he nasi (president) bears the ancient title of the head of the Sanhedrin, the supreme legislative and judicial body of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel in ancient times. The president is the head of state, with the presidency symbolizing the nation's unity, above and beyond party politics.
The president is elected by a simple majority of the Knesset from among candidates nominated on the basis of their personal stature and lifelong contribution to the state. Revised legislation (1998) provides for the election of the president for a single term of seven years.
Presidential duties, which are mostly ceremonial and formal, are defined by law. They include opening the first session of a new Knesset; directing a member of Knesset to form a new government; accepting the credentials of foreign envoys; signing treaties and laws adopted by the Knesset; appointing, on recommendation of appropriate bodies, the heads of Israel’s diplomatic missions abroad, judges, and the governor of the Bank of Israel; and pardoning prisoners, on advice of the minister of justice. In addition, the president performs public functions and informal tasks such as hearing citizens' appeals, lending prestige to community organizations and strengthening campaigns to improve the quality of life in the society at large.
The Knesset (Israel's unicameral parliament) is the country's legislative body. The Knesset took its name and fixed its membership at 120 from the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly), the representative Jewish council convened in Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemiah in the 5th century BCE.
A new Knesset begins to function after general elections, which determine its composition. In the first session, Knesset members declare their allegiance, and the Knesset speaker and deputy speakers are elected. The Knesset usually serves for four years, but may dissolve itself or be dissolved by the prime minister any time during its term. Until a new Knesset is formally constituted following elections, full authority remains with the outgoing one.
The Knesset operates in plenary sessions and through 15 standing committees. In plenary sessions, general debates are conducted on legislation submitted by the government or by individual Knesset members, as well as on government policy and activity. Debates are conducted in Hebrew, but members may speak Arabic, as both are official languages. Simultaneous translation is available.
To become law, a regular state bill must pass three readings in the Knesset (while private bills have four readings). In the first reading, the bill is presented to the plenary, followed by a short debate on its contents, after which it is referred to the appropriate Knesset committee for detailed discussion and redrafting, if necessary. When the committee has completed its work, the bill is returned to the plenary for its second reading, at which time committee members who have reservations may present them to the plenary. Following a general debate, each article of the bill is put to a vote and, unless it is necessary to return it again to committee, the third reading takes place immediately, and a vote is taken on the bill as a whole. If the bill passes, it is signed by the presiding speaker and is later published in the Official Gazette, with the signatures of the president, prime minister, Knesset speaker and the minister responsible for the law’s implementation. Finally, the state seal is affixed to it by the minister of justice, and the bill becomes law.
The executive authority of the state is the government (cabinet of ministers), charged with administering internal and foreign affairs, including security matters. Its policy-making powers are very wide, and it is authorized to take action on any issue which is not legally incumbent upon another authority.
The cabinet determines its own working the formation of a government, a list of ministers for Knesset approval, together with an outline of proposed government guidelines. All the ministers must be Israeli citizens and residents of Israel and all must be Knesset members.
Once approved, the ministers are responsible to the prime minister for the fulfillment of their duties and accountable to the Knesset for their actions. Most ministers are assigned a portfolio and head a ministry; ministers who function without portfolio may be called upon to assume responsibility for special projects. The prime minister may also serve as a minister with a specific portfolio.
Ministers, with the approval of the prime minister and the government, may appoint a deputy minister in their ministry; all must be Knesset members.
Like the Knesset, the government usually serves for four years, but its term may be shortened by the resignation, incapacitation or death of the prime minister, or a vote of no-confidence by the Knesset.
If the prime minister is unable to continue in office due to death, incapacitation, resignation, or impeachment, the government appoints one of its members (who and decision-making procedures. It usually meets once a week, but additional meetings may be called as needed. It may also act through ministerial committees.
The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by law. Judges are appointed by the president, upon recommendation of a nominations committee comprised of Supreme Court judges, members of the bar, and public figures. Appointments are permanent, with mandatory retirement at age 70.
The Court System
Special Courts (1 judge) Traffic, labor, juvenile, military and municipal courts, with clearly defined jurisdiction; administrative tribunals.
Religious Courts (1 or 3 judges)Jurisdiction in matters of personal status (marriage, divorce, maintenance, guardianship, adoption) vested in judicial institutions of the respective religious communities: Jewish rabbinical courts, Muslim sharia courts, Druze religious courts, ecclesiastical courts of the ten recognized Christian communities in Israel.
Magistrates’ Court (1 judge)
Civil and minor criminal offenses; jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases.
District Court (1 or 3 judges)Appellate jurisdiction over magistrates’ courts; original jurisdiction in more important civil and criminal cases.
Supreme Court (1, 3, 5 or a larger uneven number of judges)
Ultimate appellate jurisdiction nationwide; right to address issues when necessary to intervene for the sake of justice; authority to release persons illegally detained or imprisoned; sitting as a High Court of Justice, hears petitions against any government body or agent and is the court of first and last instance.