Israeli Supreme Court rejects petition against raising electoral threshold

Adalah and ACRI: Decision disregards Arab citizens’ rights to political representation by a variety of political movements.

Today, 14 January 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by private attorney Yehuda Gutman to cancel an amendment to the Electoral Threshold Law. The Knesset enacted the amendment in March 2014, which raises the threshold percentage of votes needed to gain seats in the Knesset from 2% to 3.25%. The decision was issued by a majority of 8 Supreme Court justices to 1. The dissenting justice was Arab Justice Salim Joubran.


Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) participated in a hearing on the case on 28 December 2014 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 that the amendment to increase the threshold undermined the parliamentary representation of the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel in particular, more than other groups of citizens.


There are currently three Arab or Arab-Jewish parties in the Knesset: al-Jabha/Hadash (the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) with 4 seats; Ra’am-Taal (the United Arab List) with 4 seats; and Tajammu’/Balad (the National Democratic Assembly) with 3 seats. Historically, these parties almost never attained 3.25% of the vote.


In Adalah and ACRI’s view, the court’s decision gave no consideration whatsoever to the right of Arab citizens of Israel to political representation and political participation. Further, it disregarded the voting patterns of the Arab minority as well as the argument that the elected Knesset representatives of the Arab community should reflect the spectrum of political movements within that community.


Adalah argued in the court hearing that the increased threshold prevents the Arab parties from contesting the elections within multiple party lists that represent the broad range of their political and ideological beliefs. The amendment to raise the threshold is an instance of the Knesset majority imposing its will on the Arab minority, in violation of its political rights. The court should therefore have annulled the amendment to safeguard the minority’s constitutional rights.


ACRI Attorney Auni Bana also argued in the court 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 further added that: “This step has a greater impact on 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.”


Case Citation: HCJ 3166/14 Yehuda Gutman v. Attorney General et al.