March 12, 2015


The Arab Joint List Is Reshaping Israeli Politics : How Ayman Odeh could end up leading the opposition after next week's legislative elections in Israel (David B. Green, March 12, 2015, The Tablet)

Until a month ago, it looked as if Israel's Arab parties might be denied a place in the 20th Knesset. In March 2014, the Knesset had passed the "Governance Bill," which raises the threshold a party needs to meet in order to enter the legislature. While in past elections, a party needed to attract 2 percent of the vote (equivalent to three Knesset seats), the new bill pushed that up to 3.25 percent (equal to four seats).

The outgoing Knesset has three Arab, or mostly Arab, parties, two of which--Hadash, the former Communist party, and Balad, a secular Arab-nationalist list--would not meet the requirements under the new law. The third list, Ra'am-Ta'al, would make the cut only because it is really two parties--the Islamic Ra'am, and Ta'al, a moderate, secular party represented in parliament by Ahmed Tibi--who have hooked up in past elections for the purpose of not falling below the required percentage.

There is no doubt that the Governance Bill was intended to keep tiny parties, the kind that often form around a single issue or a narrow population group, out of the Knesset, a change that would increase the stability of government coalitions, since it reduces the possibility of small parties--including religious parties--holding the government hostage to attain its support for their limited goals. At the same time, however, it was widely understood that the bill--which was co-sponsored by Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, whose Moldavian-born leader appears to take pleasure in denigrating Israel's Arab citizens--was an indirect attempt to push the Arab parties, none of which have ever been invited to join a coalition, out of Israel's legislature altogether. For them, the new threshold seemed to pose an outright threat of extinction, especially given the shrinking rate of participation among eligible Arab voters.

Now, however, less than a week before the March 17 snap election, a very different scenario looks to be emerging. If the polls suggesting that the Arab voting rate could surge back above the 70 percent level are correct, the so-called Arab sector could find itself in a position of political influence it has never before enjoyed. Recent polls suggest that the number of representatives it will have in the new Knesset could reach 13 or more--and not in spite of the Governance Bill, but in large part thanks to it.

Thanks, Avi.

Posted by at March 12, 2015 4:08 PM

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