Court rules not to strike electoral cut-off law; decision could spur uniting of Arab parties

The court's ruling did not permanently uphold the law, as it left the door open to a post-election challenge to the law if the dire impact predicted by those opposing the law transpired.

Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran (photo credit: screenshot)
Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran
(photo credit: screenshot)
The High Court of Justice voted 8-1 on Wednesday to reject a petition that had asked it to strike down a law raising the electoral cut-off threshold to 3.25 percent.
The three Arab parties were still struggling to reach any decision on unity, with Hadash possibly holding out to run on its own in the March 17 election.
All of the justices, including outgoing and incoming Supreme Court Presidents Asher D. Grunis and Miriam Naor, respectively, voted to uphold the law, except for Justice Salim Joubran, the court’s one Arab justice.
The court’s ruling did not permanently uphold the law, as it left the door open to a post-election challenge if the dire impact predicted by those opposing the law are realized.
That said, the court made it clear that such a challenge would at most allow eliminating the law for future elections, but would not be a grounds for challenging the results of the upcoming vote.
Two groups that helped push the petition forward, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, responded to the decision saying, “The decision did not give weight to the promise of the right to be represented to Arab citizens in the Knesset, because it ignores” historic voting patterns, practical effectiveness and the right for Arab Israelis to have a range of options representing different positions.
While some of the law’s proponents pushed for it in order to reduce the number of small political parties, to empower larger parties and to create greater stability for ruling coalitions, the biggest potential impact being discussed appears to be the possibility it could wipe out some of the Israeli-Arab parties.
The three Israeli-Arab parties have been in negotiations about running as a united list to avoid elimination and polls have said that a single list could garner more Knesset seats.
According to a recent Panels Research poll taken for The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew sister publication, Maariv Sof Hashavua, if the parties ran on their own, United Arab List-Ta’al would get six seats, five for Hadash, and Balad would fail to get in.
Though the smaller Balad has come out in favor of unity and polls have indicated that the Israeli-Arab public heavily prefers unity, issues of power, ego and ideology have thus far kept United Arab List-Ta’al and especially Hadash from agreeing to a joint run.
These parties may also believe they can make it into the Knesset without Balad, and Hadash’s new union with ex-Labor star and former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg in an effort to attract more Jewish votes could be damaged by joining up in a unified Arab list.
Also on Friday, Hadash MK Dov Henin announced he would run for the No. 2 spot on the Hadash candidates list on Saturday. Hadash, while often called an Arab party, is actually an Arab-Jewish party with overwhelmingly Arab voters.
Meanwhile, the Abraham Fund Initiatives launched a broad-based action plan to encourage Arabs to vote in the Knesset election.
“The goal is to enhance the involvement and representation of the Arab minority in the political system. The activities are strictly nonpartisan and are not identified with any political party,” the NGO said.
The Abraham Fund said it also “plans to work with the major political parties in order to promote possibilities for Jewish-Arab cooperation in the political arena, including the appointment of Arabs to the government and the inclusion of Arab parties in the coalition.”
Ariel Ben Solomon and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.