Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to lower the electoral threshold parties need to gain entry to Knesset, in a move apparently aimed at saving hundreds of thousands of right-wing votes. But news of the development has angered coalition partners in the Shas party, Channel 2 reported Sunday.
Without revealing its sources, the news report said that Netanyahu wants a return to a two percent threshold, the level it was at before 2014 when the government — also under Netanyahu — raised it to 3.25%, effectively preventing parties from entering the Knesset with fewer than four seats.
Lowering the level gives smaller parties a better shot at winning Knesset seats. Netanyahu may be trying to prevent the loss of right-wing votes, such as those that in the 2015 election went to Eli Yishai’s Yachad party.
Yishai, a former top Shas politician, broke away from the party after losing a bitter leadership battle with current head, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. He formed the Yachad party in December 2014 ahead of the 2015 national elections, but failed to beat the raised threshold, winning just 2.97% of the vote. Shas, under Deri, won seven seats.
Deri responded angrily to the news, vowing the electoral hurdle will remain as it is and saying he had already informed Coalition Chairman David Bitan (Likud) of his objections.
“Netanyahu stabbed us in the back with this announcement,” he told Channel 2. “Shas will become stronger in the coming elections and it doesn’t need any favors from Netanyahu. Netanyahu had the support of Shas, and in response he initiates a move against Shas and without consulting with it. Already this evening I have notified David Bitan and am notifying Netanyahu: Lowering the threshold level will not pass and don’t even try it.”
The previous increase in the threshold forced three Arab parties that individually would not have beaten the minimum to unite, forming the current Joint (Arab) List. The alliance won 13 seats to become the third-largest party in the Knesset.
In a similar move, MK Tzipi Livni joined her Hatnua party to the larger Labor party, creating the Zionist Union, which secured 24 seats, making it the second-largest Knesset faction.
Likud MK Sharren Haskel in August 2016 even proposed raising the threshold to 7%, claiming it would stabilize parliament by filtering out smaller parties that complicate governing coalitions.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.