Israeli Arabs vote despite low turnout predictions

Vibe and activity on the streets of Arab towns indicate that voter turnout was higher than expected.

Ahmed Tibi_311 (photo credit: Reuters/Mahfouz Abu Turk)
Ahmed Tibi_311
(photo credit: Reuters/Mahfouz Abu Turk)
The Arab League call for Israeli Arabs to get out and vote must have had an effect. From the vibe and activity on the street, it appeared that voter turnout would be higher than expected, even though assessments throughout the day implied otherwise.
The Arab parties all made great efforts to bring out the Israeli Arab vote, spreading the message that a no-vote was a vote for a right-wing government. Balad MK Haneen Zoabi sent an SMS to her supporters on Election Day, telling them that her party did not accept “living as foreigners or in fear in their homeland.”
People on the street who spoke with The Jerusalem Post seemed to feel there was high motivation to vote. Ahmed Tibi’s and Ibrahim Sarsour’s United Arab List-Ta’al party seemed to have the most support, with Balad registering support as well.
Tira resident Muhammad Samara said Arabs needed to go out and vote for one of the Arab parties. He said the strongest party in Tira was UAL-Ta’al because of Tibi’s popularity there, adding that people supported Tibi because of his personality, not because of his ideology.
Balad was also strong and Hadash had supporters as well, Samara said, but few voted for Meretz.
At around 4:30 p.m., he predicted that around 40 percent of the town had voted and that in the evening the number would grow significantly, as that was the most popular time to vote. He predicted turnout could go as high as 80%.
He added, though, that “some people do not vote because they feel the government does not represent them and they do not like the government.” Mahmoud Issa, a shop owner in Kfar Kasim, predicted turnout around 70% in his town.
“People want to vote, to make changes, but there is no hope,” he said.
He thought Meretz was probably the strongest party in town, followed by UALTa’al, then Balad, which he believed was not so active there.
Nonetheless, Issa said a right-wing government would at least provoke the world into intervening and lead to isolation and an international boycott of the country.
“Why not Bayit Yehudi?” he suggested sarcastically.
“With them there will be a solution; war will decide things. When they start fighting against Arabs and throwing them out of their houses, then the world will force peace on Israel.”
But pessimistically he added, “There will never be Arab strength here. There will never be a Palestinian state.”
It wasn’t the Arabs who would bring about a solution, he said, but the international community.
Issa called Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “a liar” who “doesn’t really believe in a two-state solution. Right after his Bar-Ilan speech, he went and whispered to Liberman that he didn’t mean it.
The same day he goes and builds more settlements on occupied territories.”
In the middle of that conversation, a haredi (ultra- Orthodox) Jew from Bnei- Barak called and jokingly said he was voting for Balad.
Issa said he worked with many Jews and that “they want everything for themselves and nothing for others.”
“We are an inseparable part of Israel,” he said. “This is the place we have been since before Israel was created, and we are hurt by how our brothers are treated in the territories. They live in a jail without air and food, like in Gaza.”
He added that “if [assassinated prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin had another two years, there would have been peace.”
Still, Issa said he would agree to a one-state solution: “In 10 years, there would be a majority of Arabs, and Jews would begin to flee.”
The word on the street was that the town of Jaljulya was similar in voter trends and also tended to vote for Tibi.
Issa’s brother Camel, a Hebrew teacher and director of an after-school program, had a different take on things. While he also predicted a high voter turnout, he said UAL-Ta’al would perform best because it included Sarsour, who is from Kafr Kasim. He said Balad was also strong and more active than others.
He said the reason people were voting for Meretz in the town was the party’s Arab candidate Issawi Freij, who comes from there.
The candidates’ families and clans could also be expected to support them.
In Umm el-Fahm, he continued, Hadash had a strong presence because one of its candidates was from there.
Balad’s Jamal Zahalka, also from the town, had strong backing there as well.
According to Camel, Jaljulya is a strong supporter of Sarsour, but Balad also has a presence there. He said Tira was the same, supporting Sarsour and Tibi, with strong backing for Balad.
He added that those who didn’t vote “feel that their vote won’t change anything.”
He predicted that the Right would win and form a coalition, saying, “There is no Left in Israel, only Right. There is only a difference in the way they speak.”
Surprisingly Camel said, “I don’t care about the territories.
I want my rights as an Israeli citizen and to be treated equally.”
Echoing Balad’s platform, he said he wanted a “democratic state,” separated from religion.