Recent headlines about the Arab minority are sobering.
in Israel is much higher than previously thought. More than half of Arab
families live below the poverty line.
A new survey of Arab citizens
showed that education, employment and the war on crime are their biggest
Given these figures, it would seem logical that Arabs who go to
the polls on January 22 would choose a party focused on the yawning
socioeconomic gaps in Israeli society – and not necessarily based on that
party’s policy, for example, on bringing about Israeli-Palestinian
But last week’s talk that a new social-justice party could be
formed by Moshe Kahlon looks unlikely to inspire support from the Arab
Kahlon, the outgoing communications minister who announced his
intention to step down from politics two weeks ago, but has become increasingly
vocal in his criticism of the economic policies of Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, is the talk of the town.
According to a poll Kahlon
commissioned last week as part of his deliberations over whether to form a
political party, he could win 20 seats on his own or 27 if he ran with former
Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni.
Such a party would likely rally many of
the Israelis who came out in droves in the social and economic justice protests
in the summer of 2011, which included a good number of Arabs.
sources close to Kahlon clarified he was not planning to establish a new
In any case, Arabs were not likely to vote for a party headed by
Kahlon, says Tel Aviv University political scientist Amal Jamal, because of his
association with Netanyahu and the Likud.
“Kahlon is known for being
close to Netanyahu, so it won’t appeal to many – if at all,” he says. In the
last election in February 2009, Jamal notes, about 20 percent of Arab citizens
voted for Zionist parties such as Labor, because of its socioeconomic
orientation, and also for Shas, which campaigns heavily in the Arab
Despite the fact that Shas is a haredi religious party, it has
sometimes managed to reward municipalities where someone campaigned effectively
for it with budgets via the Interior Ministry under the helm of Shas’s chairman
Eli Yishai, Jamal notes.
“It’s very much patronage politics – people get
the whole village to vote one way or another because of the personal connection
with the [village] leader or for personal benefits.
Kahlon won’t have
this,” he says, because he hasn’t been in a position to have people in the Arab
sector feel that they owe him a favor, so to speak.
Shas, on the other
hand, is making inroads, much to the chagrin of the Arab parties.
the ministries Shas controls – in particular, the Interior Ministry and the
Ministry of Construction and Housing, under Ariel Attias – it has been able to
build support among Arabs.
“There is a very strong network established
here by Shas in the past two to three years.
Many people in the Arab
community are disseminating ideas and even allocating resources to convince
people to vote Shas. It usually gets half a [Knesset] seat from the Arab
community, and it may get more this time,” Amal adds.
Only 53 percent of
eligible Arabs cast ballots in the 2009 election. That, alongside Kahlon’s
right-leaning politics, make him unlikely to be a favorite in the Arab
“The percentage of Arabs that vote for Zionist parties is rather
small,” says Dr. Tamar Hermann, the academic director of the Israeli Democracy
Institute’s Guttman Center for Surveys.
“Seeing as a party headed by
Kahlon would likely be right-wing, the chance of meaningful Arab support would be
According to the IDI’s latest Peace Index, released last week,
Arab voter participation looks likely to sink further.
respondents, 47% said they were sure, or thought, they would go to the polls,
28% thought, or were sure, they would not vote, and the rest gave no definite
answer. Among those who thought, or were sure, they would vote, 65% were sure,
or thought, they already knew who they would vote for.