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A Knesset without Arab parties?

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The fate of Israel’s embattled Arab parties is in the balance as Israel’s next parliamentary elections approach. The election season officially started last week when Knesset formally dissolved itself, setting an unconfirmed date at the polls of March 17, 2015. Yet as campaigns take off, the question of Israel’s smaller parties and the survival of Arab political groups in particular is in the background. Presently there are 12 Arab members of Knesset (one from the far right group Yisrael Beiteinu, four from mixed Arab-Jewish parties, and seven far Arab-identified parties), yet next year’s early elections will be the first since Israel raised the voter threshold to require 3.25-percent of the popular vote in order for a party to secure a seat in Knesset, which will impact the number of representatives from smaller factions. None of the Arab parties has reached this threshold on its own. They will either have to merge, or forgo being a part of the government.

There are three main Arab parties in Israel that represent Palestinian citizens of the state, and there is only one mixed Jewish and Arab party. Generally they each win a seat or two in the government, and without their presence, excluding a Druze member of a right-wing party who is now in office, Israel’s Knesset would be entirely Jewish. But in the last three election cycles, none of the Arab parties have exceeded 3.25-percent of the vote that is now needed, and barely met the previous threshold, which was set at 2-percent.

Arab parties have struggled in every election historically. This is because while Palestinian citizens represent 20 percent of Israel’s population and could easily sway election results, as a sector they have the lowest voter turnout rate due to a long-standing boycott of Israeli elections. Their participation is always in question, and according to Israeli political leaders so is their loyalty to the state. They have never been part of any ruling coalition in Israel, specifically excluded by Rabin in 1992, and Lieberman in 2009 and 2013 on the grounds of being allegedly untrustworthy.  While party allegiance changes rather swiftly in Israel, generally there are two main parties that compete to control the government. Each is tasked with assembling a coalition of 61 out of 120 Knesset members who then select the prime minister. Arab parties and their low number of parliamentarians have never been needed to reach the coveted 61 seats.

Then there are Palestinians with East Jerusalem IDs, around 350,000 people. They are not eligible to vote in national elections.

In order to win a seat in the upcoming election, all three Arab parties will have to merge. Right now the discussions from within are about taking the four parties (three Arab and one Jewish-Arab) and forming two ballot lists. Balad, headed by Hanin Zoabi, would merge with United Arab List, a predominantly Bedouin-backed group, and Ta’al, led by Ahmad Tibi, would merge with Hadash, the Jewish-Arab communist party. But even with the mergers, the parties may be too small to secure even one Knesset seat.Reporting on the Ground

In the past three elections two of the Arab parties had already merged in order to meet the 2 percent threshold. United Arab List joined with Ta’al and in 2006 they won 3.02-percent. In 2009 the combined party won 3.38-percent, and in 2013 they won 3.65-percent. Without a full three party merger, the elections will be a gamble.

As for Balad, the lowest performer of all of the Arab parties, it has not exceeded 2.56-percent of the vote in the past three elections. It cannot win a seat on its own in the next election, though a two-party merger could give it just enough votes to win one seat.

Arab parties understand their continuation is on the line in this next election. Last week Knesset member Jamal Zahalka (Balad) tried to introduce legislation to delay elections and hold off implementing the increase to the voter threshold. Neither proposal was passed, but his attempts show the uneasiness Arab parties feel about their future role in Israeli politics. Will Israel’s next Knesset be the first since the state’s founding to not have any Palestinian representatives?

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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43 Responses

  1. dimadok on December 15, 2014, 3:02 pm

    But, but whatabout apartheid ?!! Whatabout 20& of Arab population of Israel- you are saying that they do not vote completely and fully for the Arab parties? But why, if , according to the gospel here, “evil Zionists” exclude and humiliate Arab population of Israel. It doesn’t make any sense- are you spreading a whitewashing hasbara, Alison?

    • a blah chick on December 16, 2014, 10:12 am

      You cannot be so much of an idiot to think that universal adult suffrage cannot exist along side institutional racism. It can. Take it from one who knows.

      Is it me or are the hasbara talking points getting stupider?

  2. jon s on December 15, 2014, 4:26 pm

    Allison’s report is inaccurate:

    The date of the election is not “unconfirmed” . It’s been set for March 17.

    “They (the Arab parties) will either have to merge, or forgo being a part of the government.” You mean part of the parliament, the Knesset, not the government.

    Balad was not headed by Hanin Zoabi . She was second on the list.

    In one place Allison writes:
    “four from mixed Arab-Jewish parties” , but a few lines later:” there is only one mixed Jewish and Arab party.”
    The facts are : Hadash has three Arab MKs, one Jewish.
    Meretz has one Arab MK, Issawi Freij.
    Hamed Amar, a Druze, represents Yisrael Beteinu.
    And –this just in- Raleb Majadleh has been sworn in as a Labor MK , to replace the ailing Ben-Eliezer.

    If the Arab parties merge, there’s no question that they will be in the next Knesset.

    As to “long standing boycott” : see the statistics:

    • just on December 15, 2014, 5:08 pm

      How do you feel about the terrorist Occupation, jon s?

      • clenchner on December 15, 2014, 6:13 pm

        These days when I think about the MW community, this is precisely what comes to mind: a perfectly reasonable comment pointing out some factual or logical error, followed by an utter troll, seemingly in defense of… what? The original error? The Palestinian cause?
        I mean…. the article’s errors reflect quite poorly on the author and the site’s mastery of the subject matter, which has a bearing on the merits of the editorial perspective.

        I do hope the parties merge, though I wish Israeli could have a unified party of the left that included Hadash and some other entity (Yosef Burg? Meretz?) that would represent the largest overlap of a venn diagram of Jewish and Palestinian voters. Bringing them together would be a real step forward for promoting social change in Israeli society. (The other Arab parties don’t have a large enough Jewish constituency, and the other Jewish parties don’t have a large enough Arab constituency.)

      • ritzl on December 15, 2014, 9:22 pm

        The problem is, Newclench, that when YOU argue for merger, you argue for an exclusionist merger on the part of the Jewish-Israeli left to avoid any possible Palestinian-Israeli inclusion in a government.

        If you’re actually an Israeli “lefty” bent on making things right in Israel, you can’t be about “overlap.” You have to be about total inclusion/immersion in something new.

        Scary, isn’t it?

      • Mooser on December 15, 2014, 9:54 pm

        Newclench, you don’t know the half of it.
        There was one guy who just wouldn’t stop talking about milking cows!

      • Mooser on December 15, 2014, 9:56 pm

        “Scary, isn’t it?”

        An udder horror show.

      • oldgeezer on December 16, 2014, 2:11 am


        The troll is you making a mountain out of a molehill


        Udder? Do you mean Israel is about to go tits up (apologies to anyone offended) as a state?

      • just on December 16, 2014, 5:00 am

        Thanks, Newclench!

      • Mooser on December 16, 2014, 11:48 am

        “Thanks, Newclench!”

        His alabaster titties gleam from sea to shining sea!

    • on December 15, 2014, 6:16 pm

      Definitely should not merge. The fact is they have no voice in the governing of Israel. Why allow Israel to pretend they do?

      • ritzl on December 15, 2014, 8:44 pm

        But Giles, they CAN have a voice. Particularly merged, and along with an activated, “nowhere else to go,” honestly change-seeking Jewish-Israeli Left. The alternative is to give up. Give up any possible influence on their own destiny.

        For both constituencies.

        It’s like any GoI actually talking to Hamas to resolve, well, anything. It simply hasn’t been tried.

        Why give up?

      • ritzl on December 15, 2014, 9:07 pm

        To be clear, I’m looking for leaders as a sign of change. People who will galvanize their constituencies toward a new mechanism for change and get the job done. I don’t see them at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

        Same for the US. At the moment a Webb/Warren ticket holds promise, at least to me, but I have no illusions that Webb wouldn’t be suppressed with a made-up Dean-like “scream” moment (; about 20:00), and Warren has already shown herself to be subservient on this issue. But together they have potentially uniting strengths. Left-right and up-down.

        There’s got to be that same combination of potentially alloying, but not necessarily best buds, people in Israel. There simply must be.

      • jon s on December 16, 2014, 4:07 pm

        (It’s nothing new on this forum: polite, on-topic comments of mine are often met with personal insults and abuse.)
        The Arab parties may be compelled to merge so as to pass the minimum threshhold. They could do so as an election tactic, and then split up again after the elections. After all, why should Communists and Islamists have to vote for the same list, just because they are Arabs?
        In any case I would like to see an increase in the Arab turnout : they could potentially reach 20 or so MKs, and that would be a game-changer.
        I also think a Meretz-Hadash alliance would be a good idea, but, realistically, it’s not going to happen , at least not this time.
        And of course you meant Avraham Burg, not his late father…

      • Mooser on December 16, 2014, 5:34 pm

        “(It’s nothing new on this forum: polite, on-topic comments of mine are often met with personal insults and abuse.)”

        And you a first-time commenter, without an archive by which people can judge your credibility. Awful, ain’t it.

    • on December 15, 2014, 6:27 pm

      The report cited the March 17 date and described it as unconfirmed. jon s leaves out the fact Allison gave us the date and then describes it as confirmed as if Allison had no idea what she was talking about.

      jon s then goes on to falsely claim Allison stated there are 4 mixed Arab-Jewish parties. She quite clearly stated there were four Arab members of Knesset in mixed Arab Jewish parties.

      He next declares that “If the Arab parties merge, there’s no question that they will be in the next Knesset.” Implying Alison stated otherwise which she, of course did not.

      Ms. Zoabi is no longer in the Knesset as she has been suspended for not sufficiently going along with the subjugation.

      It must stink having to always be so dishonest in order to support your “team”. These guys don’t seem to have any problem with it, I must admit.

      • oldgeezer on December 15, 2014, 7:00 pm

        It deflects the conversation from the substance to raise spurious objections. Typical hasbrot.

      • bryan on December 16, 2014, 2:20 am

        Yes Giles that poster did stink of dishonesty. There was however one error in Allison’s report, repeated twice; however this was terminological inexactitude rather than attempted deception. Allison referred to “They will either have to merge, or forgo being a part of the government” and “Generally they each win a seat or two in the government”. She should have referred to legislature rather than government, as she later made clear by stating “They have never been part of any ruling coalition in Israel”.

        A good report Allison, much appreciated by those of us more open-minded on the subject.

    • Daniel Rich on December 16, 2014, 12:15 am

      @ John Son,

      Add a few more laws to this egregious mix and you’re done.

      Like this one: The Nakba Law.

    • eGuard on December 16, 2014, 5:24 am

      jon s, your link is talking nonsense (which is worse than “inaccurate”, I say).
      For example, it says: Therefore, low voter turnout in the Arab sector is not necessarily related to its ethnic background, and is part of a general decline among all Israelis. While the figures presented show a consistent lower “Arab” turnout than Jewish turnout of about 5% points (in all years mentioned, the “Arab” turnout was 5 below the Jewish turnout % number).

      By the way, what a modern democratic country that must be where the State registers “ethnicity” of voters.

    • eGuard on December 16, 2014, 5:40 am

      jon s: If the Arab parties merge, there’s no question that they will be in the next Knesset.

      You don’t even grasp that this is politics for racists, do you?

      • jon s on December 17, 2014, 4:31 am

        eguard, I’ve seen lots of reports regarding voting patterns in the US among African -Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, Jews, Arab-Americans, and so forth. “Politics for racists?”

      • eGuard on December 19, 2014, 3:24 am

        jon s, this is not a response to your own quote. Which proves my point.

    • eGuard on December 16, 2014, 5:48 am

      jon s, a “long standing boycott” indeed. Your own link mentions huge numbers of blank votes (abstentions) by “Arabs”.

  3. a blah chick on December 15, 2014, 5:32 pm

    I believe that the reason put forth about raising the threshhold was to get more “stability” for the governing coalitions. In other words the smaller parties would no longer be able to hold the government “hostage” by threatening to pull support. And yet an article I read, I think at 972mag, said that when coalitions broke up it was almost always because the bigger parties pulled out, not the smaller ones.

    We all know why the threshhold was raised, to get rid of the Arab parties and the smaller Jewish ones, who are more trouble than their worth.

  4. smithgp on December 15, 2014, 6:33 pm

    Jon S is right about the numbers (and perhaps one or two other points in his commenting career). In addition, United Arab List-Ta’al got 3.65% of the vote in 2013, which would be enough to make the threshold in the March 17 election. There are only two Palestinian-identified lists in the current Knesset: United Arab List-Ta’al and Balad, with 4 and 3 MKs, respectively.

    Raising the threshold to 3.25% may indeed have had the purpose of further reducing Palestinian representation in the Knesset, but it could have the opposite effect if it inspires like-minded politicians, both Palestinian or Jewish, to unite for the common cause of equal rights, at least in ’48 Israel.

  5. ritzl on December 15, 2014, 6:55 pm

    I hate saying what others “need” to do, but Palestinian-Israelis need to suspend their disbelief/cynicism/experience AND merge AND vote with 100% turnout. Now is the time.

    That would give them 20% of Knesset seats. Maybe more depending on Jewish-Israeli turnout (i.e. less than 100%). It would change everything in Israel politics, imho.

    And while I’m at it, Palestinian East Jerusalemites “should” start considering accepting the annexation of all of Jerusalem in order to vote in municipal elections. It’s been a while since I looked at the demographics, and maybe the voting “offer” (hasbara/international PR; if it was ever sincere) has been withdrawn and/or the settlement enterprise has raised radical Jewish-Israeli participation to a level that precludes meaningful Palestinian political participation, but what are the options at this point?

    • ritzl on December 15, 2014, 7:07 pm

      Well, change everything in Israeli politics, assuming Israel is actually a democracy. Heh.

      Still, call the bluff!

    • bryan on December 16, 2014, 2:31 am

      Agreed, Ritz, in this election more so than any other. A single united Arab-Jewish party could be a real game-changer, especially when so much could possibly change in three months of electioneering, and especially if chickens could possibly come home to roost at Geneva / UN, and the Israeli citizen on the street came to realize the real dangers to the state posed by the right-wing fanatics.

  6. ritzl on December 15, 2014, 7:02 pm

    Great report, Allison. Much to consider and/or understand. Implications galore…


  7. just on December 15, 2014, 8:20 pm

    State sponsored ethnic cleansing and genocide.

    Thanks, Allison.

    • DoubleStandard on December 16, 2014, 3:09 am

      That’s related to this article how?

      • just on December 16, 2014, 5:47 pm

        In oh so many ways. In every way. I am not surprised that you can’t see it, DS.

  8. just on December 16, 2014, 5:11 am

    A sign of the times?

    “Police raided the residences of several members of Lehava, a right-wing, anti-Arab organization early on Tuesday, and arrested, among others, the group’s chairman Benzi Gopstein.

    In total, ten members were arrested on suspicion of incitement and calling for violent crime. The police are expected to ask the court to extend their remand.

    According to the suspects’ lawyer, one of the three Lehava members who were charged on Monday with torching the Hebrew-Arabic bilingual school in Jerusalem had offered to give police incriminating information on Gopstien to secure a lighter sentence.

    The lawyer, Itamar Ben Gvir, blamed the arrest on “pressure from leftist politicians.”

    “Police are taking action against Lehava even though it is clear to them it’s a legal organization that overtly works against assimilation,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment.”

    Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-On said Tuesday that Lehava should be recognized as a terror group.

    “Announcements and publicized arrests aren’t enough,” she said in a statement. “We must put an end to the feeble response to an organization that uses terrorism and violence against those who work toward coexistence.” ”

    They are terrorists.

    • a blah chick on December 16, 2014, 12:28 pm

      Wow, they actually arrested that idiot Gopstein?

      Call me cynical but I think that the reason they went after some of the Lahava people was that they threatened Jewish children at that school. Had that been an Arab school I doubt there would have been any arrests.

  9. eGuard on December 16, 2014, 5:33 am

    Thanks Allison. At last I am starting to understand this number politics. I learn: a 3.25% treshold would equal 3.9 seats in the 120 seat parliament.

    Does anyone have a good link for the the “Arab” voting boycott backgrounds?

  10. Pretext on December 16, 2014, 10:20 am

    What’s the story with the Arab member of Yisrael Beiteinu? Is he/she Mizrahi or is there more to the story?

    • jon s on December 16, 2014, 3:47 pm

      Hamed Amar, who represents Yisrael Beiteinu – Lieberman’s party – is a Druze.
      He’s not the first Druze politician on the Israeli Right: In previous Knessets Ayub Kara was a Likud MK and deputy minister.

      • seafoid on December 16, 2014, 4:15 pm

        How many Arab Prime Ministers have there been in Israel? Would it be as high as 1 in 5 ?

  11. Citizen on December 16, 2014, 11:16 am

    Caroline Glick and her infatuated followers say the majority of Jewish Israelis desire to keep a central right wing regime, and this includes continued settlements, and that criticism of Israel is due to world-wide goy hew hatred, part of the goys’ DNA. Ms Deger, how is your article here related to this POV? It’s a view delivered directly to the Danes, who happen to have saved many Jews during WW2.

  12. piotr on December 19, 2014, 7:56 pm

    If you count all parties that were formed by former Likud members, then they will probably get the majority. However, some of them may join Labor/Livni government. So the question is if the next government will be “Zionism with human face” or “Zionism in your face”.

    If Arab parties would increase their representation, perhaps there could be a minority center-left government with “constructive opposition” or something like that from the Arab parties. In principle, it is very feasible to cobble suitable inducements for Arab and Haredi parties, that would clearly infuriate so-called “National camp”, but how that would sell electorally, I have no idea. I would guess that some voters would be receptive to the idea that Israel has to avoid “diplomatic isolation”, i.e. accommodate Europeans who increasingly demand “real negotiations”, and who do not recognize the legality of the settlements, and consider actually doing something about it. It is enough if European pressure swings several percent of voters.

    • a blah chick on December 19, 2014, 8:37 pm

      Hasn’t Herzog already said that he won’t partner with any of the Arab parties?

      Also according to the bloggers at 972mag none of the Zionist parties are raising the issue of the occupation. I know it’s still early but why should this election be any different than the last one in that regard?

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