Gafni puts forward bill to lower electoral threshold to 2%

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

A lower electoral threshold would also enable other smaller parties to make their way into Knesset. Currently, the 3.25% threshold means a party needs to win at least four seats to make it into Knesset; parties under the limit have their votes redistributed among other parties proportionally. The new bill would lower the threshold, likely to two seats.

The bill filed at the end of last week may hint at a power struggle within UTJ. The seven-seat faction is actually an alliance of two Ashkenazi Haredi parties, Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael. Degel HaTorah — Gafni’s faction — represents non-Hasidic Haredim. Over the past few years, Degel HaTorah has grown in influence relative to Agudat Yisrael, which represents Hasidic communities.

Gafni’s threshold-lowering bill is co-signed by the other three Degel HaTorah members of UTJ’s Knesset slate.

Agudat Yisrael historically held a majority of the party’s Knesset slate, until Degel HaTorah’s outsized showing in 2018 municipal elections forced a power realignment. Today, the two parties split Knesset representation. UTJ’s leadership also rotated last year from Agudat Yisrael’s now-retired MK Yaakov Litzman to Gafni, after 18 years with Litzman at the helm.

A lower electoral threshold would enable the parties to run as separate slates.

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

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

As the possibility of elections looms ever nearer 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 polling at around 4-5 seats.

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

A spokesman for Lapid declined to comment, saying that “the issue is not currently on the agenda.”

The electoral threshold is an often-debated issue in Israeli politics. A lower threshold allows for more votes to be counted and fuller representation of the electorate, but can create a situation in which small parties of only a few members can make outsized 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 tally being squandered.

It’s not (only) about you.

Supporting The Times of Israel isn’t a transaction for an online service, like subscribing to Netflix. The ToI Community is for people like you who care about a common good: ensuring that balanced, responsible coverage of Israel continues to be available to millions across the world, for free.

Sure, we’ll remove all ads from your page and you’ll gain access to some amazing Community-only content. But your support gives you something more profound than that: the pride of joining something that really matters.

Join the Times of Israel Community Join our Community Already a member? Sign in to stop seeing this

You’re a dedicated reader

That’s why we started the Times of Israel ten years ago – to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.

So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.

For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREEas well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.

Thank you,
David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel

Join Our Community Join Our Community Already a member? Sign in to stop seeing this