Israel's Supreme Court Rejects Petition Against Increasing Electoral Threshold

The change effectively forces Arab parties to run in joint slates in order to gain Knesset representation.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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An election employee preparing voting slips at a polling booth in southern Israel on Monday.
An election employee preparing voting slips at a polling booth in southern Israel on Monday.Credit: Reuters
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

The Supreme Court has struck down a petition against the Knesset law which raised the electoral threshold from 2 percent to 3.25 percent — a change that effectively forces Arab parties to run in joint slates in order to gain Knesset representation. Eight justices dismissed the petition with the only opposition coming from the court’s sole Arab justice, Salim Joubran. The court’s reasons were not specified due to the tight timeline before the March 17 election, requiring that all lists be presented by the end of this month.

The majority included outgoing President of the Court Asher Grunis as well as the incoming President Justice Miriam Naor, joined by Justices Esther Hayut, Neal Hendel, Hanan Melcer, Uzi Vogelman, Yoram Danziger and Elyakim Rubinstein. Justice Joubran found himself odd man out on the bench — just as he was in another recent ruling, supported by four other Jewish judges, to suspend MK Haneen Zoabi from the Knesset.

In a debate held last month Justice Grunis commented that the claim that the amended law would lead to a unification of the Arab lists (since individual Arab parties are unlikely to cross the threshold) and thus to the exclusion of Arab voters was purely speculative. In the laconic ruling just handed down it was stated that “this amendment can be challenged again before the elections to the 21st Knesset, based on the results of the impending elections for the 20th Knesset, all in the context of the electoral threshold.”

The petition against the new law, passed by the Knesset last March, was brought forth by two citizens who were joined by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. During the court’s deliberations, Justice Joubran commented that the law was “redundant. The majority in this country will be evaluated by its treatment of minorities.”

“What will Israel look like to the world if it has no Arab parties in the Knesset?” wondered Joubran. “The result will be that the Arab sector will be coerced into forming a united party. That’s a problem. There are different ideologies and worldviews in the Arab community. It could lead to a breakdown of the united party after the elections. Foreseeing this, many Arab voters may not bother voting at all... The Arab voter realizes that ideologies differ among these parties and that poses problems.”

ACRI and Adalah responded to the dismissal of the petition, saying that “the ruling doesn’t guarantee Arab citizens their right to be represented in the Knesset since it ignores their historic patterns of voting, as well as ignoring the argument that their representation must reflect different opinions within the Arab sector. As we argued before the court, raising the threshold prevents Arab lists from running independently, according to their own agendas. The amendment expresses a coercion of the minority’s political rights by the majority. We believed that the Supreme Court should intervene and strike down the amendment, in order to protect the constitutional rights of the minority.”

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