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Case Study: Israel’s Knesset

Case Study: Israel’s Knesset

Case Study: Israel’s Knesset


In one sense, however, Israel is too democratic for its own good. Elections based on a wide-open system of proportional representation, in which even small upstart parties have a chance to win a few seats, mean Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, is a free-for-all that is often confusing and chaotic. The upshot is that governments are cobbled together, sometimes from center-left coalitions and, more often, from a wide range of right-wing Zionist parties, including the far-right. The elections in January 2013 kept the right-wing Likud coalition, but “the tepid vote for Netanyahu” surprised even close observers.*

Ironically, permanent crisis has probably saved Israel from the consequences of a contentious political culture and a chaotic party system. The examples of India and Israel do not prove that popular self-government can work everywhere, but they do demonstrate it can work in some very unlikely places.

The Adaptability of Democracy

The examples of France, Germany, Japan, India, and Israel suggest that democracy is surprisingly adaptable. There are always idealists and dreamers who choose to believe it can be made to work everywhere, but that is probably not the case. One of the lessons of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan is that democracy can seldom be imposed on a society against its will. The imposition of democratic rule in Germany and Japan after World War II occurred under extraordinary circumstances—these two defeated powers were at the mercy of the victors and, as such, were only too grateful to have a second chance at self-governance. At the same time, the fact that democracy has now taken root in these two countries points to its adaptability.

Virtually every government in the world today, no matter how tyrannical, tries to give the appearance of constitutionalism and claims to be democratic. Indeed, democracy is, by definition, popular. It is no surprise that the idea of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” has broad appeal—broad, but by no means universal.