, a contemporary french philosopher, describes in his "Introduction
a la philosophie politique" 4 main ingredients that are needed in a true Democracy.
I will describe those ideas and see how they are applicable in the case of the
State of Israel.
In a Democracy, the idea of freedom is introduced. Furthermore, 4 different
ideas of freedom are needed:
To have political freedom is to be able to participate in elections or to be part
of the ruling party. On 2/2002 Israel had 15 parties in the "Knesset", its parliament.
Every Israeli citizen has the right to vote or to be a candidate, including its 980,000
Israel has an electoral system based on country-wide proportional representation.
For the purpose of elections Israel is a single voting area, and the number of seats
each party receives in the Knesset is determined on the basis of its proportion of the
total vote. The only limitation is the 1.5% qualifying threshold, by which a party must
receive at least 1.5% of the vote to be elected. According to this system, the voters
elect a party slate and not a particular candidate.
The Knesset in solidarity with the U.S.
after the heinous 9/11 attacks
Below we can see the results of the last 1999 elections. I also
include a description of all parties from the Israeli political
spectrum, the party lists, the left, the center and the right, the religious parties, the
Sephardic (immigrants from Northern Africa) parties, the Immigrant parties, the Arab Parties and more.
Note that the Israeli
political spectrum changes extremely fast, click here
for example to get details
on the parties running in 1996.
None of Israel's Arab neighboors have free democratic elections
Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan,
Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Kahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman,
Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia - see maps for locations).
Figures taken from the Knesset's web site
Here's a description of most Israeli parties that passed the 1.5% qualifying threshold in
the 1999 elections. I will describe the parties going from left to right of the political
Quick note: in Israel, the terms 'right' and 'left' seldom refer to economics or the welfare system.
'Right' usually means approaching negotiations with suspicion and supporting settlements in the disputed
lands. 'Left' means a good-hearted eagerness to negotiate with the Palestinians, an attitude that may
be revived eventually but in October 2002 is so unpopular that it seems almost quaint.
United Arab List:: (5 mandates) An Arab party which includes Abdel Wahab
Darawshe, who had been a member of the Labor Party. In the elections to the 14th Knesset it
ran together with part of the Islamic Movement, and together they won four seats.
Mahameed, an Arab Muslim
Member of Israel's Parliament
National Alliance:: (2 mandates) An Arab party formed
before the elections to the 14th Knesset. It demands that
Israel become a state of all its citizens, rather than define itself as a Jewish
state. In the elections to the 14th Knesset it ran together with Hadash and had
two Knesset seats.
Democratic Front:: (3 mandates) The Israel Communist Party, together with other political groups. A
predominantly Arab party, though No. 3 on its list is a Jewish woman. In the
elections to the 14th Knesset (1996) it ran together with Balad and together they
won 5 seats.
Leader of the Meretz Party
Meretz:: (10 mandates) A left-wing Zionist party, which places emphasis on human rights, social
welfare, the separation of religion and state, and the peace process. It was formed
through the merging of three parties: Ratz (Citizens' Rights, established by Shulamit
Aloni), the socialist Mapam, and the liberal Shinui. In the 14th Knesset (1996) it had
Leader of the Labor Party
Labor Party: - part of One Israel (26 mandates). A social-democratic party, with roots going back to the
early days of Zionism. Its recent leaders were Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
Under the leadership of Ehud Barak, Israel's previous prime minister, it redefined itself
as "New Labor." It had 34 seats in the 14th Knesset (1996)
and ran in the elections to the 15th Knesset in the framework of
"One Israel" -- an alignment with Gesher and Meimad.
Leader of the Gesher Party
Gesher: - part of One Israel (26 mandates). An ethnic Moroccan party formed before the elections to the 14th
Knesset (1996) by David Levy, formerly a prominent member of the Likud. In the
elections to the 14th Knesset it ran in a single list with the Likud and Tsomet,
and was represented in the Knesset by four members. It was a member of the
14th Knesset government, but left it. In the elections to the 15th Knesset it ran in a
single list with Labor and Meimad.
Meimad: - part of One Israel (26 mandates). A moderate national-religious party formed before the elections
to the 13th Knesset. Meimad is a dovish party which favors a modification of the
religious status quo. In the elections to the 13th Knesset (1992) it failed to
pass the 1.5% qualifying threshold. It ran in the elections to the 15th
Knesset (1999) in a single list, One Israel, with Labor and Gesher.
Center Party: (6 mandates). A new centrist party, most of whose founding members left
the Likud, but which was joined by several former members of the Labor Party and
new figures in Israeli politics. It is headed by former defense minister Yitzhak
Mordechai, who is also ran for prime minister. There were six MKs (Members of the Knesset)
-- former members of the Likud, Tsomet, Gesher, and the Labor Party -- who were
candidates of the new party.
Shinui: (6 mandates). A small liberal party that demands that Haredi parties be left
out of the next government, which is led by media personality Tommy Lapid and MK
Avraham Poraz, formerly from Meretz. Lapid has pitched the party as the leader in a
populist crusade to stem the growing influence of the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox parties on
Israeli society and politics.
For years, leader of the Shas Party
Convicted of fraud and jailed
Shas: (17 mandates). A Sephardi Haredi party, founded before the
elections to the 11th Knesset (1984). Sephardim are Jews from Northern Africa (Morocco,
Algeria, Tunisia) and Haredim are Jewish religious Ultra-Orthodox. It has been actively engaged in the battle
against the involvement of the High Court of Justice in religious matters. The
positions of its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, regarding the peace
process are moderate, but most of the party's supporters are right-wingers. It
had 10 seats in the 14th Knesset and is a member of the current government.
The recent convinction and sentencing of party leader Aryeh Deri for bribery
and fraud had a significant effect on support for the party. The 'Deri effect' had
increased the party's standing amongst the Sephardi electorate, and it won 17 seats
in the 1999 elections, becoming Israel's third party (in size).
United Torah Judaism: (5 mandates). A haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) party, which has existed
since the beginning of the century. It is primarily concerned with religious
issues and in the battle against the drafting of yeshiva students to the IDF.
Leader of the Yisrael Ba'aliya Party
Spent years fighting for Jewish freedom in Russia
Yisrael Ba'aliya: (6 mandates). A new immigrants party founded by Natan Sharansky
before the elections to the 14th Knesset (1996) - its main concern is immigrants
welfare. In its political positions it is moderate Right. In the 14th Knesset it
had seven seats and all its members were from the former Soviet Union. In its new slate for the 15th Knesset there was
Ethiopian representation as well.
Leader of the Likud Party
Currently Israel's Prime Minister
Likud: (19 mandates). A right-wing party formed in 1973 through the fusion of Menachem
Begin's Herut Movement, the Liberal Party, and several other political groups.
In the past it was the most right-wing party in the Knesset, but since 1977 has
become much more pragmatic. It was led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who
also became Israel's prime minister. It had 22 seats
in the 14th Knesset (1996) under the Likud-Gesher-Tsomet alignment of 32 seats. It is
Ariel Sharon's (Israel's Prime Minister as of 4/2002) party as well.
National Religious Party: (5 mandates). A religious Zionist party, with roots going
back to the early days of Zionism. Since the mid-70s it has shifted to the
extreme Right, and is an advocate of keeping the West Bank and Gaza. It has recently
moved a little more to the center. It had nine seats in the 14th Knesset (1996).
Moshe Katsav from the Likud
Currently Israel's President
Israel Our Home: (4 mandates). A new immigrants' party recently founded by Avigdor
Lieberman, who was a member of the Likud and director-general of the Prime
Minister's Office. The party is extreme right-wing and expresses displeasure with the
country's legal system.
National Unity: (4 mandates). An extreme right-wing party that
is an advocate of keeping the West Bank and Gaza.
Leader of the Moledet/National Unity party
Mr. Ze'evi was Israel's Minister of Tourism
when he was killed by Palestinian terrorists on 10/2001
One Nation: (2 mandates). An extreme right-wing party that advocates the
voluntary transfer of the Palestinians from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
The Jerusalem Post also had a good site on the Israeli elections of 1999.
for more information on Israeli political parties.
Raymond Aron also listed three additional pre-requisites for a Democracy:
Security (freedom from persecution from the majority),
Social freedom, and
Autonomy freedom. I won't go into detail on
the above until my next big update of the site, but it is clear that Israel meets all of
the above requirements.