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Israel Political Parties: Balad

Balad (Hebrew acronym for “Brit Leumit Democratit,” literally meaning National Democratic Assembly) is an Israeli political party drawing its main base of support from Israeli Arabs.

Formed in 1996 by Azmi Bishara, the party did not win enough votes to pass the electoral threshold and win representation in the Knesset until the 1999 general elections when it won two seats.

Balad’s platform advocates for an Israeli state which is not Jewish in character, and its manifesto states that the party supports “the evacuation of all of the settlements and the removal of the racist separation fence.” Balad also demands the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel and calls on the Israeli government grant Arabs full autonomy in such areas as culture and education. In general, Balad stands for the creation of a binational state – “a state of all its citizens.”

Balad’s economic policies are left-of–center, supporting “the adoption of a just tax policy aimed at the equitable distribution of social resources, including a capital gains tax and a policy of tax cuts in general − particularly for low-wage workers.”

In 2001 party Bishara gave a speech in Umm al-Fahm on the 33rd anniversary of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, deploring it and, later, visited Syria and gave a speech mourning the death of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and expressing solidarity with Syria and Hezbollah. Upon his return to Israel, he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity by the Knesset and, in 2002, he was charged and indicted for supporting terrorist organizations against Israel, siding with her enemies, and violating Israel’s Emergency Regulations prohibiting Israeli citizens from entering Syria without the approval of the Minister of Interior. The trial was cancelled, however, after the High Court of Justice agreed with Bishara that his speeches were protected by his immunity as a member of the Knesset. His parliamentary immunity was immediately restored.

In the 2006 elections, Balad won three seats and Bishara filled one of them along with two other party members. However, in the wake of Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah – the Second Lebanon War – Bishara came under suspicion for treason and for aiding Hezbollah. Evidence gathered by Israel’s internal security agency suggested that Bishara was in contact with Hezbollah agents during the war and promoted violence against Israel. He was eventually charged with supporting terrorism against Israel, to which the government added treason and money laundering.

Following the accusations and interrogations, Bishara left the country and resigned from his position in the Knesset. Bishara was replaced by Said Nafa. Although he promised to return, he remained abroad to avoid the possibility of a long jail sentence.

In January 2009, the Israeli Central Elections Committee banned Balad along with Ra’am and Ta’al, two other Arab-Israeli parties, from participating in the elections, accusing the parties of incitement, supporting terrorist groups and refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The Supreme Court, however, revoked the ban, and allowed the parties to participate in the elections. Balad ended up winning three seats in the 2009 election.

In the January 2013 elections, Balad again won three seats in the Knesset.

Balad, Ra’am, Hadash and Ta’al signed an agreement on January 21, 2015, to run on a single ticket – the Joint Arab List – headed by Hadash leader Ayman Odeh. The decision of the often fractious parties to unite was prompted by a change in the election law raising the threshold for representation from 2 percent to 3.25 percent, which would have made it difficult for the smaller individual parties to win seats. In that election, the list won 13 seats, making it the third largest party in the 20th Knesset.

In 2019, Balad agreed to run jointly with the United Arab List. The Central Elections Committee disqualified the new list; however, on March 17, the Supreme Court overruled the Committee.

After the poor showing of the two Arab slates in the April 2019 election, the four Arab parties decided to reunite as a Joint List, hoping to increase the 13 seats it won in 2015. One key to success will be Arab voter turnout, which dropped from 63 percent to 50 percent. Ayman Odeh will top the list.


Sources: The Israel Project;
Moment, (January 2012);
Wikipedia;
Yonah Jeremy Bob, “High Court Disqualifies Ben-Ari; Rules Ben-Gvir, All Arab Parties Eligible,” Jerusalem Post, (March 17, 2019);
Allison Kaplan Sommer, “Israel’s Do-over Election: A Guide to All the Parties and Who Holds the Keys to the Next Government,” Haaretz, (July 31, 2019).