Israel Table of Contents
Figure 10. Government System, 1988
The 1964 Basic Law provides that the president is the titular head of state (see fig. 10). The president is elected through secret balloting by an absolute majority of the Knesset on the first two ballots, but thereafter by a plurality, for a term of five years. Israeli presidents may not serve more than two consecutive terms, and any resident of Israel is eligible to be a presidential candidate. The office falls vacant upon resignation or upon the decision of three-quarters of the Knesset to depose the president on grounds of misconduct or incapacity. Presidential tenure is not keyed to that of the Knesset in order to assure continuity in government and the nonpartisan character of the office. There is no vice president in the Israeli governmental system. When the president is temporarily incapacitated or the office falls vacant, the speaker of the Knesset may exercise presidential functions.
Presidential powers are usually exercised based on the recommendation of appropriate government ministers. The president signs treaties ratified by the Knesset and laws enacted by the legislature except those relating to presidential powers. The president, who has no veto power over legislation, appoints diplomatic representatives, receives foreign envoys accredited to Israel, and appoints the state comptroller, judges for civil and religious courts, and the governor of the Bank of Israel.
Although the president's role is nonpolitical, Israeli heads of state perform important moral, ceremonial, and educational functions. They also play a part in the formation of a coalition cabinet, or "a government" as the Israelis call it. They are required to consult leaders of all political parties in the Knesset and to designate a member of the legislature to organize a cabinet. If the member so appointed fails, other political parties commanding a plurality in the Knesset may submit their own nominee. The figure called upon to form a cabinet is invariably the leader of the most influential political party or bloc in the Knesset.
As of 1988, all Israeli presidents have been members of, or associated with, the Labor Party and its predecessors, and all have been considered politically moderate. These tendencies were especially significant in the April 1978 election of Labor's Yitzhak Navon, following the inability of the governing Likud coalition to elect its candidate to the presidency. Israeli observers believed that, in counterbalance to Prime Minister Begin's polarizing leadership, Navon, the country's first president of Sephardi (see Glossary) origin, provided Israel with unifying symbolic leadership at a time of great political controversy and upheaval. In 1983 Navon decided to reenter Labor politics after five years of nonpartisan service as president, and Chaim Herzog (previously head of military intelligence and ambassador to the United Nations) succeeded him as Israel's sixth president.
Data as of December 1988