Should Israeli-Arabs boycott the election? Two Palestinian scholars debate

Two Palestinian thought-leaders, Al-Shabaka Analyst Nijmeh Ali and Al-Shabaka Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari, recently participated in a roundtable debate on the subject.

April 8, 2019 17:27
3 minute read.
An Israeli Arab casts her ballot at a polling station in the northern town of Reineh, in 2015

An Israeli Arab casts her ballot at a polling station inside a church in the northern town of Reineh, March 17, 2015.. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analysis from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief


A recent poll by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Abraham Initiatives found that only around 51% of Arab citizens of Israel are expected to vote in Israel's elections on Tuesday. This is partially because of a call by some Arab leaders to boycott the April 9 elections.

Should Israeli-Arabs boycott the election?

Two Palestinian thought-leaders – Al-Shabaka Analyst Nijmeh Ali and Al-Shabaka Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari – recently participated in a roundtable debate on the subject, which was published by Al-Shabaka on Sunday.

Ali argued that Arabs should participate in the elections to “ensure that suitable political ground is created."

Ali, who grew up in Haifa and is currently working on her doctorate at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Otago University in New Zealand, said that: “Participating in the elections allows Palestinians to organize themselves internally, conduct political debates and lobby for their civic and national rights in Israel and beyond.”

In contrast, she argued, boycotting the elections could result in the dwindling of the Arab parties, which would lead to a leadership vacuum.

“Parties still operate as the main organizing mechanism for political, social, civil and national issues,” Ali said, explaining that this transforms the elections from simply an electoral battle to one over Palestinian representation more broadly.

She said that historically, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been willing to participate in the political process, even in moments of tension and alienation. She pointed out that from 1949 to 1973, average voter turnout among Arab Israelis was 86%. Reports by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that Arab Israeli voters dropped steadily, at one point reaching a low of only 18%. Ali believes that those numbers should improve again.

“What really threatens Israel is a Palestinian who is a producer at all levels,” she said, “who is economically independent and pays the bills every month without relying on Israeli national insurance. This is the model that can break the hierarchical relationship between master and slave and rearrange the boundaries of the political game.

“The greater the strength and influence of the Palestinians in Israel – through their presence as consumers, taxpayers and a core component of the labor force – the greater the impact of their protests in the future [and the more racism they will be targeted with],” she continued. “Thus, change that can bolster the Palestinian citizens of Israel should involve establishing an internal financial support system related to a strategic plan of protest. Maintaining political parties and engagement in the political system, such as voting, should also be a priority, at least in the short to medium term.”

In contrast, Hawari had a very different perspective. Far from being a sign of apathy, she said that “election boycotts are a political tool used to convey an electorate’s dissatisfaction and disaffection.”

She said that history shows that regardless of electoral participation, the Palestinian citizens of Israel have not made any significant gains within the Israeli political system.

“Boycotting the Knesset elections does not, on its own, qualify as a strategy,” said Hawari, who completed her doctorate at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. “Rather, it must be a tactic that is part of an overall vision for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Those wanting to help create a new Palestinian political strategy must harness the momentum gained from the boycott campaign to develop alternative political spaces outside of Israeli institutional politics.”

Hawari said that Israeli-Arabs' intimate experience with Israel places them in a position to take a leading role in discussions about new political models “paving the way for Palestinians across all geographies to unite and demand the fulfillment of their quest for self-determination and human rights.”

Related Content

Avigdor Liberman, chairman of Yisrael Beytenu in conversation with the Jerusalem Post
June 16, 2019
Liberman aims for unity government without Netanyahu


Cookie Settings