Supreme Court hears petition against raising electoral threshold in upcoming Knesset elections

Adalah and ACRI: New election threshold violates Arab citizens' right to choose their political orientation

On Sunday 28 December 2014, an expanded panel of nine Israeli Supreme Court justices heard a petition filed by private attorney Yehuda Gutman to cancel an amendment to the Electoral Threshold Law. The Knesset enacted the law in March 2014, which raises the threshold percentage of votes needed to gain seats in the Knesset from 2% to 3.25%. Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) participated in the hearing as amicus curiae after submitting arguments to the Supreme Court in an expert opinion on the petition on 21 December 2014. Adalah and ACRI argued in their opinion that the law violates the freedom of expression and political participation rights, as well as the right to equality, of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel.


The two human rights organizations contended that when enacting the law, the Knesset did not consider the impact of the increase of the threshold requirement on Arab political parties, nor the fact that all the Arab parties represented in the Knesset opposed the amendment. Additionally, they argued that there are many different groups among the Arab citizens with a wide range of political and ideological beliefs that deserved representation.


Some of the Supreme Court justices were critical of the raising the electoral threshold. Justice Salim Joubran said that the new percentage "forces Arab citizens to unify their lists into one slate, which is a problem. There are different ideologies and different political views." Judge Hyut said that "the law creates difficulties", and Judge Rubenstein acknowledged "if we look into the history of elections for the Arab public, all the political lists, or a third of them, do not exceed this new election threshold" 


ACRI Attorney Auni Bana argued in the court hearing that: "Raising the electoral threshold for the Arab minority violates their right to vote, and this violation exists regardless of the possible results of forming a single Arab list. Once the Arab lists are forcibly unified, this violates their right to vote and to run for election.


Adalah Attorney Nadeem Shehadeh said: "This step has greater impact for Arab parties than other parties. Arab parties, according to the former threshold percentage, needed 20% of Arab votes in order to enter the Knesset, and now they need 30% of Arab votes to do so. This massive jump is a lot more difficult than what it may seem at first. Therefore, the fundamental violation in this law is the violation of the rights of Arab citizens to choose their political orientation."