Hope and frustration abound with historic election results in Arab community

The Joint List will be the third largest faction in the Knesset, bringing with it formidable political power.

March 18, 2015 08:26
4 minute read.

Members of the Joint Arab List gesture during a news conference in Nazareth, January 23. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The deal that brought three Arab parties and the Arab-Jewish Hadash together in a single list may have created a formidable political power.

The Joint List will be the third largest faction in the Knesset, with 12-13 seats, according to the exit polls.

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Turnout in the Arab sector was much higher that it has been for years. The feeling at the list’s headquarters in Nazareth was optimistic.

Hadash chairman Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, said it had finished a historic election cycle. “We will have real influence, we have secured upwards of 70 percent turnout among the Arab population, it shows they believe in us. We will be the third largest party and challenge the dominant parties,” he said.

Still, the exit polls giving the alliance 12 to 13 mandates were disappointing for supporters who expected as many as 15 Knesset seats.

The slogan at the headquarters was to oppose racism. One after another, leading figures in the Joint List – Ta’al chairman Ahmed Tibi; Hadash MK Dov Henin and Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka – echoed the theme in short speeches to several hundred activists and journalists gathered late into the night at the Abu Maher hall in the industrial area of the Arab city.

But a restaurant owner, whose business is located next to the Joint List’s headquarters, said he was not impressed.

“This is why I won’t vote for them,” he said, pulling a necklace with a cross out of his shirt.

His was not the only one who felt the Joint List campaign result would not lead to major change for the Arab community.

Others expressed frustration at years of being left out of government and said they had voted for Meretz with hopes they would be part of a Center-Left coalition.

The political arrangement that brings together Hadash, Balad, the United Arab List and Ta’al has not attracted their vote.

For secular Arabs who traditionally supported the communist Hadash, the wedding of their party with a strictly Islamic party – UAL – is anathema.

“I have mixed feeling about voting for the Arab alliance,” said S., an Arab who works at a hi-tech firm in Yokne’am.

“On one hand, I feel uncomfortable voting for a party that has members who will do nothing to advance the rights of women and homosexuals. But on the other hand, this is the first time that all the Arab parties have joined forced in a single list to become a significant political force.”

In the end, S. decided she would vote for Meretz.

Other Hadash members present at the Nazareth election headquarters had more prosaic complaints.

“We didn’t have alcohol at this event because of the Islamic members.”

Similarly, many religious Muslims are skeptical about voting for a list that includes radical secularists, such as in Hadash.

Henin, the sole Jewish MK in the Joint List, said that the result was significant in that the alliance will have an impact in deciding whether it would be the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu or the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog who would form the next government coalition.

In any event, the Joint List has no intention of joining any conceivable government.

In his speech after the exit polls were released, Odeh vowed that the alliance would block any attempt by the right-wing parties to form a coalition.

Zahalka, head of the secular, pan-Arab Balad party, said there was no chance the list would join any coalition.

“If the Zionist Union wins the election, it should invite the Arab alliance to join,” he said.

“Of course we will say no.

We are not in Buji’s [Herzog’s] pocket. But nevertheless they should have the decency to ask.”

Zahalka said there were too many issues separating the Joint List and the Zionist Union to make political cooperation possible.

“The Zionist Union’s platform advocates annexation [of Judea and Samaria], it does not recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees and refuses to partition Jerusalem and make it a shared capital for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Nevertheless, Zahalka did not rule out the possibility that the Arab alliance would support policies favorable to Arab Israelis and Palestinians.

Tibi was confident they might still get to 15 mandates when the votes are counted. As the leaders of the parties left the platform, their supporters waved flags and some danced and clapped. Balad MK Haneen Zoabi, who had skipped the interviews, entered the room to hugs and kisses from those present.

Earlier, when Odeh entered the election night headquarters, he was greeted with heavy applause from the many Arabic-speaking reporters present. A rush of energy went through the crowd, as volunteers and others had the feeling the alliance might take a historic 15 mandates in the Knesset.

Odeh announced that turnout had reached 64 percent, which would be higher than previous years. Tibi told followers it was times to send the “fascists” in the Knesset home, including Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Yahad head Eli Yishai, who came in for rancorous criticism from others present.

But the prospect of a Center- Left government did not impress those present. “What they call Left is not Left in the normal sense, it’s Center or Right,” said a long-time Hadash activist. Nevertheless, there was a festive atmosphere with Arabic music and periodic clapping for the various statements of politicians present.

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