Last updated

The Knesset


22nd Knesset
Emblem of Israel alternative blue-gold.svg
Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, Likud
since 18 March 2013
Benjamin Netanyahu (Interim), Likud
since 31 March 2009
22nd Knesset 2.svg
Political groups
Caretaker government (55)

Opposition (65)

Party-list proportional representation
D'Hondt method
Last election
17 September 2019
Next election
2 March 2020
Meeting place
Knesset Building (South Side).JPG
Knesset, Givat Ram, West Jerusalem, Israel

The Knesset (Hebrew : הַכְּנֶסֶת [ha 'kneset]( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); lit. "gathering" [2] or "assembly";) is the unicameral national legislature of Israel. As the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset passes all laws, elects the President and Prime Minister (although the latter is ceremonially appointed by the President), approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government. In addition, the Knesset elects the State Comptroller. It also has the power to waive the immunity of its members, remove the President and the State Comptroller from office, dissolve the government in a constructive vote of no confidence, and to dissolve itself and call new elections. The Prime Minister may also dissolve the Knesset. However, until an election is completed, the Knesset maintains authority in its current composition. [3] The Knesset is located in Givat Ram, Western Jerusalem. The Knesset was temporarily dissolved on 30 May 2019. [4] The Knesset returned on 3 October 2019 following the swearing in of new members [5] , though it was dissolved on 12 December 2019. [6]



The term "Knesset" is derived from the ancient Knesset HaGdola (Hebrew : כְּנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה) or "Great Assembly", which according to Jewish tradition was an assembly of 120 scribes, sages, and prophets, in the period from the end of the Biblical prophets to the time of the development of Rabbinic Judaism – about two centuries ending c. 200 BCE. [7] There is, however, no organisational continuity and – aside from the number of members – little similarity, as the ancient Knesset was a religious, completely unelected body.


Members of the Knesset are known in Hebrew as חֲבֵר הַכְּנֶסֶת (Haver HaKnesset), if male, or חַבְרַת הַכְּנֶסֶת (Havrat HaKnesset), if female.

Role in Israeli government

As the legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset passes all laws, elects the president, approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government through its committees. It also has the power to waive the immunity of its members, remove the President and the State Comptroller from office, and to dissolve itself and call new elections.

The Knesset has de jure parliamentary supremacy, and can pass any law by a simple majority, even one that might arguably conflict with the Basic Laws of Israel, unless the basic law includes specific conditions for its modification; in accordance with a plan adopted in 1950, the Basic Laws can be adopted and amended by the Knesset, acting in its capacity as a Constituent Assembly. [8]

In addition to the absence of a formal constitution, and with no Basic Law thus far being adopted which formally grants a power of judicial review to the judiciary, the Supreme Court of Israel has since the early 1990s asserted its authority, when sitting as the High Court of Justice, to invalidate provisions of Knesset laws it has found to be inconsistent with a Basic Law. [8] The Knesset is presided over by a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker.


Coat of arms of Israel.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Flag of Israel.svg Israelportal

The Knesset is divided into committees, which amend bills on the appropriate subjects. Committee chairpersons are chosen by their members, on recommendation of the House Committee, and their factional composition represents that of the Knesset itself. Committees may elect sub-committees and delegate powers to them, or establish joint committees for issues concerning more than one committee. To further their deliberations, they invite government ministers, senior officials, and experts in the matter being discussed. Committees may request explanation and information from any relevant ministers in any matter within their competence, and the ministers or persons appointed by them must provide the explanation or information requested. [3]

There are four types of committees in the Knesset. Permanent committees amend proposed legislation dealing with their area of expertise, and may initiate legislation. However, such legislation may only deal with Basic Laws and laws dealing with the Knesset, elections to the Knesset, Knesset members, or the State Comptroller. Special committees function in a similar manner to permanent committees, but are appointed to deal with particular manners at hand, and can be dissolved or turned into permanent committees. Parliamentary inquiry committees are appointed by the plenum to deal with issues viewed as having special national importance. In addition, there are two types of committees that convene only when needed: the Interpretations Committee, made up of the Speaker and eight members chosen by the House Committee, deals with appeals against the interpretation given by the Speaker during a sitting of the plenum to the Knesset rules of procedure or precedents, and Public Committees, established to deal with issues that are connected to the Knesset. [9] [10]

Permanent committees:

Special committees:

The other committees are the Arrangements Committee and the Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee is responsible for jurisdiction over Knesset members who violate the rules of ethics of the Knesset, or involved in illegal activities outside the Knesset. Within the framework of responsibility, the Ethics Committee may place various sanctions on a member, but is not allowed to restrict a members' right to vote. The Arrangements Committee proposes the makeup of the permanent committees following each election, as well as suggesting committee chairs, lays down the sitting arrangements of political parties in the Knesset, and the distribution of rooms in the Knesset building to members and parties. [11]


Knesset members often join together in formal or informal groups known as "lobbies" or "caucuses", to advocate for a particular topic. There are hundreds of such caucuses in the Knesset. The Knesset Christian Allies Caucus and the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus are two of the largest and most actives caucuses. [12] [13]


Knesset chamber, celebrating 61 years of the Knesset PikiWiki Israel 7260 Knesset-Room.jpg
Knesset chamber, celebrating 61 years of the Knesset

The Knesset numbers 120 members, after the size of the Great Assembly. The subject of Knesset membership has often been a cause for proposed reforms. In 1996, then-Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, backed the ultimately unsuccessful institution of the so-called "Norwegian law", which would require appointed members of the cabinet to resign their seats in the Knesset and allow other members of their parties to take their positions while they serve in the cabinet; this would have resulted in more active members of the legislature being present in regular sessions and committee meetings. This proposed law has also been favoured by other politicians, including Benjamin Netanyahu. [14]


The 120 members of the Knesset (MKs) [15] are popularly elected from a single nationwide electoral district to concurrent four-year terms, subject to calls for early elections (which are quite common). All Israeli citizens 18 years or older may vote in legislative elections, which are conducted by secret ballot.

Knesset seats are allocated among the various parties using the D'Hondt method of party list proportional representation. A party or electoral alliance must pass the election threshold of 3.25% [16] of the overall vote to be allocated a Knesset seat. Parties select their candidates using a closed list. Thus, voters select the party of their choice, not any specific candidate.

The electoral threshold was previously set at 1% from 1949 to 1992, then 1.5% from 1992 to 2003, and then 2% until March 2014 when the current threshold of 3.25% was passed (effective with elections for the 20th Knesset). [17] As a result of the low threshold, a typical Knesset has 10 or more factions represented. With so many parties, it is nearly impossible for one party or faction to govern alone, let alone win a majority. No party or faction has ever won the 61 seats necessary for a majority; the closest being the 56 seats won by the Alignment in the 1969 elections (the Alignment had briefly held 63 seats going into the 1969 elections after being formed shortly beforehand by the merger of several parties, the only occasion on which any party or faction has ever held a majority). Every Israeli government has been a coalition of two or more parties.

After an election, the president meets with the leaders of every party that won Knesset seats and asks them to recommend which party leader should form the government. The president then nominates the party leader who is most likely to command the support of a majority in the Knesset (though not necessarily the leader of the largest party/faction in the chamber). The prime minister-designate has 42 days to put together a viable coalition (extensions can be granted and often are), and then must win a vote of confidence in the Knesset before taking office.

Current composition

The table below lists the parliamentary factions represented in the 22nd Knesset.

NameIdeologySymbolPrimary demographicLeaderSeptember 2019 result
Votes (%)Seats
Blue and White Big tent
פה Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid 25.94%
33 / 120
Likud National conservatism
National liberalism
מחל Benjamin Netanyahu 25.15%
32 / 120
Joint List Big tent
Minority interests
ודעם Israeli Arabs Ayman Odeh 10.45%
13 / 120
Shas Religious conservatism
שס Sephardi and
Mizrahi Haredim
Aryeh Deri 7.47%
9 / 120
Yisrael Beiteinu Nationalism
ל Russian-speakers Avigdor Lieberman 6.98%
8 / 120
United Torah Judaism Religious conservatism ג Ashkenazi Haredim Yaakov Litzman 6.09%
7 / 120
Jewish Home-National Union Religious Zionism
Religious conservatism
טב Modern Orthodox and
Chardal Jews
Rafi Peretz 5.90%
4 / 120
New Right National conservatism
Economic liberalism
Naftali Bennett
3 / 120
Labor-Gesher Social democracy אמת Amir Peretz 4.80%
6 / 120
Democratic Union Social democracy
Green politics
מרצ Nitzan Horowitz 4.34%
5 / 120


Despite numerous motions of no confidence being tabled in the Knesset, a government has only been defeated by one once, [18] when Yitzhak Shamir's government was brought down on 15 March 1990 as part of a plot that became known as "the dirty trick" (Hebrew: התרגיל המסריח, HaTargil HaMasriaḥ, lit. "the stinking trick").

However, several governments have resigned as a result of no-confidence motions, even when they were not defeated. These include the fifth government, which fell after Prime Minister Moshe Sharett resigned in June 1955 following the abstention of the General Zionists (part of the governing coalition) during a vote of no-confidence; [19] the ninth government, which fell after Prime Minister Ben-Gurion resigned in January 1961 over a motion of no-confidence on the Lavon Affair; [20] and the seventeenth government, which resigned in December 1976 after the National Religious Party (part of the governing coalition) abstained in a motion of no-confidence against the government.


Historic engraving on the Frumin House, King George St., Jerusalem Frumin entrance.jpg
Historic engraving on the Frumin House, King George St., Jerusalem

The Knesset first convened on 14 February 1949, following the 20 January elections, replacing the Provisional State Council which acted as Israel's official legislature from its date of independence on 14 May 1948 and succeeding the Assembly of Representatives that had functioned as the Jewish community's representative body during the Mandate era.

The Knesset compound sits on a hilltop in western Jerusalem in a district known as Sheikh Badr before the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, now Givat Ram. The main building was financed by James de Rothschild as a gift to the State of Israel in his will and was completed in 1966. It was built on land leased from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. [21] Over the years, significant additions to the structure were constructed, however, these were built at levels below and behind the main 1966 structure as not to detract from the original assembly building's appearance.

Before the construction of its permanent home, the Knesset met in the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem, the Kessem Cinema building in Tel Aviv and the Froumine building in Jerusalem. [22]

Location and construction timeline

The Knesset in winter The Knesset in winter.jpg
The Knesset in winter

Knesset assemblies

Each Knesset session is known by its election number. Thus the Knesset elected by Israel's first election in 1949 is known as the First Knesset. The current Knesset, elected in 2019, is the Twenty-first Knesset.


The Knesset holds morning tours in Hebrew, Arabic, English, French, Spanish, German, and Russian on Sunday and Thursday, and there are also live session viewing times on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings. [23]


A member of the Knesset Guard Knesset Guard P5200034.JPG
A member of the Knesset Guard

The Knesset is protected by the Knesset Guard, a protective security unit responsible for the security of the Knesset building and Knesset members. Guards are stationed outside the building to provide armed protection, and ushers are stationed inside to maintain order. The Knesset Guard also plays a ceremonial role, participating in state ceremonies, which includes greeting dignitaries on Mount Herzl on the eve of Israeli Independence Day.

Public perception

A poll conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute in April and May 2014 showed that while a majority of both Jews and Arabs in Israel are proud to be citizens of the country, both groups share a distrust of Israel's government, including the Knesset. Almost three quarters of Israelis surveyed said corruption in Israel's political leadership was either "widespread or somewhat prevalent". A majority of both Arabs and Jews trusted the Israel Defense Forces, the President of Israel, and the Supreme Court of Israel, but Jews and Arabs reported similar levels of mistrust, with little more than a third of each group claiming confidence in the Knesset. [24]

See also

Related Research Articles

Prime Minister of Israel Head of government of Israel

The Prime Minister of Israel is the head of government and chief executive of Israel.

Likud, officially the Likud – National Liberal Movement, is a centre-right to right-wing political party in Israel. A secular party, it was founded in 1973 by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon in an alliance with several right-wing parties. Likud's landslide victory in the 1977 elections was a major turning point in the country's political history, marking the first time the left had lost power. In addition, it was the first time in Israel that a right-wing party won the plurality of the votes. However, after ruling the country for most of the 1980s, the party lost the Knesset election in 1992. Nevertheless, Likud's candidate Benjamin Netanyahu did win the vote for Prime Minister in 1996 and was given the task of forming a government after the 1996 elections. Netanyahu's government fell apart after a vote of no confidence, which led to elections being called in 1999 and Likud losing power to the One Israel coalition led by Ehud Barak.

United Torah Judaism Israeli electoral alliance

United Torah Judaism is an alliance of Agudat Yisrael, a Hasidic party, and Degel HaTorah, a Lithuanian Haredi party. Both are ultra-Orthodox political parties in the Israeli Knesset. It was first formed in 1992.

Gideon Saar Israeli politician

Gideon Moshe Sa'ar is an Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for the political party Likud between 2003 and 2014, and held cabinet posts of Education Minister and then of Minister of the Interior, from 2009 to 2014. In April 2019, he was re-elected to the 21st Knesset.

Elections in Israel are based on nationwide proportional representation. The electoral threshold is currently set at 3.25%, with the number of seats a party receives in the Knesset being proportional to the number of votes it receives. The Knesset is elected for a four-year term, although most governments have not served a full term and early elections are a frequent occurrence. Israel has a multi-party system based on coalition governments as no party has ever won a majority of seats in a national election, although the Alignment briefly held a majority following its formation by an alliance of several different parties prior to the 1969 elections. The legal voting age for Israeli citizens is 18. Elections are overseen by the Central Elections Committee, and are held according to the Knesset Elections Law.

Deputy leaders of Israel Wikimedia list article

Deputy leaders in Israel fall into three categories: Acting Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Vice Prime Minister. Deputy Prime Minister and Vice Prime Minister are honorary rather than official executive positions, but entitle the office-holder to a place in the cabinet.

Yisrael Beiteinu is a secular nationalist political party in Israel. The party's base was originally secular Russian-speaking Israelis, although support from this demographic is in decline. The party describes itself as "a national movement with the clear vision to follow in the bold path of Zev Jabotinsky", the founder of Revisionist Zionism. It has primarily represented immigrants from the former Soviet Union, although it has attempted to expand its appeal to more established Israelis. It takes a hard line towards the peace process and the integration of Israeli Arabs. Its main platform includes a recognition of the two-state solution, the creation of a Palestinian state that would include an exchange of some largely Arab-inhabited parts of Israel for largely Jewish-inhabited parts of the West Bank. Yisrael Beiteinu maintains an anti-clerical mantle, supports drafting the ultra-Orthodox into the military, and encourages socio-economic opportunities for new immigrants, in conjunction with efforts to increase Jewish immigration. The party won 15 seats in the 2009 election, its most to date, making it the third-largest party in the 18th Knesset. In the September 2019 election the party won eight seats.

Elections for the 17th Knesset were held in Israel on 28 March 2006. The voting resulted in a plurality of seats for the then-new Kadima party, followed by the Labor Party, and a major loss for the Likud party.

The Government of Israel exercises executive authority in the State of Israel. It consists of ministers who are chosen and led by the prime minister. The composition of the government must be approved by a vote of confidence in the Knesset. Under Israeli law, the prime minister may dismiss members of the government, but must do so in writing, and new appointees must be approved by the Knesset. Most ministers lead ministries, though some are ministers without portfolio. Most ministers are members of the Knesset, though only the Prime Minister and the "designated acting prime minister" are required to be Knesset members. Some ministers are also called deputy and vice prime ministers. Unlike the designated acting prime minister, these roles have no statutory meanings. The government operates in accordance with the Basic Law. It meets on Sundays weekly in Jerusalem. There may be additional meetings if circumstances require it. The prime minister convenes these meetings. On 30 May 2019, a vote was passed to temporarily dissolve the Knesset until the September election.

2009 Israeli legislative election Elections for the 18th Knesset

Elections for the 18th Knesset were held in Israel on 10 February 2009. These elections became necessary due to the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as leader of the Kadima party, and the failure of his successor, Tzipi Livni, to form a coalition government. Had Olmert remained in office or had Livni formed a coalition government, the elections would have been scheduled for 2010 instead.

The Jewish Home political party in Israel

The Jewish Home is an Orthodox Jewish and religious Zionist political party in Israel. It was originally formed by a merger of the National Religious Party, Moledet, and Tkuma in November 2008. However, Moledet broke away from the party after its top representative was placed only 17th on the new party's list for the 2009 Knesset elections, and instead ran on a joint list with Hatikva. Tkuma later also left to join the National Union.

Independence (Israeli political party) political party in Israel

Independence was a political party in Israel, that was launched by Defense Minister Ehud Barak on 17 January 2011, after he and four other Labor Party MKs seceded from the caucus. Upon secession, the faction stated that it aimed to establish itself as a separate "centrist, Zionist, and democratic" political party. It was founded on the vestiges of the Third Way party. Nine days after Barak announced his retirement from politics, it was made public that Independence would not take part in the 2013 Knesset elections.

Early elections for the nineteenth Knesset were held in Israel on 22 January 2013. Public debate over the Tal Law had nearly led to early elections in 2012, but they were aborted at the last moment after Kadima briefly joined the government. The elections were later called in early October 2012 after failure to agree on the budget for the 2013 fiscal year.

2015 Israeli legislative election Election for the twentieth Knesset

Early elections for the twentieth Knesset were held in Israel on 17 March 2015. Disagreements within the governing coalition, particularly over the budget and a "Jewish state" proposal, led to the dissolution of the government in December 2014. The Labor Party and Hatnuah formed a coalition, called Zionist Union, with the hope of defeating the Likud party, which had led the previous governing coalition along with Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, The Jewish Home, and Hatnuah.

Politics in Israel is dominated by Zionist parties. They traditionally fall into three camps, the first two being the largest: Labor Zionism, Revisionist Zionism and Religious Zionism. There are also several non-Zionist Orthodox religious parties, non-Zionist left-wing groups as well as non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Israeli Arab parties.

Early legislative elections were held in Israel on 9 April 2019 to elect the 120 members of the 21st Knesset. Elections had been due in November 2019, but were brought forward following a dispute between members of the current government over a bill on national service for the ultra-Orthodox population, as well as impending corruption charges against incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Joint List is a political alliance of the main Arab-majority political parties in Israel: Balad, Hadash, Ta'al and the United Arab List. The alliance was the third-largest faction in the Knesset after the 2015 elections, and was estimated to have received 82% of the Arab vote. In January 2019 Ta'al split from the alliance, and the remaining coalition was dissolved on 21 February 2019. The list was officially re-established on 28 July for the September 2019 Israeli legislative election, in which they were again the third-largest faction.

Amir Ohana Israeli politician

Amir Ohana is an Israeli lawyer, former Shin Bet official and politician who currently serves as a member of the Knesset for Likud and Minister of Justice. He is the first openly gay right-wing member of the Knesset and the first openly gay man from Likud to serve in the Knesset. He is also the first openly LGBT person to be appointed as a minister in the Israeli government.

Snap legislative elections were held in Israel on 17 September 2019 to elect the 120 members of the 22nd Knesset. Following the previous elections in April, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition, the first such failure in Israeli history. On 30 May, the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and trigger new elections, in order to prevent Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz from being appointed Prime Minister-designate. This election marked the first time the Knesset voted to dissolve itself before a government had been formed.

The Democratic Union is a left-wing political alliance in Israel formed between Meretz, Israel Democratic Party, Labor defector Stav Shaffir, and the Green Movement that ran in the September 2019 Israeli legislative election. On 19 December 2019, Labor defector Stav Shaffir and her party, the Green Movement, announced a press conference in which she would leave the alliance to run independently in the upcoming 2020 Israeli legislative election. However, she is still working towards an alliance of various leftist parties, as of 29 December.


  1. זרחיה, צבי. "נטו עבודה בעיניים: התרגיל של כולנו שיזרים לה 12.5 מיליון שקל". Calcalist. Retrieved 30 September 2019. Yifat Shasha-Biton is still a member of Kulanu for party financial reasons.
  2. The Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press, 2005
  3. 1 2 The Knesset. Retrieved 8 September 2011.
  4. Lis, Jonathan; Levinson, Chaim; Rabinowitz, Aaron; Khoury, Jack (30 May 2019). "Israel Heads to New Election After Netanyahu Fails to Form Coalition" via Haaretz.
  5. Staff writer (3 October 2019). "Riffing on Elvis, Netanyahu warns of 'heavy price' if no unity government". The Times of Israel . Retrieved 3 October 2019.
  6. Elad Benari (11 December 2019). "Official: 22nd Knesset dissolved". Arutz Sheva .
  7. Synagogue, The Great (Heb. כְּנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה, Keneset ha-Gedolah) Jewish Virtual Library
  8. 1 2 "Basic Laws - Introduction". Knesset. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
  9. Legislation. Retrieved 8 September 2011.
  10. Knesset Committees. Retrieved 8 September 2011.
  11. The Organisation of the Work of the Knesset. (17 February 2003). Retrieved 8 September 2011.
  12. "Lobbies of the Twentieth Knesset".
  13. Ahren, Raphael (11 June 2013). "Coalition chief heading caucus that seeks to retain entire West Bank". The Times of Israel. Knesset caucuses, sometimes called lobbies, are informal groups of parliamentarians that gather around a certain cause or topic. There are hundreds of such caucuses, but the one Levin and Strock now head is one of the largest — if not the largest, with 20-30 members in the last Knesset — and most active.
  14. Netanyahu considering forcing ministers to vacate Knesset seats Haaretz, 13 February 2009
  15. "All 120 incoming Knesset members". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  17. Lis, Jonathan (12 March 2014). "Israel raises electoral threshold to 3.25 percent". Haaretz. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  18. The Plenum - Motions of No-Confidence Knesset website
  19. Factional and Government Make-Up of the Second Knesset Knesset website
  20. Factional and Government Make-Up of the Fourth Knesset Knesset website
  21. Defacement in Jerusalem monastery threatens diplomatic crisis Haaretz, 8 October 2006
  22. Beit Froumine. (30 August 1966). Retrieved 8 September 2011.
  23. Knesset Times to Visit. Retrieved 8 September 2011.
  24. Pileggi, Tamar (4 January 2015). ""Tamar Pileggi 'Jews and Arabs proud to be Israeli, distrust government: Poll conducted before war shows marked rise in support for state among Arabs; religious establishment scores low on trust'". The Times of Israel.

Coordinates: 31°46′36″N35°12′19″E / 31.77667°N 35.20528°E / 31.77667; 35.20528