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Israeli parliament passes charged parties bill

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's parliament passed a contentious bill Tuesday that will raise the threshold needed for parties to enter parliament, a move boycotted by the opposition who derided it as undemocratic and aimed at sidelining representatives of Israel's Arab minority.

The bill passed unanimously 67-0 after the opposition sat out the vote, calling it one of several strong-arm tactics by the ruling coalition. Backers of the bill say it is necessary for government stability. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the new law will increase governability by doing away with the current multitude of tiny parties.

Under Israel's system of proportional representation, voters cast ballots for parties, not individuals, and parties receive seats in parliament based on the percentage of votes they win. Currently 12 factions serve in the 120-seat parliament. The bill raises the threshold from 2 percent of the vote to 3.25 percent, meaning parties will have to win at least four seats to enter.

The bill could particularly harm Arab parties unless they band together. There are currently three separate small Arab parties in parliament. But the move may also kill off fringe nationalistic right-wing parties and ultimately play into the hands of the left-wing.

The bill is one of three being promoted this week that could have far-reaching consequences. The opposition charges that clumping the bills together is a ploy to swiftly pass contentious legislation that deserves more room for reservations.

Aside from the governance bill, parliament is slated to vote on a bill that will require a referendum on any territorial withdrawal that comes as a result of a peace deal. The third bill deals with the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military.

Such controversial laws are usually debated individually and slowly and then voted on independently. But the three coalition parties promoting the three separate laws have apparently agreed to vote for each other in order for them all to pass in bulk.

The opposition boycotted the first vote in a rare move in protest, and held an alternative meeting instead.

Isaac Herzog, the head of the opposition, called the move "a step of dictatorship."

"This is how our democracy is shattering in front of our eyes," he said.

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