Motivation high for local polling as ‘Arab Spring’ youth seek change

Behind-the-scenes deal-making between powerful families is what usually decides municipality heads and city councils.

Israeli-Arab man casts his vote elections voting 370 (R) (photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Israeli-Arab man casts his vote elections voting 370 (R)
(photo credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
Israeli Arab turnout in municipal elections is expected to be very high, topping Jewish turnout and demonstrating the power of large families and clans to bring their members to the voting booths.
While political parties also play a role, the behind-the-scenes deal-making between powerful family heads leading up to election day is what usually decides municipality heads and city councils.
That is, if a family or clan is not powerful enough to take the election outright and is forced to form a coalition.
The Jerusalem Post spoke to Ghada Zoabi, the founder and CEO of the Israeli Arab news portal, about the elections.
Bokra began in 2006 after the Second Lebanon War. Zoabi, from Haifa, married into the large family that also includes MK Haneen Zoabi, and currently lives in Nazareth.
A key point, she says, is that 75 percent of Israeli Arabs are under the age of 35 and are seeking change. This educated and young population is aware of the changes occurring in the region and the comments on social media relating to the “Arab Spring.”
Ghada, who says that her website has been interviewing Arab candidates from across the country, sees the youth as striving for change.
Ghada believes that the clan and family power is decreasing with the younger generation, and in recent years the phenomenon of family members voting for different parties or candidates has increased.
Another important change she sees happening in the Arab sector is the increased participation of women in the municipal elections. She asserted that there are 150 college-educated women candidates, with 50 of them ranking high on various voting lists. However, she notes that in the Negev there were no women candidates.
The Post on Monday spoke with Adel Badir, one of three candidates for mayor of the Israeli Arab Muslim city of Kafr Kasim, located on a hill east of Tel Aviv, just inside the Green Line. He is a lawyer and married with six children.
The Badir family is one of the strongest families in the city, he said, noting that there are seven strong families there: Badir, Sarsour, Issa, Taha, Amr, Frej and Beduin.
Some of these family names are familiar, owing to MK Ibrahim Sarsour and MK Esawi Frej.
Badir said that there was an agreement made between the council of elders from the Badir and Sarsour families to unite behind his candidacy. However, current mayor Nadir Sarsour has decided to run again, despite the agreement, he said.
Nevertheless, he still believes that the majority of the Sarsour family will back him in the election.
Sarsour is his strongest challenger, he said, adding that he believes that he will gain the votes from around half of each of the other families. Asked if he was still trying to make deals with other families to support him, he responded the day before elections that all deal-making is over.
The third candidate, Sami Issa, also is gaining some support.
The Post spoke with a resident who identified herself as part of the Issa family and said that while Adel Badir is a nice guy, the people around him are not.
Asked by the Post if her real reason for supporting Sami Issa was to support a fellow family member, she responded, “Of course!” Badir said that he plans to improve security in the city, install a closed-circuit camera system, and reinstate municipal security guards that were removed by the current mayor.
Also, he said that there is a lack of land for building, as a plan from 1993 has been frozen, and if elected he would try to do the paperwork to get the plan moving.
Hussein Sweity, the editor of the Israeli Arab news website, told the Post that he would guarantee that MK Haneen Zoabi will not win the election for mayor in Nazareth, and that the favored candidate was Ramiz Jaraisy, who is also a communist Hadash party member.
“Zoabi won’t get more than 20% of the vote,” predicted Sweity. Another candidate, Ali Salam, is more popular, he said.
He noted that Arabs in Haifa and Acre also voted for Zionist parties, and that there were a few Arabs on the city council in the latter city.
Prof. Rassem Khamaisi of the department of geography and environmental studies at the University of Haifa and the head of the Jewish Arab Center, told the Post that he thinks the Israeli Arab elections are being “Americanized,” in that the campaigns are becoming more professional and effective, with telephone and SMS drives and the use of social networks.
Khamaisi says that the clans and families are smaller today than they were and that now it is difficult for one clan to dominate a city. The situation in Kafr Kasim, he said, was typical, where various families had to try to form a coalition to win the elections.
Whoever wins can then appoint his fellow family members and supporters to positions in the city.
“The municipality is the biggest employer,” he said, adding that school managers, daycare workers, and other positions were the fruits for the victors.
Hussein, a journalist for the Israeli Arab news website Panet, told the Post that the turnout is high for local elections because the big families are able to bring out the vote.
“It is family honor,” he said.
In national elections turnout is lower, he explained, asking why a family in one part of the country would support another family in another part of the country.
Another rule, he said, is that if a candidate is “not from a big family, they don’t run.”
However, he said that in some places the smaller families come together to oppose a candidate from a larger family.