TAIBA – Leaders of the Joint List night expressed deep satisfaction on Tuesday as exit polls that gave them 11 –13 seats in the Knesset. They said that they will meet in the coming days to decide on their next move.
The Joint List MK’s and many Arab political activists also said they were delighted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not seem to have a majority to form a coalition.
“We’re back to being the third largest party in the Knesset,” said Joint List head MK Ayman Odeh
. He said that he expected the Blue and White Party headed by Benny Gantz to prefer a unity government with Likud over a coalition with the Joint List.Odeh
and MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List) also expressed satisfaction with turnout in the Arab sector, saying that was one of the reasons why Netanyahu would find it difficult to form a coalition. “The era of Netanyahu is over,” said Tibi. “He will now have to go home or to prison.”
In the April election, the Arab parties, which ran as two separate lists – Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad – won 10 seats together. In July, the Arab parties agreed to run again as part of the Joint List. The Joint List focused its election campaign on the need for the Arabs to play a major role in removing Netanyahu from power.
Political activists in this Triangle area Arab city of Taiba have been roaming the streets since early Tuesday to urge voters to head to the ballot boxes.
“This election is about removing Netanyahu from power and defeating the voices of racism against Arabs in Israel,” explained Mahmoud Abdel Jawad, who described himself as a supporter of the Democratic Camp – a union of the Meretz party, MK Stav Shaffir, formerly of Labor, and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. “We want to make sure that the majority of the voters participate in this election because it’s time for real change, especially toward the Arab sector,” he said.
The city’s most famous politician, Tibi arrived at one of the voting centers together with his mother, daughters and wife. “Hit and break!” Tibi shouted as his supporters greeted him. Tibi and several activists in Taiba said they were encouraged by the high number of voters in their city and other Arab communities. By noon, more than 17% of the 28,934 eligible voters in Taiba had participated in the election.
“We were worried that the Arabs would not vote this time,” said Mohammed Masarwa, an activist belonging to the Joint List. “But so far it seems that the Arabs have decided to participate in the election despite widespread calls for boycotting the vote.”
Masarwa and other activists said that many Arabs made a mistake in the last election by not participating. The Arab turnout in the April election was only 49%. By early afternoon, turnout in the Arab sector was estimated at 22%. The leaders of the Arab sector said on Tuesday that they were hoping that at least 60% of Arab voters would cast ballots by the end of the day.
MK Mansour Abbas (Joint List) appealed to Arab voters, urging his supporters to “move from one home to another to urge people to vote.” He added: “We can be a large political force in the Knesset. There’s an increase in the number of voters [in the Arab sector], but that’s still not enough. We need every vote. We need to increase the number of Arabs in the Knesset.”
Many Arab voters and political activists said that they feel that Tuesday’s election could provide a “real opportunity” for replacing the “right-wing government” of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Voicing concern over “incitement” against Arab citizens by some of the Israeli candidates and parties, they said that large turnout would be the best response to campaigns aimed at delegitimizing the Arabs.
“We are being targeted by racist and fascist elements in Israel who are trying to depict us as a fifth column,” said construction worker Maher Haj Yahyya. “The Arabs feel that they are under attack, and that’s why many people have decided that this time they will not stay at home.”
Calls for installing security cameras in voting centers in the Arab sector and warnings by some right-wing politicians and candidates of the “dangers” of a large Arab turnout seemed to have incentivized many voters not to boycott the election.
“It is important for us to realize that the situation has become difficult,” said Taiba resident Qusai Haj Yahyya. “The situation clearly indicates that we are in real danger because of the horrible racism we are facing. Our people need to realize the importance of voting because we are in a real state of emergency.”
Dr. Husssam Azem, who also lives in Taiba, said he expected turnout in his city to reach 70% by the time the voting centers are closed. “For us, this is a battle for survival, for dignity, for existence,” he said. “We see this is a chance to bring down the extremist right-wingers.”
Some activists said that although many Arabs were unhappy with their current representatives in the Knesset, boycotting the election would cause more damage to the Arab sector and play into the hands of Netanyahu and right-wing parties and politicians.
“We’re aware that many Arabs are disappointed with the members of the Joint List, but staying at home is exactly what Netanyahu and the Likud want,” said political activist Nimer Hamdan from the nearby city of Tira, also in the Triangle area. “We believe that the campaign calling on Arabs to boycott the election was engineered by racist right-wingers who are afraid of the Arab vote. Fortunately, many Arabs now realize that they would be shooting themselves in the foot by boycotting the election.”