Israel has an extreme form of proportional representation, which creates a chaotic multiparty system, rendering even the major parties into weak entities that struggle to cobble together a majority governing coalition, and holds important public policy initiatives hostage to minority sectoral and sectarian interests. In the most recent national election early this year, 12 of 34 competing party lists made it past the two percent vote threshold to earn a spot in the Knesset.
When some of us met with Meretz activist Yifat Solel in New York on July 9th, she mentioned that Meretz opposes the simplest means of electoral reform: i.e., raising the threshold to four or five percent. Although Meretz has only once (in 2009) not exceeded four percent of the vote, it’s more threatened by a five percent bar. A raised threshold would reform the system by encouraging parties to consolidate; for example, Meretz might look to sharing a list with Labor or Tzipi Livni’s new party. Ideologically, it also might make sense to look to a joint list with the majority-Arab Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) party.
Solel condemned the fact that a higher threshold would threaten the existence of all three “Arab” parties, assuming that they don’t consolidate. But she made no mention of a possible alliance of any Arab party with Meretz.
I was similarly disappointed by Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On when she spoke with us in a phone conference following the January 2013 election, after Meretz had recovered some of its former strength, rising from three to six (almost seven) Knesset seats. There are some important political differences between Meretz and Hadash/DFPE (mainly, that Hadash is said to be more conservative on social issues — especially re women and gays), but a possible joint list would also suffer the weight of Israel’s Arab/Jewish divide. This apparently makes for too heavy a lift.
Hadash has Communist roots, is officially bi-nationalist (although supportive of a two-state solution), and draws 85-90 percent of its support from Arab voters. It claims to have learned from the Soviet experience that, in the words of MK Dov Khenin (its sole Jewish MK), “socialism is impossible without democracy.” Gal-On, while mentioning her respect for Khenin and looking forward to continuing to cooperate with Hadash on a variety of issues, ruled out a joint list.