The Tyranny of the Minority. The Effectiveness of Policy Making in Israel

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2013

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

I. Introduction to Israel’s Political System

II. Analysis of political voting blocs in Israel

III. Tyranny of the Minority: The effect of small parties on coalition politics
A. The influence of the ultra-orthodox sector
B. The influence of the National Religious Sector
C. The effect of Arab-Israeli non-participation

IV. Politics of “Collections Coalitions” in Israel

V. A Cause for Optimism: The rise of Yesh Atid

The Tyranny of the Minority: The Effectiveness of Policy Making in Israel

I. Introduction to Israel’s Political System

As a fledgling nation facing a unique set of social challenges and physical threats, the democracy of Israel was created in an incredibly volatile environment. Nonetheless, in certain respects Israeli democracy has shown itself to be remarkably stable—for example, not once in Israel’s sixty-five year history have the results of a major election been challenged. In other respects, however, Israeli democracy has presented itself as fundamentally unstable and subject to perpetual inefficiency. This is further exacerbated by the fact that unlike most Western democracies, the state of Israel lacks a formal constitution; instead, Israel has passed a set of Basic Laws intended to fill the gap.[1] One symptom of this perpetually unstable condition is the frequency in which Israel changes the makeup of its governing coalitions—in Israel’s brief history of sixty-five years, there have been thirty-one different governments. The question becomes, to what extent is such an erratic democracy able to set policy and govern effectively? In what follows, this question will be analyzed thoroughly, with an emphasis placed on the role that Israel’s multiparty political system plays in this process.

The political system in Israel is a parliamentary system based strictly on proportional representation. This was a system Israel adopted in the aftermath of the period of the British Mandate in order to accommodate the starkly different social, political and religious groups—and particularly the vast waves of immigrants—that composed its population. In Israel’s parliamentary system, a party receives seats in the Knesset in proportion to the number of votes that they received in the legislative elections. Keeping in line with an accepted principle in political science known as Dueverger’s law[2], this is a political system which tends to promote the existence of many parties, and Israeli democracy can serve as the poster child for this theory. In Israel’s most recent legislative elections in January of 2013, thirty-four different parties were represented on the ballot, twelve of which passed the 2% electoral threshold and are currently sitting in the Knesset. [3]

The political system in Israel is further complicated by the complex interplay between the diverse religious, economic, political and social groups it possesses. It is this complexity that has prevented the establishment of a formal constitution, as the fundamental disagreements between these groups pose a massive challenge towards reaching the compromises necessary to formulating a constitution. These divides are constantly reflected in the results of Israel’s legislative elections—never in Israel’s history has a single party won a majority of the popular vote. This means that every government in Israel was composed of multiple parties that formed a governing coalition, further complicated by the fact that every Knesset since the founding of Israel has been represented by at least ten parties.[4]

II. Analysis of political voting blocs in Israel

The divisions in Israel’s society are ever-present and in certain ways unbridgeable. Regarding issues of economics, there is a significant disagreement in Israel between right-wing political parties in favor of increased privatization of the economy and left-wing parties that prefer an adherence to Israel’s socialist roots. Politically speaking, on one side are parties in favor of a dovish stance vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that support peace talks with the Palestinian Authority guided towards reaching a two-state solution. On the other side are political hardliners who support the expansion of settlements over the 1967 border and who are opposed to the notion of relinquishing land to a Palestinian political entity. Religiously, there are those in favor of complete separation between religion and state, and there others in favor of integrating Jewish laws and traditions with the contemporary Israeli legal system wherever possible. Needless to say, for all of these issues, there are Israelis positioned on either extreme and everywhere in between on the spectrum. There also is not clear overlap between the traditional “right” and “left” on the aforementioned issues. For example, dovish religious parties have existed, as do parties for secular hardliners.

III. Tyranny of the Minority: The effect of small parties on coalition politics

With this background, we can now turn to the effect that the existence of many small parties has on policy formation and implementation in Israel. While one of the primary struggles in most democracies is preventing the “tyranny of the majority”[5] by protecting the individual rights of the minorities, we will observe how in Israeli democracy a phenomenon exists where certain minority groups have disproportionate influence over particular policies that affect the general public. Due to coalition politics and Israel’s multiparty proportional system, the argument goes that smaller parties often have veto power over policies that are supported by a majority of the general public. The claim that smaller parties in Israel have greater power than their numbers is most often heard in relation to the rising influence of the ultra-orthodox demographic in Israel.

A. The influence of the ultra-orthodox sector

When the state of Israel was established in 1948, the ultra-orthodox population was a tiny minority estimated at barely one-percent of the Israeli population.[6] Due to maintaining the largest birthrates among Israeli society, currently at between eight-ten children per ultra-orthodox woman, the ultra-orthodox community is by far the fastest growing Jewish demographic in Israel. An exact census of the ultra-orthodox public has proven difficult, though estimates that place their number at 700,000 would indicate that they make up more than 10% of the Jews living in Israel.[7] Together, the two central ultra-orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, earned 18 out of the 120 Knesset seats, or 15% of the total number of seats[8]. By positioning themselves as parties willing to align themselves with both hardliner and dovish governments depending on the political winds, the ultra-orthodox parties are effectively given veto power over key legislation affecting the entire nation.


[1] As explained on the website of the Israeli Knesset, “Israel does not have a written constitution, even though according to the Proclamation of Independence a constituent assembly should have prepared a constitution by October 1, 1948. The delay in the preparation of a constitution resulted primarily from problems that emerged against the background of the alleged clash between a secular constitution and the Halacha (the Jewish religious law)”

[2] Sartori, Giovanni, Comparative Constitutional Engineering, An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes.

[3] Official election results:

[4] For further analysis, see the analysis of Dr. Ofir Kenig from the Israeli Democracy Institute:

[5] Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. New York: Liberal Arts, 1956. 7. Print.

[6] Benny Morris, The Atlantic:

[7]Four surveys yield different totals for Haredi population, Haaretz, April 21, 2011.

[8] Official election results:

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The Tyranny of the Minority. The Effectiveness of Policy Making in Israel
University of Potsdam
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tyranny, minority, effectiveness, policy, making, israel
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Badir Bayramov (Author), 2013, The Tyranny of the Minority. The Effectiveness of Policy Making in Israel, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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