Arab towns and villages are likely to have a higher turnout in next week’s
municipal elections, compared to Jewish areas. However, unlike Jewish areas,
where votes are seen as based on ideology, party, or the experience and skills
of the candidates, Arab areas tend to vote for candidates based on family or
hamula (“clan”) connections.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post
Sami Miaari, an Israeli Arab lecturer at Tel Aviv University in the department
of labor studies and a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, said
that participation in Arab municipalities will most likely show a 90 percent
The elections in the Arab villages are a struggle
between clans and families, with the more powerful families winning the most
votes, said Miaari.
He pointed out that it is not an ideological
competition, although “some of the parties run in the elections under the
umbrella of an important family in the village.”
For example, the Islamic
Movement in Israel and political parties such as Balad, all partner with
important families in municipal elections.
Explained Miaari, the roots of
this tradition in Israel go back to the 1950s when the Israeli army would
appoint the head, or sheikh, of a big family to lead a specific city or
Usually, this sheikh would also belong to the dominant political
party of the time, Mapai, which was Zionist-socialist and later merged into the
According to Miaari, the intention of the government at the
time was to distance the Arabs from the national conflict between the Jews and
the Arabs in order to create an internal competition between
Somewhat of an exception is Nazareth, which has lacked strong
families since 1973 and is generally divided on religious lines and also
somewhat by political parties.
Asked if national elections follow this
pattern, he responded that this is a separate issue although the impact of
families still exist, but not at the same level as in the municipality
Another issue that Miaari brings up that he believes needs to
be changed is the fact that there are almost no female representatives at the
municipality or national level.
In the Arab city of Sakhnin there is a
woman candidate from the Hadash party for the city council, yet this is the
exception, not the rule.
“We want women to be representatives,” he said
explaining that the reason for their exclusion is based on culture and
According to an empirical study by Avi Ben-Bessat and Momi
Dahan in 2008 titled Social Identity and Voter Turnout, which examined the
voting patterns of Arab communities in Israel, hamula affiliation measured by
individuals with the same last name, tended “to vote for a candidate who shares
their last name as compared to other candidates.”
The study was based on
turnout data from municipal elections in 2003.
Nir Atmor, a lecturer at
the Zefat Academic College and a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute,
said that Arab turnout in municipal elections is very high at 90% compared to
the Jewish sector which is around 61%. In Tel Aviv, only 36% voted in 2008. For
Jews, the turnout is much higher in the periphery than in urban centers, said
In the Arab sector, families are able to bring out the votes by
offering benefits and by tapping into group loyalty and tradition, he said.
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