GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS

   Israel is a parliamentary democracy but has no formal written constitution. Since independence, a series of Basic Laws have been enacted that guide Israel's actions and are intended, in time, to form portions of a consolidated constitutional document. Periodically, there have been pressures for the promulgation of a written constitution with a bill of rights.
   The president is the head of state and is elected by the Knesset (parliament). The president's powers and functions are primarily ceremonial, and his or her actual political power is very limited. The prime minister is head of government and, as the chief executive officer, wields considerable power. The prime minister forms the government (or cabinet), whose members head the ministries. The prime minister determines the agenda of cabinet meetings and has the final word in policy decisions, although such decisions are often arrived at through bargaining and compromise among the coalition of parties that, since independence, have constituted Israel's governments. Decisions by the government determine the direction and policy of the state.
   Legislative power resides in the Knesset, a unicameral body of 120 members that is the supreme authority in the state. The Knesset's main functions are similar to those of other modern parliaments and include votes of confidence or no confidence in the government and legislation, participation in the formulation of national policy, approval of budgets and taxation, election of the president, and general monitoring of the activities of the executive branch. All members of the Knesset are elected at large in a national and general election in which seats are allocated by a complex system of proportional representation.
   The judiciary consists of secular and religious court systems. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, hears appeals from lower courts in civil and criminal cases, and acts to protect the rights of Israeli citizens. While it does not have the power of judicial review, the Supreme Court has in recent years adopted a more activist role, both in invalidating administrative actions it regards as contrary to the law and in commenting on broader social issues. Each major religious community has its own religious courts that have jurisdiction over matters of personal status, such as marriage and divorce, alimony, probate, and inheritance.
   Israel has a large number of political parties that represent a wide spectrum of views, positions, and interests. There are also religious and special-issue parties that focus on a particular subject or theme, as well as some political parties that represent the interests of Israeli Arabs and other minority and ethnic communities.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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