How Representative Is Israel’s House of Representatives?

If the idea of “no taxation without representation” took hold in Israel, then women would cease to pay taxes. Women, according to Dr. Avraham Brichta of the Dept. of Political Science, constitute the most underrepresented social group in the country.

Brichta and his colleague, Dr. Eran Wigoda, surveyed the representativeness of the Knesset—Israel’s House of Representatives—and compared the over and under-representation of various groups in the 50 years between the 1st Knesset in 1949 and the 14th, which finished its term in 1999. They reported their findings to an international conference sponsored by the Israel Society for Parliamentary Problems, held at the Knesset in November.

Women’s representation in the Knesset fell from 9.4% after the first elections in 1949 to 7.5% in 1999. Their under-representation accordingly rose, from an index of -0.81 to -0.85. An index of –1.00 means the absence of any representation.

Although the present, 15th Knesset has a few more women—their percentage is now 11.7%—the new Israeli electoral system that went into effect in 1996 with the direct election of the prime minister effectively left women, who make up more than half the population, as neglected as ever. Only an affirmative action plan, Brichta says, can help close the gender gap.

Another group that might justify a tax strike are the young, defined as ages 21-40. Their percentage in the “old boys” club dropped from 20% in 1949 to 14% fifty years later. Their under-representation rose from an index of -0.50 to -0.73 over these years.

Several groups fared well in the interim. Those of Sephardic origin perhaps did the best, jumping from 2.5% in the 1st Knesset to 36.7% in the 14th. They went from nearly no representation (an index of –0.92) to nearly matching their share of the population (with an index of -0.07).

Non-Jews also scored impressive gains, from 3.1% to 9.1% and to 11% in the present Knesset. Their representation today nearly fits their percentage of the population (with a representativeness index of –0.08).

Still another group with perhaps an even better representation fit are the Orthodox, whose percentage in the Knesset rose from 1.2% in 1949 to 19.2% in 1999 and now stands at 22.5%, meaning an almost full fit with their share in the population.

Brichta pointed out that these two groups--Arabs and Orthodox Jews—fared the best in closing the representation gap following the new system of the direct election of the prime minister.

Another feature of the Knesset after fifty years is that it has become smarter, or at least more educated. Currently nearly double the number of members has a higher education (76.7%) than did those in the 1st Knesset (42.5%).

Finally, the primaries, a system borrowed from the United States, did not do what it was supposed to, the political scientist stated. It did not lead to more than symbolic representation of the various sectors in each of the two largest parties.

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