Electoral Threshold Deal Could Sideline Arab Parties

Hadash MK Dov Khenin  (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A coalition deal to raise the electoral threshold for Knesset representation could, if implemented, result in a diminished Arab presence in Israel’s parliament, The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman reportedly reached an agreement to raise the share of the national vote a party must win,  in order to sit in the Knesset, from 2 percent to 3.25 percent. This would force the small Arab parties to coalesce into larger ones or risk being left out of the Knesset.

The news drew immediate charges of anti-Arab racism from MK Dov Khenin, of the Arab-Jewish communist Hadash party, which received 2.99% in the last election:

“Lieberman is trying to expel Arabs from Israeli politics,” Khenin said. “Those who say Arab parties can unite don’t understand that there are socialist Arabs and Islamist Arabs.

“That special number [3.25%] was chosen specifically in order to stop parties supported by the Arab population from gaining entry to the Knesset,” Khenin added. ” The dramatic increase in the threshold percentage will erect high walls around the political system and prevent the possibility of establishing and presenting new political forces.”

A higher threshold would also eliminate parties like Kadima, which barely won only 2 seats in the current Knesset.

Agitation for such electoral reforms has been going on for years. Bills sponsored by Yisrael Beitenu and Yesh Atid that passed preliminary readings in the Knesset in July called for raising the threshold to four percent. The compromise figure emerged in response to pressure from Tzipi Livni’s Movement party and opposition factions.

Yesh Atid MK Ronen Hoffman, who initiated the legislation, said his party would also agree to 3.25%, which would probably mean passage by the plenum.

Hoffman said that charges the bill is anti-Arab is nonsense.

“It doesn’t silence voices,” Hoffman said. “It stabilizes democracy and adds balance by preventing splinter parties from getting disproportional political power and extorting the prime minister.”

The final proposal is expected to be brought to a vote by the end of next month.

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