Arab participation in the upcoming Knesset elections looks set to drop below its
usual paltry level if a concerted effort is not made towards convincing Arab
voters that their votes count, and that their representatives have more than a
marginal role to play, said several leading Arab politicians on Sunday at a
roundtable discussion at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.
Ahmed Tibi, the head of the Ra’am-Ta’al list in the outgoing Knesset, noted that
a new government push to get people out to vote has so far totally ignored the
“Recently there has been a government advertising campaign
to encourage voting, but it is focused on the Jewish public, and it begs the
question, what stands behind the forgotten room of the Arab voter? Is there
someone, perhaps in Likud-Beytenu, who is not interested in raising the rate of
participation of Arab voters?” Tibi asked at the roundtable, which was held in
partnership with the Abraham Fund Initiatives, an organization dedicated to
Tibi said that the Arab voting rate has
consistently been going down with every election, just as it has among Jews, but
that this year was predicted to be different. For a number of reasons – from the
socioeconomic situation in Israel to the eight-day war with Hamas in Gaza that
ended last week – voter participation among Jews was predicted to increase,
while that among Arabs would drop.
Voter participation among Israeli
Arabs stood at 53 percent in the last elections, a record low.
the problem is that even the “center-left,” as Tibi put it, does not treat the
Arab parties as partners.
He pointed to the fact that when Kadima leader
Tzipi Livni had a chance to form a coalition, she never once contacted the Arab
parties to discuss the possibilities.
The voter apathy and
disillusionment with the Israeli system – only about 15 percent abstain for
ideological reasons, Tibi says – could mean a lower proportion of Arabs vote
while a higher proportion of Jews do, which might cause the Arab parties to lose
some of the 10 mandates they currently have in the 120-seat Knesset. Tibi urged
the three Arab parties to unite to prevent this form happening.
Zahalka (Balad) told the audience that the main motivating factor for Arabs to
vote should be to prevent the continuation of a government under the control of
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor
“The agreement between Netanyahu and Liberman is one of the
most dangerous developments in Israel. I know Liberman from my university days;
we’re talking about a very dangerous politician. He is paving the way to be
prime minister of Israel – there is a danger of fascism here – and we need to
prevent it. If we can strengthen ourselves by three or four mandates, we can
block Netanyahu and Liberman.”
Ayman Odeh of Hadash, which describes
itself as a joint Arab-Jewish movement, said that the Zionist parties send out a
message that the Arab parties are unimportant. “The feeling that we don’t have
influence is the main reason why people don’t vote,” he said. “When the Arab
sector feels that it can change the government, I think it will significantly
raise the rate of participation.