A missed opportunity

Parties worked to assemble a list that would earn them the most public support. Some parties merged with others in an attempt to garner the most votes.

August 4, 2019 21:37
3 minute read.
A missed opportunity

Ballots for the 2019 elections. (photo credit: BEN BRESKY)

Last Thursday at midnight, Israel’s political parties submitted their final lists ahead of the September 17 election.

In the days and weeks before the deadline, parties worked to assemble a list that would earn them the most public support. Some parties merged with others in an attempt to garner the most votes.

All of them tried to maximize their range of influence in order to expand their reach to voters from different groups of society. The effort to do so included placing candidates from different backgrounds on their lists.

It seems that many parties have rightfully put an emphasis on providing an equal platform for women. For example, among the first ten candidates of the Democratic Union’s list, five are women, and in Labor’s first ten, there are four.

It also seems that in light of recent campaigns and struggles of the past decade, parties from both the Right and Left placed or elected candidates from the LGBT community. Among them are acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana of the Likud, Democratic Union leader Nitzan Horowitz, and Blue and White’s Idan Roll.

Unfortunately, however, none of the Center-Left or Right parties chose to place or elect an Arab member in a position that is considered realistic to enter the Knesset. The only exception is the Democratic Union, which placed long-serving Meretz MK Issawi Frej in sixth place.

The Labor Party, for example – which is projected to receive four to seven seats according to polls – has Ahsan Khalili listed in the 14th slot.

Likud’s list shows a much worse situation regarding the representation of Arabs. The first Arab on its list, Dima Taia, is in the 63rd spot.

Why is this?

Many politicians – especially from the Right – repeat the claim that the Arab population is misrepresented and that the Joint Arab List does not faithfully represent the needs of its voters.

“Today, in the Arab towns and villages, people understand that they [the Joint List] do not represent them,” said Likud MK David Bitan in late 2016, when he was the coalition chairman and one of the country’s most powerful and influential politicians.

“95% of the entire Arab population in Israel are voting for the Joint List, which does not represent the Arabs of Israel, but rather Palestinian interest,” he said in an interview with Channel 2 News, adding that it would for the best “if they won’t vote for this inciting list.”

Likud MK Sharren Haskel echoed the same notion in an interview with Israel National News in 2018. “Time after time, the Arab Joint List shows that it prefers representing the Palestinians and not the Arabs of Israel.

Research conducted by Channel 13’s Akiva Novick showed that only a fraction of bills that were submitted by the Joint List could be labeled as Palestinian related. If Likud MKs are so convinced that the Arab MKs are not representing the Arab-Israeli population – and that they need proper representation – why aren’t they calling on them to join the Likud? Why is the ruling party neglecting almost 20% of the population?

And the same goes for the Israeli Left. After he was elected to lead the Labor party, MK Amir Peretz did decide to focus on minority groups; in the past few weeks, he met with Arabs in Jaffa, Tamra, Basmat Tab’oun and other villages. He also kept talking about the importance of regaining the trust of the Arab citizens of Israel.

Peretz had the opportunity to make major changes in the list before it was submitted last week – even though Labor’s list, like the Likud’s, is determined in primary elections. So why didn’t he choose to place an Arab citizen in a spot that is considered realistic to get into Knesset?

If Center-Left and right-wing parties will not reach out to Arab citizens and incorporate them into their lists, Arab-Israelis will keep voting for the Arab lists, which are choosing to stay out the game.

If we want to have a more equal society – and better representation for Arab citizens of Israel who want to assimilate into general society – we will have to make a change, and have more Zionist parties reach out to Arab society.

Unfortunately, in this election, that train has already left the station.

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