For Arab voters, it's 'Anyone but Bibi'

The leaders of the Arab sector said on Tuesday that they were hoping that at least 60% of the Arab voters would cast ballots by the end of the day.

September 17, 2019 17:26
3 minute read.
For Arab voters, it's 'Anyone but Bibi'

An Israeli Arab stands behind a voting booth before casting her ballot at a polling station in the northern town of Umm el-Fahm March 17, 2015. Millions of Israelis turned out to vote on Tuesday in a tightly-fought election, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing an uphill battle to defeat a . (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

TAIBE – Political activists in this Triangle area Arab city have been roaming the streets since early Tuesday to urge voters to head to the ballot boxes.

“This election is about removing [Prime Minister Benjamin] 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. We want to see an end to Netanyahu's racist government and policy."

The city’s most famous politician, MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List), 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 here 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 the Arab voters would cast ballots by the end of the day.

MK Mansour Abbas (Joint List) appealed to Arab voters urged 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 Taibe 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 Taibe, 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 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.”

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