Israel Earns Unwelcome Global Achievement Thanks to Fifth Election

As in many Western democracies today, Israeli politics have become a cult of personality, but on steroids. What can be done to curb the rapid cycle of elections?

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett
The Knesset on Wednesday held the first vote on a motion to dissolve itself and call or a fifth national election in less than four years.
The Knesset on Wednesday held the first vote on a motion to dissolve itself and call or a fifth national election in less than four years. Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Israel has done it again, shooting to the top (or rather the bottom) of the list of nations in yet another important metric. Only this time the achievement is most unwelcome.

Among advanced democratic countries, Israel is now the one that holds elections most frequently.

In other words, democratically-elected Israeli governments fail more regularly than those of any other country in serving out a full term.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid announced that their “government of change” had similarly failed after just one year, and that Israelis would again go to the polls in October, for the fifth time in less than four years.

Following that announcement, the Israel Democracy Institute reported that the Jewish state now has the dubious honor of holding the most elections since 1996 among relevant nations.

According to the data, between 1996 and 2022, Israel held an election every 2.40 years — more regularly than Greece (2.53), Spain (2.96), Canada (3.04), the UK (3.77) and Italy (4.38).

The last time Israel held an election for Knesset on the officially scheduled date was in 1988.

A full term for an Israeli government is four years.


Polarization and personification

In much of the Western democratic world, politics has increasingly become a cult of personality centered on particular leaders, rather than party policies and positions.

This phenomenon is most advanced in Israel, where Benjamin Netanyahu has dominated national politics for over two decades.

That has naturally resulted in two camps arising – that which supports Netanyahu, and that which seeks to oust him from power at all costs. For both, either keeping Bibi (to use his nickname) out of or returning him to the prime minister’s chair is the primarily objective. Actual policy is secondary (and as Ariel Kahana wrote today, the two sides aren’t really that far apart on policy, anyway).

The latest poll shows that nearly half of all voting Israelis want Netanyahu as prime minister, so don’t expect him to go anywhere.

At the same time, the parties in the crumbling government of change, even the right-wing ones that share ideology with Netanyahu’s Likud, have staked their reputations on keeping Bibi out of power. So don’t expect any of them to suddenly accept his overlordship.

As the next election approaches, the same political deadlock that resulted from the previous four seems likely.

The parties that oppose Netanyahu (disparate in all other areas of ideology though they be) will probably win half the seats in Knesset.

The parties that are willing to sit under Netanyahu will win the other half (more than half of those going to Bibi’s own Likud party).


What can be done?

Netanyahu could quit politics. But that’s unlikely, and probably wouldn’t solve the problem long-term. Some other personality would simply fill the void. That’s the nature of politics and media in the modern era.

Israel could, however, make it more difficult to bring down a government or dissolve a Knesset.

At present, Israel is among the democracies with the most varied ways to bring down a sitting government. And it’s a relatively rapid process once it begins.

For instance, an Israeli government will automatically fall and the Knesset be dissolved if a national budget is not passed by a certain date every year. And if the sitting government or the opposition desires to call early elections, they need but a simple majority of 61 out of 120 votes in Knesset.

One proposal for remedying the situation in the immediate future is requiring a super-majority of 80 MKs to dissolve a Knesset. At the very least this would save Israel the billions of shekels it costs to hold an election every 2.4 years.

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