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How does the Israel Constitution work in relation to the forming of a government? According to the Washington Post and the Times of Israel, Yair Lapid is supposedly creating a new government, and removing Netanyahu.

Does Israel have an election to take a vote? How can rivals just kick out an existing prime minister? I don't understand the Israel legislative process - it seems a lot different from e.g. the United States or Japan.

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  • 56
    This is standard for parliamentary systems; the UK works in the same way. You don't vote for a prime minister, the PM is whoever can command a majority in the legislature. May 31 at 20:00
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  • See also the recent events in Italy (several changes in one legislature). It can even happen in presidential systems: in France the president can change the government as long as the parliament supports that change.
    – Distic
    Jun 3 at 11:17
  • The Prime Minister in a parliamentary system is analogous to the US's House Majority Leader - simply the current leader of whichever group is able to cobble together a majority (in the 2-party US system, usually an actual majority, but can include a coalition of independents.) Jun 4 at 0:03
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The situation in early 2021

The change in leadership, in this case, is coming about after an election. Legislative elections were held in March 2021, but no party reached the 61-seat threshold needed to obtain a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. This is not a surprise - no party has ever reached this threshold. The Prime Minister is then appointed, in accordance with the Basic Law: The Government (2001). In the meantime, the Prime Minister in office before the elections, Benjamin Netanyahu, remains in his post.

In order to decide on the Prime Minister, the various political parties consult with the President, who chooses the Knesset member most likely in their view to be able to form a government (§7). This candidate then has 28 days to do so (extendable by up to 14 days at the discretion of the President) - by appointing Ministers and winning a vote of confidence in the Knesset (§8). In this case, Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister, had the support of 52 members - 30 from his own party, 9 from the Shas party, 7 from UTJ, and 6 from the Religious Zionist party. He was selected by the President, but was unable to form a government that had the support of the Knesset by the deadline of May 4th.

Subsequently, under §9a of the Basic Law, the President passed the role on May 5th to Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party, now supported by 56 members. Lapid had until midnight June 2nd to form a government that can pass a vote of confidence in the Knesset. He did so just hours before the deadline and said vote is yet to be held. If the Knesset votes to support the new government, then Lapid - or whoever is assigned the post in the government as part of any rotational agreement - will become Prime Minister.

More generally

Unrelated to the current situation, but in a more general sense, the Prime Minister can change without an election if the Knesset passes a motion of no confidence in the current government (§28). This takes the form of a motion asking the President to charge a named member of the Knesset with forming a government. If such a motion is passed, and the named member is able to form a government, said member takes over as Prime Minister without an election, if not, new elections are held.

If the current Prime Minister resigns, he remains in post as interim Prime Minister (§30c) until a new government is formed under the process above. If the current Prime Minister dies (§20a), is removed from their post as the result of committing an offence (§18a), or ceases to be a member of the Knesset (§21a), the government is deemed to have resigned, and a new government is formed as above, with the President appointing a member of the Knesset as the interim Prime Minister. On the 101st day of the current Prime Minister being incapacitated, and the Acting Prime Minister serving in their place, the government is deemed to have resigned as above (§20b).

In all cases, Knesset members have to opportunity to attempt to form a new government that can command the confidence of the Knesset before new elections are held.

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In a Parliamentary system, the Prime Minister and the rest of the executive are not elected. When we talk about an “elected government”, that’s actually an imprecise abbreviation for “a government appointed by the elected Members of Parliament”. Members of Parliament are elected, they appoint the Prime Minister either explicitly or implicitly by declining to vote against them, and they can appoint a different Prime Minister whenever they want. No new elections are needed, because the elected Members of Parliament haven’t changed.

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    Arguably "appointment" by a parliament is also a kind of election. (At least the german constitution is using the same word for both the election of the parliament, and election of the chancellor by the parliament.) (Not saying that Israel is using that term.) Jun 2 at 23:16
  • @PaŭloEbermann But if you take that view then Israel has not changed its leaders without an election — there’s been an election
    – Mike Scott
    Jun 3 at 3:19
  • True (or rather, there will be an election soon). Jun 3 at 7:37
  • @PaŭloEbermann That would be true if it was the Parliament that directly made the decision; but as detailed in CDJB's answer, the Israeli Prime Minister is actually chosen by the President; Parliament has the ability to veto a government (by not passing a vote of confidence), but not to select one. The same is true in the UK, where the Prime Minister is chosen by the Queen, and Parliament's only power is to force them to resign.
    – IMSoP
    Jun 3 at 8:59
  • @IMSoP While the President and Queen are technically the ones who appoint their Prime Ministers, they are in practice only able to do so constitutionally if they are convinced that person has the support of Parliament. It’s an implicit rather than explicit election — no one actually votes, but you can’t win unless the majority support you.
    – Mike Scott
    Jun 3 at 9:45
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A Prime Minister needs to have a support of a majority of members of the Knesset (Parliament), otherwise he cannot govern. The Knesset has 120 seats, meaning 61 are needed for a majority.

At the election held on 23 March, Mr. Netanyahu's Likud party won only 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. This means that, if he wants to govern, he needs to get the support of at least 31 members from other parties.

If someone else is able to form a coalition that includes at least 61 members, then that person will then have the right to form a government. At the moment, it looks likely (though not yet certain) that Mr. Lapid has support from the parties required to reach this threshold.

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    In relation to the OP’s note that this seems very different to the US or Japan, it might be worth acknowledging that (to the extent that Japan and Israel both have daily standard Parliamentary systems?) it IS like Japan.
    – owjburnham
    May 31 at 18:58
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+50

There are essentially two ways to democratically appoint an executive (i.e. head of state or head of government): either have it be a separate election or have it be coupled to the election of the legislative (parliament).

The first system is the one the United States or France uses. In the US, the corresponding parts of the Constitution are in Article 2:

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

In France, the current article 6 of the Constitution states as follows (including my translation):

Le Président de la République est élu pour cinq ans au suffrage universel direct.

Nul ne peut exercer plus de deux mandats consécutifs.

Les modalités d'application du présent article sont fixées par une loi organique.

The President of the Republic is elected for five years by universal direct suffrage.

Nobody can be elected to more than two consecutive terms.

The modalities of the application of this article are determined by law.

Both these constitutions have a formal mechanism for removal of the President. In the United States, this is the process known as Impeachment (actually Impeachment followed by Trial in the Senate). In France, there is a similar process where a High Court can be convened from both Houses of Parliament. However, if the President is removed according to one of these processes, the parliament cannot designate a successor. Rather, in the US the Vice President become President and so on down the line of Presidential succession; I was unable to immediately identify what would happen in France but I would assume that a Presidential election would be called rapidly to fill the vacancy.

These are presidential systems and, as you suggest in the question, require a public vote to install a person not already part of the previous administration in some capacity.


The second system is followed in countries such as Germany or Japan. In Germany, the position of head of government is known as the Chancellor; in Japan, it is the Prime Minsiter.

In Germany, the relevant constitutional text is written in Article 63 of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz):

(1) Der Bundeskanzler wird auf Vorschlag des Bundespräsidenten vom Bundestage ohne Aussprache gewählt.
(2) Gewählt ist, wer die Stimmen der Mehrheit der Mitglieder des Bundestages auf sich vereinigt. Der Gewählte ist vom Bundespräsidenten zu ernennen.
(3) Wird der Vorgeschlagene nicht gewählt, so kann der Bundestag binnen vierzehn Tagen nach dem Wahlgange mit mehr als der Hälfte seiner Mitglieder einen Bundeskanzler wählen.
(4) Kommt eine Wahl innerhalb dieser Frist nicht zustande, so findet unverzüglich ein neuer Wahlgang statt, in dem gewählt ist, wer die meisten Stimmen erhält. Vereinigt der Gewählte die Stimmen der Mehrheit der Mitglieder des Bundestages auf sich, so muß der Bundespräsident ihn binnen sieben Tage nach der Wahl ernennen. Erreicht der Gewählte diese Mehrheit nicht, so hat der Bundespräsident binnen sieben Tage entweder ihn zu ernennen oder den Bundestag aufzulösen.

Translation by Christian Tomuschat and David P. Currie:

(1) The Federal Chancellor shall be elected by the Bundestag without debate on the proposal of the Federal President.
(2) The person who receives the votes of a majority of the Members of the Bundestag shall be elected. The person elected shall be appointed by the Federal President.
(3) If the person proposed by the Federal President is not elected, the Bundestag may elect a Federal Chancellor within fourteen days after the ballot by the votes of more than one half of its Members.
(4) If no Federal Chancellor is elected within this period, a new election shall take place without delay, in which the person who receives the largest number of votes shall be elected. If the person elected receives the votes of a majority of the Members of the Bundestag, the Federal President must appoint him within seven days after the election. If the person elected does not receive such a majority, then within seven days the Federal President shall either appoint him or dissolve the Bundestag.

The key difference to the Presidential system as highlighted above is that it is parliament (the Bundestag or Federal Diet) that elects the Chancellor; typically by absolute majority. Another key difference is the process of removal. In the German Basic Law the relevant article is article 67:

(1) Der Bundestag kann dem Bundeskanzler das Mißtrauen nur dadurch aussprechen, daß er mit der Mehrheit seiner Mitglieder einen Nachfolger wählt und den Bundespräsidenten ersucht, den Bundeskanzler zu entlassen. Der Bundespräsident muß dem Ersuchen entsprechen und den Gewählten ernennen.
(2) Zwischen dem Antrage und der Wahl müssen achtundvierzig Stunden liegen.

Translation by the same as above:

(1) The Bundestag may express its lack of confidence in the Federal Chancellor only by electing a successor by the vote of a majority of its Members and requesting the Federal President to dismiss the Federal Chancellor. The Federal President must comply with the request and appoint the person elected.
(2) Forty-eight hours shall elapse between the motion and the election.

Not only does parliament vote a person into office, they also have the power to remove said person by voting for somebody else with the same absolute majority.

Without being able to provide the appropriate legal texts I will assure you that the system is the same in Japan: The Prime Minister is elected by both chambers of the National Diet agreeing on one person by majority vote. Equally, if the majority in the Diet is no longer content with the person holding the office, they can elect a new person into office by the same majority whenever they feel like it &endash; which is exactly what happened when Abe retired last year and was replaced by Suga.

As the power to appoint the head of government in these cases is vested in the legislative (i.e. parliaments), these systems are typically known as parliamentary systems.


So where does Israel fall in here? The key player, i.e. the head of government, is the Prime Minister. How the Prime Minister is elected is determined by the corresponding Basic Law (one of Israel's laws of constitutional status). Wikipedia summarises the main parts as follows:

  • 5–6: "The Government is composed of a Prime Minister and other ministers.... The Prime Minister shall be a member of the Knesset... A Minister need not be a member of the Knesset [he may be] ... A Minister must be an Israeli citizen and a resident of Israel."
  • 7: "When a new Government has to be constituted, the President of the State shall, after consultation with representatives of party groups in the Knesset, assign the task of forming a Government to a Knesset Member who has notified him that he is prepared to accept the task; the President shall do so within seven days of the publication of the election results, or should the need arise to form a new government; and in the case of the death of the Prime Minister, within 14 days of his death."
  • 28: "The Knesset may adopt an expression of no confidence in the Government... An expression of no confidence in the Government will be by a decision adopted by the majority of the Members of Knesset to request that the President assign the task of forming a Government to a certain Knesset member who gave his written consent thereto... If the Knesset has expressed no confidence in the Government, the Government shall be deemed to have resigned."
  • 29: "the Prime Minister... may, with the approval of the President of the State, disperse the Knesset ... and the Government shall be deemed to have resigned."

It follows that it is essentially the Knesset (i.e. parliament) that elects the Prime Minister. Provision 28 highlights how the Knesset may choose to entrust a new person with this office without a parliamentary election having taken place. Israel follows the second paradigm, it is a parliamentary republic.

As Israel is a parliamentary system, it is important to take a look at the election results. As others have already pointed out, neither Netanyahu nor Bennett nor Lapid won an outright majority with their party in the last election &endash; which is normal in Israel where a large number of parties compete for seats in the Knesset, not entirely dissimilar to the situation in Germany where the last outright majority was gained in the 1950's. Thus, whoever desires to become Prime Minister must form a coalition made up of multiple parties.

Currently, Netanyahu is only acting Prime Minister as he has not been formally re-elected following the latest elections earlier this year. Thus, the coalition whose formation has been annouced recently is the result of said election result. However, even in the absence of an election it would have been possible for a majority in the Knesset to topple the incumbent Prime Minister and appoint a successor government; a typical situation would be a small-ish party switching sides, no longer supporting the incumbent but instead deciding to support the current opposition.

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