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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 to grant Arabs full autonomy in such areas as culture and education. Balad supports creating 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. In 2002, he was 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 canceled, 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 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 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. Said Nafa replaced Bishara. Although he promised to return, he remained abroad to avoid the possibility of a lengthy 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. The list won 13 seats in that election, 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 and won 13 seats in the September 2019 election for the 22nd Knesset. In the election to the 23rd Knesset in 2020, the list won 15 seats and was again the third largest party.

For the 2021 election, Ra’am decided to run independently of the other three Arab parties, which won six seats.

For the 2022 election, Hadash and Balad decided to run together without the other Arab parties. After some disagreements over places on the list, Ta’al joined the coalition. The three agreed that whoever would become the candidate for prime minister following the election would only get their support if they decided to engage in negotiations with the PLO to establish a Palestinian state, change policies that discriminate against Israeli Arabs, and annul any laws that facilitate such discrimination, such as the Nation-State Law

After the deadline to submit party lists passed, the Joint List broke up when Balad decided to run independently.

Balad was subsequently ruled ineligible to compete in the election by the Central Election Committee (CEC). The party appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court decided it could participate in the election.

Sources: The Israel Project.
Moment, (January 2012).
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).
“Political jockeying before the election lists close,” BICOM, (September 12, 2022).
Jack Khoury, “Three Arab Parties Reach Tentative Deal to Run on Unified Slate in Knesset Election,” Haaretz, (September 14, 2022).
Alex Grobman, “Arab Joint List Splinters as Parties Submit Final Lists,”  Haaretz, (September 15, 2022).
Chen Maanit, “In Reversal, Top Court Clears Arab Balad Party to Run,” Haaretz, (October 9, 2022).