Official Languages: Hebrew, Arabic
Currency: New Israeli Shekel (or shekel for short)
Population: 7.7 million (75% Jewish, 20% Arabs, 5% Other)
The State of Israel is both a democratic and Jewish state. As a democracy, Israel grants full democratic rights to all of its citizens. Some of these rights include the right to vote, the right to be elected to public office, freedom of speech and the right to assemble, among many others. Minorities are free to pursue their own separate stream of education, and are free to maintain their own culture and way of life.
Israel is the only country in the world that holds a Jewish majority. Israel’s Jewish identity is represented symbolically in the country’s flag, which holds the Jewish Star of David, and in the country’s anthem, which discusses the Jewish spirit. Israel’s Jewish identity is further buttressed by The Law of Return, enacted in 1950, which grants Jews and descendants of Jews the inherent right to immigrate to Israel and receive citizenship.
Israel’s Democratic system consists of three political institutions which serve as the governing body of the state of Israel: the ‘Knesset,’ which serves as the Parliament, the ‘Memshala,’ which serves as the government, and the ‘Batei Mishpat,’ or the Judicial System, which consists of both secular and religious courts.
The Knesset is made up of 120 members and is held in a designated building called the Knesset building, which is located in Jerusalem. The Knesset enacts laws, approves government budgets and oversees government activities. Elections are held every four years or if the government receives a Vote of No Confidence. A Vote of No confidence is a parliamentary motion, whose passing would demonstrate to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in the appointed government, and that a new government must be elected.
Israel’s electoral system is based on Proportional representation, which means that these elected political parties are given the amount of seats in the Knesset that is proportional to the number of votes that they received. For instance, if a party receives 15% of the total votes, they will occupy 15% of the Knesset seats. The party with the best chance of gaining a majority of the seats in the Knesset, either alone or in a coalition, which is the combination of multiple parties, is given the right to run the country during that term.
The Memshala, or government, is composed of members of the ruling coalition parties, or the parties that gained the majority of seats, and is run by the Prime Minister. The Memshala is responsible for the day-to-day running of the country and is made up of ministries (Health, Defense, Education etc) responsible for administering and regulating their respective areas.
The Batei Mishpat, or court system, is made up of judges who are appointed by a committee comprised of three judges, two lawyers and four other members. These judges preside over three levels of courts – magistrate court, district court and the Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal. The Supreme Court also serves as an arbitrator between citizens and government or governmental agencies in a court referred to as the High court of Justice. In addition to these courts, there are courts which judge specific issues like Labor Court, Traffic Court and so on.
The Batei Din, the religious court system, is made up of religious judges appointed by the government. Each religious group – Jews, Christians and Muslims – has its own religious court system. Religious courts are primarily responsible for judging and approving the legality of marriages and divorces of religious members, as well as approval of conversions to their religion. The religious courts are run according to religious, not civil, law. Each religious group – Jews, Christians and Muslims – has their own religious court system.
Cities, Towns, and Villages
Israel is made up of cities, towns, and villages. Communities are given a specific status according to size of population. For instance, a city is any township with over 20,000 people, or in specific situations less, as dictated by government decisions. Towns are generally a few thousand people, and villages can be small settlements. Towns are run by a Local Council and villages and small settlements are administered by a regional council, as well as a locally elected head. All townships elect their own leadership. Smaller villages and towns usually elect local leaders while cities can elect representatives of national parties. The supervision of local authorities is the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior.
The Israeli Defense Forces, or the IDF, are the military forces of the state of Israel, and consist of ground forces, air forces, and navy. The IDF works on a draft system in which all Jews, and select Arabs and Druze, of the age of 18 are required to enlist yearly. Drafted soldiers serve for a maximum of three years of regular army service, or two for women. After a soldier completes their active service, they are then placed in the reserve army, where they are required to serve a few weeks every year in the army for training and routine work.
There are a number of programs that combine military service with civilian study, both religious and secular. One such program, called Mechinot, is a pre-military institution, where boys of military age deepen their Jewish identity and develop their physical strengths and capabilities. Many graduates of these institutions go on not only to serve the full three years but also become regular military officers.
There are other available army tracks, in which inducted soldiers spend part of their service outside the army. For instance, students of Hesder Yeshivot break up their army service by spending a shortened active period in the army (about a year and a half) and spend the remained of their required army service in school focusing on Judaic studies.
Israel has full diplomatic relations with China, complete with an Embassy in Beijing and Consulates-General in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. In addition, the State of Israel maintains diplomatic and commercial relations with 159 states, and maintains 98 embassies in places such as the US, Europe, South America, and Asia.