Bill to Raise Knesset's Electoral Threshold Passes First Reading

Opposition MKs, who decry the bill as a threat to democracy, take podium and stand silently for three minutes in protest.

The Knesset passed Wednesday night a first reading of the governability bill, which contains some far-reaching structural changes to the political system, including the raising of the electoral threshold for Knesset representation. This will force smaller parties to either merge or face oblivion.

The vote was conducted in two stages. The first was a vote on the clauses of the bill dealing with the ability of the opposition to bring down the government, which passed 63-42 with two abstentions.

The vote on the more controversial section, which includes the raising of the electoral threshold to 4 percent from the current 2 percent, passed 64-49, with one abstention.

Former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin voted against the bill, defying the coalition. Current Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and MK Adi Kol of Yesh Atid abstained. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who had just returned from Washington, voted for the bill - although she is believed to oppose it - in order to fulfill her coalition obligation.

After the vote on the first part of the bill, opposition MKs took the podium one after another and conducted an unusual protest: For three full minutes, rather than speak they each stood silently in front of the microphones. Mohammed Barakeh, Haneen Zoabi, Basel Ghattas, Moshe Gafni, Michal Rosin and Zahava Gal-On were among those who chose to replace a speech with thunderous silence. Ahmed Tibi spent his three minutes with his back to the chamber. MK Jamal Zahalka went further, taping up his mouth. After his three-minute silence he told the plenum, “This was an illustration of a Knesset without Arab MKs, a Knesset with no opposition.”

MK Nitzan Horowitz spent only one of his minutes in silence and then said, “I have just observed a moment of silence in memory of the democracy they are trying to destroy with this law … I don’t understand this obsession with eliminating forces and representative expression. This is a petty, pathetic law.”

MK Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu faction submitted the bill, said it was a law that would save Israeli democracy.

“This is another step toward strengthening Israel as a normal democratic country, in which the government that the people chose can really govern for the citizens’ benefit. The people are tired of a split and divided Knesset, and of bloated governments that come to provide jobs for unnecessary ministers in order to survive.”

Last week, the coalition said it would not put the bill to a vote because, as a bill that would require several changes to the Basic Laws, it needed 61 votes to pass. Yesterday, though, coalition chairman Zeev Elkin exerted pressure on the coalition MKs to vote for the bill.