Disenchanted Arab Voters May Play Major Role in Shaping Israeli Election
An Arab Israeli woman votes in the country's parliamentary elections at a polling station in the Arab city of Tamra in northern Israel on March 2, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

Disenchanted Arab Voters May Play Major Role in Shaping Israeli Election

Many Arab citizens of Israel feel participation in the political system has yielded few results. But experts warn that low turnout would make matters worse for the community.

As Israelis return to the polls on November 1 for a fifth try in four years, the national debate is focusing on turnout, burnout, and voter apathy. No sector of the Israeli population is being watched more closely than its Arab citizens, who share the national frustration over government instability while gripped by a second concern: the belief that Arab participation in the electoral process, which mushroomed less than a decade ago, has yielded little in return.

Mohammad Darawshe, co-executive director of the Givat Haviva Institute, told The Media Line that this cycle of perpetual election and entrenched political deadlock has paralyzed the Knesset, resulting in government instability.

“The Israeli political system seems to have serious faults in it. There’s a severe problem when you go to election five times in four years, and probably there will be a sixth election in a year or so from now. The system doesn’t work, coalition politics doesn’t work, there is no clear winner that comes out from these elections, and the dependency of the big parties on the very small, fragmented parties seems to be too big and each one member out of the 120 members in the Knesset holds the government hostage.”

With only days before Israelis head to the polls for a record five times in four years, Thabet Abu Ras, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives told The Media Line that there’s little enthusiasm among Arab citizens of Israel, who make up about a fifth of the country’s 9 million-strong population.

“After five rounds of elections in less than four years, the Arab citizens really got tired of repeated elections without any achievements.”

Latest surveys show that dissatisfaction with the political process may result in a historic low turnout among Arab voters.

“The Arab community looks around to find that the fight against crime and violence has not progressed, there is racism in the distribution of resources and budgets for Arab and Jewish local councils, the demolition of homes is continuing, the national [nation-state] law has not changed in which the Arab voter concludes that there is no difference between the right-wing camps and the so-called center,” Rabie Awawda, a political commentator for Nas Radio, told The Media Line.

The fragmentation of the Joint List and now running in three different political parties is really affecting the mood of the people

In 2015, Arab parties joined under one banner, called the Joint List, winning 15 seats, a record high since Arab parties started running for the Knesset.

The public rewarded this show of unity with a high turnout rate.

“The fragmentation of the Joint List and now running in three different political parties is really affecting the mood of the people,” says Abu Ras.

Abu Ras admits internal disputes among those ideologically contrasted political parties and personal egos of political leaders have had a major effect on people’s faith in their leadership.

“Well, no doubt we have to blame them [the Arab parties and politicians]; they are part of the failure. Yes, I blame them, 50% of the blame is going to them,” says Abu Ras.

The Arab community in Israel, whose members self-identify nationally with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza, is about 20% of the population.

I’m in Nazareth and cannot be happy when I see martyrs in Nablus every day. As long as the Palestinian issue is not resolved, it will have negative repercussions on the region

They have long felt neglected by the government, saying that their community is plagued with several pressing issues.

“Nobody discusses our core issues – equality issues. I am very sad because crime and violence have become the central core issue of our society. Also, the issue of construction and housing,” Wael Awwad, a teacher and journalist from Nazareth, told The Media Line.

He added that the Palestinian issue should not be marginalized.

“I’m in Nazareth and cannot be happy when I see martyrs in Nablus every day. As long as the Palestinian issue is not resolved, it will have negative repercussions on the region.”

Many within the Arab community had high expectations when for the first time in Israel’s history, an Arab party joined the government coalition. But with few benefits in return, many are questioning the validity of such a move.

I think we are about to witness an earthquake in Arab politics in Israel

Darawshe has a dark ominous message for the future of Arab politicians if they fail to have a good showing.

“I think we are about to witness an earthquake in Arab politics in Israel, where some of the traditional leaders of the Arab community will not find a seat anymore in the leadership position after the first of November,” says Darawshe.

Days before the election, several opinion polls, give three of the four Arab parties a chance to make it into the Knesset.

Predictions of low turnout by Arab voters loom large over their expectations. The Arab minority is more divided in this election cycle than ever before supporting the possibility that the threshold for admission to the parliament may not be met. This gives rise to another fear: that a Knesset without Arab representation will have disastrous consequences.

“First, we lose on the socio-economic issues, whether it is budgets for education, budgets for municipal development, budgets for employment, the basic needs. If you don’t have representation in the parliament, you lose a lot. Second, we also lose our capacity to influence Israeli politics on the regional aspect. Especially speaking, on the Palestinian file,” says Darawshe.

Meanwhile, Awwad says a lack of elected Arab members and representation in the Knesset is dangerous “because it will lead to the emergence of Arab figures from Zionist parties who do not express what the community wants and takes us back to the days of military rule in the 1960s.”

If this number [of Arab Knesset members] were reduced from 10 to four, this means that Netanyahu will form the next government

Mohammad Majadleh, a political analyst for Israel’s Channel 12, told The Media Line, that regardless of which direction the turnout among the Arab voters goes, it could play a key role in the election and have major implications for who will form the next government.

“Today, there are 10 Arab members in the Knesset, and they are the ones who prevent Netanyahu from forming a government. If this number were reduced from 10 to four, this means that Netanyahu will form the next government,” says Majadleh.

The elections are too close to call, and polls in Israel don’t predict a clear winner. It’s anyone’s guess if someone will come out top and be able to form a government, making the possibility of another election in less than a year, a reality.

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