Arab voter turnout on Tuesday increased by 3 percentage points over 2009 to reach 56 percent, according to statistics released by the Central Elections Committee.This is the first time since 2000 that there has been an increase from the sector. Nevertheless, the three Arab parties maintained the total of 11 Knesset seats they won four years ago.“The high voting rates reflect the will of the Arab public to take part in the Israeli political process,” The Abraham Fund Initiatives – an NGO promoting coexistence and equality among Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, said in a report released on Wednesday.The Jerusalem Post that the voting data showed a higher turnout rate than the 53% in 2009.“We have been working hard to get out the Arab vote regardless of who they were voting for, just as long as they would use their civic right to vote,” Beeri-Sulitzeanu said.Despite a previous downward trend in Arab voting, this election showed that the Arab public believes in their representatives in the Knesset and in their ability to promote Arab interests, according to the report.Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of The Abraham Fund, told
“What we saw [on Tuesday] night was a sign of confidence by Arab voters in their leaders and parties. It was also a signal from the Arab community that they want to be engaged in the political system.”He called this a “very significant” change.“In previous years we were talking about disengagement and alienation, but now it seems that there is a change in the trend and more will [become] engaged. They are seeking dialogue and engagement with the Jewish majority. Had Arab voter turnout stayed the same as in 2009, we would have seen a drop in seats for the Arab parties,” Beeri- Sulitzeanu said.Kafr Kasim, near Rosh Ha’ayin, led the Arab sector with close to 80% turnout, according to the Central Elections Committee.Other major Arab population centers also had a high turnout: Jaljulya at 70%, Kafr Bara 59%, Taibe 60%, Tira 59%, Rahat 57%, Umm el-Fahm 57% and Sakhnin around 80%.Some interesting results were seen in the Arab sector, for example in Kafr Kasim, where 12 votes were cast for Bayit Yehudi, 33 for Shas and one for Strong Israel. Many other Arab towns cast small numbers of votes for right-wing Zionist parties. For example in Sakhnin, in the Western Galilee, Strong Israel received nine votes, Shas 31 and United Torah Judaism 22.The Arab parties’ results were as follows: United Arab List-Ta’al four, Balad three and the Arab-Jewish Hadash four, with other Arab votes going to Meretz, which has Issawi Freij entering the Knesset on its list.He received strong support from his hometown, Kafr Kasim. Arab party leaders expressed disappointment that turnout was not even higher, saying more votes could have tipped the balance, preventing a right-wing government.UAL-Ta’al leader Ahmed Tibi told Ynet, “I have no doubt that we will continue to lead the Arab sector,” but if the turnout had “gone up by 10% we could have toppled the Right’s rule and pushed Netanyahu and Liberman from leadership. This was a missed opportunity.”The statistics contradicted expectations in the Israeli and international media before Election Day that predicted a drop in Arab turnout.Hadash MK Dov Henin told the Post that he is happy that the numbers of Arabs voting increased, because his party “worked hard” for this.He said that he was satisfied with Hadash’s results because it was able to maintain its strength at four mandates, although it had wanted to grow.In any case, Henin added, “we are happy because the Right got weaker.”Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu plan was to hold early elections in order to win more mandates, “but he got fewer. His plan failed,” Henin said.