Last week, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal against raising the electoral threshold from 2 percent to 3.25 percent. This was the correct decision since, despite pertinent arguments against raising the bar, there were no grounds for the court’s intervention in the matter. It was not a constitutional blow against Israeli democracy or a serious infringement of basic civil rights.
With this ruling (whose reasons have not yet been given due to tight timelines) the last obstacle facing the reformed law has been removed and parties will now need to receive enough votes for four representatives in the 120-member parliament. Under the current circumstances, the effects of this change will be dramatic.
Logically, it was clear that the higher bar would bring about a unification of parties, coercing them into such a move if they wish to survive. But in practice, there has only been one merging of forces so far, between the Labor Party and Hatnuah. Its fruits were instantaneous, with Hatnuah being saved from possible annihilation and the reinforced Labor Party headed by Isaac Herzog consistently leading as the largest party in opinion polls.
This doesn’t guarantee Herzog the prime minister’s job or even the right to have first crack at trying to assemble a coalition. Nevertheless, he does benefit from the prestige and significant momentum afforded by these polls.
No other amalgamations have taken place yet, neither the expected one by Arab parties nor by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, or even between potential partners such as Likud and Habayit Hayehudi. All of these have been obstructed by egos and personal issues.
The option to unite will be over by the end of next week, as the final lists are presented to the Central Elections Committee.
Something may happen at the last moment, but so far the opposite has occurred, with a breakup of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu who ran together in the last election, and the split in Shas. All these decisions will have a long-term impact on the final distribution of seats.
A survey published by Haaretz indicates that no fewer than seven parties are in the danger zone. The Arab Balad list and Eli Yishai’s Ha’am Itanu are sure losers, while five others will struggle to survive: Hadash, United Arab List-Ta’al, Meretz, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas. Shas is doing slightly better with six seats, while all the others have a projected five. It’s much harder to figure out the ultra-Orthodox camp.
One thing is clear – with all their pride, the seven endangered parties must relate to the risk this coming week. Shas has no one to unite with except the party that split from it, which is highly unlikely. Normally, the tattered Lieberman would not be an attractive partner, but given his and Netanyahu’s decline they may embrace each other again. Meretz would happily join the Zionist Camp, but Herzog and Hatnuah head Tzipi Livni have nothing to gain by such a move, only to lose. The logical move would be for Balad, the United Arab List and Ta’al to unite, and for Meretz to run with Hadash. But when has logic ever worked in local politics?
Meanwhile, Livni announced Sunday the addition of media personality Xenia Svetlova to the Labor list of Knesset candidates. Svetlova was an expert on Arab affairs for Israel TV Channel 9 (in Russian). She will fill one of the slots allotted to Hatnuah when it merged with Labor (16th, 21st, and 24th or 25th).
Svetlova came to Israel aged 14, after the fall of the Iron Curtain. She studied communications, Arabic and Middle East studies, and worked at a research institute studying Arab media and at a Russian weekly. For the past 13 years she has been a correspondent and Arab affairs expert at Channel 9, as well as for Russian media.
Elazar Stern, just departed from Hatnuah, has joined Yesh Atid. In a press conference yesterday, Lapid declared that Stern had been their 20th Knesset member, “fighting with us to pass the law of equal military burden, opposing the gimmicks of Likud and Habayit Hayehudi and the absence of Labor, who wanted to leave a crack open for a future deal with the ultra-Orthodox. Both of us are sons of Holocaust survivors, and my first decision as a cabinet member was to restore their benefits.”
Stern said that throughout his term people had told him he belonged in Yesh Atid, since the equal burden legislation was their common concern, in addition to Holocaust survivors’ benefits. “We collaborated on many issues such as conversions, which indicates how we think the only Jewish democracy should look like.”
He added that he knew Lapid as a friend before entering politics, and he now sees him as a leader that stands on principles. Their political work was geared to providing for the benefit of the middle and weaker classes.
“I entered politics believing that as a Jewish state Israel should respect all its citizens, without religious coercion,” Stern said. “Yesh Atid has secular and religious members, and we strive for an embracing Judaism. I couldn’t join Livni in her move toward Labor since I’m more centrist or to the right – she was the one who let me go.”
Stern said he supports public transportation on the Sabbath and allowing same-sex couples to raise a family. “I wouldn’t push rabbis into performing such wedding ceremonies, but the state must give them all their rights,” he said. He refused to define such ties as marriage, but insisted on equality for gays.