Bill Threatening Arab Representation in Knesset Nears Enactment Into Law

Parties with less than 4 seats would be out; the Arab parties would have to merge to survive.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset Constitution committee approved the so-called "governability bill" on Monday, sending it to the full Knesset for a final reading into law next week.

The bill’s most controversial provision raises the threshold for entering the Knesset from 2 percent to 3.25 percent of valid votes cast.

This change will keep parties with fewer than four seats out of the Knesset. Thus the three Arab parties, each of usually wins three to four seats in election, would have to merge to ensure that they get in.

The bill also makes other changes in the system of government, including restricting the cabinet to 18 ministers and four deputy ministers and barring the appointment of ministers without portfolio.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) blasted the bill’s approval, noting that traditionally, changes in the system of government have been approved only with broad bipartisan consensus, not by a hair’s-breadth coalition majority. “It’s an embarrassment that we’re changing the rules of the democratic game like this – with Knesset members who don’t even know what they’re voting on,” Khenin said. “This isn’t what governability looks like, and it’s certainly not what democracy looks like.”

But MK Ronen Hoffman (Yesh Atid), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, insisted it would improve efficiency and governance.

The coalition plans to bring the bill for its final reading together with a new military conscription bill and a new Basic Law mandating a referendum to cede sovereign territory, in the hope that presenting them as a package deal will ensure the passage of all three. The opposition has submitted 150 proposed amendments to the governability bill.

Unusually, the final committee vote on the governability bill coincided with votes on key sections of the new conscription bill in the Shaked Committee. Moreover, in both committees, the coalition had a majority of only one Knesset member. The Habayit Hayehudi party therefore exploited the situation to try to ensure that the conscription bill would meet its approval: Its two MKs on the Constitution Committee, Orit Strock and Shuli Moalem, threatened not to vote for the governability bill if the party’s demands on the conscription bill weren’t met.

Strock, in particular, was considered the coalition’s weak link. Since her vote was necessary, the entire committee recessed when she left the room for consultations. Yet she repeatedly “forgot” to raise her hand during votes on various sections of the bill.

Despite this, the opposition succeeded in passing only one change to the bill – a minor alteration in the wording of one clause that affected its meaning not at all.

Hadash MK Dov Hanin.Credit: Oren Nachshon

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