Arab Turnout in Israel’s Upcoming Election Expected To Reach All-time Low
An Arab Israeli woman marks her ballot behind a voting booth at a polling station in the northern Arab Israeli city of Sakhnin on Jan. 22, 2013. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

Arab Turnout in Israel’s Upcoming Election Expected To Reach All-time Low

Only 39% of minority group intend to vote on November 1, survey shows

Israel’s Arab sector plans to sit out the upcoming election, according to a poll released on Sunday night.

According to the poll, conducted for Israeli public television’s Arabic-language Makan channel by the StatNet Research Institute, fewer than 40% of Arab citizens are expected to cast ballots in the national election on November 1, which could result in only eight lawmakers from Arab majority parties entering the 120-member Knesset.

That would break the record for the sector’s lowest turnout set in the previous round of elections in March 2021, when 44.6% of Arab citizens participated. And it would represent a sharp downturn from the 64.8% who voted in March 2020.

“It’s the fifth election [since April 2019], and people aren’t too keen about it. There’s a general sense of ‘the Jews are fighting among themselves,’” Afif Abu Much, a publicist and political activist, told The Media Line. “Another reason is that people feel they can’t affect the [composition of the Knesset candidates] lists. It’s a closed club of party activists, with no real primaries. If there was a chance to affect that, maybe people would vote more.”

Netanyahu realizes that if the Arabs come out to vote, he won’t be able to form a government

Abu Much pointed to a general sense of fatigue from politics among Arab Israelis.

“[Opposition Leader and Likud party Chairman Binyamin] Netanyahu realizes that if the Arabs come out to vote, he won’t be able to form a government. But his opponents see the Arab society as some sort of voter outsource service to be used against Netanyahu. This is not what the Arab society is looking for,” he said.

“Most Arabs wonder: What’s the difference between [Blue and White party leader Benny] Gantz and Netanyahu? Gantz received the support of the Arab parties and then turned on them,” he explained, adding that the results on the ground are what matters to people. “When you look at the facts, the number of murder victims in Arab society only grew in the last two months, despite having a minister of public security [the Labor party’s Omer Barlev] from the anti-Netanyahu bloc.”

Crime rates only rose and there is absolutely no sense of personal security for the Arab citizen in Israel

According to Wael Awwad, a teacher and journalist from Nazareth, crime has been key in causing Arab citizens to feel that voting doesn’t help them.

“Crime rates only rose and there is absolutely no sense of personal security for the Arab citizen in Israel,” he told the Media Line.

“There are more house demolitions [of structures built without permits] than ever. People say we tried the first way, and it didn’t work. We tried another way, and things only got worse,” he says, referring to United Arab List (Ra’am) party head Mansour Abbas’ decision to join the governing coalition, a first for an independent Arab party.

“Some people don’t want to vote for the Israeli parliament as a matter of principle, but that’s a minority,” said Awwad. “The major change in voting pattern is a result of the change in attitude of the Arab lawmakers. Being outside the government didn’t help us. Then came Mansour Abbas, who entered the coalition and voted for a state budget funding the occupation, and nothing changed. People feel like there’s no real solution.”

We see how, time after time, our concerns are not answered. … It feels like voting doesn’t help.

Amal Kassim, a mother of four, agrees that personal security is the most pressing issue, but added additional topics that affect voting.

“We see how, time after time, our concerns are not answered. We’re in grave uncertainty in so many directions: We don’t know if the school year will start on time [a national teachers strike is threatened for Thursday – A.K.], living costs are rising. And it feels like voting doesn’t help,” she told The Media Line.

However, she doesn’t support staying home on Election Day. “Personally, I think we need to go out and vote, to keep the seats we have in parliament,” she said.

When it comes to solutions, opinions are divided.

“As long as people feel left out of the political game, they won’t vote. If they get a sense that they matter and that they can have political power, they’ll go out and vote,” said Abu Much, who thinks a change in the way Israeli mainstream parties treat Arab society could raise the turnout.

Kassim agrees but believes the Arab parties can make this change.

“We need concrete written plans. Promises that can be kept. We need to see how our lawmakers plan to fight crime and living costs, and we need to see clear answers. The candidate lists must carry out well-targeted campaigns that address people’s real concerns,” she said.

Awwad, however, looks to more traditional solutions, aiming his complaints at the Joint List, an alliance of four Arab-majority parties.

“They need to come out and apologize for supporting Gantz and [Yesh Atid party Chairman] Lapid. They need to clarify their political demands. To state clearly: ‘We are an Arab minority aspiring for collective rights’ and return the nationalistic feeling that we are in this together. If they’re talking about budgets, they’re ignoring the important things.”

One provocation from [far-right Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) party leader Itamar] Ben-Gvir or Netanyahu could bring out the Arab voters. I would assume the Joint List is secretly praying for some sort of provocation from that direction.

If the surveys turn out to be accurate, Arab parties will lose around two seats in parliament in the election.

But “it’s too early to make predictions, over two months ahead. We need to look at the polls cautiously because anything could change by Election Day,” said Abu Much. “One provocation from [far-right Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) party leader Itamar] Ben-Gvir or Netanyahu could bring out the Arab voters. I would assume the Joint List is secretly praying for some sort of provocation from that direction.”

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