Poll: Most Arab-Israelis favor membership in governing coalition

Despite sentiments of their constituents, Arab parties are unlikely to budge

March 25, 2019 00:46
3 minute read.
MK Haneen Zoabi speaks at a news conference announcing the Joint List political slate of all the Ara

MK Haneen Zoabi [L] speaks at a news conference announcing the Joint List political slate of all the Arab parties with Ahmed Tibi [R], in Nazareth in 2015. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)


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A recent poll has found that nearly three-quarters of Arab-Israelis intend to vote in the country’s upcoming elections and that a similar cohort would favor joining the governing coalition.

The telephone survey, commissioned by The Washington Post, was conducted by the University of Maryland in conjunction with Israel’s Statnet Research Institute between March 10 and March 12. It examined the opinions of 713 adult Arab citizens of Israel and had a response rate of 58 percent. The margin of error was 3.9 percentage points.

Notably, 73.1% said they would support joining a governing coalition if the opportunity presented itself, and 54.1 percent said they felt there could indeed be such an opportunity.

“That is the best thing I heard all morning,” Dr. Yechiel Shabiy, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, told The Media Line.

“Most of the Arabs in Israel are not represented well by the Arab parties,” Shabiy continued. “Most Arab-Israelis feel they are a part of a democratic and Jewish country.

The more Arab parties support this narrative, the better it will be for themselves and their constituents.”

Arab-Israelis make up roughly 20% of the country’s population. So-called Arab parties currently hold 13, or 11% of the seats in parliament (the Knesset), the most ever. The imbalance between population and representation can be explained by the fact that many Arab voters give their ballot to so-called Zionist parties.

In the last election, four of the Arab parties – Hadash, Ta’al, Ra’am and Balad – formed an unprecedented union called the Joint List after the electoral threshold was raised to 3.25%, an increase that might have prevented them, like other small parties, from entering parliament. The union not only got them past the threshold, it made them the third-largest bloc in the Knesset.

This time around, though, the Joint List has split in two, and Dr. Meir Elran, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), explained why to The Media Line.

“Ayman Odeh [the former head of the Joint List] was not politically capable of holding [it] together,” Elran said. “There was a disparity between two camps: the moderate [camp], the group willing to participate in the ‘political game’ in Israel, and the more extreme [camp], which was not willing to continue with that kind of line.”

For the coming election, the relatively moderate Hadash and Ta’al are running together, as are the more religious-nationalistic Ra’am and Balad. (Ra’am-Balad had originally been barred from running by Israel’s Central Elections Committee, although the Supreme Court overturned the decision.) According to recent polls, the Hadash-Ta’al union is expected to get roughly eight to ten seats, whereas Ra’am-Balad is straddling the approximately four-seat threshold.

The Washington Post poll indicated that anger at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s actions and rhetoric regarding Arab citizens may have contributed to the high cohort of Arab-Israeli respondents saying they’ll vote.

Netanyahu was recently in hot water for stating that Israel was “the nation-state of the Jewish nation – and its alone” and was “not a country for all its citizens.” The comments were in reference to the controversial Nation-State Law, enacted in the summer of 2018. The law designates Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” but lacks any mention of equality for its citizens.

Yet Elran speculated that the expected high turnout would be due more to differences within Arab-Israeli society and to a perceived inability of Arab parties to maximize their full potential.

“Arab-Israelis theoretically they have the potential to get 24 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. If the smaller parties get less than four seats…all their votes will go down the drain, so Arab-Israelis want to ensure they are being represented,” he said.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, and rival Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party, have insisted they will not form a coalition with Arab parties. What’s more, the Arab parties themselves have stated they would be unwilling to join.

Ahmad Tibi, head of Ta’al, has publicly said he would not join any coalition, while Hadash chairman Ayman Odeh has said he would join a coalition with Blue and White if that party met certain conditions, most notably canceling the aforementioned Nation- State Law. However, Blue and White has insisted it intends to amend the law rather than cancel it.

“I feel sorry for the Arab citizens,” Shabiy said. “They don’t have real parties that will represent their real thinking.”

But much could change between now and April 9.

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