Gafni presents a bill to lower the electoral threshold to 2%

The leader of the United Torah Judaism Party, Moshe Gafni, has put forward a bill to reduce the Knesset’s current electoral limit from 3.25 percent to just 2%, a move that would allow his Ashkenazi Haredi party to split in two.

A lower electoral threshold will also make it possible for other smaller parties to enter the Knesset. At present, the threshold of 3.25% means that a party must win at least four seats to enter the Knesset; parties below the border get their votes redistributed between other parties proportionally. The new bill will lower the threshold, probably to two seats.

The bill that was delivered at the end of last week may indicate a power struggle within UTJ. The seven-seat faction is in fact an alliance of two Ashkenazi Haredi parties, Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael. Degel HaTorah – Gafni’s faction – represents non-Hasidic haredim. In recent years, Degel HaTorah has grown in influence with Agudat Yisrael, which represents Hasidic communities.

Gafni’s threshold-lowering law is co-signed by the other three Degel HaTorah members in UTJ’s Knesset list.

Agudat Yisrael historically had a majority on the party’s Knesset list, until Degel HaTorah’s oversized display in the 2018 local elections forced a change of power. Today, the two parties split the Knesset representation. UTJ’s management also rotated last year from Agudat Yisraels now retired MK Yaakov Litzman to Gafni, after 18 years with Litzman at the helm.

A lower electoral threshold would allow the parties to stand as separate boards.

UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman speaks during a faction meeting in United Torah Judaism, December 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

“He thinks he will have more votes” if Degel HaTorah were to stand alone and not as part of the UTJ alliance, Haredi political analyst and adviser Avi Grinzweig said of Gafni.

As the possibility of elections is approaching in the troubled Knesset, a divided UTJ is not the only faction threatened by the current electoral threshold. Several coalition parties – including Meretz, Ra’am, Yisrael Beytenu, New Hope and Yamina – are voting for around 4-5 seats.

With several coalition parties potentially threatened by four-seater barriers, a few Hebrew media reported that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid supports Gafni’s bid to lower the threshold.

A spokesman for Lapid declined to comment, saying “the matter is not on the agenda at this time”.

The electoral threshold is an often debated issue in Israeli politics. A lower threshold provides the opportunity to count more votes and a better representation of the electorate, but can create a situation where small parties with only a few members can make great demands to complete a coalition. A higher threshold limits this and consolidates power, but ultimately results in a certain percentage of each election’s vote being wasted.

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