Government and politics

How religion affects Israeli politics

Government and politics

Israel is a secular democracy with three distinct branches of government: executive, parliamentary and judicial. Much of Israeli law is influenced by Jewish laws and practises. This concerns many Israelis, who believe that religion and law should be separate.

Israel is a representative democracy with a socialised welfare system. The executive branch is led by a Prime Minister, and judiciary courts arbitrate major issues. Citizens also elect a President, but he is only a figurehead who oversees cultural ceremonies.

Citizens elect representatives from their party to Parliament (Knesset) for a term of four years. The number of votes a party gets determines the number of seats they have in the Knesset. There are many Zionist groups with social democrat, conservative, and religious agendas, and Arab political parties and special-interest groups are also abundant.

Religion and secularism in politics

Although the system of government in Israel is a secular democracy, the Israeli government gives special preference to Judaism (it is the only Jewish state in the world, after all). For example it is illegal to import non-kosher food into Israel, and the state allows only religious weddings to be performed (although Israel recognises civil marriages performed outside of the country).

Many non-religious Israelis feel that Israel should be a wholly secular state, but practising Jews argue that Jewish laws are essential to retaining Israel's identity and tradition. Regardless of the debate, you might have difficulties if you're an atheist and choose Israel as the place for your destination wedding.

Most Israelis define themselves as traditional Jews, which means that they have cultural ties with their Jewish ancestors but do not actively practice Judaism. As Jewishness becomes less important as national tie, political conflicts have become the dominant common ground for uniting Israelis.

Struggles among religious groups

Although Israel does not grant special privileges to any special Jewish group, many European Jews belong to higher social classes than Arabs and “Oriental” Jews. Relationships are tense between religious groups, and many groups see the differences among them as irreparable.

Further reading

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