Knesset: The Israeli Legislative Branch
The Knesset is Israel's unicameral legislative body that is similar to the House of Representatives in the United States. The Knesset is made up of 120 members and represents the people's interest.


The name "Knesset" is derived from the word Knesset HaGdola, which translates into "Assembly" or "Great Assembly". This Hebrew term was a Jewish tradition that dates back to the end of the biblical prophets. The Knesset, in the past, was an assembly that typically consisted of 120 scribes, sages, and prophets, who wanted to discuss religion. These members of the Knesset were not required to have any standards in order to join the Knesset, instead the Knesset's sole purpose was to act as a religious body. The Knesset that we see in present-day Israel, is nothing similar to what the original and ancient Knesset was constructed for.


The Knesset was first assembled on February 14th, 1949 and later replaced the Provisional State Government, which acted as the official legislature. The Knesset is situated on a hilltop in Western Jerusalem, in a district known as the Givat Ram. The official building was completed in 1966 and financed by a wealthy man by the name of James de Rothchild. The original building has been added onto, yet many of the renovations and additions were built at the backside or the basement of the Knesset. This was done to ensure that the appearance of the original building were kept intact and that the additions did not distract the public from the original building.

Role in the Israeli Government

As mentioned, the Knesset functions as the legislative branch in the Israeli government, which can be compared to the House of Representatives in the United States. The Knesset is unicameral and consists of 120 members, that help to legislate laws and supervise the government. Playing a key role in the functioning of the Israeli government, the Knesset elects the next president of the state, which will be the acting president for the next seven years. Acting as a segway to the people and the individuals with powers in the government, the Knesset also act as the speakers and represents the views that are prevalent in society. The Knesset also holds some power in the government by allowing or restricting laws that the government wishes to push. The government must receive the confidence or the approval of the Knesset by a majority vote, which indicates a vote of at least 61 members of the Knesset.

The Electoral System

Israel’s electoral system functions through the Election Laws passed in 1969. The central election committee is responsible for the construction and the application of the Election Law. The members of the Knesset are elected by proportional representation in a single nation-wide constituency. In simpler terms, the people vote to elect the next Knesset members during the next elections. People must be 18 years or older in order to participate in voting, and the candidates for the Knesset must be at least 21 years of age. After being elected into the Knesset, the members typically have a four year term, yet some of the members are subject to change based on certain circumstances. There are restrictions as to who can participate and run to join the Knesset. Individuals who are civil servants, officers in active service, judges, rabbis paid from state funds, and some individuals who hold offices in government positions are ineligible to join the Knesset.
The candidates participating are lists and each list must have at least one party. Each list that gets elected, receives a number of seats that equate to the number of votes that the list was able to receive. For example, if one list received 20 percent of the votes, then 20 percent of 120 would equal 24. In this case, the first 24 people in the list would have a seat in the Knesset. At first, the list were required to pass or meet the 1 percent qualifying threshold, however in recent years the qualifying thresholds increased to 2 percent. This was due to the increasing amounts of seats given to the members of the Knesset, which they wanted to limit by trying to prevent the lists that had one or two persons from being elected. Because of the state being one constituent, it is common for many parties to form coalitions to ensure that they can receive more votes, thus receiving more seats. Many of the members of the Knesset will end up becoming members of the cabinet, which constructs and manifests new laws. The Knesset was built to be an equal and just system, where everyone in society can be represented in the Knesset.


The Knesset is broken into many different committees that all pertain to different and unique roles. These committees amend bills associated to the committees that they are in. Committees are important because they are the powers that can amend or discuss the different issues that are relevant in society. Each committee is responsible for electing their own chair heads and this is commonly done by the members within the committee voting for the position. Committees can elect sub-committees and delegate power to one another. They can also form joint committees with other committees if the topic ranges to the other group’s role. In order to provide sound and credible information, committees have the power to bring professionals in their field to explain a certain topic. Not only do committees have the power to bring outside specialists, they also have the ability to make individuals explain the information. Once a committee requests for information on the said topic, the individual being asked to provide the information has no choice but to provide it.
There are three main committees in the Knesset. The permanent committees amend legislation that is given to them, if it is in their respective fields of expertise. The legislation mainly deals with laws within the Knesset or laws on the Knesset. The special committees are similar to the permanent committees in that they handle legislation. However, the legislation dealt by the special committees are more specific to matters at hand and can be dissolved to become a permanent committee. Parliamentary inquiry committees are appointed by the plenum to solve matters that are of importance to the nation. These three committees are the main committees that form the Knesset, yet there are the ethics committee, the arrangements committee, the interpretations committee, and the public's committee. All of the committees have an important and significant role in the Knesset, in establishing legislative clarity and in dealing with specific problems that arise in their fields.


The Knesset is open to tourists and people can see the meetings where the Knesset plenum take place. The Knesset is divided into two sections. The bottom section is where the members of the Knesset and the government officials sit, whereas the top section is the visitor gallery. The visitors can see the meetings and the discussions taking place. They hold morning tours on Thursdays and Sundays, and offer tours in a broad range of languages, such as Arabic, Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, German and Russian. On other days such as Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings, the Knesset hold live sessions where tourists can come and experience. The Knesset is protected by security guards stationed within and around the building. The building is well protected and the Knesset guard protects the building as well as the members.


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