Joint List reaches out to Jewish voters in final day of campaign

Central Elections Committee bans NGO from transporting Bedouin voters.

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September 18, 2019 01:28
4 minute read.
Joint List reaches out to Jewish voters in final day of campaign

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh addresses the Knesset: Odeh has suggested, for the first time, that Israeli Arabs would be willing to join a government coalition. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The Joint List made a special appeal to Jewish voters in the final day before Tuesday’s election, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of racist incitement.

“Who understands what it’s like to be persecuted like the Jews do?” Odeh asked. “Today, we [Arab Israelis] are a persecuted minority. Either we win together, or we will lose separately.”

Odeh called for solidarity between Jews and Arabs in light of “wild incitement by Prime Minister Netanyahu against Arab citizens,” citing a message Netanyahu’s official Facebook page sent last week saying Arabs want to destroy Jews. Netanyahu said he did not approve the message and had it deleted, but Facebook suspended his chatbot for hate speech.

“It’s not all Jews against all Arabs and not all Arabs against all Jews,” he added. “It needs to be Jews and Arabs together.”

Jewish Israelis should support the Joint List out of shared interests and values, like “peace, equality, democracy and social justice... which benefit 90% of Arabs and Jews,” he said.

In that vein, over 80 Israeli academics signed a petition calling on the Israeli public to vote for the Joint Arab List.

The petition, published as an ad in Ha’aretz, is titled “We’re in! Are you?” and said the Joint List is “home for all those who believe in full civil and national equality for Arabs and Jews, ending the occupation, democracy, peace and social justice.”

The message comes as the Joint List has been pushing to increase Arab voter turnout, which dropped to an all-time low of 49% in April. If turnout increases, the bloc has the potential to once again be the third-largest legislative faction, as it was in the 20th Knesset.

Experts say more of the Arab Israeli public is expected to vote now that the four parties making up the Joint List have reunited, instead of running as two separate blocs as they did in the April election. In addition, the mysterious ad campaign calling for Arab Israelis to boycott the election in April is no longer in operation.

However, one development with the potential to reduce turnout slightly is a Central Elections Committee decision to ban left-wing NGO Zazim from transporting voters from unrecognized Bedouin villages to the polls.

Committee chairman and Supreme Court Vice President Hanan Melcer determined on Sunday, in response to a petition from Likud, that Zazim is acting as an “active election body,” despite not being registered as one under the “V15 Law” limiting foreign-funded organizations’ involvement in elections.

Zazim’s website calls it “a campaigning community for social and political change.”

Likud, working with right-wing NGO Im Tirzu, cited emails Zazim sent to supporters that indicated the NGO planned to provide transportation for 15,000 Bedouin Israelis to polling stations on Election Day so that they would vote for left-wing parties.

The Zazim email also described their actions ahead of the election in April, including transporting voters and sending text messages, WhatsApp messages and emails which likely indicated expenses higher than allowed for an NGO not registered as an “active election body.”

The NGO also planned to operate an election day hotline for Arab Israelis to complain about voter suppression attempts, with help from Adalah, an NGO that provides them with legal aid.

Zazim’s director-general Raluca Ganea said: “Unfortunately, the Elections Committee is helping the Likud’s efforts to suppress Arab citizens’ votes.”

“The ruling is full of factual errors,” she argued. “The ruling party’s petition against a civil organization with limited resources proved to be a lawsuit for censorship purposes.”

Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman said the decision prevents 50,000 Bedouin citizens living in unrecognized “villages without public transportation or polling stations” from voting.

“This kind of transportation should be provided by the state, but not when their votes could threaten the oppressive regime,” she said.
Im Tirtzu’s legal division hailed the ruling as “a major victory for Israeli democracy.”

“The ruling sends a clear message to radical New Israel Fund-backed organizations like Zazim that the Israeli public will not tolerate their attempts to interfere in the elections,” the NGO said in a statement following the decision. “Im Tirtzu will continue to lead the fight against delegitimization organizations which seek to erase the Jewish and democratic character of Israel.”

When Likud submitted its petition, it described Zazim as “operated and funded by the New Israel Fund” and “trying to intervene in the election and transport four times as many voters than in the last election in order to strengthen the Arab parties as part of a [Blue and White leaders Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz government.”

Joint List politicians have also expressed concerns that Arab voters will be deterred by the Central Election Committee’s new poll supervisors, some of whom will be equipped with body cameras.

In addition, a group of settler leaders have been raising funds in recent weeks to send a team of “gatekeepers” to stand outside polling stations in Arab cities and towns, ostensibly to protect official election observers.

The group includes Benny Katzover, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz, Beit El Local Council chairman Shai Alon, Kedumim co-founder Sara Eliash and others.

Maayan Hoffman contributed to this report.


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