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Knesset Plans to Raise Election Threshhold, Oust Palestinian Parties

Israeli Palestinian politics

Election billboard for MK Haneen Zoabi and her Israeli Palestinian party

In the past few days, Haaretz reported that all the major coalition partners in the incoming government have agreed that one of their orders of business will be to raise the threshold (related Hebrew article by a different reporter) necessary for a political party to enter the Knesset.  The current rate is 2% (here are the parties’ various election results).  2% of the vote merits two MKs.  The new government will raise the rate to 4%.  That means that parties like Kadima, Hadash, and the Palestinian parties are in danger of losing representation in future Knessets.

This is a neat trick: to the victors go the spoils.  The big parties get to gang up on the small and throw them out of future legislative bodies.  It means those Goliaths would get a bigger slice of the pie.  Given that Israeli politics is largely patronage-based, it means the party leaders get to be even more like Don Corleone than they already are.

The small parties have only a few choices, none of them good.  They can fold their mission into a larger party.  In the case of Israeli Palestinians they can unite their four parties into one.  But they would do so at the price of compromising the political diversity they currently express through the multiplicity of parties.  As a result of this homogenization, it’s likely that Palestinian vote would decline even lower than the current rate (56%).  That will mean the further disenfranchisement of Israeli Palestinians.

Personally, I’m not sure why the smaller parties including Israeli Palestinians don’t just boycott the election entirely.  How does it really benefit them to participate in such a sham?  What power or benefit do they derive from it?  By refusing, they would be able to turn to the world and say: you see, this is a democracy?  This place which denies us the means to express ourselves freely politically?  Such a message would further discredit Israel and bring one step closer the day when transformation will have to occur.  To be clear, since I’m not Palestinian it’s not for me to say what they should do.  I don’t live under Occupation or have to scrape by as a second-class citizen.  So those decisions are for them to make.

Disenfranchising Palestinians through raising the election threshold should not be troubling at all to the new government or the settler-politicians who lead it.  In fact, they will welcome it because it will turn Israel even further toward an exclusivist Jewish state than it already is.  There are still a few liberals left in Israel.  If they are clear-headed enough, they might feel some disquiet at this development.  If they remember their history they’ll remember Pastor Niemoller who said that by the time the Nazis had come for the Communists, workers, and then him–it was too late to put up a fight.

Liberal Zionists, despite their protestations to the contrary don’t care much for Israeli Palestinians except as a proof that Israeli democracy exists.  If they do believe in such a thing, they ought to resist this new proposal with all their hearts.  Because once they throw Hadash, Balad and Kadima out of the Knesset, they’ll come for Meretz.  Once they’ve gobbled up Meretz they’ll come for Labor and so on.  Till there will be no one left but settlers and their friends.

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Deïr Yassin March 15, 2013, 4:04 AM

    I also question whether boycotting elections isn’t a better way, particularly to show the world that Israeli democracy is a farce.
    As far as uniting the smaller parties, it’s already the case: Ta’al-Ra’am is a coalition of two different parties: Ta’al which is more or less Ahmad Tibi on his own and Ra’am which is a moderate Islamic party lead by Ibrahim Sarsur. Raising the threshold is maybe not a bad thing after all: the smaller Palestinian parties would be obliged to form a larger coalition, and it could maybe encourage more people to vote. If there were one big Palestiinian party (reflecting different directions and ideologies) with 10-15% of the seats in the Knesset, the marginalization would be clearer.
    I also think United Torah Judaism is a coalition of at least two smaller parties.

  • shmuel March 15, 2013, 9:46 AM

    DY – surely boycotting democratic elections would not show anyone any farces, but just show up the fact that even when given the opportunity for democracy Palestinian Israelis reject it.

    The only real way for change is by getting everyone to vote, thus getting about 20 seats, and then playing democracy as an essential partner to a coalition or a fighting opposition.(like the hareidim and National religious did for years)

    Alternatively, they could try the “Feiglin method” of infiltrating an existing party democratically, like Avoda

    If they would join together as one party no one could prevent tham from sitting on the sensitive security or foreign affairs committees – the system at present always demands a minimum number of seats to be eligable which is always one more than the largest Arab party.With 20 seats they’d be the second largest party.

    As Abba Eban famously said, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity…

    • Deïr Yassin March 15, 2013, 11:36 AM

      Abba Eban was the Hasbarista-in-chief who told the UN that the State of Israel would do anything to implement the resolution 194 – a condition for Israel’s admission to the UN – back in May 1949, right ? Well, to paraphrase him “Israel never misses an opportunity to lie to the whole world, and get away with it”.

      I don’t consider the elections in Israel to be democratic because I don’t consider Israel a democracy: Palestinians are only allowed to vote because their numbers prevent them from any influence. The fact that even ‘centrist’ (in an Israeli perspective) parties prefer to made coalitions with Shas or United Torah Judaism rather than with Balad is proof enough for me.
      Oren Yiftachel as well as many other intellectuals call Israel an ethnocracy, it fits fine. Even Ashkenazicracy… Haneen Zoabi is coming to Paris in couple of weeks, I’ll ask her what she thinks of Israeli democracy.

  • David March 15, 2013, 12:37 PM

    Good. There is no room for traitors in the Israeli government. And these Arab MKs are bad for the Arabs too; their inflammatory rhetoric and treasonous actions raise tensions between Jews and Arabs. And the state should not be paying the salaries of traitors.

    Good riddance to Tubby Tibi and Finger-Wagging Zoabi.

    • Richard Silverstein March 15, 2013, 10:25 PM

      @David: Actually, there’s no room for racist idiots like you at this blog. But you just keep peddling that bile. It really works at persuading people of the reasonableness of your cause.

  • Matan March 16, 2013, 5:29 AM

    Historically, the threshold has been raised from its original 0% to its current 2% while the number of parties in the Knesset remained constant. There is also a natural threshold of about 0.8%, as there are exactly 120 MKs and you can’t split a seat.

    Also, Yesh Atid’s platform calls for a threshold of 6%.

    I have to say, that as an Israeli who does think Israel is a democracy, I don’t like this one bit. I also don’t see how the 3 proposed changes to the system of Government[1] actually help with anything beside lead us down the slippery slope. Raising the election threshold will force the smaller parties to unite or throw in the towel, but ultimately won’t change the power balance much. For example, during the last election, assuming that Arab parties were to unite (pretty safe assumption?), Kadima and Hadash would have been below the 4% threshold. That’s 6 seats, to be split evenly between the government and the opposition – not a major difference.
    Motions of no confidence are basically a symbolic gesture and no recent ones have passed anyway. And the selection of the PM by the president is a pretty minor thing, and in the last few elections the PM selected by the president was able to form a government.
    So what’s the point of these changes?

    [1] 1. Raising the election threshold, 2. Motions of no confidence require 70 MKs, and 3. The PM is the head of the party with the most votes

    • Marc March 16, 2013, 1:01 PM

      Only one (1) vote of no confidence ever went through. In all the history of Israeli government.


  • Daniel March 16, 2013, 6:28 AM

    Please read this article, I would like a comment of your’s .

  • Nessim March 16, 2013, 7:38 PM

    that header is a bad spin on a bad knesset distribution
    To simply say this law is created to oust ONLY THE ARABS is complete fallacy, it’s a spin of the worst kind
    Most Israeli coalitions are needled with the help of tiny parties who hold the keys of the money
    There are myriads of tiny parties BOTH arabs AND jewish that have no reason of blackmailing the larger parties in order to reach a stable 62 or 63 coalitions members.
    Actually the base level shouldn’t be ONLY 4%, IT SHOULD BE CLOSE TO 6% AS IN MOST COUNTRIES. Now that would allow solid majorities that can govern as it should
    That the arabs parties are fractioned close to the atomic level is only the fault and ONLY the fault of the arabs.
    IF THE ARABS CAN’T GET THEMSELVES TO VOTE OR TO CREATE LESS TEMPERAMENTAL PARTIES, perhaps then they could create solid parties that deserve to represent them in the Knesset. FURTHER AS IS THE US THE ARABS should start GET TO VOTE programs in order to raise the low voting level AGAIN THIS BEHOOVES THE ARABS TO DO
    To simply blame the majority to try to find a proper way to govern is not new, TIME AND AGAIN THIS LAW WAS SHUT DOWN BY NONE OTHER THAN THE MINOR SHAS brothers. this same law was ALWAYS killed by the haredis in previous coalitions. Why would haredis vote against this law, are they arab lovers, i don’t think so, they did it in order to fraction the knesset in order to be able to be king makers AND THAT’S THE WHOLE TRUTH
    Please don’t blame the new comers as being anti arabs – it’s truly beneath this blog to assume that

    • Richard Silverstein March 17, 2013, 2:32 AM

      it’s a spin of the worst kind

      Stop with the histrionics, why don’t you. I made clear in the post, which you probably didn’t bother to read, who precisely would be affected & I noted that Kadima would be included. But of course the vast majority of parties are either Palestinian or combined Palestinian and Jewish (Hadash). BTW, even Meretz in past elections might’ve fallen shy of the threshold.

      As for your argument that the thresh hold should be 6%, only an Israeli Jew could say that because his representation wouldn’t be affected. He’d have parties to vote for. Only Israeli Palestinians wouldn’t. Regarding the threshold of other countries, other countries are not Israel. Germany does not have the ethnic composition, nor the democratic threats that Israel faces. With stability & ethnic integration a country may afford to have different rules. Given the dysfunction of virtually everything about Israeli politics and ethnic relations, raising the threshold is another nail in the coffin of Israeli democracy. But you wouldn’t recognize that because all you want is “Jewish democracy.”

      I do love your typical blaming of the victim for his troubles when it is you, the Israeli Jew, who is the real cause. Your blindness to this is so goddman typical.

      There is no reason for Israeli Palestinians to vote in Israel if there’s nothing to vote for & they gain little or nothing by it. It is YOUR responsible as the one holding the reins of power to share it with them if you want them to participate. If you don’t, then as far as I’m concerned you can take your so-called democracy and so-called free and fair elections and shove ’em.

      • Nessim March 17, 2013, 3:35 AM

        Richard it is beneath you to demean my presentation of the truth the way i see it and live it from inside.
        Born in Egypt and lived the 56 war only to move to Montevideo to live the 68 Tupamaros revolution and to move to Montreal to live the 72 mini revolution, I have seen and lived enough to see that this law has been pushed time and again and ONLY parties that TRULY benefited were the Haredis, time and again they were the king makers in order to keep their bastions MIN OF INTERIOR (פניםdefines who’s a jew) CONSTRUCTION (building and subsidizing apt EXCLUSIVELY for haredis). These minor parties were the ONLY ones that benefited from the low threshold.
        You may see it at discriminating against the arabs, ME AS A SECULAR I see it as kicking minor haredis parties that allowed them to live in at the cost of the rest of us
        Big words to stomp me are demeaning and make me wonder if you without realizing it have somehow crossed some invisible line that doesn’t allow you to see the day to day damage that these tiny haredis parties have caused to the WHOLE ISRAEL ECONOMY AND WAY OF LIE. I do feel the arabs should have a better way to warrant them representation, no questions about that at all. unfortunately in this case this particular law shuts down both the good representation (arabs) and the bad/ugly representations (minor rabbis getting in coalitions just to rub their agendas in our face)
        Just in that vein are the rabbis fatwas not to pump water from the Galilee JUST BECAUSE THERE IS A “CHANCE’ of fermentation. The cost to the rest of us in using more expensive water is enormous and yet no one dares to stand up and say no unless you can prove it factually AND physically. This is extortion without representation

        • Richard Silverstein March 17, 2013, 4:20 PM

          It’s simply not true to say Haredi parties are the “only ones who benefited from the low threshold” when I’ve specifically listed four other non-Haredi parties who would be disenfranchised by raising the threshold. I also reject the notion of 2% as a “low threshold.” In fact, it’s the normal threshold that’s been in place in Israel for decades, perhaps going back to 1948 (though I’m not certain of this).

          I have no interest in restricting debate to the Haredi parties. They’re an easy target since almost everyone aside from the Orthodox themselves detest them. The issue here isn’t Haredim vs everyone else. The real issue is Israeli Jewish ultranationalism vs. the Israeli Jewish & Palestinian left.

  • Nessim March 18, 2013, 8:25 AM

    Sorry I don’t see it that way,
    In view of the fact that there is no Israeli individual to rally a great majority to his cause, the country has become fractionated beyond recognition, therefore the task of creating a “stable” coalition is harder by the election.
    This coalition is nothing but the last example. it took 60 days of give and take to generate something, and this with ONLY 3 major parties. the previous times it was close to 6 or 7 different parties each with it’s own agenda.
    As commoners we can only see the negative results in laws that go beyond fascism, why because minor parties were king makers and their agenda was more destructive than the next party. It was utterly disgusting to see the plethora of ministers, subs, sub subs and what not all on the public trough, nearly each individual that was part of the previous coalition had a post
    it would have happened again if either lapid or benett would have stayed out, it would have taken no less than 10 yes count them 10 parties to get to the 61 or 62 threshold. now does that sound like a government that wants to govern or a bunch of people feeding at the trough and all serving it’s own little group.
    our life is nothing but miserable on account of the 2 knesset seats parties
    i hate shutting down minorities groups but sometime the good of the most has to prevail, no in this utterly racist country, but then the racism was distated from the coalitions in charge. had there been stronger groups they would have provided counter weights to some of the extremists laws that were hatched in an utterly fasicist knesset.
    10 parties to make a coalition, nothing but a sectarian government, not a heck of a lot better than the mullahs of iran, but then the way we’re going there’s won’t be much of a difference in short term
    what scares me the most is the rapid way we’re heading into apartheid, all with the full agreement of just about every single member of the knesset with the exception of a handful, sad to see israel dismembered the way south africa but then the majority is tone deaf by now with the “security foremost” banner

  • djf March 18, 2013, 9:48 AM

    Richard, I don’t buy your narrative of big parties conspiring to gang up on Arab/Palestinian and other small parties. You got it almost right here: “The small parties … can fold their mission into a larger party. … But they would do so at the price of compromising the political diversity they currently express through the multiplicity of parties.” Israel needs more parties (not just Palestinian ones) to compromise ideological purity for the sake of governance. Nobody should be disenfranchised. Small parties should become factions within larger parties, which will force large parties to have broader platforms.

  • Lydda March 18, 2013, 12:32 PM

    [Such comments will never be published here. You’ve been warned about this. Either shape up and publish comments that respect the comment rules or go away.]

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