Kahlon won’t get many Arab votes, but Shas may

Survey of Arab citizens shows education, employment and crime are the biggest concerns.

November 2, 2012 02:42
3 minute read.
Shas's Arye Deri, Eli Yishai shake hands

Shas's Arye Deri, Eli Yishai shake hands 370. (photo credit: Shas handout)

Recent headlines about the Arab minority are sobering.

Arab unemployment in Israel is much higher than previously thought. More than half of Arab families live below the poverty line.

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A new survey of Arab citizens showed that education, employment and the war on crime are their biggest concerns.

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 peace.

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 sector.

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.

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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.

On Saturday sources close to Kahlon clarified he was not planning to establish a new party.

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 sector.

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.

Through 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 sector.

“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 trivial.”

According to the IDI’s latest Peace Index, released last week, Arab voter participation looks likely to sink further.

Among Arab 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.

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