change and social diversity:
Israel's general election 2006
Published: 30 April 2006
Briefing Number 172
Summary: Israel is frequently
accused of being undemocratic. But its 2006 election illustrated
the opposite: the strength of its democratic character.
Major existing parties collapsed; others arose from nowhere.
This happened peacefully. Ethnic minority groups found
expression. And Israel’s Arabs once more exercised
their democratic rights. The 2006 election revealed Israel’s
capacity for democratic change; and the diversity of its
On 28 March 2006, Israelis voted in the country’s first
general election since January 2003. The range of parties standing
in the election, and the results, demonstrate the vitality and
social diversity of Israeli society. This Briefing sets out
some striking facts about the election result.
Changes in Israel’s democratic politics
- The so-called ‘centrist’ party, Kadima, was the
most successful single party, with 29 seats. It did not exist
in 2003. Kadima was founded by Ariel Sharon in 2005 and is now
led by prime minister Ehud Olmert.
- The right-of-centre Likud party, which had won 40 seats in
the 2003 elections, won 12 seats in 2006. This was a dramatic
- Left-of-centre Labour, focusing on domestic economic issues,
won 19 seats. Mainstream religious party Shas won 12 seats. Shas
represents a wide range of ethnic and religious groups.
- The third most successful political party in the 2003 election,
civil rights party Shinui, collapsed in 2006 from 15 seats to
- Gil, a brand new pensioners’ party, amazed Israel’s
political and media establishment by winning 7 seats. Many young
people voted for Gil.
- Other parties which won significant numbers of seats in 2006
also spanned the ideological spectrum. Yisrael Beiteinu, which
is on the centre-right, and enjoys a large amount of Russian-Israeli
support, won 11 seats. The National Union / NRP, which is religious
and right-of-centre, won 9 seats. Meretz, which is doveish and
socialist, won 5 seats.
- Other parties which stood (but failed to win seats) included
an Israeli green party, and a party campaigning for the legalisation
- Israel’s new Foreign Minister is a woman (Tsipi Livni).
And for the first time since 1948, Israel’s most powerful
political figures have risen to prominence through their roles
in civilian life, rather than having emerged via their military
Israeli Arab Members of the Knesset – including
the first Christian-Arab MK
- Three Israeli Arab parties won a combined total of 10 seats:
the United Arab List, Balad, and Hadash. The Israeli Arab politicians
who lead them are outspoken in their criticism of Israel’s
- On 17 April, Israel’s first Christian-Arab MK, Nadia
Hilou, took up her position as a new Member of Parliament. Hilou,
who was formerly a social worker, is a member of Israel’s
- Israel’s President Moshe Katsav recently acknowledged
that Arab citizens in Israel do experience discrimination (Jerusalem
Post, 20 February 2006).