Joint List party flips Netanyahu's 2015 statement in new campaign

In 2015 Netanyahu warned Arab voters would arrive at the polls "in droves." Now Arab politicians are using it as their slogan.

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)
Israel's Arab lawmakers plan to commandeer Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's claim in the last election that Arabs were heading to the polls "in droves" to encourage their own voters in April's election.
Netanyahu's election-day message to mobilize his hawkish voter base during the 2015 election drew criticism and accusations of racism. Netanyahu, who won the election, later apologized.
Now Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, made up of mostly Arab parties, said he plans to use Netanyahu's old phrase, which has become an iconic and sometimes ironic part of the language in Israel, to whip up turnout among the Arab minority in the April 9th vote.
"Arabs are not going to forget Netanyahu's incitement," Odeh told Reuters. "Netanyahu benefited from the slogan the first time around. Now it is our turn to benefit."
Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term in office. If successful, he will become Israel's longest-serving prime minister.
The party will run the slogan in Arabic and Hebrew, said Odeh, whose faction holds 13 of the 120 Knesset seats.
Israel's Arab citizens, many of whom identify as Palestinian, comprise mainly descendants of Arabs who remained in their homes or were internally displaced after the 1948 War of Independence between the newly created Jewish State and surrounding Arab countries.
Today they make up just over one-fifth of Israel's population. Although the Arab minority has full equal rights, many say their communities face discrimination and are treated as second-class citizens.
Arab citizens have typically turned out to vote at a rate below the national average, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.
Odeh said that the Arab lawmakers' main task will be to convince potential voters that their participation can effect real change, even if no Arab party has ever been included in an Israeli government coalition.
So far polls show Netanyahu's Likud will be the largest party in parliament with around 30 seats. The Joint List, ran in 2015 as a coalition of four parties: the Hadash communist party, the United Arab List, Balad and Ahmad Tibi's Ta'al party. They are in the process of splitting into two separate parties and could take about six seats.
Odeh said a key campaign issue will be Israel's Nation-State Law, passed in 2018. The law made the Jewish people's right to self-determination in the "historic homeland of the Jewish people" an official part of the government's Basic Law and downgraded Arabic as an official state language on a par with Hebrew. Previously, Hebrew, Arabic and English were listed as official languages of the State of Israel.
The law angered the Arab minority and Israeli left-wing and center-ground politicians, many of whom opposed its passage in parliament. The bill's supporters said it was largely symbolic and Netanyahu said it was needed to fend off Palestinian challenges to Jewish self-determination and a bid to replace it with a Palestinian State.
"I can argue that if we had only voted in greater numbers, we would have been able to block the law," Odeh said. "They simply wouldn't have been able to ignore us."