Most Arab voters who stay home on Election Day this January will do so not for
ideological reasons, but because they see no point in casting their ballots,
according to a study of the Arab sector published on Sunday.
commissioned by the Abraham Fund Initiatives, also found that domestic issues
are the main priority among Arab voters – with respondents noting education,
unemployment and the war on crime as their top concerns – rather than the
The broad-reaching survey takes an in-depth
look at why fewer and fewer Arab citizens are voting in Israeli
During the last election in 2009, voter turnout in the Arab
sector was 53 percent, an alltime low. Several Arab politicians said recently
that they would come together to encourage voter participation as a buffer to
the ascendancy of right-wing nationalist parties.
The survey, conducted
among five focus groups with a total of 500 respondents, showed that even when
Arab politicians are elected to the Knesset, their constituents see their power
If Jewish leaders were to include Arabs in running the
nation’s affairs, it would increase the likelihood of voting among 52% of the
total sample and 42% of those who say they do not vote at all. For example, if
voting were to guarantee a position for an Arab minister in the government, 56%
of respondents stated that this would increase the probability of their voting
in the election, and 42% said that it would greatly increase this
No Arab party has ever been part of an Israeli governing
coalition, though have some have voted with the government, such as during the
tenure of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In the rare cases when there has
been an Arab minister or deputy minister, he has been a member of a Zionist
Ayoub Kara, a Druse member of the Likud Party from Isfiya on Mount
Carmel, is currently deputy minister for development of the Negev and
A majority of the respondents said voting is ineffective. Among
respondents who said they do not plan to vote, 51% said they would stay home
because their votes would not influence the decision-making processes
Of those who do plan to vote, 54% said they would do so for
symbolic or “good citizenship” reasons, rather than due to any belief that their
votes would effect change.
Fewer than 20% of the total sample said they
believed the elections could improve their lives.
“We are very disturbed
by the consistent fall in the level of participation of Arab citizens in various
spheres of society, and particularly in the political system,” Abraham Fund
co-directors Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Mohammad Darawshe said in a statement
released with the study on Sunday. “This decline is a recipe for social
instability and for a profound social and ethnic rift that will not easily be
repaired in the future. We are interested in seeing expanded participation in
the elections, each voter according to his or her conscience, without regard to
any particular party or political direction.”
The low level of
“ideological abstainers” is an encouraging finding, the two men said, because it
shows that Arab voters could be convinced to come out in greater numbers – and
have not checked out of participating in Israeli civil society
“If the Arab public is convinced that it can become a partner
in shaping reality in Israel, and if it is perceived as a legitimate partner by
the mainstream Zionist parties, it will participate in the elections. If things
continue as in the past, and if no one makes the effort to approach Arab voters
constructively, voting levels among Arabs may fall even further,” they
Dr. Yousef T. Jabareen, the director of Dirasat, the Arab Center
for Law and Policy in Nazareth, said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem
Post that Arab citizens of Israeli are “losing hope that their political
Other notable findings in the study include: •
Civic agenda: 24% of respondents identified education as the most important
issue that needs to be addressed, and a similar percentage cited poverty and
unemployment, while 16% believe that crime and violence are the most serious
problems facing Arab society.
Twelve percent of respondents said the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the most important issue requiring
• Political unity: A pragmatic desire to maximize Arab
citizens’ political influence also explains the tendency to support unity among
the Arab political parties. A united effort – i.e. all Arab parties running on
one ticket – would increase the likelihood of voting among 59% of the
• Leadership: When the respondents were asked whom they trust to
represent them in dealings with the state, roughly 30% replied that they trust
the Arab members of Knesset. The same percentage said they do not know who
The political parties were mentioned by 9% as the
representatives of the Arab public.
Other respondents identified the
Committee of Heads of Arab Local Authorities (8%), the Monitoring Committee of
the Israeli Arab Leadership (6%), civil society organizations (9%) and religious
• Boycotting the elections for ideological reasons: The
survey found that only 17% of respondents boycott the elections for strictly
A further 34% do not plan to vote for various other
reasons (a lack of confidence in Israeli democracy or a feeling that “there is
no one to vote for”).
• Women’s leadership: Respondents strongly support
women’s involvement in politics, and 70% agree that “women make equally good
political leaders as men.” Moreover, the inclusion of women on the Knesset party
candidate lists is likely to increase the level of participation in the
elections, particularly among women voters.
More than 50% of female
respondents said that the inclusion of women in the list they support would
increase the chance that they would vote.
• Including young candidates:
58% of respondents said the inclusion of young candidates and “new faces” in the
Arab parties would increase the probability that they would vote.
Negative messages (“scare tactics”) do not encourage people to vote: The survey
assessed the affect of various messages on the respondents’ inclination to vote.
The findings clearly showed that negative messages that focus on the marginal
status of Arabs in public life, or attempts to frighten voters by warning of the
consequences of nonparticipation (e.g. “If you don’t vote, racism will
increase”) are less effective than positive messages that raise the hope of
greater participation in decision making.