High Court Reviews Electoral Threshold Law

YERUSHALAYIM (Yisrael Price) -
The building that houses the High Court of Israel
The building that houses the High Court of Israel

Less than 90 days before the elections, the Israeli High Court agreed to consider a petition to nullify the new electoral threshold of 3.5%, which threatens the very existence of certain parties.

The small Arab parties are vulnerable, and the question of the day was asked during the hearing by Justice Salim Jabroun: What would happen if there are no Arabs in the Knesset?

According to a Panels Research poll taken last week, United Arab List-Ta’al would get six seats,  Hadash would get five, and Balad would get no seats in the Knesset. Merger talks have so far been inconclusive.

Nadeem Shehadeh, a lawyer for Adalah — The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel — argued that according to the old threshold of 2%, the Arab parties needed 20% of the votes of Arab citizens to enter the Knesset. Now they will need 30%.

Judge Jabroun, an Israeli Arab himself, appeared to be opposed to the higher threshold.
He argued that each was founded as a different party because they have different ideologies, and that forcing them to unite could decrease Israeli-Arab voter turnout, as voters may no longer trust that the single consolidated party will represent their values, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Another member of the expanded nine-judge panel, Justice Hanan Meltzer, expressed reservations, indicating that if the new law is framed as a major shift in the workings of government, then it might have been better to put it through as a constitutional level basic law. Meltzer asked if implementation of the law could be postponed to the next election, which would give the country more time to work out its ramifications, which it appeared the Knesset had not done.

Some other members of the panel were less impressed by the potential damage to the Arab parties.

Court President Asher D. Grunis dismissed them all as “speculation” over and over again, even calling them “speculation about speculation” at one point.

Grunis argued that no one can predict the Israeli-Arab parties voting patterns in this election, and that the court should not intervene before the law, which was duly passed by the Knesset, has been given a chance.

Justice Esther Hayot said that while she shared concern over the law and its possible impact, it was hard for her to see why the court should intervene where the law did not take away Israeli-Arabs right to vote and there was no proof that they would overall lose seats in the Knesset.