Israeli Minister Denies He Seeks to Lower Knesset Electoral Threshold

Such a move ostensibly would help smaller right-wing parties reach parliament in the next election

Shas leader Arye Dery at an emergency meeting of the ultra-Orthodox factions, convened to discuss the High Court ruling on Haredi army service.
Emil Salman

Interior Minister Arye Dery denied a report Sunday that he seeks to lower the electoral threshold as a way of helping his ultra-Orthodox Shas party in the next election.

Channel 2 reported Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering lowering the threshold to 2 percent from 3.25 percent as a way of preventing votes for small right-wing parties from going to waste.

After the Knesset raised the threshold from 2 percent three years ago, Arab parties united to form the Joint List, which wound up winning 10.5 percent of the vote and becoming the third largest party in the Knesset after Netanyahu’s Likud and center-left Zionist Union.

According to the report, a lower electoral threshold would increase the chances that the smaller right-wing parties would make it into the Knesset, including Shas, Eli Yishai’s Yahad party that broke off from Shas, and the National Union if it splits off from Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi. In the 2015 election, Yahad won 2.97 percent of the vote, failing to reach parliament.

The next election must be held by November 5, 2019, and any changes to the threshold must be passed by the Knesset.

While the idea of dropping the threshold back to 2 percent has been raised before, Sunday’s report took allies of Netanyahu by surprise. Coalition Chairman David Bitan told Haaretz that he sought such a change over a year ago but Dery blocked the move.

Another minister noted: “This issue comes up from time to time in discussions with Netanyahu.”

Dery’s associates also denied claims he sought to lower the threshold. “The claim that Minister Dery agrees to lower the electoral threshold is a lie,” a close associate said. “Shas will get stronger in the next election without anyone assisting it. Shas is strong and doesn’t need any favors.”