Arab citizens urge leaders to draw conclusions from low turnout

"We punished our politicians because they don't care about us."

ARABS HAVE full representation in the Knesset, with MKs such as Ayman Odeh (Joint List). (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
ARABS HAVE full representation in the Knesset, with MKs such as Ayman Odeh (Joint List).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Arab parties lost three seats in the Knesset because of their differences and failure to run in a joint list, political analysts and activists in the Arab sector said on Wednesday.
They also expressed deep concern over the rise of the right-wing bloc in Israel.
Only half of the Arab voters cast their ballots in the election despite appeals by the leaders of the Arab parties and prominent figures in the Arab sector to their constituents not to boycott the vote.
Two Arab parties ran in the election: Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad. The first got six seats, while the second won only four. The two parties were part of the Joint List, which won 13 seats in the previous election.
Political analysts said that the low turnout was the result of Arab Israelis’ deep disappointment with their representatives in the Knesset. The low turnout, they said, was also the result of increased discontent over perceived efforts by mainstream parties and politicians to “marginalize and delegitimize” the Arab Israelis.
The analysts said that the election campaign in the Arab sector was accompanied by calls to punish Arab politicians and boycott the vote. The election campaign in the Arab sector, they explained, was marked by mukattah (boycott) and mu’akabah (punishment), they added.
“The Arab public issued a yellow card to the Arab parties and was not far from giving them a red card,” said political analyst and publicist Afif Abu Mukh. A yellow card is used in soccer to caution players, while a red card results in the player being ejected from the game.
Calling on Arab politicians to engage in soul-searching, Abu Mukh said that it was time for the group of “opportunists” in the Arab sector to sit and think why this happened. The “poor conduct” of the Arab parties requires “home inspection,” he added. “They need to ask themselves whether they represent what the Arab public really wants.”
Lawyer and political adviser Reda Jaber accused the Arab parties of acting against their own interests and those of the Arab Israelis. “The Arab parties need to be frank with their people and admit their responsibility,” he said. “Our people want better performance from their leaders; they expect from them to present a clear internal project and a different organization of their political and social lives. We are facing an internal crisis that the parties can’t ignore.”
Jaber argued that the results of the election pose a serious challenge to the Arab Israelis because of the rise of the Right and “fascism.” The Arab Israelis, he said, are now facing a society which is “hostile” to Arabs.
Mohammad Darwashe, director at the Givat Haviva Institute, a non-profit educational center of the Kibbutz Federation, called on the leaders of the Arab parties to draw the conclusions from the low turnout in the Arab sector. “We need to draw many conclusions,” he said. “Were it not for the pity the Arab residents displayed towards their leaders in the last hours of the vote, the catastrophe would have been much bigger.”
Darwasheh was referring to last-minute hysterical appeals by the leaders of the Arab parties to their constituents to head to the ballot boxes. Alarmed by the low turnout, the Arab leaders warned their constituents that failure to vote would mean that the Arabs would be unrepresented in the 21st Knesset.
“We punished our politicians and leaders because they betrayed our trust and failed us,” said Nidal Zoabi, an insurance agent from Nazareth. “We punished them so that they would learn the lesson for the future and know how to care about their people.”
Some Arab Israelis who boycotted the election said that they did so to protest “growing racism” in Israel, especially in the aftermath of the Nation-State Law. “Many Arabs don’t see a difference between [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Blue and White Party head Benny] Gantz,” said Eman Odeh, a school teacher from the Galilee city of Sakhnin. “We witnessed during this election a massive campaign by major parties in Israel to delegitimize the Arab citizens and depict them as an enemy and fifth column. By boycotting the election, many Arab Israelis wanted to send a message that they no longer feel that they are part of the state.”
She and other Arab Israelis said that the fact that less Arabs would serve in the Knesset would not make any difference. The Arab parties, they noted, have always been excluded from government coalitions because they are not seen as legitimate partners.
Ahmed Mahameed, a media personality from Umm al-Fahm, commented that the results of the election in the Arab sector clearly show that the Arabs want their leaders to go away. Addressing the Arab politicians, he said: “The people are angry and disappointed with you because of your failure in the political arena and because of your arrogant, irresponsible, undemocratic and non-civilized performance. The results of the election show that you have lost the vision of leadership and become slaves of opinion polls.”