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. Its current leader is Jamal Zahalka.
Formed in 1996 by Azmi Bishara, the party did not win enough votes to pass the elctoral threshhold and win representation in the Knesset until the 1999 general elections when it won two.
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 that 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 in Israel after Bishara coined the phrase, "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 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 while at the the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. Bishara is still wanted in Israel for further questioning and continues his political activism around the world, charging Israel with apartheid and other slanderous, untrue allegations.
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 stand in the elections. Balad ended up winning three seats in the 2009 election.
In the January 2013 elections, they again won three seats in the Knesset.
Israel's major Arab political parties Balad and Ra'am-Ta'al signed an agreement on January 21, 2015, with the Arab-Jewish Hadash party and the Isamic Movement to run on a single ticket headed by Hadash leader Ayman Odeh. The decision of the often fracticious parties to unite was prompted by the recent change in election law rising the threshhold for representation from 2 percent to 3.25 percent, which would make it difficult for the smaller individual parties to win seats. Jointly, they have a chance to win more than 10 seats. During the 19th Knesset they collectively held 12 seats.
Sources: The Israel Project; Moment Magazine (January 2012); Wikipedia